THE DANISH VIDEO
ART DATA BANK
DK-4690 Haslev, Denmark
Moscow Paper - Part 1:
Preserving video art
In 1984 video workshop/HASLEV created THE DANISH
VIDEO ART DATA BANK and - with support from the Danish Ministry of Culture -
published the bilingual “Katalog over dansk videokunst / Catalogue of Danish
Video Art” with descriptions of well over 100 video works by 30 artists.
There have been created quite a lot video art
works since then but the problem is that it is not possible today to view and
experience many of the works from the catalogue. Partly because they were
produced at video standards which now are outdated and even not exist anymore
and partly because we have had to discover that analogue video tapes do have a
Most of the works though are produced on low
band U-matic. This standard still exist but not for long. At the Data Bank I
still keep the old well-worn low band and high band U-matic decks and edit suite
in shape. But anyway we must realise that the lifetime of these perhaps more
than 25 years old U-matic tapes are running out especially if the storage has
not been the best and if they not have been “aired” in most of these years.
Well - perhaps many of these first Danish video
art works are not “Big Art” (whatever that is?) but if for nothing else than
historical and research reasons I feel they should be preserved. They are after
all a part of our cultural heritage!
And of course this is not only a Danish problem
but a problem also in most other countries.
In the light of this THE DANISH VIDEO ART DATA
BANK prepared a report and proposal (published only in Danish) to secure,
protect and restore Danish video art and creating an archive for this purpose.
To secure, protect and restore modern art,
especially when it comes to a rather new kind as video art, is still a
relatively “uncultivated” field with no clear definitions. Also because the
electronic/digital media is a fast changing field with standards that do not
last for very long. And also the electronic/digital media are “young” in the
sense that we do not know too much about durability and the process of ageing
and there is almost no expertise on this field.
I took contact with Montevideo/TBA, the Dutch
Media Art Institute, because I knew that they are working with the same problem
and had made some research and considerations, published in a report (partly
mentioned in their Newsletter).
As a result of the research they had decided to
transfer all analogue tapes to digital Betacam because they found that in this
way you best preserved the “originality” of the original video art work.
They found that other digital techniques like DV and DVD by more or less degree
of compression “destroyed” the original analogue art work: You would not be
able to “recreate” it in its original form.
Also to transfer the analogue art work to a more
or less compressed digital media raises the moral and the copyright question:
Could you at all take the liberty to “change” an art work, produced at an
analogue form by transferring it to a digital carrier?
The question is: How far does digitisation
change the meaning of the video work? By definition, digitisation of video art
means changing the carrier and playback equipment of the work of art.
Well, I find that you could also argue
that this is less important in view of the problem that the analogue video art
works will be destroyed if nothing is done.
Preserving and archiving video
art - suggestions
In the report from January 1999 Montevideo put
forward a list of “Criteria for Archiving Formats” and I take the liberty to
quote these criteria:
There should be no visible change of image
compared to the original
There should be as much as possible
compatibility with industrial standards
The system must be able to process Betacam SP,
U-matic and VHS tapes, while preserving the best possible quality
Montage and editing must be possible
The stored material must have a long to very
long life span
The stored material must be able to be copied
onto any desired (tape) format without any appreciable loss of quality
The system must guarantee the possibility of
transferring the preserved material to newly designed carriers, in the 21st
In view of these criteria and a test with
different formats/carriers Montevideo came in 1999 to the conclusion that
“Digital Betacam is the most suitable option for archive purposes”.
I also took contact with the Guggenheim Museum
in New York and talked with Paul Kuranko, Media Arts Specialist. He told me
that up until now they have every 10 years made a new “master” of the
tapes in their collection. To further protect this master they also make a
so-called “Protection Copy” + an “Exhibition copy”, a “Research Copy”
and a “Transfer Copy”.
The new “Master” and the “Protection
Copy” are always made - if technical possible - at the same format/carrier
as the original video art work: analogue to analogue, digital to digital. At
least they will never “go down” in quality but if possible upgrade to a
better quality within the same type of format/carrier (e.g. VHS to Beta and so
on). The “Exhibition Copy” though is copied on DVD and the “Research
Copy” only on VHS.
