Best Practices

While the exhibition or screening of single-channel video work may seem relatively straightforward, the most successful video exhibitions are planned with attention to the variable and reproducible nature of the medium. As a technology- and time-based form, media art poses unique challenges and conditions for the exhibitor. While artistic practices, exhibition contexts and video technologies are constantly evolving, it is useful to identify basic definitions and observe a number of fundamental protocols and guidelines. Of course, each exhibition or screening must take into account the specifics of the works being shown, the viewing environment, the intended audience, technical issues, and other such variables. Exhibitors should be familiar with recommended media formats (such as DVD, DVCAM, Betacam SP and hard drive options), playback equipment and display devices, and issues relating to rights, duplication and contracts. Respect for the artist's intent and careful consideration of guidelines provided by the artist or artist's representative should also be kept in mind. These best practices should be seen as a suggested template that can be applied to one's specific exhibition or screening situation.

The following information outlines the best practices for exhibiting single-channel video works, and combines a suggested Planning Process and answers to Basic Questions into one resource.

Understanding the Basics

Research and Rights

Acquiring Exhibition Copies

Exhibition Design and Installation Technical Issues

Exhibition Maintenance and Documentation

De-Installation and Return of Video Work

Understanding the basics

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 recorded 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 cinemas or theaters, gallery spaces within museums or other institutions, or in classroom settings, to name just a few. Exhibition designs may include freestanding monitors, wall-mounted flat screens, or large-scale projections. Single-channel works range from classic early video pieces, such as Joan Jonas's Vertical Roll (1972), to recent digital works, such as Pierre Huyghe's A Journey That Wasn't (2006).

Single-channel video can be either "editioned" or "uneditioned," which will impact the availability of the work.

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. The distinction between editioned and non-editioned video is complex and sometimes confusing. Video is a reproducible medium, and the difference between editioned and uneditioned works reflects different economic and distribution systems, and often a contrasting philosophical approach to the medium as well.

Uneditioned Video: 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, and how they may be used. These restrictions are typically outlined in an agreement that is signed before the work is sold or exhibited. Uneditioned video works reflect a different economic model than that of the commercial gallery system. With uneditioned video, artists are typically paid a royalty when the work is exhibited or sold. Thus, exhibitors pay a fee for the inclusion of an uneditioned work in an exhibition or screening. Film and video art distributors typically represent uneditioned media works: for example, the single-channel video works in the EAI collection are not editioned, allowing broad access.

Editioned Video: An artist who wishes to produce 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.

It is useful to understand the distinction between analog and digital (including high-definition) media formats and geographic video standards. The critical distinction between analog and digital formats is the way in which the information is stored. When examined closely, analog video images appear as a series of lines, while digital video is comprised of pixels, or tiny boxes of color. High-definition (HD) is most commonly presented in a "wide screen" format. There are two resolution standards, 1080i (interlaced) and 720p (progressive). NTSC and PAL are the two main video broadcast standards or systems; they are incompatible with one another. NTSC is the video standard used in North America and Japan. PAL is the dominant television standard in most of the world, including Europe. For a detailed discussion of these issues, please visit Equipment & Technical Issues.

It is critical that all departments or individuals involved in the exhibition process (curators, registrars, installers, technicians, conservators, education and outreach, etc.) are in direct communication to ensure consistency in exhibition practices. Sharing specialized knowledge and professional expertise is one of the most basic and yet essential means to a successful exhibition or screening.

Research and Rights

Exhibitors often make the mistake of waiting 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. (In the case of a historical video work, preservation work may need to be done before it 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.)

For many artists, the presentation mode is integral to their work. In such cases, the artist may identify specific presentation requirements: for example, a work may be only shown on a monitor or it may only be projected, or a format such as VHS may be prohibited. When acquiring media works, whether from an artist, distributor, or gallery, it is important to inquire about such requirements before exhibition planning, including the acquiring of exhibition equipment. If guidelines for exhibiting the work are not provided, the exhibitor should consider the intent of the artist, as the decision to project it or show it on a particular monitor may alter its meaning.

