How do collections, curators, conservators and artists attempt to deal with the unruly aspects of re-exhibiting and collecting media artworks? The challenges faced are diverse, from understanding the parameters for displaying a work, to transferring media from analog to digital formats, to sustaining or sensitively replacing obsolete technology. The key aspects, or work-defining properties, of the works must be identified, although this is not always clear cut – artists may provide detailed instructions, some may provide sparse information or even none at all and they may now no longer be with us. The job of the conservator and curator is to tease out these issues and make reasonable judgments on how the work is to be displayed, in conjunction with the artist if this is possible. Video and audio works may have been produced in analogue formats, is it possible to display them digitally from either a technical or artistic perspective? Is the original display equipment available or is an alternative required? Does the operation of the ‘backend’ of a media artwork matter if the viewer experience is the same?
Beyond the questions presented by physically displaying a work, there are further issues that affect the ability to do so. Subjects such as copyright, intellectual property and other legal agreements related to the artwork itself and the content of any media used within it need to be considered. Furthermore, the issues concerning preservation of the works, including the skills and infrastructure needed to ensure media, hardware and documentation are cared for in the long-term are very important.
In this workshop we considered and discussed these issues through case studies breaking down the different elements that compose media installations, highlighting the risks and strategies for preservation, comparing the differences between gallery collections, university collections and artists’ collections.
Co-convened with Patricia Falcao (Tate) Adam Lockhart (DJCAD University of Dundee), Julie Ann-Delaney (University of Edinburgh) and Luke Fowler (Artist).
Patricia is a Portuguese time-based media conservator working at Tate, where she researches and develops strategies for the preservation of software-based artworks. More recently, in the context of the Reshaping the Collectible project, this has broadened to include the acquisition and preservation of web-based artworks. In the past eight years, she has consistently published on the theme of preservation of time-based media, digital and software-based art, in the conservation and digital preservation communities. She is also currently undertaking a PhD entitled Artists, Conservators and Game Developers: A Comparative Study of Software Preservation in Three Domains at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Julie-Ann Delaney is Art Collections Curator at the University of Edinburgh, a post she took up in early 2019. Prior to joining the University, Julie-Ann was Senior Curator (Modern and Contemporary Art) at the National Galleries of Scotland. She has also held roles at Dundee Contemporary Arts, and at the Artist-Run initiative Generator Projects. She is currently working on a programme of joint performance art acquisitions with the National Galleries of Scotland, funded through a New Collecting Award from the Art Fund. Julie-Ann is also part of the Curatorial Leadership in Collections (CLiC) group, an action research and advocacy project aimed at highlighting and quantifying the wide-ranging impact of contemporary collecting and programming in Scotland.
A prominent figure in Glasgow’s contemporary art scene, Luke Fowler’s work explores the limits and conventions of biographical and documentary film-making. This has resulted in comparisons with British Free Cinema of the 1950s, which represented a new attitude to film-making that embraced the reality of everyday, contemporary British society. In adopting the roles of artist, curator, historian, film-maker and musician, Fowler creates impressionistic portraits of intriguing figures. As montages of archival footage alongside new recordings, interviews, photography and sound, Fowler’s films offer a unique and compelling insight into his subject. An important and essential part of his practice is the materiality and medium specificity of the work. Fowler studied at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee, from 1996-2000. He received the inaugural Jarman Award in 2008 and was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2012. Recents exhibitions/works include Index Cards and Letters at The Modern Institute, Glasgow 2021 and Patrick, 2020 a portrait of pioneering musician Patrick Cowley.
This workshop explored how can open-source peer-to-peer archival and curatorial practices articulate the unruly politics of artists’ archives?
With much focus on conservation challenges of the so-called ‘dematerialisation’ of contemporary art practice, there is arguably less consideration of how archiving and curating can articulate, through practice, artists’ critical and radical politics in circumventing and critiquing institutional discourses and structures.
