Reflections on the 46th Annual Meeting

By Meaghan Perry posted 05-10-2019 13:06


As the 47th AIC Annual Meeting rapidly approaches, I have found myself reflecting on the generous opportunities that I was granted during last year’s meeting. Attending the 46th AIC Annual Meeting in Houston was a wonderful experience that allowed me to tie what was then my life as a student in New York studying time-based media conservation to what has become my life in Houston working primarily as an objects conservator at the Menil Collection.

In attending AIC on the cusp of graduation, I had primarily hoped to create new contacts as well as strengthen some of the existing relationships forged in previous internships and training. As so many of my prior experiences focused on objects conservation, I spent the majority of my time in the Electronic Media Group (EMG) sessions. It is only in looking back now that I understand how much of my practice over the past year has been guided by the talks I attended at this meeting.

In my current role, I am part of an interdepartmental team that is working to address the needs of our time-based media (TBM) collection. I was brought on staff in part to develop new strategies for works in the collection designated as “technologically- or electrically-dependent” and to support existing TBM conservation projects. I have found many parallels in our work to the topics presented in the EMG sessions, and find myself drawing on the benefit of my colleagues’ experience and expertise on a daily basis.

My colleagues, Bradford Epley and Sarah Thompson, gave a presentation in the general session regarding the Menil’s ongoing project to address Sound Figure, a software-based, site-specific audio installation by Max Neuhaus. Since joining them on this project, I have often referred back to my notes from Amy Brost and Jack McConchie’s presentations, both of which centered on the documentation of audio installations, and emphasized that visual and written records are simply not robust enough to capture these types works to the degree required for their preservation. Amy’s approach to documenting Ragnar Kjartansson’s The Visitors, included interviewing a key collaborator—the artist’s director of sound—in addition to developing controlled language in collaboration with audio experts. Jack’s approach invited us to consider new technological possibilities such as using virtual reality (VR) to recreate and map the behavior of audio as experienced within its installation space. Each presenter emphasized documenting the display space itself as well as the decision-making process behind the creation of that space, as the creation of an acoustical difference could be considered an intervention to a work, and they both questioned how best to think about capturing that experience for documentation. Whether your institution has the capability to look to high-tech solutions such as VR technologies or not, thinking about the ways that documentation, or even material archiving and sampling might closer resemble an artwork’s constituent form is an exciting way to approach any new material. Each presentation expanded my understanding and conception of what audio art documentation could and should be.

Of all the topics presented, I found the most resonant to be the Starting at the Beginning panel, in which the panelists, Erin Barsan, Elise Tanner, Alexandra Nichols, Asti Sherring, Yu-Hsien Chen, and Jo Ana Morfin, shared their approaches to implementing TBM conservation practices in their respective institutions. In particular, Alexandra Nichols’ talk on the creation of retroactive iteration reports suggested an especially pertinent approach to interview your colleagues in other departments, as their experience provides a wealth of knowledge, and their memories of previous exhibitions may be the only record of previous artwork iterations. The standout of this panel was the baring of difficulties including geographic isolation and departmental silos in addition to other challenges. It was responsible, generous, and brave for these early-career professionals to share not only their successes, but the setbacks they have experienced as they work to implement change and improvements at their home institutions. To me, this panel served as a reminder that we, as a field, are always improved by the knowledge and information that we share with each other. As a new staff member attempting to implement institutional change with regard to our TBM polices (thankfully with great support from my colleagues), it has rung so true that this type of work must be done collectively and collaboratively.

Toward the end of the conference, the EMG was granted the respite of visiting the James Turrell Skyspace, One Accord, located in a Quaker meeting house as the venue for our specialty group dinner. While lively conversations took place outside in the sunset, the meditative installation contained within the meeting house provided a centering experience that allowed for personal reflection and the room for these presentations to sink in and generate new ideas. As a student, it was inspiring to take part in this collective viewing of an artwork with conservators whom I look up to as mentors. The hour I spent staring into the Houston sky through Turrell’s vision served as a transitional moment for me to begin creating space within myself to mentally move from New York to Texas, and was an especially satisfying way to wrap up the conference.

I am grateful for the many ways that this meeting has influenced me as a conservator over the past year. As the Menil Collection’s TBM policies continue to take new shapes, I hope to find ways to contribute to this ongoing conservation and take an active role in this extraordinarily collaborative specialty group. I encourage conservators from all specializations to attend talks in the EMG session this year, and to check out the papers and abstracts now available:

I would like to extend my deep gratitude to the Electronic Media Group for the FAIC EMG Individual Grant funded by Small Data Industries that allowed me to attend last year’s conference; to Abby Choudhury from the Mellon Foundation for generously gifting me her specialty group dinner ticket; and to the many individuals making up AIC who work so tirelessly to improve our field. It has been such an interesting journey allowing this information to percolate over the last year and find its way into my daily workflow. I am looking forward to the upcoming conference, and curious to discover the ways in which our colleagues will shape us all professionally in the year to come.

I hope to see you in Connecticut!

 #EMG #timebasedmedia #Featured