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 may expose it to unauthorized use, presentation or dissemination. The unauthorized duplication of a video work represents an infringement of the artist's copyright. It may compromise the integrity of the work and interfere with existing contractual relationships between the artist and the artist's collectors, gallerists, and distributors. Compilations for exhibitions should only be made with written approval (and often supervision) from the artist, distributor, or gallery, and should be produced from high-quality archival source material. Typically, exhibitors 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 may vary, depending on a range of factors including: the source of the artwork (distributor, gallery, or artist); whether the work is in a limited or unlimited edition; the venue (museum exhibition, classroom screening); the duration of the exhibition or the number of screenings; and whether the exhibition will tour to additional venues. Visit Agreements and Contracts for samples of these documents.

Acquiring Exhibition Copies

Exhibition copies of single-channel video works are typically obtained by renting or borrowing the works from a distributor, gallery, or the artist. Galleries, which most often represent editioned works, and are focused on the sale of these limited editions, view exhibition loans as promotion for the artist's work and may not require a loan fee. Nonprofit distributors, which most often represent uneditioned works, charge a rental or exhibition fee. A percentage (often 50-80%) of this fee goes directly to the artist. The remaining percentage is applied to the organization's overhead expenses and maintaining its collection, which ensures that exhibitors receive high-quality exhibition copies and that the work remains accessible to future audiences.

When acquiring an exhibition copy, it is important to consider what format you will use to present the work. This will depend on a range of variables, including the artist’s requirements, the viewing context, the exhibition environment, and the particular visual and sound qualities of the work itself. 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). Videotape loops less successfully: tapes need to rewind after a number of loops; they are time-consuming and expensive to edit; and they degrade after constant playing.

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.) Because of its low quality, VHS is suitable only for reference or classroom viewing, not for public exhibition.

If you are planning a long-term exhibition, you will want to secure backup exhibition copies. Media-based art works are subject to wear and tear and image degradation if played repeatedly for an extended time. Backup copies are essential for extended exhibitions using videotape, and recommended for the use of DVD. Typically one arranges in advance with the distributor, artist, or gallery to acquire backup copies for a negotiated fee that reflects technical costs.

Hard drives (computers) are being used more and more to exhibit video. They can play high-quality looping video files directly to a monitor or projection screen and are a means to avoid image degradation caused by repeated playback of other formats. Note that the exhibitor must secure additional rights via prior arrangement to transfer a work to a hard drive.

Exhibition Design and Installation Technical Issues

Proper selection, installation and maintenance of video and audio equipment are critical, and exhibitors should consult qualified technicians where possible.

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 or screen, audio equipment (amplifier, speakers, or headphones), and cables and connectors. The specific playback and display equipment needed for a 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 artist’s requirements, the exhibition space or venue, the viewing context, the availability of equipment, and the audience’s desired interaction with the work. Equipment choices 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 speak to the artist’s intentions, as that decision 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.

Exhibitions that include multiple single-channel works in one space must carefully consider the impact of multiple sources of sound and light. Parabolic speakers, often used as a solution for competing sound elements in a single exhibition space, can help focus sound amplification to a specific area. Focused sound projection is further developed in a relatively new technology called “Audio Spotlight,” where sound is audible only within a specified path. Headphones may be a useful solution; however, unless a headphone mixer is used, they can accommodate only one person at a time.

Proper installation of projectors will eliminate image distortion. In the exhibition design phase, careful attention should be given to projection dimensions, which are dependent on the selected projector’s specifications and the throw distance the presentation space can accommodate. If you plan to show projections on adjacent surfaces, careful calculations in the design stage will avoid overlapping projection beams. Avoid keystone correction as this process may produce visible artifacts.

Visit Equipment & Technical Issues for more information about the formats and equipment mentioned above.

Exhibition Maintenance and Documentation

It is important to remember that the technical management process does not end with a successful opening. Moving image-based works are variable in nature and need consistent and informed evaluation throughout the exhibition duration. Exhibition staff should be well trained about proper methods for turning the equipment on and off. Gallery monitors and guards should be briefed on the potential problems that might arise, be given step-by-step instructions for basic troubleshooting, and have contact details for help with major problems.

It is valuable for the exhibiting institution, artist, and artist’s representative to have comprehensive documentation of past installations, which may consist of schematic diagrams and installation photographs. Before documenting a video installation, be sure to be aware of any preferences or restrictions the artist or their representative may have in how the installation is documented.

De-installation and Return of Video Work

Rented or loaned exhibition copies should be returned in a timely fashion. You should review the return policies of each source to ensure you remain in compliance with each policy. Videotapes and DVDs should be returned in well-padded envelopes or boxed. Fiber-filled packaging can damage video works and must not be used.