Taking The Attic Archive (1980-2010) as a starting point the workshop speculated upon experimental and generative curatorial approaches to articulating pre-internet, peer-to-peer networked art practice in a post-digital context. Participants heard presentations and were guided through practical activities and discussion by Curating Living Archives Principal Investigator, Dr Judit Bodor, workshop co-convenor Dr Roddy Hunter, and guest experts Theresa Kneppers and Artemis Gryllaki (The Borough Road Collection Archive), Ruth Catlow (Furtherfield) sharing first-hand insights of post-custodial and open-source models as alternatives to hegemonic systems of contemporary art. Participants then worked in groups directly with material from The Attic Archive to discuss possible collaborative and open-source curatorial approaches to a networked archive that is currently dispersed across collections in Scotland, Hungary and Ireland.
Presentations of case-studies on open-source curatorial models
Ruth introduced Furtherfield’s work in participatory online collaboration and co-creation with a focus on Do It With Others (DIWO) and the Blockchain Art History Timeline. The former drew on the Mail Art tradition proposing to bypass curatorial restrictions to promote imaginative exchange between artists and audiences on their own terms, the latter is the world’s first timeline to chart the rise and influence of Blockchain Art and Crypto Art using blockchain’s new decentralised curation tools.
Theresa Kneppers & Artemis Gryllaki
Theresa and Artemis presented their online multi-vocal curatorial approach to the Borough Road Collection Archive, an online wiki-based platform for research exploring A David Bomberg Legacy – The Sarah Rose Collection through collaborative writing, annotating and recording, in response to archival material and digital artworks.
Dr Roddy Hunter is an artist, curator, educator and writer. Known for performance art interventions in wide-ranging sites and spaces internationally over 30 years, he has shown work across Europe, North America and Asia. He was included in Phaidon’s 2007 ‘Ice Cream: Contemporary Art in Culture’, a survey of significant emerging artists selected by world-leading curators. He became involved with curatorial practice while a member of Hull Time Based Arts in the mid-1990s. His writing on histories, theories and practices of contemporary art has been published internationally, and he regularly speaks at conferences, symposia and workshops. His most recent practice engages with art, curating, networks and performance after the internet, such as the research project ‘Networked Art Practice After Digital Preservation‘. He has an MA in Contemporary Arts from Nottingham Trent University and a PhD from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, University of Dundee. A senior academic with over 20 years of experience in art and design higher education, he will take up a new post as Head of Sculpture and Environmental Art at the Glasgow School of Art in October 2021.
Ruth Catlow is co-founding artistic director of Furtherfield and networked cultures expert. Furtherfield is London’s longest-running (de)centre for art and technology whose mission is to disrupt and democratise through deep exploration, open tools and free-thinking. Catlow has spent 20 years exploring games as a way of engaging people’s imaginations and expertise across silos, around emerging technologies and the wicked social and political problems they give rise to or intensify. Her artistic practice and curatorial work at Furtherfield has focused on critical investigations of digital and networked technologies and their emancipatory potential. Catlow is the founder of DECAL Decentralised Arts Lab crowdsourcing R&D by leading artists, using blockchain and web 3.0 technologies for fairer, more dynamic and connected cultural ecologies and economies. She is also PI at the Blockchain Lab at the Serpentine Galleries R&D Platform.
Theresa Kneppers is the curator of the Borough Road Collection Archive (A David Bomberg Legacy – The Sarah Rose Collection) at London South Bank University. She is currently a PhD researcher with the Centre for the Study of the Networked Image. Her research focuses on the online curation of digital collections and archives, exploring playful, speculative modes of co-production and co-interpretation. In addition to her work at LSBU she was the curator of a recent show of new work by contemporary artist Benjamin Deakin at the William Morris Society. She was selected as the international guest curator at the HOW Museum in Shanghai in 2019 and presented a talk on “Creative Collaboration: From Artist Collectives to Co-Curation ”. Themes of public engagement with digital archives and collections run through her practice.
A workshop co-convened by Dr Judit Bodor and Dr Hanna B. Hölling, and with contribution from artist/curator Prof André Stitt and Benjamin Sebastian and Joseph Morgan Schofield from ]performance s p a c e[. The presentations examined how the intersection of curation and conservation might contribute to the way we engage with and conceptualize ephemeral practices. Following the presentations participants worked with an artwork from The Alastair MacLennan Archive discussing how might curatorial work support an artwork’s preservation, and vice versa?
Hanna Hölling: What does the work want? On the intersection of curatorial and conservation cultures.
