The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology have formed a special partnership for the year 2002 to lay the groundwork for a future consortium of cultural heritage organizations. Entitled the Variable Media Network, this consortium would be dedicated to inventing and sharing approaches to preserving art in new media.
"This partnership comes at a time when the world is increasingly aware of the urgency of safeguarding cultural memory for future generations," said Thomas Krens, Director of the Guggenheim. Jean Gagnon, Director of Programs at the Langlois Foundation, added: "Given our particular interest in research concerning the preservation of digital documents and artworks, this alliance gives us the opportunity to complement the Langlois Foundation's expertise in archiving the history of new media art with the Guggenheim's unparalleled experience presenting and preserving it."
The partnership will be co-directed by Alain Depocas, Head of Langlois' Centre for Research and Documentation, and Jon Ippolito, Associate Curator of Media Arts at the Guggenheim. The philosophy underlying the partnership is based on the "variable media" paradigm pioneered by the Guggenheim Museum for preserving works in its collection endangered by inadequate documentation or technological obsolescence.
The Variable Media Paradigm
Centered on an artwork's creator rather than its medium, the variable media paradigm asks artists themselves, rather than just technicians, to imagine ways to outwit the obsolescence that often besets technological art forms. This approach proposes that the best way to preserve artworks in ephemeral formats, from stick spirals to video installations to Web sites, is to encourage artists to describe them in a medium-independent way, so as to help translate them into new mediums once their current
medium becomes obsolete. To date, the Guggenheim has engaged artists ranging from Ken Jacobs and Meg Webster to Nam June Paik and Mark Napier in case studies intended to test whether their works' integrity can survive such creative translations.
To assist artists in making the difficult choices required to extend an artwork's life span beyond their own, the Guggenheim has developed a questionnaire that is unlike any protocol hitherto proposed for
cataloguing or preserving artworks. It requires artists to define their work according to behaviors like "performed" or "networked" rather than in medium-dependent terms like film or video. The variable media paradigm also asks artists to choose the most appropriate strategy for dealing with the inevitable slippage that results from translating to new mediums: storage, emulation, migration, or reinterpretation.
New Fellowship Created
The Guggenheim and the Daniel Langlois Foundation have created a special position, called the Daniel Langlois Fellowship in Variable Media Preservation, to train future museum staff in tackling the new demands the variable media paradigm will place on museums. The first Daniel Langlois Fellow selected from the numerous applicants for the position is Caitlin Jones, who will be working onsite at the Guggenheim in 2002 on a series of case studies of endangered artworks in a variety of mediums.
Previous to this appointment Jones worked in video and film documentation and preservation at Blackside Inc., in Boston, and Video In Studios in Vancouver; she has a Masters in Archival Studies from the University of British Columbia. "The year Caitlin spends with us will give her an experience no academic institution currently offers," said Guggenheim Senior Conservator Carol Stringari. "The museum community needs a new generation of preservation specialists trained in a fresh approach to the
problem; we hope Caitlin will be the first member of that new generation."
Outreach To Other Institutions
During 2002 the Daniel Langlois Foundation and the Guggenheim will begin to share the variable media paradigm to other cultural heritage institutions. The partnership's goals for the coming year include:
Sharing the partners' questionnaire software and accumulated expertise on variable media issues;
Designing and building, in open source fashion, a database for documenting artists' intent as to how their works can vary with time;
Creating open standards for sharing such data among different kinds of cultural institutions;
Designing a test case for software emulation as a strategy for preserving digital artworks.
More information about the Variable Media Network will be available in the coming year in the form of a printed brochure and a special Web site to launch late 2002, Variablemedia.net.
For press information:
Betsy Ennis, Public Affairs
Date of this press release: March, 11, 2002