Collecting computer-based art may seem like a difficult proposition, as it is among the most ephemeral of art forms. Artists often use hardware and software in unconventional ways, and media files and operating systems are subject to rapid obsolescence. Despite these challenges, careful preparation can ease the way for collecting this vital new art. Because collecting computer art is a relatively recent phenomenon—and because digital technologies and artists' practices are fluid and evolving—this section is less a standard “best practices” document than a series of recommendations. For example, one should always keep the lines of communication with the artist or artist's representative open. This can take the form of an artist interview, which can be invaluable for exhibition and conservation of the work. Record-keeping is another important part of assembling a collection; this may include getting a copy of the installation instructions, a signed certificate from the artist that authenticates the work, and even video documentation of users interacting with the work.
As you read through this section, please refer to the recommendations in the Preservation of Computer-Based Art section of this Guide, as preservation, cataloging and conservation of computer-based art should be addressed at the moment of acquisition. A number of issues discussed in Single-channel Video and Media Installation will also be relevant.
Communication with the Artist or Artist's Representative
It is of utmost importance to engage in a conversation with the artist or artist's representative to ensure that you understand all the elements of the work and how those elements create meaning. Much work has been done in the conservation community regarding how to properly interview artists to obtain maximum information. INCCA's (International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary Art) "Guide to Good Practice for Artist Interviews" and the Variable Media Network's "Variable Media Questionnaire" are excellent resources.
Gather all elements of the work and instructions as to how these elements relate to one another. Some questions regarding source material are as follows:
Review any rights granted or restrictions imposed as part of your purchase contract that may impact the exhibition and preservation of the work.
While it may seem obvious, it is important to note that how a work is installed has a tremendous impact on how that work is perceived. This is especially true of interactive works, because by defining the installation parameters, you define how you want the user to interact with and experience the work. They must be developed in conjunction with the artist and in the context of available equipment as, fortunately or unfortunately, available equipment sometimes defines the installation parameters for you. To insure proper installation of computer-based works in your collection, make sure you have the following:
Equipment poses one of the biggest challenges for the collection of computer-based work, as issues of cost and technical obsolescence can be intimidating. It is important to remember to ask questions about the function of the equipment (not just make and model) so that you can make choices about future installations when the time comes.
It is important for the institution, the artist, and future collectors and exhibitors of complex installations to have full documentation of past installations of an artwork. Some forms of documentation to think about are:
The Preservation Best Practices section of this Guide outlines a comprehensive approach to documentation of computer-based art works, including inventory and cataloging, behavior and environment, metadata, numbering and labeling.
Computer-based art is among the most ephemeral of art forms. Not only are media files subject to rapid obsolescence, but the software, hardware, and operating systems needed to play back these files have short lives as well.
Preservation refers to the overall process by which the content of an item is saved, and its long-term viability and accessibility ensured. Preservation issues should be addressed at the time of acquisition, and include documentation, inspection, data storage, and strategies such as emulation, migration, and encapsulation.
Understanding the basics of preserving your computer-based or digital art collection is so important that we have dedicated a comprehensive section of this Guide to the issue.
For a detailed discussion of preservation guidelines for computer-based and digital art works, see the Preservation Best Practices section of this Resource Guide.