Saving installation art

How do we conserve installation art and more specifically how do we allow audio-visual installation art that uses parochial hardware and software, video tapes, computers, DVD players and the like for future generations who will inevitably have other incompatible devices and gadgets for their art and entertainment? Part of the answer must lie in curation and documentation of the artefacts used according to a study published in the International Journal of Arts and Technology.

Federica Bressan and Sergio Canazza of the Department of Information Engineering, University of Padova, Italy, are worried that much of the installation art that flourished and was appreciated widely will succumb to a short life expectancy because the technology many installations used has a limited lifespan of its and the devices and media quickly become obsolete. An art installation that uses VHS tapes and a television based on the cathode-ray tube, for instance, may well not be reproducible in its original form once those devices, or their components, fail and no replacement is to be found. Moreover, the recording itself may fail at any point and be lost irretrievably. This problem may be even more acute if one considers interactive art installations that rely on non-proprietary devices and software, for example.

It is important, Bressan and Canazza suggest, for art conservationists to be aware of such future problems and to categorise and catalogue such installations with relative urgency. The team has described a multi-level approach to categorisation that will support conservation, documentation, academic study, re-installation at new exhibitions, novel interpretations and tributes, for instance.

Bressan, F. and Canazza, S. (2014) ‘The challenge of preserving interactive sound art: a multi-level approach’, Int. J. Arts and Technology, Vol. 7, No. 4, pp.294–315.

Author: David Bradley

Award-winning, freelance science writer based in Cambridge, England.