Basic Questions

When facing the preservation of an installation work, numerous questions arise. Each component of an installation work presents preservation challenges of its own. Synthesizing those challenges into a single, unified preservation plan is no small task.

Answers to basic questions regarding the specific risks to single-channel video or computer-based components of a work may be found on the relevant pages of this site. The questions below focus on the unique dilemmas presented by installation art.


Pip Laurenson, "The Management of Display Equipment in Time-Based Media Installations"

William A. Real, "Towards Guidelines for Practice in the Preservation and Documentation of Technology-Based Installation Art." (PDF file) Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, Vol. 40, No. 3, (Autumn-Winter, 2001), 211-231.

Whose responsibility is it to preserve an installation work?

A collecting institution or individual that has acquired a work is ultimately responsible for the longevity of the piece. Working artists are typically too preoccupied with current projects to dedicate a lot of time to preservation, but are, of course, invaluable and usually willing consultants. It is advisable to obtain as much information as possible from the creator of a particular installation while he or she is living.

Why is an installation more difficult to preserve than a videotape?

Longevity and authenticity are the two biggest issues facing the preservation of installation works. A technology-based installation has all the preservation challenges of moving-image media, plus many more. Often, an installation will utilize the presentation equipment itself as a sculptural component, which makes hardware obsolescence a twofold threat. Because an installation typically has many more elements than a single-channel work, there is also more room for misinterpretation. Comprehensive documentation of the artist's intent and technical specifications is therefore required.

What can I do to prepare for hardware obsolescence?

First, collect and store/stockpile additional hardware. If specific equipment is an inherent part of an installation piece (consultation with the artist is critical to determine this), it is important not only to use qualified service providers to maintain the equipment, but also to retain service manuals and other documentation. Spare parts (belts, for example) should also be acquired.