AIC 2018: Reflections from a new EMG member

By Erin Barsan posted 08-10-2018 18:30

A couple months have passed since I traveled to Houston, Texas to participate in AIC's 46th Annual Meeting, Material Matters 2018, which was my first experience at a conference focused solely on conservation.

While I am an archivist by training, my role as a National Digital Stewardship Resident for Art Information (NDSR Art Resident) over the past year led me to the field of media conservation. In my residency work, I helped develop solutions for the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) to manage and care for its growing time-based media (TBM) art collection without a conservation department. (More information on my project is available
here). Originally, Elise Tanner, Philadelphia Museum of Art NDSR Art Resident and I proposed a joint presentation for Material Matters 2018. However, due to the interesting group of speakers who also submitted talks about starting TBM preservation at their institutions, the Electronic Media Group Programming Committee suggested we share our experiences via panel discussion instead. What ultimately transpired proved much more valuable than any one individual session would have been.

Image: 'Starting at the Beginning' panel (L to R): Elise Tanner, Erin Barsan,
Asti Sherring, Kate Moomaw (moderator), Yu-Hsien Chen, Jo Ana Morfin,
& Alexandra Nichols

In the Starting at the Beginning panel, six early career professionals from three continents shared our stories of TBM conservation. We discussed how our projects got off the ground, who our allies were, and some of the biggest challenges we faced. It was heartening to learn that I was not alone in my struggles with things like geographic isolation, institutional silos, and TBM often competing with other works of art. A number of themes emerged throughout the presentations: the importance of advocacy, collaboration across departments, and the help of the professional community. Hearing from international colleagues opened my eyes to the importance of sharing knowledge and expertise globally. I left the session feeling inspired and committed to contributing new scholarship to the field. Hopefully, our panel discussion will empower other new voices in the profession to share their valuable perspectives with AIC in the future.

My overall goal for attending this year’s Annual Meeting was to engage with and learn from others involved in media conservation, so I spent the majority of my time attending Electronic Media Specialty Sessions. Although all of these were insightful, I found one presentation particularly compelling and relevant to my work at Mia: In Conservation Surveys for Time-based Media Art Collections, conservator Mona Jimenez discussed her work as a consultant helping institutions understand the status of their media art collections and recommending action steps for them to mitigate risks and improve collections care.

Jimenez asserted the importance of analyzing both the organizational systems and the artworks themselves during a TBM art conservation survey. When trying to understand media artworks, she suggests viewing them as systems whose components can be broken into three categories: inputs, processes, and outputs. When analyzing an institution’s organizational systems, she recommends examining two main areas: Roles & Communication and Policies & Procedures.

Another key aspect to conservation surveys is recommending priorities for item-level conservation based on risk assessment. When starting a survey, Jimenez suggests initial priorities should consider age, degree of complexity, and file-based masters. Older works with many obsolete components are more vulnerable to damage or deterioration. With complex works, the more processes that are involved, the more at-risk they become. Therefore, it is wise to work from the most to the least complicated TBM. When considering file-based works, those without backups and on removable media run the risk of failure and should also be addressed as soon as possible.

In wrapping up my NDSR Art residency, I am writing a final report that includes my recommendations for TBM conservation. A number of artworks need attention and I have struggled with where to begin. Assessing the risks of a collection with many variables and technology dependencies has been a challenge. The suggestions provided by Jimenez for setting priorities have helped me identify Mia’s most vulnerable TBM, which will inform my conservation recommendations for the museum going forward.

EMG member reception
Image: EMG members experiencing the James Turrell ‘Skyspace’ the
Live Oak Friends Meeting House in Houston, TX

One of my other goals for attending this year’s Annual Meeting was to get more involved with the AIC community, particularly the Electronic Media Group (EMG). I participated in the EMG Business Meeting as well as other AIC networking and social activities. One highlight was the EMG Networking Reception hosted at the Live Oak Friends Meeting House, which is home to a permanent installation by James Turrell. We got to experience Turrell’s Skyspace and learn how it came to be part of this Quaker meeting house. A particularly memorable moment of the reception was, when asked if she felt the piece was meditative, our docent jokingly replied, “Well, yes. We’re Quakers. Meditating is what we do.”

As an emerging media conservation professional, Material Matters 2018 provided me invaluable opportunities to share my work, to learn from established media conservators, to build my professional network, and to keep abreast of current issues and new developments in the field. I would like to gratefully acknowledge the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works and the AIC Electronic Media Group for supporting my professional development, with funding generously provided by Small Data Industries,  helping make it possible for me to participate in this important conference.

1 comment



08-14-2018 16:49

Lovely post, Erin!  I'm glad you had such a good experience at AIC and with EMG.