This was a presentation about a canonical and yet surprisingly understudied work of art: Nam June Paik’s Zen for Film, or Fluxfilm No. 1, which was created during the early 1960s. One of the most evocative works, Zen for Film consists of a several-minute-long screening of a blank film; as the film ages and wears in the projector, the viewer is confronted with a constantly evolving work. Because of this mutability and the rich history of its display, the work undermines any assumption that art can be subject to a single interpretation. Taking this work as a single subject of an exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery (2015-16) and its accompanying book Revisions (2015), Hanna discussed how critical thinking about the work’s presentation not only contributes to the extended notion of its preservation but also allows us to better understand what an artwork is and what it might become.
Andre Stitt: Trace, Spectral Arc & Vanishing Point
In his presentation artist Andre Stitt discussed the relationship between preservation and presentation by considering how performance artists seek to embody physical action and memory as ‘live’ archives through the use of materials identified in their performance practice. He talked about how performance work is produced to include the constant process of accumulation and erasure, creating a layering of material and memory through curating ‘traces’, which he identifies as the practice of ‘act-archiving’, a term first used by artist Julie Bacon and is concerned with the relationship between live presence in the artwork (that of the artists and others) and the processes of historicisation. Throught the concept of act-archiving Andre explored his approach to curating the programme of trace: installaction artspace in Cardiff, Wales, over a ten-year period (2000-2010) and talk about Spectral arc & vanishing point, a durational performance by him and artist Alastair MacLennan at St. Paul St. Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand (2011).
]performance s p a c e[: PSX – A Decade of Performance Art in the UK.
Benjamin co-founded ]ps[ in 2011, and invited Joseph to join as co-director in 2020. In 2021 they curated PSX: a decade of performance art in the UK, a celebratory archival programme marking the 10th anniversary of ]ps[. The ]ps[ archive is an expanded archive. It is alive. In working with artists, ]ps[ begins from a place of attending to the needs – artistic, emotional and pragmatic – of the bodies which pass through it. As ]ps[ transitions into a new reality, with new leadership and looking towards new geographies, Joseph and Benjamin’s presentation was a dialogue and reflection on ]ps[‘ mission statement and manifesto, questioning what holds true and what needs to be reimagined.
A performance-for-camera work comprising of four versions (a,b,c,d) of 7:36-minute edited footage of one performance shot in the artist’s garden in Greenisland, Belfast on May 2, 2020. The video footage was edited with photographer Jordan Hutchings’ assistance and the versions were exhibited in four different festivals (never together) during the lockdown. The performance itself has emerged from MacLennan’s daily performative studio drawing practice from March 2020 onwards, which produced hundreds of drawings on A2 paper, each signed on the back with the same title ‘LIM(I)NAL’. Selections from the drawings were sent to curators of the festivals to be exhibited [if they wish] alongside the videos as part of festivals. The drawings (without the videos) were also used in an online performative exhibition curated by Judit Bodor and Adam Lockhart on the artist’s archive website. The work has now also been preserved on the archive website as the simultaneous display of the four versions of the video, video stills and digital images of a selection of drawings. The drawings themselves are not yet in the physical collection.
Andre Stitt & Alastair MacLennan: Spectral Arc/Vanishing Point, St. Paul St. Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand, 2011.
Andre Stitt was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1958. He studied at Ulster Polytechnic and Belfast College of Art & Design, Ulster University 1976-1980. From 1980-1999 he lived and worked in London increasingly travelling and making work internationally throughout the eighties and nineties. In 1999 he moved to Wales to take up a position as Director of Time Based Art at Cardiff School of Art & Design. He is currently Professor of Performance & Interdisciplinary Art at Cardiff School of Art & Design, Cardiff Metropolitan University and programme leader of the MFA. Working almost exclusively as a performance and interdisciplinary artist Stitt gained an international reputation for cutting edge, provocative and politically challenging work. A predominant theme in his artistic output is that of communities and their dissolution often relating to trauma, conflict and art as a redemptive proposition. His ‘live’ performance and installation works have been presented at major museums, galleries and specific sites throughout the world. He was director of trace: Installaction Artspace in Cardiff from 2000-2010 initiating a robust programme of international installation and performance work. Stitt’s performance art curatorial work includes Span2 International Project, London 2001, Flashes From The Archives of Oblivion (Chapter Art Centre, Cardiff 2007-8), RHWNT (Quebec 2003-4), Of Contradiction (Beijing 2005,) and Trace Displaced (Tramway, Glasgow 2008), the National Eisteddfod of Wales 2008 & Artspace, Sydney 2009.
