Preserving Media Art: A Collaborative Conservation Process

Chris on May 28, 2015
Conservator Hugh Shockey works on Cloud Music. Photo by Caitlin Richeson.

Media-based artworks, like those presented in our Watch This! Revelations in Media Art exhibition (on view until September 7, 2015), are a relatively new aspect of museum collections. Like all of our artworks, they are cared for and preserved by our team of conservators. Even though these artworks use a range of technologies and display an active series of sounds and moving images, the task of the conservator remains the same as with more traditional art forms: maintain the artist's original intent in the artwork.

This difficult task can often be facilitated by collaborating with exhibition curators and even with the artists themselves. For Watch This!, our objects conservator, L.H. (Hugh) Shockey, Jr., worked extensively with our curator of film and media, Michael Mansfield, on a number of artworks on display. For one of the exhibition's highlights, Cloud Music, Shockey also collaborated with the remaining living artists to ensure the artwork was being correctly experienced.

Cloud Music, plays a series of sounds through a group of speakers. The "music" is based on information captured by a camera, which is pointed at the sky and registers passing clouds. In previous iterations of the installation, the sounds projected from the speakers were lacking a bass tonality that was previously incorporated in historical manifestations of the artwork. Working with our conservator, our curator, and the artists, the museum was able to reconstruct the original mixing and output of sounds as they were initially heard in Cloud Music's original iteration.

Like all conservation treatments, this process is carefully documented for our collection files. Rather than listing the solvents, adhesives, or other more traditional aspects of restorative processes, this report details the different technological components that were incorporated, altered, or replaced. Also, the documentation describes the processes and discussions that were needed to return the artwork to its appropriate experience and restore the artists' original intent to its display.

To hear more about the collaboration between curator and conservator and the various treatments conducted in anticipation of Watch This! Revelations in Media Art, be sure to join us on June 3 at 6:00 p.m. in the museum's McEvoy Auditorium when Michael Mansfield and Hugh Shockey present a discussion on their media conservation experiences.