They find it a problem with the digital
formats that each one compresses in a different way and also they are not
quite satisfied with the quality compared with the original video.
Preserving video art …
preserving the immaterial variable media:
Variable Media Initiative and
conference by Guggenheim Museum, NY
In March this year (March 30-31) the Guggenheim
Museum in New York organised a conference not only about video art works but
also about preserving any type of immaterial variable media art works.
The conference was organised by Guggenheim Film
and Media Art’s Senior Curator John G. Hanhardt and Assistant Curator Jon
Ippolito as part of the Guggenheim Variable
The conference raised questions like: Should
video art be preserved on tape or DVD? Can museums collect Web sites? What does
preserving an ephemeral installation have in common with re-enacting a
The conference discussed the issues associated
with collecting, preserving, and re-presenting different types of art works that
could be said to present similar preservation challenges as video.
All could agree that the lifespan of works
created in variable media is significant shorter than for example an oil
painting. In an attempt to capture and preserve artist’s intent the museum has
developed a questionnaire. In this the museum asks the artists about
present-tense parameters for displaying a piece, and their vision and guidelines
for the future of the work. Future concerns include 1. storage, 2. emulation, 3.
migration and 4. reinterpretation.
1. The storage strategy for most museums
is to store the artwork physically. The major disadvantage of storing
obsolescent materials is that the artwork will expire once these ephemeral
materials cease to function.
2. To emulate an artwork is to devise a
way of “imitating” the original look by completely different means (“imitating”
an analogue video work on digital video or DVD and so on). This could however be
inconsistent with the artist’s intent.
3. To migrate an artwork involves
upgrading equipment and source material. The analogue videotape and player could
be upgraded to digital tape/player. The major disadvantage of migration is that
the original appearances of the artwork will probably change on its new medium -
compare the discussion raised by Montevideo.
4. The most radical preservation strategy is to reinterpret
the work each time it is re-created. This would mean to ask what contemporary
medium would have the metaphoric value of the original medium. This would not
always be possible and it is a dangerous technique when not accepted by the
In the Variable Media Initiative Guggenheim also
operates with the two terms “reproduction” and “duplication”.
A medium is “reproduced” if any copy
of the original master of the artwork results in a loss of quality. Such media
include for example analogue video.
To say that an artwork can be “duplicated”
implies that it can be copied without loss of quality. Most digital media obey
this behaviour compared with for example analogue video and film-to-video
The conference at Guggenheim concentrated on 8
case studies. Among these Paik’s video installation “TV Garden” (playing
the artist’s “Global Groove” tape). You can find the reflections of the
Museum on all 8 case studies at the Guggenheim web site
Through the Variable Media Initiative
Guggenheim tries to “solve” or get an answer to some of the questions
through the questionnaire to the artists (available at their web site later on).
They propose that artists pass on guidelines as to how their artworks might be
translated into alternative mediums once their current formats become obsolete.
In RHIZOME DIGEST: April 13, 2001, Philip
Galanter comments and critise (among other things) this when she states (and I
quote): “A big point was made about respecting and understanding the artists
intent, but from many artists I spoke with “off camera” at the conference
there was a great deal of scepticism.”
“Rather than giving artists more control over
how their work is presented in the future, the Variable Media initiative
(whether this is the intent or the unintended result) makes the artist complicit
in protecting the financial interests of those more interested in art as profit
returning investment than art as art"
Well - I think it is a bit too hard to express
it that way, but of course the artist has to ask as he goes on: “Many
legitimately ask, therefore, not only what is being offered, but what will be
taken away, and who is really being served?”.
Comments from Jon Ippolito
In RHIZOME DIGEST: 4.20.2001John Ippolito from
Guggenheim answer to these comments.