]performance s p a c e[
Martin O’Brien and Rubiane Maia: PSX: 10 hours, 2021 ]performance s p a c e[ at The Ugly Duck, Photo by Fenia Kotsopoulou.
]performance s p a c e [ is the UK’s only studio and exhibition space dedicated to performance art. Our mission is to facilitate the prime conditions for the production of performance art in the UK (and beyond). Currently based in Folkestone’s Creative Quarter (Kent), our organisation continues to cultivate time-based work that critically and physically pushes the boundaries of the body, time and space. ]ps[ remains an artist-led initiative, committed to our identity as a DIY, anti-institutional space supporting challenging and difficult work that embraces performance art as an ever-evolving medium. In 2021, ]ps[ marked our 10th anniversary with a special programme: PSX – a decade of performance art in the UK. After ten journeys around the sun – our bodies soaked in blood, sweat, tears, eco-glitter – we celebrated ]ps[‘ resilience, and the remarkable constellation of artists involved in ]ps[, by looking to the past, present & future(s) of performance art in the UK. We hosted screenings, talks, performances, exhibitions, bursaries, workshops and residencies, and the programme culminated in a 10-hour durational live work by 9 of the UK’s leading performance artists. PSX is a proudly intergenerational programme, marking both our international and local constellations and foregrounding the contributions of queer, Trans*, POC & womxn artists.
Co-convened by Prof Heike Roms, Professor in Theatre and Performance at the University of Exeter and Dr Judit Bodor, and with contribution from artists Prof Elaine Shemilt and Kevin Atherton, this workshop explored how oral history conversations and artists’ interviews can be used as curatorial tools with which to re-activate artworks, especially those of multimedia performance and new media art. The two artists whose works we discussed in this workshop are part of a pioneering generation in the UK who experimented with time-based media from the early nineteen-seventies and whose works are now part of the REWIND collection at the University of Dundee.
Below is edited documentation of the event with permission from contributors:
Selected artworks discussed in the workshop
Elaine Shemilt: performances from the 1980s
To engage with a body of performance/video/installation works that Elaine Shemilt made in the 1970s we read the artist’s conversation with Sean Cubitt in Leuzzi, L. – Shemilt, E. – Partridge, S. eds. 2019 European Women’s Video Art in the 70s and 80s, John Libbey Publishing. This book is a major outcome of the EWVA research project led by Professor Shemilt.
We also looked at archival material relating to some of the artworks the artist mentions in this conversation, as well as other performances from the 1970s which can be accessed on the artist’s website.
Kevin Atherton: In Two Minds (1978-)
‘In Two Minds’ was first performed at the Project Arts Centre in Dublin in 1978. For this video/performance, Kevin Atherton recorded a series of questions-to-camera in the gallery during the daytime which he then answered live in front of an audience the same evening. Sitting opposite the playback of the video recording, screened on a monitor facing him, Atherton answered the questions to the amusement of the audience sitting either side of him at the gallery. Within weeks he repeated the performance in Belfast and in Farnham, each time recording a new ‘question tape’. These ‘question tapes’ varied from one another, picking up on the specifics of the different venues, but in general, in all the artist talked about issues to do with performance and video art as emerging art forms. To save money the tapes were recorded over and consequently lost forever.
All new versions of the work since 1978 (including live performances in Tate Britain 2006, FACT 2007, Newcastle, 2011, Tate Britain, 2012, and Sirius Art Centre, Cork 2018; and installations at MOMA, San Francisco, 2009, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, 2014) with the time gap ever-widening, have used the surviving 1978 Serpentine installation ‘Question Tape’ as the recording that Atherton responds to.
In addition, in 2011 the artist exhibited 3 video versions of the work at once as part of ‘IN TWO MINDS x3’ exhibition at Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast. This exhibition not only included ‘The original version’ (1978) alongside a ‘Past Version’ (1978-2006), but also a ‘Future Version’ (1978-2031)’, in which the 56 years old artist talks to his future ‘virtual’, 81-year self, discussing artworks and events yet to occur.
