Technology-based, reproducible, and variable,
media art poses unique challenges for the exhibitor. Exhibition
strategies and standards for media art are constantly in flux
as artistic practices evolve, technology develops, and viewing
contexts change. However, one can identify basic professional
protocols, guidelines, and definitions that will assist in ensuring
that video artworks are exhibited with respect for the artists
and the integrity of the works, whether they are part of a major
museum exhibition or a cinematic screening. Sometimes the most
fundamental questions are the most important ones to ask. What
kinds of playback
equipment are recommended? What is the preferred format
for exhibiting video in a gallery and why? What format is best
for a theatrical screening? And what do you really mean when
you say "single-channel
video"? The answers to these and the other basic but crucial
questions below might be seen as a starting point for demystifying
What is "single-channel video"?
The term "single-channel" refers to video or media work that involves a single information source (such as a DVD), a single playback device (such as a DVD player), and a single display mode (such as a flat-screen monitor). To cite a familiar example, when you play a DVD and view it on your television at home, you're showing a single-channel work.
The electronic information can be stored on a range of media formats, including analog video (VHS, Betacam SP) or digital media (DVD, Digital Beta, DVCAM). Single-channel works can be presented in any number of contexts and venues, including cinematic or theatrical environments, gallery spaces within museums or other institutions, or in classroom settings, to name just a few. Exhibition designs are also variable, and include freestanding monitors, wall-mounted flat screens and large-scale projections. Single-channel works range from classic early video pieces to recent digital works, and may be editioned or uneditioned.
What are the recommended formats for exhibiting or screening single-channel works?
The media format one chooses for presenting single-channel works will depend on a range of variables, including the viewing context, the exhibition environment, and the work itself. For example, a well-authored DVD is suitable for exhibition in a gallery or museum, primarily because of its ability to loop (that is, to continuously repeat content). DVDs should be made from source material on archival formats or uncompressed video files, and authored by a knowledgeable professional. DVCAM (not to be confused with MiniDV, which most consumer camcorders use) is an excellent format for screenings in a cinematic or theatrical environment. Although DVCAM is a professional format and is thus less common than DVD, it is of considerably higher quality. Betacam SP (Beta SP) is also a high-quality, industry-level format for theatrical or cinematic screenings. (Neither of these formats has looping capability, which limits their use in gallery exhibitions.) By contrast, VHS is only suitable for reference or classroom viewing, not for public exhibition.
Please visit "Equipment & Technical Issues" for more detailed information.
Why shouldn't I exhibit or screen a VHS tape?
Despite being a widely available consumer standard, VHS is simply not a high quality format and should not be considered for exhibiting artists' video works. VHS does not adequately serve the artist, the artist's work, or the exhibitor. In particular, when a VHS tape is projected, the integrity of the image is substantially compromised; the 1/2" tape capacity does not support enough "information" to sustain magnification. VHS is also very susceptible to damage during repeated playback.
What kind of equipment will I need to play a video work in my exhibition?
Exhibition of a single-channel video work requires the appropriate playback equipment (for example, a professional DVD player), display device (a presentation monitor, plasma or LCD flat screen, or projector and projection surface), audio equipment (amplifier, speakers, or headphones), and cables and connectors.
The specific playback and display equipment you'll need for your video exhibition or screening will depend on your choice of media format. These decisions will also be based on a range of variables, including the exhibition space or venue, the viewing context, availability of equipment, the desired audience interaction with the work, and the work itself. Equipment issues have an impact beyond the purely technical: For example, the decision to project a work in a theatrical setting or to show it looped on a flat-screen monitor in a gallery should also speak to the artists' intentions, as they will impact the meaning and perception of the work. Certain historical video works may be best served by exhibition on a monitor, while a new digital work might be better suited to a flat screen or a projection. Proper selection, installation and maintenance of video and audio equipment are critical, and exhibitors should consult qualified technicians where possible.
Visit "Equipment & Technical Issues" for a detailed review of equipment options for single-channel video presentation.
Do artists have specific exhibition or equipment requirements?
Many artists conceive media works in which the presentation mode is integral to the work. In such cases, the artist may identify specific requirements for how the work must be presented. These requirements may range from issues of display (for example, a work must be shown on a monitor, or may only be projected) to what formats can be used for exhibition. When acquiring media works, whether from the artist, a distributor, or gallery, it is important to inquire about such requirements, so that the works can be presented as the artist intended. If guidelines are not provided, the exhibitor should consider the intent of the work, as the decision to project it or show it on a particular monitor may alter its meaning.
What kind of agreements or documents will I be asked to sign for the rental or loan of video works?