He points out that “some constructs, however,
are more informed than others". By filling out a variable media
questionnaire you could say, that the artists may choose to grant the
collecting institution an unprecedented kind of authority. But not
filling one out endows the institution with far greater authority, because then
there’s no document future critics can dig out to decide whether a given
interpretation is good or bad. And, says Ippolito: "make no mistake about
it, museums will reinterpret works of art - sometimes consciously, sometimes not,
but usually to the detriment [damage] of all but the most conservative elements
of an artwork. … “
“And of course”, he states, “if an artist
working in ephemeral media doesn’t want their work to vary at all, the variable
media paradigm is the only current proposal to allow enforcement of such an
To Philip’s concern that the variable media
model simply guaranteed a “profit returning investment” for museums,
Ippolito consents that “No collecting institution will ever be entirely
insulated from market pressures, so artists are right to be sceptical of
museum’s interest - to a point.” But he believes, “that a museum that is
committed to collecting ephemeral works according to a variable media
paradigm represents the best strategy for preserving art the way artists
meant it to be seen".
… and this, I think, could be seen as an
answer to the moral and copyright question mentioned by me above.
Conclusion: Preserving video art
Well - it is as far as we have come in our
research up til now.
I know that KIASMA, the museum of modern art, in
Finland is digitising analogue video masters in Mpeg2. The artists get a
DVD-copy, which they can use for promotion and distribution. They state that
they do not find any other realistic solution but anyhow it would be interesting
to hear the considerations/thoughts they have done to the above-mentioned moral
and copyright question.
Woody Wasulka told me at the conference here
that they are transforming their analogue tapes to DVD. But since they are the
artists, it is an "artist's decision" and not something
decided by somebody else, a museum, a curator, a distributor, an archive or what
else - and without the consent of the artists.
And THE DANISH VIDEO ART DATA BANK would of
coarse be interested to learn what others are doing or not doing, since it is
beginning to become a bigger and bigger problem not only in the future but
already now with old tapes and different formats/carriers.
Part 2: Index of Danish and
Scandinavian video art on the Internet
The problem of preserving video art work is not
the only problem concerning Danish video art and video art works from other
Even with works that are still viewable it is
often difficult just to get information about the works unless you just happens
to know the artist or a person who knows somebody that knows something about the
video art works.
Although THE DANISH VIDEO ART DATA BANK has a
web site called "Catalogue", this "catalogue" is not - at
the moment - very informative or extensive. And the same goes for some of the
other Scandinavian web catalogues.
When you look in general at video and video art
catalogues, not only on the Internet but also at "old-fashioned"
printed catalogues you will find that the information given about the videos is
not the same from catalogue to catalogue. I find that this is a problem that
should be dealt with. We should come to an agreement at least in Europe - or in
any case at least in Scandinavia - about what information should be given about
each video work.
We are in the process of making a small
comparative survey of international catalogues on the Internet. When finished I
would like to suggest a sort of standard formulary as a minimum of the amount of
information about each work.
An international number for each
video art work
It would also be a great help in search of any
particular video work if each work were allocated an international number like
with the ISBN, the International Standard Book Number system for books.
Of course each individual artist could register
in the ISBN system but one catch more about the ISBN system is that you - at
least in Denmark - has to deliver two copies of what you "publish"
to the Royal Danish Library - and this is compulsory. This is OK when it comes
to printed matter but not when it comes to an art work - and a
video art work must be considered as a work of art like a painting or a
sculpture. Artists don’t have to deliver a specimen of their artwork for free
to a museum. Why should artists working with video then do it?
Fortunately ISO, The International Organisation
for Standardisation, is in the process of creating a system for audiovisual work
equivalent to ISBN. This system is called ISAN, International Standard
Audiovisual Number. The original draft proposal was prepared by CISAC, the
International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers, and AGICOA,
the Association for the International Collective Management of Audi-visual Works,
in 1996 and this draft was in 1997 merged with a draft from FIAPF, the
International Federation of Film Producers Association. It is currently at the
DIS (Draft International Standard) stage. ISAN should be finally approved by the
end of the 2001 calendar year and ready for use sometimes shortly after that.
The ISAN Standard defines "audio-visual
work" as follows:
"Audio-visual work: Work consisting of a
sequence of related images, with or without accompanying sound, which is
intended to be made visible as a moving image through the use of devices,
regardless of the medium of initial or subsequent fixation."
The purpose with ISAN is to identify the
audio-visual work with a unique number and this number will remain the same for
an audio-visual work regardless of the various formats in which it is
distributed (e.g. analogue or digital video, CD-ROM, DVD, etc.).