Below is photographic documentation of exhibitions of the work since 1978.
Bibliography and relevant resources
Abrams, Lynn (2010), Oral History Theory, London, New York: Routledge.
Beerkens, Lydia et al (2012), The artist interview: for conservation and presentation of contemporary art: guidelines and practice, Amsterdam: Stichting Behoud Moderne Kunst (Amsterdam) and Universiteit van Amsterdam.
Bickers, Patricia and Wilson, Andrew (eds) (2007), Talking Art 1 – Art Monthly Interviews with Artists since 1976, London: Ridinghouse.
Blazwick, Iwona (2007 (1996)), ‘An Anatomy of the Interview’, in: Bickers, Patricia and Wilson, Andrew (eds) Talking Art: Interviews with artists since 1976, London: Art Monthly, Ridinghouse: 25–27.
Muller, Lizzie (2010), ‘Oral History and the Media Art Audience’, in: Dekker, Annet (ed.), Archive 2020: Sustainable Archiving of Born Digital Cultural Content, Amsterdam: Virtueel Platform, 6.0-6.10
Johnson, Dominic (2015), The Art of Living: An Oral History of Performance Art, Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.
McKay, Nancy (2016) Curating Oral Histories: From Interview to Archive, 2nd edition, London and New York: Routledge
Montano, Linda M. (ed.) (2000), Performance Artists Talking in the Eighties: Sex, Food, Money/Fame, Ritual/Death, afterw. Kristine Stiles, University of California Press.
Obrist, Hans Ulrich (2003), Interviews, Mailand: Charta.
Roms, Heike and Edwards, Rebecca (2011), ‘Oral History as Site-Specific Practice: Locating the History of Performance Art in Wales’, in: Trower, Shelley (ed.), Place, Writing and Voice in Oral History, Basingstoke, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 171–191.
Sandino, Linda (2013), ‘Introduction: Oral History in and about art, craft, and design, in: Sandino, Linda and Partington, Matthew (eds), Oral History in the Visual Arts, London: Bloomsbury, 1–13.
Zurbrugg, Nicholas (ed.) (2004), Art, Performance, Media: 31 Interviews, University of Minnesota Press.
Heike Roms is Professor in Theatre and Performance at the University of Exeter. Her research into the history and historiography of early performance art was supported by a large grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and won the UK’s David Bradby TaPRA Award for Outstanding Research in 2011. She has published widely on performance art history and historiography, archiving and documentation, and performance art education. She is currently working on a book with the working title When Yoko Ono Did Not Come to Wales: Locating the Early History of Performance Art. Heike has a particular interest in the oral history of performance and the performance of oral history.
Professor Elaine Shemilt is an academic, researcher, practising artist and Chair of Fine Art Printmaking at DJCAD, University of Dundee. She was Principal Investigator on the AHRC-funded research projects: EWVA, investigating early video art by European women artists; and currently on Demarco: The Italian Connection exploring art exchanges between Scotland and Italy through the work of Richard Demarco. She is the Director of the Centre for Remote Environments – a research and consultancy unit for environmental projects. Her artistic practice involves sculpture, installation, printmaking, video and digital media. She has experimented with a combination of materials and media and earned an international reputation for innovation in the use of printmaking across art forms and her collaborative work with scientists. Her work has been shown internationally in group and individual exhibitions and screenings.
Kevin Atherton was born in the Isle of Man in 1950. After graduating from the BA Fine Art course at Leeds Polytechnic in 1972 he went on to become a part of the pioneering generation of artists in the UK who developed performance and video art in the nineteen-seventies. Having been a Principal Lecturer in Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art, where he was also Project Leader of the ‘Virtual Reality as a Fine Art Medium’ Research Project, Atherton moved to Ireland in 1999 to become the first Head of Fine Art Media at the National College of Art and Design. Atherton’s public sculptures are sited throughout the UK and Ireland, including the English Heritage ‘listed’ sculpture ‘Platforms Piece’ at Brixton Railway Station in South London. He has exhibited and performed throughout the world including at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Francisco, Tate Britain, and the Museum of Modern Art Vienna. His work is held in a number of public collections including the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin.