playback 1996

Session Transcripts

March 29, 1996, Morning

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SALLY FIFER: For those of you who are new to BAVC, we were founded 20 years ago by the Rockefeller Foundation to provide broadcast quality equipment access, technical services and assistance, training and information to the nonprofit sector. And you probably all know New York Media Alliance started this conversation about preservation five years ago with their own conference and are a really important advocacy organization for our field of media arts. And of course, you all know the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which we're all so proud of in San Francisco, which generously donated the space to host this event.

When BAVC began working on remastering half-inch open reel tapes almost three years ago, our goal was to meet museum standards at a price that was affordable to the individual artist. We could not do this without the conservator. In our case, it was Bob Futernick, who joined a team of media artists, curators, engineers, and BAVC technical staff to establish our service. And it became a relationship that we knew we had to share with the world. It was a beginning of, I think, an important political coalition that would help establish videotape as an important documentation medium. For those of us who know the artists that chose video as a means of expression, or the community groups, or performing arts groups that chose video as an affordable means of documentation, we know that we've got to have history reflect those real stories, not just the commercial things that will probably be saved. And you know those collections are in trouble, and that's why we're all here. So Tim Whelen from the Getty Grant Program, Pamela Clapp at the Andy Warhol Foundation also believe, like us, that the media arts field and the conservation shield had a mission to accomplish together, and it was that shaping and through their invaluable help that we got a jump start on this relationship building and problem solving by putting some working groups together, which we brought to you for this program today and tomorrow. We don't have all the answers, which all the presenters are going to be sure and tell you. But I think we've got a pretty formidable team, and we certainly have a quest, which you all have now become a part of. We know that the technology is going to keep moving forward, we know that artists are going to keep wanting to experiment with new media, and it really is our job to make sure that work is kept safely for future generations.

I want to take just two more moments. The first is to recognize and thank Paige Ramey, who is hiding in the back over there, who made this conference possible. I'm sure all of you have met, and she's been just wonderful for us to work with. I want to recognize Debra Finucane, who is Paige's cohort and who BAVC can't live without. I also wanted to recognize, most importantly, Luke Hones, who really was the vision behind BAVC's own preservation center, and also the vision behind your San Francisco crab and lobster mugs - important. I also want to thank our other partners around the round table, first Debbie Hess Norris, who more or less willingly let us kidnap her for this project, and really made it possible for us to contact and introduce ourselves to the conservation field. She really was the backbone of planning how we shape the conference. And, of course, Mona Jimenez, for her help and support in New York, and also for being pioneers with Deirdre Boyle and Debbie Silverfine, and others like Carole Ann Klonarides, who basically got the conversation started five years ago with their conference. Finally, I want to formally thank again Tim Whalen with the Getty Grant Program and Pamela Clapp with the Andy Warhol Foundation, whose support was just invaluable, and who we couldn't have done this without, and of course, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, who's been absolutely generous and wonderful throughout this whole planning process, particularly Bob Riley, whose wise advice and guidance we could never do without, and whose belief in the project was absolutely critical. Thank you, Bob, he's hiding there in the back, but we really appreciate it.

I must tell you that Debbie Hess Norris told us that conservators work very hard and play very hard, which is what we've planned for, so you're going to be spending all of your time in this auditorium. She said you could sit for long periods of time, and that's probably what you'll be doing. At lunch time, you get to race out and grab lunch, and then the Video Data Bank - Kate Horsfield has planned this really incredible program with Chris Hill and will talk to you about it at 1:00, I believe. And then we hope you hurry through lunch and come back for that, and then the rest of the day is a rigorous schedule, which will start at 5:00, when we reward you with a fabulous party, which is going to be a lot of fun. It's now my pleasure to introduce you to Debbie Hess Norris, who is the president of the American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, a professor at the University of Delaware, a photographic conservator, and now an honorary media arts maven.