Because each ISAN will be a unique number that
will be permanently assigned to an audio- visual work, it will identify that
work across national boundaries and language barriers. As such it should be
useful particularly as an identifier when databases and exchange of information
is involved. This makes it very interesting if you want to register video art
works and create databases with the information. - also on the Internet.
Many databases but one Internet
If we keep to Scandinavia because the problem
about registration and index of video and film work has bee raised there, then I
do not think it feasible to create one, and only one, common data base or
data bank on the Internet!
Some of the agencies / organisations in the
Scandinavian countries working with distribution and or collecting videos and
films already have there own data bank on paper and some also on the Internet,
so I think a "merger" of these should be done in a different way.
At the congress-part of the European Media Art
Festival in Osnabrück in April this year there was among other very
interesting papers presented also one by Cay Wesnigk from OnLine FILM. They are
trying to create "Die DeutscheFilmDatenbank" for independent
filmmakers. This is of interest because they want to create it not as one
big, common data bank but as "Das Internetportal für den deutschen
I think this could and should be the model for
creating an index of Scandinavian video art works (and of course also for
countries outsite Scandinavia). Also because you keep the already existing
databases as such.
How could it be done? I will try to sketch out
how I think it should be done.
1. We should agree upon what information should
be given about a video work. As I said we will come back to that after finishing
2. We should agree upon using ISAN as soon as it
becomes ready for use.
3. We should agree upon a common structure for
the independent databases. At least you should be able to search on both "artist"
and "title". If these independent data banks also should include
streaming video clips should, I think, be up to each data bank, depending on
both economical and man power resources.
4. The existing (or coming) independent data
banks and their web sites should still be the sole responsibility of the agency/organisation/museum,
which has created it, and also be maintained by these agencies/organisations/museums.
5. We should create a common meta search engine,
which should be able to search for any information in each of the data bank web
sites connected to the search engine. When somebody seeks information about
Scandinavian video art you only have to go to one web site, the common meta
search engine. This search engine functions a "web gate" or "portal"
to the independent data bank web sites.
6. If you then write the name of an artist or
the title of a video the search engine will direct you to any of the independent
web sites containing the wanted information. Not only to the web site but
directly to the information.
7. You might consider if the meta search engine
also should have a list of artists from all the independent data bank sites to
8. In any case anybody should still be able to
go directly to each of the independent data bank web sites without having to go
through the search engine.
9. We have to create a common agency to take
care of and maintain the meta search engine (it could of course be one of the
already existing agencies, organisations and museums).
10. We have to find economical resources for the
meta search engine.
11. ´9It should be possible for an artists
not associated with one of the data banks but with a web site to have this web
site connected to the search engine,
12. … but I think that an artist could be
associated with a data bank even if the artist want to be independent of the
data bank and the way they usually distribute videos. THE DANISH VIDEO ART DATA
BANK offers such an opportunity for individual artists to have information
published on the catalogue site without any obligation to the Data Bank (NB: in
any case the Data Bank has no agreement with any artist about exclusive
rights to distribution. Any of the affiliated artists can also themselves
distribute their own videos)
[ DIAGRAM TO ILLUSTRATE THIS HERE
from "VIDEO ARTmonitor 6" ]
I hope my suggestions will be discussed between
the Scandinavian agencies/organisations/museums concerned. Since I am an artist
and not a computer specialist I do not know anything about the price of the
suggested meta search engine or the work to be done to establish and maintain it.
If accepted a work group should be established to look into the practical and
Part 3: Archive of Danish
As I said in the beginning we have also been
working on the possibility of creating an archive of Danish video art (a "physical"
archive). Up til now we have small collections at a few museums and at galleries
or agencies, but especially the earlier video art works you might only find by
the individual artists.
As a starting point THE DANISH VIDEO ART DATA
BANK has discussed the possible functions of such an archive:
The archive could solely be a depot for the
restored, preserved and transferred video art works with a registration/catalogue
and a possibility to make simple copies. The restoration, preservation and
transfer would be done by commercial companies
The archive as a) but also with “in-house”
technical possibilities for the restoration, preservation and transfer
the archive as a) or b) but also with the
possibility for public access to view the videos.
We think that the best model would be the
combination of b) and c).