As an electronic medium, video is distinct from traditional art forms such as painting or sculpture in that it is infinitely and easily reproducible. This defining characteristic often exposes it to unauthorized use, presentation and dissemination. The duplication of a video work without the artist's consent can represent an infringement of the artist's rights, significantly compromise the integrity of the work, and interfere with existing contractual relationships between the artist and the artist's collectors, gallerists, and distributors. Typically, exhibitors must enter into specific agreements or licenses that outline the terms, conditions and rights that are being extended for the use of a media work in an exhibition. Such agreements vary depending on the source of the artwork (distributor, gallery, artist), whether the work is a limited or unlimited edition, and a range of factors such as venue (museum exhibition, classroom screening), duration of exhibition or number of screenings, and whether the exhibition will tour to additional venues.
Visit "Agreements and Contracts" for samples of these documents.
What kind of fees should I expect to encounter?
Exhibition fees for media works vary depending on a range of variables, including the source of the artworks (distributor or gallery), the desired media format (DVD, DVCam, Beta SP), the length of the exhibition or screening, and whether the exhibition will tour to other venues. Distributors typically charge exhibition or screening rental fees for the works, with a percentage of the fee returned to the artist in the form of a royalty. Other expenses may include technical production costs for creating back-up copies, subtitling or compilations, playback and display equipment costs, technical staff, and shipping and handling costs.
Visit "Budget" for more information on this topic.
What is the difference between a gallery and a distributor as the source for a video art work for an exhibition or screening?
Distributors and galleries represent different economic systems for handling the rental or loan of video works for exhibitions or screenings. These two models also reflect different historical and philosophical approaches to a reproducible medium.
Distributors of video art works are typically non-profit organizations and usually represent video works that have been created in unlimited editions. Distributors sell and rent uneditioned works in a range of formats at relatively affordable rates, based on the archival life of the format acquired and the rights being offered. Because the works are not editions, distributors normally charge a rental or purchase fee when the work is shown in public. A percentage (often 50%) of every rental or purchase fee goes directly to the artist in the form of a royalty. Because “access” is a central tenet of non-profit distributors' missions, they invest in preservation activities that result in exhibitors’ receiving the best quality exhibition copies available and a broadening of the range of works available for exhibition.
Galleries almost exclusively represent editioned media art works—that is, video works that have a limit on the number of copies made. This limit is usually agreed upon between the artist and their primary gallery and is enforced through a contract signed by the buyer of an edition copy. As for-profit entities, galleries are focused on the sale of these limited editions, often to private collections. When a gallery sells a limited-edition video work, it often issues a “certificate of authenticity” that confirms the number of the edition. Since the art market is tied to notions of exclusivity, the price of a limited-edition video work reflects the size of the edition (among other factors). Galleries usually loan exhibition copies of limited-edition works for museum exhibitions without charging a fee; however, unlike non-profit distributors, they have no mission or obligation to provide access: any decision to supply a video work is completely at their and the artist's discretion and is taken on a case-by-case basis. Researchers wishing to view a limited-edition work that is represented by a gallery should contact the gallery. However, since commercial galleries are not geared toward providing educational access, the possibility for viewing these works may be limited and, again, is at the discretion of the gallery.
How far in advance should I acquire video works for exhibition?
Exhibitors often make the mistake of waiting far too long before making arrangements to acquire media works for exhibitions. Most distributors and galleries must custom-make artists' media works for exhibitions, a process that might require weeks of preparation. (In the case of historical video works, preservation work must often be done before works can be exhibited.) Exhibition agreements and fees must be negotiated; often payment must be received in advance of shipping. Keeping all this in mind, exhibitors should arrange to receive works far enough in advance to preview and test them on their exhibition equipment, leaving ample time to make changes before the exhibition opens. In the early stages of exhibition planning, exhibitors should research how much lead time distributors, galleries, artists, or other loan sources require. (For example, EAI requires that works be ordered at least five weeks in advance of the desired date of receipt.)
Can I prepare my own exhibition reel or compilation? Can I make copies? Can I keep a reference copy for educational purposes?
Rights to reproduce media works are specific to each license agreement or contract. It is safest to assume that copying of any kind is forbidden unless you have drawn up and signed an agreement with the artist, distributor, or gallery that specifically allows for duplication. Compilations for exhibitions should only be made with written approval (and often supervision) from the artist or distributor/gallery, and should be produced from high-quality source material. Typically all screening and reference copies must be returned after the exhibition.
Should I order back-up copies?
Media-based art works are subject to wear and tear and image degradation if played repeatedly for an extended time. Back-up copies are recommended for exhibitions that extend for more than a month, particularly if one is using relatively fragile formats such as DVD. Typically one arranges in advance with the distributor, artist, or gallery to acquire back-up copies for a negotiated fee that reflects technical costs.
What's the difference between digital and analog formats?
