Future Proof Media Art - Conclusions


LIMA is pleased to announced the conclusion of its Future Proof Media Art research project.
Our team of experts worked together to enact a large research project investigating documentation and preservation approaches for complex software-based and interactive media artworks. For this project we worked closely with Dutch media artist Geert Mul, who has been making works for media art for more than 25 years. For the research we selected 10 complex software-based installations artworks, many of which are also interactive, to serve as case studies to explore documentation and preservation approaches.
The 10 artworks selected resulted in 7 case studies: Toen en Nu (1990), This Land is Man-Made (2000), The Library of Babel (2003), God’s Browser (2010) and Match of the Day (2004-2008) resulted in individual case studies; Data Architecture (2003), The Order of Things (2005) and Random Access Memories (2008-present) are discussed in a combined case study as they share the same software and interface for configuring the specific set-up of each work; and the artworks Horizons (2008) and Shan Shui (2013) which share the same software but different image database were investigated by PhD candidate of the University of Amsterdam Claudia Roeck as part of her dissertation.
Using Geert Mul’s retrospective solo exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Schiedam, we took this as a jumping off point to explore how re-implementation can be used to help develop a preservation strategy and script for future presentations of an artwork.
The first phase of research conducted used a collection of activities and actions developed around each artwork case study in order to develop a thorough understanding of the work. This research focused on each artwork’s historical and conceptual context as well as specifications around software, technology, exhibition space and installation in order to understand its needs for preservation and future presentations. We’ve called this the Artwork Documentation Package.
The Artwork Documentation Package model shown in the diagram includes a series of activities and their resulting materials that together form a complete “artwork script” that enables artists to manage their artwork over time, creates a consolidated body of information that can be shared with museums, galleries and collectors to aid them in collecting or presenting the work, and gives the artist or someone else direction to re-install the artwork. Read more about the first phase here.
During the second phase of the project, using this Artwork Documentation Package, LIMA developed a script for the preservation and future re-installation of each artwork case study enabling Geert to have better control of the preservation and future presentations of his works as well as enabling galleries, museums and collectors who might be interested in exhibiting or acquiring his work.
The first activities conducted by LIMA were to do a complete system backup, and source code and programme backups. These activities were completed first in order to ensure the safety of the artwork. Both backups have been ingested into LIMA’s secure art repository ensuring future access to the software material of the artwork.
The next Artwork Documentation Package activity to come was researching previously published material. The object of this exercise is to suss out what kinds of information exist to start laying the groundwork for the artwork script and as preparation for the artist interview. Researching previously published materials can include everything from technical drawings and working notes stored in the artist’s studio to exhibition flyers to confirm presentation dates, press clippings and videos online.
A large portion of information gathering is done through a series of in-depth artist interviews. These interviews are conducted to understand the artwork’s history, its relationship to the artist’s overall practice, its concept, context, functioning and behaviour, as well as gain and confirm technical information regarding hardware and software specifications such as the minimum or ideal requirements to run the artwork, hardware wiring, installation instructions and preservation concerns.
Through the artist interview as well as through inspecting the artworks when installed, hardware specifications are developed which detail each item of equipment, its type (such as brand, model, parameters, etc) and any necessary details to include. A wiring diagram is also developed which illustrates how the different hardware and playback equipment components are wired together for the installation to run. Together these two components document the technical infrastructure of the artwork, detailing the precise equipment needed and how it should be connected for the artwork to run.
Software specifications is similar to hardware specifications in that it seeks to document the technical necessities of the artwork. Software specificities include not only discussing the source code of the artwork, but all other programmes required to make it run, and what their function is in the running of the artwork. This, for example also includes detailing what kinds of databases and their contents are employed, or what kinds of software dependencies exist.
The installation instructions and on/off protocol are developed in tandem with the artist to set out precise guidelines for installing the artwork. This includes not only setting up the physical technology and wiring, but also initialising programmes, the order of turning different components on, and whatever software or parameter tweaks might be necessary to run the work. This also includes making sure the artwork is oriented correctly in any space and also details establishing correct sound volumes. This serves as guidance for reminding the artist of the specificities of their particular installation as well as serves as guidelines for exhibition venues who might need to install the artwork. The on/off protocol is used to detail how an artwork should be turned on and off daily once installed. This is largely used as guidelines  for museum or gallery staff who will be in charge of this task.
For Geert’s case studies, if an artwork is interactive an interactivity script was developed. The outline of the interactivity script used for this research was largely developed by Claudia Roeck as part of her Future Proof research into the artworks Horizon and Shan Shui but was also used across Mul’s other interactive works here. The interactivity script offers an outline for describing the behavior and timing of the interactive works, including the ways in which the work is interacted with, the kinds of options available to the user, and how the behaviour of the artwork changes depending on the number of people involved. The interactivity script can be read as guidelines for making sure the work is running correctly after it is installed.
The above conceptual, contextual, historical, technical and preservation information gathered through the artist interview, as well as the hardware specifications and wiring diagram, software specifications, installation instructions and on/off protocol, and interactivity script are compiled into a report which makes up a large part of the artwork script.
In addition, for each artwork a video registration is created. This document not only offers an impression of the artwork (its look and feel) but also shows its functioning, behaviour and timing. As reference for future presentations, the artist Geert Mul is also featured in each video describing and showing these different aspects of the artwork.
Taken together all of these elements represent the artwork script for being able to present an artwork now and in the future, and are represented in the source code and programme backups as well as the complete system backup stored and safeguarded in LIMA’s art repository, the case study that chronicles all contextual, conceptual, historical, technical and instructional information, as well as the video registrations showing the artwork in real-time as it’s supposed to behave.
You can check out summaries of each case study and the videos here.
As part of the Future Proof Media Art Research we worked on raising awareness with a more general audience about the need of media art preservation and what such preservation entails. We did this through a series tours led by Geert Mul of his retrospective exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam as well as by participation in the Dutch television show Kennis van Nu. If you didn’t have a chance to see the episode, you can watch Geert Mul and LIMA in action working on the Future Proof Media Art research on Kennis van Nu here (in Dutch).
Artwork Documentation Tool
In phase one of the Future Proof research, LIMA also produced a draft version of a tool to support artists in documenting their own complex, software-based installation  artworks that was based on a simplified version of the Artwork Documentation Package.
Working from this draft, in phase two LIMA translated it into an online platform for artists that we are now excited to be launching. Using a series of steps and tasks, the tool is aimed at empowering artists to be better in control of documenting their own artworks to be able to show them now and in the future.  The steps in tool include:
  • Step 1: Save Your Sketches & Working Notes
  • Step 2: Make Backups & Store Appropriately
  • Step 3: Document Software
  • Step 4: Document Hardware & Playback Equipment
  • Step 5: Create Wiring Diagram & Installation Manual
  • Step 6: Document Key Information About The Artwork,
  • Step 7: Make A Video Registration Of Your Artwork
  • Step 8: Gather & Store All Additional Available Material
Here artists can create their own personal account via the Artwork Documentation Tool platform and save their progress as they go, allowing them to stop and return so they can continue to work on their documentation over time. The tool offers both guidance on documentating as well as a place to store the information the artist produces through the process.
For more information about the Artwork Documentation Tool, see our research project Art Host (link on the right, or click here).
This project is made possible with the support of Creative Industries Fund NL.