playback 1996

Session Transcripts

March 29, 1996, Morning

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BARBARA LONDON: I'm Video Curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and I'm delighted to be here and to host this session. This is almost like "This Is Your Life" because there are so many colleagues in the audience I've worked with for more than 20 years, and I think that we, as Woody said, are a tribe, we've grown, we're still very much in need of each other. The Museum of Modern Art was founded in 1929, and has dedicated itself to exhibiting, collecting and preserving the art of our time. Actually, in the early days, we had a sign out in front of the building saying "The Art of Our Time." Video was first presented at MOMA in 1968, in the machine as seen at the end of the "Mechanical Age" exhibition. This was only three years after the first consumer video camera was put on the market. And these were exhilarating days of early video. Technical factors made it challenging for museums to exhibit video. Nothing was automatic; reel-to-reel tape decks required that someone be on hand to thread up, start and rewind each tape. For the machine show, Nam June Paik turned his Lindsey tape of ‘67 into a video installation by jerry-rigging an endless loop device, which he made. He actually Scotch taped together his videotape, set up two open reel half-inch playback decks on the floor, about ten feet apart from each other. He ran the spliced-together tape between them. After about one week, Paik's Lindsey tape died. Literally, it wore out. We all thought this classic work was lost until a kinescope version turned up in Germany a couple of years ago. And this kinescope gives us an idea of what this very spirited work was like. I won't go on to the history of video at MOMA; I'll just say that we've had an ongoing exhibition program for more than 20 years. We have a collection of over 800 titles, and I'm happy to say that we've done preservation work with these materials working with colleagues at Electronic Arts Intermix, the Video Data Bank and other museums. We now have an incredible film and video preservation center that's just been built, and the video and film collection is now there in its new premises under climate controlled conditions. We have a bar code storage method where bar code stickers go on both the shelf and the tape, and this proves to be the most efficient collection management system. We've also catalogued our collection according to the Star cataloguing system, which is what the Library of Congress uses. I'm a word junkie. Woody might be a tool junkie, an art junkie. I've joked that I'm a word junkie. I've saved every shred of paper any artist has ever given me. So, for me, these ephemeral materials are very important for future scholars, because I think preservation, exhibition, collection, production all goes hand-in-hand, and I think that's what we're all about in being here together today, in sharing our experiences. To me, video is the major art of our time. I think that when we look back in, say, even just ten years, critics, artists, cultural historians will look back at the video art of the 60s, the 70s and the 80s, and I think in the same way that scholars look back at film from the early part of the 20th century, when there was a proliferation of film formats, when there was extraordinary creative activity, a lot of which has been lost. So I think it's very important that we address this issues today. I know that Ant Farm suffered a fire a number of years ago. As I mentioned, Paik's early work - some has been lost. I think it's a major moment, and I think the efforts of BAVC are crucial, because video preservation is not sexy. It's hard to get money. Curators like Bob Reilly and my colleague John Hanhardt in the audience, we of course raise money for our exhibitions. We think about the preservation and we need help. We can go to the Sonys or the Samsungs and get equipment, but we need more. We have a lot of collective memory in this room, and I think it's exciting that we're sharing all of our expertise. The next speakers are going to have a conversation, three-way. The topic is "Analysis and Evaluation Procedures," so I'm going to ask Beni Matias to come up. She runs the Center for Arts Criticism. Also Bruce Fellows, engineering consultant, and Rebecca Bachman, who's Assistant Archivist at the Walker Arts Center. So, they'll address what is the chemical and physical structure of videotape, and a lot more. So, please come up.

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