New (+Old) Media: Restoration, Preservation, Archiving and Access

I had the good fortune to attend the New (+Old) Media: Restoration, Preservation, Archiving and Access Meeting and Symposium this summer, from June 25-27. Richard Lowenberg of the 1st-Mile Institute ( organized the meeting as part of the 2015 CURRENTS: Santa Fe International New Media Festival ( I would like to thank the Denver Art Museum for allowing me to attend (I'm currently interning at the Denver Art Museum in their Conservation Department).

Richard Lowenberg getting the meeting started

The first two days of New (+Old) Media: Restoration, Preservation, Archiving and Access were a meeting between stakeholders in “new media” (a loose term for contemporary art that incorporates technology, see footnote for semantic digression) (1). A group of 20-30 professionals with diverse expertise, from curators, to private collectors, conservators, and artists (I was the only lowly museum intern in attendance), sat at a very big table and discussed practices, concerns and ideas regarding media art. Our conversations were freeform and unstructured - a refreshing contrast to the other conferences I visited this year (Association of Moving Image Archivists Annual Conference 2014, the 2015 Annual Meeting of the American Institute of Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, and the 2015 Personal Digital Archiving Conference) where presentations are proposed, planned and reviewed months in advance.

A few of the broader themes which our discussion centered around were:

  • A need for standardization and/or best practices

  • The “problem” of CRT monitors and other obsolete hardware that is essential to the preservation and exhibition of many artworks

  • Importance of documentation

  • Making artist interviews, installation documentation, and museum records publicly accessible

  • The need for a federated approach for this community of archivists, preservationists, conservators, curators, etc. To “bridge” material in disparate locations, silo’d expertise, avoid duplicated efforts

  • The growing importance and effect of media in culture - social impact of media art

While this conversational structure did lead to tangential exchanges and digressional discussions it did allow all attendees to raise issues important to them. Plus, from my perspective as an “emerging professional” (read: new kid on the block), it allowed me to get to know all of the people at the meeting and get a better understanding of the range of expertise and interests in the field (2).

While participants visited from all over the world, it was great to see the local Santa Fe art scene well represented over the weekend. The Vasulkas, Steina and Woody, truly pioneering artists (read their wikipedia article here or visit their website here), who have made Santa Fe their home, attended both days of the meeting, and the public symposium at CURRENTS. Their perspective as artists who have faced the challenges of preserving analog and digital video as well as complex technology-dependent installation environments was invaluable for the group’s discussions. The highlight of the weekend for me was seeing Steina’s latest work, a four-channel feature-length video piece (I’m resisting using the cliche expression “tour de force,” but seriously it was awesome) in the theater at the CURRENTS exhibition space, which served as the conclusion to the festival.

Woody Vasulka outside his home in Santa Fe, where a few of us were given a tour

I also had the great pleasure of meeting Santa Fe local Fred Unterseher, author of the Holography Handbook (available on Amazon), and all-around badass. Fred is a holographer and artist, who was kind enough to bring some of his holographs to the meeting to show us.

Fred Unterseher sharing some of his holographs

I’m currently beginning my second year in NYU’s Moving Image Archiving and Preservation (MIAP, pronounced me-app) master’s program, and was excited to see one of my professors, Mona Jimenez, and two graduates of the program, Joey Heinen and Emily Nabasny, at the meeting as well.

Preparing our presentation with (counter-clockwise from the top) Mira Burack, Mona Jimenez, Tom Colley, Joey Heinen, and Martina Haidvogl.

Mona, Emily, Joey and I, along with Mark Hellar (Owner of Hellar Studios LLC), Mira Burack (artist and Associate Director at the Thoma Foundation) and Martina Haidvogl (Advanced Fellow in the Conservation of Contemporary Art at SFMOMA) presented at the public Symposium on the last day of New (+Old) Media: Restoration, Preservation, Archiving and Access. We discussed different preservation and restoration projects we had been involved in, and took questions from the audience on issues related to media art. 

(left to right) Richard Rinehart and David Stout

The second half of the public symposium was an artist-interview with David Stout (one half of NoiseFold) conducted by Richard Rinehart (director of the Samek Art Museum).

Standing Wave (2013) by Cuppetelli and Mendoza

Standing Wave (2013) by Cuppetelli and Mendoza

The public symposium was well-attended, which I took as a positive sign for the public interest in the preservation media art. One member of the audience, Cris Mendoza (half of Cuppetelli and Mendoza) came with questions regarding his own software-based artwork. It was extremely encouraging to see an artist going out of his way to gain advice on how to best preserve and archive his work. A good reminder of why we do what we do: to help artists, to facilitate art, and to ensure that art can reach a wide audience today and tomorrow.

Richard Lowenberg has put together a website with a summary of the meeting and notes from several of the participants at the meeting (including myself), as well as photographs and short videos documenting our discussion.


(1) There’s no great term for art of this kind (imho). “Time-based media” seems be the most popular description, supplanting “new media,” which ironically now feels like a passe term. My preference is for “electronic media” as it then includes works that aren’t necessarily time-based (like a digital image file), kinetic works, and sculptures that require electricity. But that’s almost too broad. “Video art” is too exclusive. Same with “digital media.” Sigh. Clearly, this is the most important issue concerning works of this kind, and should preoccupy all efforts to discuss, preserve, and exhibit said works.

(2) I would probably be Donnie? Maybe.