Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Variable Media Questionnaire

On you can find Guggenheim's Variable Media Questionnaire (the link to Jon Ippolito's website didn't lead to the document), but it seems as if if it was the complete questionnaire on the videoart-website.

Maybe someone can tell, if the questionnaire below is complete or still the current version?

Video Art / Media Art Preservation: Studies and Suggestions

Once again: the Ethical Considerations

We have already referred to the pilot project by Montevideo. They asked the moral and copyright question: Can you at all take the liberty to ”change” an art work, produced at an analogue form by transferring it to a more or less compressed digital carrier? By definition, digitisation of an analogue video work means changing both the carrier and the playback equipment of the video work.

The Guggenheim Variable Media Questionnaire

Through the “Variable Media Initiative” we have mentioned in some detail The Guggenheim Museum in New York tries to solve the problem with a questionnaire to the artists. The questionnaire – still only in a beta version (1) - distinguish or divide the variable media artworks in

1. artworks that can be installed

2. artworks that can be performed

3. artworks that can be interactive

4. artworks that can be reproduced

5. artworks that can be duplicated

6. artworks that can be encoded – and

7. artworks that can be networked

and ask the artist to answer different questions in a multiple choice questionnaire

If we take no. 4 as an example that refer to video art works the following issues are put forward and the artist has to answer them both according to “current state” and how they “can vary” and she/he has also the possibility to comments on the issues/answers:

  1. original audio format
  2. original photograph format
  3. original film format
  4. original video format
  5. original print format
  6. location of master
  7. status of master
  8. acceptable submasters
  9. fate of submasters
  10. permission to create submasters
  11. permission to compress/digitise

To d) you have the choice between: u-matic/betacam sp/vhs (Pal, NTSC or SECAM) or others which you have to specify.

To f) you have the choice between: archive with work’s owner, archived in another location (specify), used for exhibition (explain) or not applicable.

To g) you have the choice between: still viable, remastered (specify format of new master), not applicable.

To h) you have the choice between: for exhibition, for research, for archive, for public distribution, not applicable.

To I) you have the choice between: require the borrower to destroy, require the borrower to return, distribute freely, other (explain, not applicable.

To j) you have the choice between: not required, required from the artist or estate, not given, not applicable.

To k) you have the choice between: for low-resolution distribution, for high-resolution distribution, a combination of above (explain), not applicable.

For each of the above 7 types of variable media types you have to go into detail about “In later re-creations, this artwork could be …

a. stored

b. emulated

c. migrated

d. reinterpreted"

We have already treated the meaning of these words but we repaet the explanations here
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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 – see the discussion (raised by Montevideo) about the moral question..

  • 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 warranted by the artist.

If we again take no 4. as applicable to video art works then you have to answer the following two options/questions concerning a):

Source: Should an obsolete source master, such as a video tape … be restores as necessary to make exhibition copies?
Access to previous versions:
should previous versions of the work be stored so general public can view them?

To b) you have to answer to the questions:

Source: Should the experimental effect of an obsolete source master, such as a video tape …, be reproduced in an entirely new medium (e.g. digitising an analogue tape)?
Access to previous versions:
Should the remastered source be “marked” with the effect of previous display technologies?

To c) you have to answer the questions:

Source: Should an obsolete source master, such as a video tape … be migrated to a new medium that has become industrial standard?
Access to previous versions:
(There are no migration options for this problem).

To d) you have to answer the questions:

Source: Should an obsolete source master, such as a video tape …be re-recorded according to the artist’s instructions?
Access to previous versions:
(There are no reinterpretation options for this problem

… and to each of the options/questions to a, b c and d you have the choice between: preferred, acceptable, discouraged, inaccessible and not applicable.


(1) You may find the beta version of the Guggenheim Variable Media Questionnaire at"

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