Debbie Hess Norris DEBBIE HESS NORRIS: Hi - welcome. I came here yesterday from Bloomington, Delaware, where I live, but I never was told I was going via Columbus and Las Vegas. So I was on the plane for ten hours. On the East Coast, it's snowy and icy again, so we're all glad to be here.

The objective of this important symposium is to begin to address the complex issues relating to videotape preservation, which is, of course, why you're all here. It is our intention that this meeting will encourage active and productive dialogue between many allied professionals: video artists, engineers, scientists, curators, archivists, librarians, conservators, preservation administrators, ultimately responsible for the creation, interpretation and preservation of this inherently ephemeral media. It is especially noteworthy that the results of this conference will be published. International dissemination of the information presented, discussed and, I hope, debated, in the two days to follow will foster an increased awareness about the need for the importance of videotape preservation, as well as greater confidence in our knowledge, abilities, and resources to do so. At the same time, research priorities within this field will be identified and codified. The conservation profession is extremely grateful to be so directly involved in this very unique project. In doing so, we are pleased to share the methodologies, strategies, philosophies and ethical constructs that guide our work in the preservation of cultural property, including works of art on paper, photographic material, library and archival collections, paintings, textiles, sculptures, decorative objects, archaeological materials, etc. Until now, the preservation of magnetic media, videotape for example, has not been formally integrated into the curriculum of most conservation graduate programs, and I think this is true, certainly not only in North America, but really across the world. As a result, of this conference, I hope that this, too, will change. The possibilities of future collaborative projects are, of course, endless. We all have a tremendous amount to learn from each other. Perhaps our efforts in the days to follow will help to develop and implement a realistic strategy to insure that these materials are safeguarded for the future.

This conference, as Sally has told you, has been years in the making, and I thank all of you who have served as funders, consultants, advisors, and working group members for your tremendous efforts and commitment to this project. Throughout the course of the next two days, working group chairs will summarize the research and deliberation of their regional groups. And if you look at the program, you will see that there is a variety of topics that will be addressed. There were essentially eight regional working groups that were composed of a variety of allied professionals. Again, video artists, scientists, engineers, conservators, archivists, librarians, etc., who met to discuss these very specific topics and to try and flesh them out a little bit. These presentations, then, will serve as a focus for discussion. Our intention is that the presentations may last anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes, and then the remaining time will be focused on discussion and deliberation of the issues that are raised. It is, therefore, really important and vital that we get your input. We're looking for your thoughts, observations, comments, recommendations and input, and all of this, then, will be incorporated into the publication. Each working group chair has been asked to prepare a paper, and they will be incorporating the discussions that occur here in the next two days into their presentation. So, I thank you all again for coming. We encourage input. It really is vital to the success of this somewhat unique program, the way that we've arranged this with regional groups, and then coming back to report on sort of the state, in this point of time, is unusual in its - a pilot project, which I think will be very successful.

Finally, I would like to introduce Inge-Lise Eckmann, who, until January of this year, was Director of Curatorial Affairs at SFMOMA. She was directly involved in the building and construction of this wonderful space, and prior to that, she served as the Head of Conservation at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She is now a consultant in the Bay Area on preservation and conservation, and also serves as the Vice President of the National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property. She's going to say a couple of things about SFMOMA. I'll turn it over to her. Thank you all for coming. Sorry about the short lunch, but I think we can fit this all in, and accomplish an awful lot in the two days to follow, and I look forward to meeting many of you. Inge-Lise...

INGE-LISE ECKMANN: Good morning. It's my pleasure, also, to welcome you here to SF MOMA, which I still consider a home for many reasons, and I think it's appropriate and very fitting that we should be holding this meeting at SFMOMA. You may know that the museum was one of the first museums of modern art established in this country in the 30s. In the early 70s, the museum established one of the first conservation centers dedicated to modern and contemporary art, and in the mid-80s, established a department of media arts. From the early days, SFMOMA collected photography as an art collection, in addition to the more traditional materials of paintings, sculptures, works of art on paper, so there's been a history here at SFMOMA for a long time of working with modern, and sometimes ephemeral and difficult materials.

