Future Proof Media Art - First Phase

LIMA’s experts have teamed up to enact a large research project investigating documentation and preservation approaches for complex software-based and interactive media artworks. At the basis of this research is 9 works by Dutch media artist Geert Mul who has been making media artworks for over 25 years. The selected artworks are all complex software-based installations, many of which are also interactive, and serve as case studies through which we’ve been exploring documentation and preservation approaches.
With the advent of a significant retrospective exhibition of Geert Mul’s work at Stedelijk Museum Schiedam in November 2016, showing works dating back to 1990, LIMA took this as a chance to collaborate with Geert and use the show as an opportunity to: 1) re-stage a large body of works and get many works that have not been played in more than 10 years up and running 2) think about what artists might need in order to be able to document and preserve their own digital works with the idea of future presentations in mind, and 3) to investigate all of this within the context of developing strategies and practices for documenting and preserving complex interactive born-digital installations.
God’s Browser (2010), Geert Mul
The first phase of the research we conducted uses a constellation of actions and activities around each artwork case study in order to develop and thorough understanding of the work in terms of its 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. For each work we’ve developed what we’re calling a kind of “artwork documentation package” which includes
  • researching previously published materials on the artist and artwork (text, video, audio);
  • conducting an artist interview;
  • developing a script on interactivity which describes the behavior and timing of interactive installations;
  • creating a video registration that offers an impression of the artwork, its behavior and how one interacts with it, with the artist standing in to explain the concept and functioning of the artwork as well as showing this;
  • developing installation instructions and on/off protocol for the artwork; confirming hardware specifications and creating wiring diagrams;
  • confirming software specifications; doing source code and programme backups;
  • doing a complete system backup
The first video registration (out of nine) of the work God's Browser is now available as preview:

As part of this first phase of research we also developed the first draft of a tool for artists that in its current iteration is a step-by-step list/questionnaire hybrid. This tool is meant to offer guidance and instructions for artists to empower them to be able to document their own complex, software-based installations. At the Future Proof!? Transformation Digital Art 2017 symposium we ran a workshop to review the tool with a pool of artists and preservation experts to get their feedback in order to adjust and improve it.
With Geert’s retrospective exhibition recently closing, we are currently wrapping up this first phase of research. For each artwork, we have produced a case study documentation and preservation report, video registration and have almost completed all technical documentation and backups.
As we enter the second phase of research, Geert is preparing for another solo exhibition opening 19 May 2017 at Dortmunder U, in Dortmund Germany. With this second staging of the artworks we’re taking the upcoming show as a chance to review the case studies in comparison to how the works are built-up and presented in Dortmund
Along with phase 2, we will also be further developing the documentation and preservation tool we’ve created for artists. Having taken the feedback from the first workshop and integrated it into the tool, we are preparing for a second workshop (May 18, see the link on the right) where we will specifically invite artists to use the tool for their own practice, and then bring their results to the workshop to discuss how their experience went, where they think it can be adjusted, and what else they would like to see, so that LIMA can better serve their artist community. When it is ready we will make the tool available for anyone to use freely.
LIMA will be reporting back on the next phase of the project, so keep an eye on the website and our Facebook page to stay up to date.