|Equipment & Technical Issues|
All video-original materials face preservation problems due to the unstable nature of videotape. The technological aspects of preserving video art generally fall into two broad categories: playback equipment and display equipment.
A specific type of playback equipment-videotape players, DVD players, etc.-is rarely critical to the integrity of a video artwork. The main goal of conserving video art is to make accessible an accurate reproduction of the original video signal in an appropriate manner. In order to overcome videotape's instability, it is necessary to migrate the original signals to newer, more stable formats such as broadcast tape formats like Digital or digital files like JPEG2000.
Obsolescence is the major problem when it comes to playback equipment, particularly with media art and independent video. Many of the formats used for early video art are now obsolete. This includes 1/2" open reel (the "PortaPak" format used by many pioneering video artists) and 2" quad, (the early broadcast format which was used to record many 1960s and 1970s public television projects.) Many other works exist only on formats such as 3/4" U-matic or 1" Type C, which, although they are more recent, have quickly become obsolete, and for which new decks are no longer being built.
Two strategies can help institutions deal with this problem. The first is to take a proactive approach for the future, by stockpiling playback equipment that corresponds to formats held in their collections. This approach may not always be practical-broadcast equipment like 1" type C is bulky and difficult to obtain-but for 3/4" Umatic tapes in particular, it may well prove to be valuable.
It is even more critical, especially for truly obsolete formats, to develop a relationship with a trusted vendor-a company that specializes in remastering videotapes and also understands an institution's specific needs.
Display equipment poses certain problems unique to video art. Television programs were designed to be seen on any and all TV sets; preserving the programs does not require any particular attention to their eventual display. Much video art, however, was designed with specific monitors in mind-equipment that is just as much a part of the work as the video signal itself. This equipment can range from specific individual monitors that are clearly part of the work-as with the vintage TV sets in some of Nam June Paik's installation pieces-to basic, off-the-shelf monitors that merely need to be of certain dimensions.
The most critical issue regarding display equipment-one that will only become more problematic in the near future-is the question of cathode ray tube monitors-CRT's-versus flat-screen monitors. Most video art from the first three decades of the medium was created when the only available monitors were conventional CRTs, whatever size or type. Now, however, LCD and plasma screens are rapidly replacing CRTs in the marketplace, and many manufacturers are stopping CRT production entirely.
Yet many video art works were created with the specific properties of the CRT in mind, and many artists do not believe that flatscreen monitors are acceptable substitutes. Definitive solutions to this emerging problem are not yet clear. Stockpiling of monitors-where feasible-is certainly one solution. Equally critical is the engagement of the artist in dialogue about the work as soon as possible. What are the specific variations from its original state that the artist would consider acceptable? What pieces of equipment are so critical that, should the not become available, the work would have to be considered "dead"? This is only one facet of media art preservation where artist input is absolutely critical to the future well-being of the art itself.
Works that are shown by projection rather than on monitors offer challenges of their own. In a sense, they can be somewhat easier to deal with, in that projection equipment is generally meant to be invisible, whereas display monitors are visible to one degree or another. This means that, theoretically, an obsolete or non-functioning projector can be replaced with an upgraded model without affecting the work. In practice, however, great care must be taken in choosing the new projector. Not only must the original dimensions and aspect ratio of the image be retained, but the visual qualities-contrast, color balance, resolution, etc.-must also be preserved. In this case, documentation and consultation with the artist are critical-especially if a projector is replacing one that has already failed, rather than proactively replacing the original, against which its image could be compared.
Finally, maintenance is vital. Whenever possible, monitors and projectors should be regularly calibrated-checked against standard color bars to insure an accurate signal-as often as every day while a piece is being shown.
© 2006-2009 | Independent Media Arts Preservation, Inc.