A Head of Conservation, a Digital Systems Manager, an Assistant Curator, and a Time-Based Media Conservator walk into a lecture theatre…  

I feel the need to start this blog with a bit of a confession (or maybe a caveat): I am not technologically minded. Beyond ‘turn it off and on again’, I’m not very good with computers, and I’ve also never worked with time-based media. So, with all this in mind, I was a little bit nervous as I approached day one of ‘Duration and Dimension’, a two-day conference organised by the Australasian Registrars committee looking at all things digital and time-based.

I needn’t have worried. Seb Chan, the keynote speaker, gave an impressive introduction to the wide-ranging digital projects he had worked on (if you haven’t checked out the Cooper Hewett’s Collections Online, where you can browse using a variety of factors, including colour, do it now!). I particularly liked his question ‘If every object was digitised, online, and addressable, how might we train visitors to use the building differently?’ Digitisation for digitisation’s sake is not the right approach – it must have a purpose, and this should be built into any digitisation projects.

All the talks were fascinating, but the one that probably most caught my attention on day one (and resulted in pages and pages of notes) was the presentation from the team at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. One of the key messages of the conference was the need for cross departmental collaboration, and this presentation demonstrated this perfectly. Delivered by the AGNSW Head of Conservation, Digital Systems Manager, Assistant Curator, and Time-based Art Conservator, their presentation gave an in depth look into how the AGNSW had overhauled the way that time-based media collections were thought about and managed, and the resulting policies, documents and processes. Time-based artworks have different considerations to your standard oil painting, and by building these in to the acquisitions process at an early stage, this can relieve pressure when it comes to installation, and offers a great way to build relationships with artists, which can be key when it comes to the long-term preservation of time-based media. Time-based artworks are experiential as well as physical, and the systems that AGNSW put in place help to ensure that this is captured at the point of acquisition. How does the artist view their work, both now and in the future? And what is permitted to change?

Other talks covered the complexities of shipping time based artworks across the world when there isn’t a universal understanding of what constitutes ‘art’, practical considerations for long term preservation of both physical carriers (the VHS tape or memory stick that the work originally came on) and digital files, and great examples of how different institutions manage their information relating to time-based media (I am particularly jealous of SFMOMA’s internal Wikipedia for artworks, which allows them to capture narrative information each time the work is displayed and allows different departments to contribute – a great example of collaboration, and also sharing the burden of documentation!)

Written by Flora Flyes, Assistant Registrar Museum of London, who attended the arcs conference in 2018, Melbourne 3-6th October 2018 after receiving an international bursary from UKRG

This bursary has been made possible by the generosity of Blackwall & Green