"Analog" refers to a system of recording video images that employs continuously varying waveforms to encode brightness, color, and the timing information necessary to reproduce a moving image. Examples of analog video formats are VHS, Betacam SP, and 1/2” reel-to-reel tape (obsolete). Digital media formats include DVD, Digital Beta, DVCAM, and MiniDV. With the exception of DVD, these formats are similar to analog video in that they consist of physical magnetic tape reels stored inside protective cassettes. The critical distinction is the way in which the information is stored. (Digital data is stored as a series of 1's and 0's, while analog data uses a range of numbers such as 0 to 10000.) When examined closely, analog video will appear as a series of lines, while digital video is comprised of pixels, or tiny boxes of color. The difference between analog and digital formats, though subtle, is perceptible.
Visit "Formats" for a comprehensive inventory of media art formats.
What's the difference between "NTSC" and "PAL"?
NTSC and PAL are the two main video broadcast standards or systems; they are incompatible with one another. Developed in 1953 in the U.S., NTSC (the acronym for National Television System Committee) is the video standard used in North America and Japan. NTSC videocassettes and DVDs are only playable on equipment that supports this standard. NTSC displays 525 lines of information at 60 half-frames (interlaced) per second. PAL stands for Phase Alternating Line and is the dominant television standard in most of the world, including Europe. PAL delivers 625 lines of information at 50 half-frames per second, which typically results in a higher-quality image. PAL videocassettes and DVDs are playable only on PAL equipment. (A third, much less common format is SECAM [Séquentiel Couleur Avec Mémoire], which was engineered in France.) Multi-standard playback devices can read all international formats.
What's the difference between Standard Definition, and High Definition?
Standard-definition television or SDTV refers to television systems that have a resolution that meets standards but not considered high definition. VHS tapes, DVDs, Betacam SP, DigiBeta, and DVCAM, are all standard definition formats. High-Definition television (HDTV) refers to the broadcasting of television signals with a higher resolution than traditional formats (NTSC, SECAM, PAL) allow. HDTV is broadcast digitally, and therefore its introduction sometimes coincides with the introduction of digital television (DTV): this technology was first introduced in the USA during the 1990s, by the Digital HDTV Grand Alliance. HDTV is defined as 1080 active interlaced lines, or 720 progressive lines. 16 : 9 aspect ratio in ITU-R BT.709. The term "high-definition" can refer to the resolution specifications themselves, or to media capable of similar sharpness such as motion picture film.
How do I obtain still images for my exhibition catalogue?
Often the rights to reproduce images from an artist's media work are managed by a specific agency or representative and retain certain restrictions or conditions. In addition, often the artist has selected specific images to represent his or her work in exhibition catalogues and brochures. Inquiries about obtaining and reproducing still images should be directed to the artist or the designated representative (distributor, gallery) to identify the appropriate procedure.
Can I show these works on the Internet?
The short answer is "no." Most artists, distributors, and galleries will not allow Webcasting of video art works in order to protect the copyright interests of artists and to restrict unlicensed public presentations.
Can I tour my video exhibition?
Most exhibition or license agreements provide exhibition rights for the originating institution or venue only. If you wish to tour your exhibition, you will need to negotiate a specific advance agreement with the artist, gallery or distributor, which outlines the terms and conditions of the tour. Additional rental or loan fees will apply.
What is an "editioned" video? What is an "uneditioned" video?
These questions and their implications are among the most important (if often confusing) for artists, curators, collectors, gallerists, and others working with contemporary media art. Video is a reproducible medium, and the difference between uneditioned and editioned works reflects different economic and distribution systems, and often a contrasting philosophical approach to the medium as well.
A video work that is “uneditioned” has no limit to the number of copies that may exist. However, there may be stringent restrictions governing who may make copies, how they are made, how they may be used, etc. These restrictions are typically outlined in an agreement when the work is sold or exhibited. Uneditioned video works reflect a different economic model; artists are typically paid a royalty when the work is exhibited or sold. Thus, exhibitors pay a fee for the inclusion of a non-editioned work in an exhibition or screening. Video art distributors typically represent non-editioned media works. (For example, the single-channel video works in the EAI collection are not editioned, allowing wider access to the works.)
An artist who wishes to create a finite number of copies of a video work for the art market creates a limited edition. This video work is editioned, which means that the number of circulating copies for sale is limited (for example to three, five, or ten, plus artist's proofs.) Beyond this edition, no further copies may be made. The price of a limited edition video work is often correlated to the size of the edition. A certificate of authenticity confirming the number of the edition accompanies the sale of a limited edition video work. Commercial galleries typically handle limited edition video works.
Artists creating media art today often work within different models and contexts, selling limited edition video works through a gallery, disseminating Internet-based works online, and offering uneditioned video works through a distributor.