Pericles project
Promoting and Enhancing Reuse of Information throughout the Content Lifecycle taking account of Evolving Semantics

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Art & Media - Digital Video Art Scenario



Art & Media - Digital Video Art Scenario

Ingest and the Conservation of Media Components

Tate has approximately 500 video artworks ranging from complex multi channel video installations to simple single channel videos. Since the early 1990s an uncompressed component digital master tape has been created for all standard definition video works entering the collection. These have then been migrated onto new stock and new formats every 7 - 9 years. The demise of digital video tape and the move to the storage, production and delivery of video as files has meant that the previous established systems for preserving video are obsolete and new workflows, preservation policies, tools and environments for storage need to be established.


Bruce N Viloent Incident.png

Image: Violent Incident 1986 (Tate collection # T06732_10) - Bruce Nauman © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2014


Whilst recognising that the conservation of video artworks involves the conservation of far more than simply the media, this need to establish new ways of preserving the digital video made this aspect an important focus in the PERICLES project.


The scenario that was developed by staff at Tate related to the media components of digital video artworks either newly acquired from the artist or gallery or migrated from a digital video tape. The scenario began to develop a workflow for ingest and storage.


The scenario considered issues related to the relationship with Tate’s collection management system which tracks individual components of artworks. In addition to the metadata held within the collection management system, conservation also hold extensive records related to the artwork including details on the media components. This documentation is important in understanding the relationship of the components to each other.


The scenario also looked at where and how file integrity and quality assessment would be carried out within the workflow.


With the advent of file based production, delivery, storage and preservation of artists’ video the worlds of media art conservation and those of the wider digital preservation community have converged. The media art community is therefore actively engaged in thinking about how best to interpret models such as OAIS for their context. The art museum is engaged in the long term preservation of complex digital objects during their active life within the museum. This active life includes display within Tate and also loan to other venues around the world as well as changes brought about by active engagement in preservation. One of the considerations which was therefore discussed within the scenario was the structure of OAIS defined ‘archival information packages’ (AIPs) for the media components of digital video artworks and the addition of new components during the life of a work.


The shift to video as files has meant that some of the arguments for the creation of a standardised archival masters for video are no longer valid. For example files do not become obsolete in the same way that video tape formats which depended on particular manufacturers and the sustainability of large commercial infrastructures. The playback for files is also not controlled and standardised in the same way as it was for specific professional tape formats.   


One of the most difficult issues facing those engaged with the conservation of the media components of digital video artworks is consistent playback. A number of different factors can affect the consistent playback of a video file, particularly affecting the colour, resolution and the aspect ratio of the image. Managing this remains a critical but currently unresolved issue. The dependencies which create these variations in playback include the disk speed of computer or hardware playing back file,  the behaviour of different players in converting files without making it transparent that changes are being undertaken.


Staff at Tate continue to work with Pericles partners to develop effective systems and processes for the long term preservation of digital artworks that respond to what is important to preservation about these files within this context and also which take into consideration the active life of these works within the museum.


Pip Laurenson, TATE - Head of Collection Care Research (pip.laurenson@tate.org.uk)

November 2014


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