Next step would of course depend on financial
support - and also in what framework and responsibility it is going to be
organised. In this respect there seems to be a dawning interest among some
museum curators in Denmark for doing something - and that is how far we have
come by now.
Part 4: Video/media arts and the
accelerating change of technology
The problems around preservation and archiving
video art from yesterday also raises questions about the work of video and media
artists now and in the future.
With the accelerating technological changes of
formats and carriers what is then the possibilities of the access for media
artists to express themselves artistically not just now but also in the future?
To put it very simple: If the artists created an
art work on a video cassette yesterday, then he or she should have done it on
CD-ROM today which tomorrow will be outdated in favour of DVD which in return
the day after tomorrow will be replaced by … you take a guess.
The acceleration of development in digital media
has also increased their ephemerality. This becomes a fundamental creative
problem for artists. By the time you have mastered a particular technology, it
has gone away.
You might well ask: Do we have to reject the
statement by Nam June Paiks that "Once on video tape you are not allowed to
What can the video and media artist do to be
sure to create works that you may experience "in all future times"
regardless of seemingly inevitable transient quality of the new electronic /
Should we as artists - and can we do that? -
think different about how to create an art work and how to look at an art work?
Away from the traditional view as something
definitive, well-defined, present? Should we imagine all art-making with media
as having the ephemerality of performance?
Would it, for example, as the American artist
Ron Kuivila has suggested, be possible if the art work is looked upon as an open
source notation? - If we look upon the creation of a media art work from the
relationships that grow out of notation and realisation?
And by notation he means notation in a "prescriptive"
sense that sets ground rules for a complementary activity - realisation - and
not in a "descriptive" sense that specifies a work fixed in every
He points out, that to some extent, new media
are themselves notations. Let us say you work with a tool like html. It
constitutes a meta-score of some sort, because it creates a field of play. And
the artist might stress that it is just an enabling technology - and we can
distinguish this technology clearly from the art work.
Bu perhaps we should just not do that! Perhaps
we should rather imagine the passage between a particular set of technical
possibilities to a particular piece of art as a more fluid situation. Or we
could imagine works as problems of specification.
If we think in this way, the making of an art
work becomes a matter of making a prescriptive notation that exists
independent of any specific technical possibility and that can be re-constituted
by adding "the water" of a current or future technology.
The problem for the artist in a traditional
sense is that other people than the artist also will be able to "add the
water" - and then will you as an artist loose your individual mark on the
work as its creator?
If you talk about a descriptive notation
then the artwork will be entirely encoded in the instructions. But the risk is
that the technological development will make it impossible to realise the work
in the future. Ron Kuivila therefore suggests using the prescriptive notation
not as a replacement for current work, but as a useful supplement.
How do we describe a work based on the
prescriptive notation? Do we just keep describing the notation, or will we
describe the realisation? And: do we still mention the artist that initiated the
notation - Or do we only mention those that that later realise the specific
notation. Those that made it "famous" with their actions?
Well - you already have that problem. Take for
example Nam June Paik's "Zen for Head".
Karlheinz Stockhausen's "Originale"
was performed the first time at Theater am Dom in cologne in October 1961. Paik
had - as the only one of the participating artists - been granted free hands by
Stockhausen. He performed "Zen for Head" by painting a line on a roll
of paper with his head.
In later descriptions (both in books and
magazines) it is only a very few times mentioned that this was a realisation of
Lamonte Young's "Composition No. 10 for Robert Morris", and that Paik
and Young at that time worked together. In most cases only Paik is mentioned.
That is to say: you mention only Paik that made
the notation - the prescriptive notation - famous because he realized it by
performing it, and not Lamonte Young, the artist that created the notation, the
"author" of the prescriptive notation.
Kuivila suggests that instead of maintaining a
strict "author model" you should operate with a more flexible sense of
"shared authorship" to create many possibilities where before there
were only a few imagined. We should actively embrace the variety of models of
"authorship" that are possible and incorporate them into our
conception of art making.
Well - if these thoughts about "prescriptive
notations" and "shared authorship" as the future AND the rescue
of media art is the way to go, I can't say. But they are in any case a proposal
to discussion and debate. I think artists working with media art should do that,
because the problems around the ephemerality of the digital media are there
already now. We should as artists take this challenge serious.