Coming to this conference with a perspective as a museum official, as well as a conservator, I've been reflecting a bit on the changing role of museums, and I think one of the challenges we all share is that the role of the museum in the community has changed somewhat over the last 20 years. Where previous to that, it was clearly the priority of collecting and preserving, it has, more and more, become a center for educational programming, and resources therefore are distributed between all of these functions. I think that one of the things that we can all do is to keep in our minds how essential it is to have the original artwork and artifact as a key responsibility of museum management, and the essential nature of the collaboration that's required between the artist, the curator or custodian or collector, and the conservation or care of collections professionals, which include archivists and registrars as well as hands-on conservators. This is also, I think, a very positive shift, in regards to what museums are today. I think until recently, artists saw themselves as something very separate from the museum, and today, working together, artists and curators really are the essential components of establishing collections. Aside from the challenge of preserving the ephemeral materials, which is , I think, what we've all been thinking about, and what brought us here, I think there exists another challenge that is equally as difficult. And that is, selecting a collection to preserve. Traditional art has already been filtered out somewhat by natural selection. By time. And we don't have the lens of history. The work that we're dealing with is degrading at a rate which doesn't allow us what would have been considered a sort of typical lens of time for a museum collection, maybe 50 years. It's very, very hard to know within a span of ten and twenty years which works will be the key works, and I think that is the challenge that requires a collaboration of the artists and the curator. I think we all have to recognize the fact that we have to be very selective. Museums' storages can't grow and grow and grow, and applying our resources wisely is essential. So, difficult as it is, I would try to always be very selective in terms of building a collection. One of the key elements towards the preservation, and I would expect that all of you have already been engaged in this, is the documentation of those works. In some cases, the documentation is going to be a much more durable record than the work itself, and when the artist can be a part of that documentation process, including not only the physical characteristics and the technical aspects, but to some extent giving a clear idea to the museum what the artist's intent is, and what is the aesthetic component in the intent, as difficult as it is to distill that down and articulate it. And as much as artists resist this, to some extent that is the role of the curator, because the rate of change is very fast, and knowing when a piece has actually deteriorated to the point where it doesn't represent the artist's intent any longer, it's a difficult ethical and practical problem, but something we need to grapple with. So the documentation of these works is an onerous responsibility, and it's a very labor-intensive one, and thinking again about the breadth of collection, knowing that we have to put so much time and dedication into the documentation, I think is another element of the selection process, and the prioritization.

I think we're just beginning today to understand the environmental factors and the process of deterioration of these materials. We know they weren't made for permanence. Most often, they were made for a whole host of other factors: their versatility, their intensity, their speed, certainly not their stability, and the understanding of the environmental considerations in establishing some environmental standards is invaluable to this and all fields in conservation. I wish you a very profitable and inspiring meeting, although it is entirely packed, and I know there is almost nothing as nourishing to us this topic, I would suggest for those of you who are from out of town, if you have any possibility this weekend of getting outdoors and seeing Golden Gate Park, it is in its entire glory right now, with magnificent cherry blossoms, crabapple trees in bloom, and all of those things, so if you need some personal restoration, it's a local tip from your Chamber of Commerce. It's my pleasure to introduce Bob Riley. Bob is the founding curator of the Department of Media Arts here at SFMOMA. He has begun to, I think, establish an absolute model for collection development. He has collected very carefully and very selectively, not only contemporary works, but he has gone back in history, sometimes 15, 20 years, but again going back in history, to retrieve works that in some cases have been lost and have required complete recreation. That is not a model of traditional conservation, but it is an essential procedure for establishing the history of the media arts. And Bob has, I think, a lot of insight and great awareness, and will share with us some of his thoughts and experiences. Bob Riley...

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