Dispatch from DOCAM 1: the dead and dying

I’m on my way back from the final DOCAM conference in Montreal this week, trying to catch my breath from this two-day banquet of variable media research served up by the formidable Alain Depocas and his dedicated crew (Ludovic, Sophie, Catherine, et al.).

Over the past five years, DOCAM has pumped out gobs of deep research on documentation and preservation, including dozens of juicy case studies of artworks endangered in all kinds of delicious ways. Here are a handful of the myriad vulnerabilities that emerged from DOCAM’s case studies.

* There was the usual wringing of hands over anything depending on a CRT, but to add insult to injury everything depending on an analog television signal is dying or dead thanks to the introduction of digital TV (something I think Rick Rinehart was the first to predict). Agathe Jarczyk (Atelier fur Videokonservierung, Berne) mentioned one artist who tuned a series of televisions to dead channels in an act he described as “refusing” the TV signal. It seems the signal has now got its revenge by refusing to give him anything, even white noise.

* Richard Gagnier (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts) helped to emulate Jenny Holzer’s animated billboard “UNEX Sign #2” from 1983 using a later “Daktronics” LED-style technology. Though UNEX’s days are numbered, not all editions of the work were emulated, so Holzer chose to keep the original title despite its hardware specificity. I think keeping the original title was probably the right choice, but it does feel a bit like calling a work running on an iPhone “Palm App #2”.

* Alexandre Mingarelli of DOCAM worked with Stan Douglas on Nut’ka, a video installation that merges two channels into a single image by interlacing the odd raster lines from one with the even raster lines of the other. This visual merge is echoed by the gradual convergence of two soundtracks describing two perspectives on the same event–an effect that impressed me when we first installed Nut’ka at the Guggenheim in 1996. While the interlacing worked fine on analog (three-tube) projectors, today’s more sophisticated digital projecters inadvertantly bork the clean scan lines when they “improve” the signal by adding interpolated pixels–proving that better is not always better.

* Anne-Marie Zeppetelli (Musee d’art contemporain de Montreal) presented the conundrum of a site-specific video tour that Janet Cardiff created for the Musee d’art contemporain de Montreal. In the artist’s signature tours, museum staff hand each viewer a mini-DV camera that plays back the video of a walk through the museum seen from the visitor’s perspective, while the artist’s voice recounts an enigmatic narrative as background. I remember worrying the first time I experienced Cardiff’s work that it was only a matter of time before architectural renovations made one of her tours unwalkable–which is exactly what now happens 9 minutes into Cardiff’s MACM piece. Watch where you put those brick walls!

* Julie Gilman of the University of Ghent talked about food in art. You think you have it bad trying to find a U-Matic player? Try conserving Wim Delvoye’s embroidered slices of ham.

All is not doom and gloom, however–I’ll follow up with more on the tools and strategies discussed at the conference

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