Documenting digital art: re-thinking histories and practices of documentation in the museum and beyond

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: English

Abstract

Documentation is at the core of museum practices, but over the years methods to create documentations have evolved very little. Written description, completed questionnaires, static photos and video recordings are still created in conventional ways, and yet artworks have changed radically. Given the increase of digital art in particular, whose nature is often very ephemeral and experience highly subjective, and to ensure future art historical research as well as the sustainability of the artworks themselves, there is an urgent need for an expanded practice of documentation.

This project will focus on digital art, one of the most precarious yet also most innovative and popular art forms. The main aim is to develop innovative ways to understand and new ways to create documentation that will impact the conservation and curation of artworks which are otherwise likely to become obsolete. Considering documentation as the main solution to preserving these art forms, this project will outline the significance of an expanded understanding of documentation for conservators and curators, academics, artists and policy makers. It will do so by analysing how documentation can address the inherent challenges of capturing live events, visitor experiences and evolving artworks, and value the meaning and function of documentation, as the only remains of digital art.

The project will test these ideas in an exhibition at the Venice Biennale, using documents of the first computer art show held there to show the role of the public in re-defining how we understand these art forms. Taking this as a point of departure, the project will also analyse the role of the public in the production and re-interpretation of artworks at LIMA, looking specifically at the values of a range of technologies for the creation of documentation. Reflecting on the values of documentation, including 'unauthorised documentation', and expanding on the idea of audience documentation, the project will explore the potentiality, as well as challenges, that an upsurge and a dispersion of documentation cause to the sector. In particular, it will generate a framework that will define terms and practices developed in consultation with stakeholders, indicating what the parameters for documenting digital art may be.

In exploring contemporary methods of documentation, the project will also address shifts in photographic technologies that have been central to the practice of art history, showing how from the Google Art Project to Instagram, the camera is now a networked but also dispersed computational device, which continues to mediate our experience of art, particularly online, through social media. The project will focus on the documentation of digital art by its audiences in an age where photography is both ubiquitous and intimately linked to self-expression and cultural consumption. In collaboration with The Photographers' Gallery digital programme, the project will generate new knowledge concerning photography's dual role as both a medium for digital art practice and an instrument of documentation, looking also at the ethics of crowdsourced documentations and problems pertaining to data protection in this context.

Finally, the project will analyse the way these expanded practices of documentation are impacting the value and experience of the documented event or artwork and look into how this in turn affects the traditional authority of the museum as creator of documentation used for future reference, historical relevance or cultural memory. In doing so, the project will explore how museums might identify and develop new ways of maintaining curatorial authority over representing cultural value whilst empowering users to produce new content and value. These findings are likely to inspire museums to revisit their documentation practices and reassess the value of documentation and the role of the visitor in the exhibition and conservation of digital art.

Planned Impact

'Documenting digital art: Re-thinking histories and practices of documentation in the museum and beyond' will benefit three key user groups: museums and galleries; artists and professional practitioners; museum visitors interested in documentation.

These will benefit in the following ways:

Museums and galleries will benefit from the fact that their history of engaging with practices of documentation of digital art will be formally written up in the edited book and distributed to an international audience of peers. This knowledge will create a more diverse and enhanced understanding of the history of documentation of digital art in the museum contex. Additionally, novel documentation strategies will be developed throughout the project which will allow museums and galleries to better preserve digital art for the future. This includes both on and offline works and takes into consideration complex factors including (non)human interaction, interface design and the visitor experience. No such guidance is currently available to practitioners in the field and as more and more institutions, commercial galleries and museums exhibit, market and acquire digital art in their collections, we anticipate that curatorial and conservation staff will especially benefit from the findings of this project. Working in consultation with different museums, researchers from a range of disciplines and artists, we also aim to effect the way that gallery and museum curators engage the public with documentation practices.

Artists and professional practitioners whose work is documented and exhibited through the project will benefit by having documentations of their work, both existing ones and novel ones, co-researched with the team, made available to museums and galleries, and to the public. Artists featuring in the exhibition at the Venice Biennale will benefit as their work will be re-interpreted for the first time in the context of the 50th anniversary of the first computer art show and exhibited, showcased in a documentary video, and published about in a catalogue. Artists participating in the public events and the digital exhibition at The Photographers' Gallery and the workshops and symposium at LIMA, whose fields will cover practices as diverse as digital photography, net art and mixed reality performance, will benefit from the fact that their work will be systematically documented and published about in a range of outputs. At the same time, other artists and professional practitioners will be able to utilise the project research to learn about the history of digital art documentation, including best practice for the documentation of digital art. This will in turn help them to create effective legacies of their own and other people's practice. It is worth noting here that the value of digital artworks is often realised through documentation so this project may benefit artists and museums financially as well as in the other ways listed above.

Museum visitors will be encouraged to document artworks commissioned by the project through structured workshops, events, and social media. Visitors will learn about the value of documentation and acquire digital techniques to capture complex content. The results will be disseminated via social media, potentially reaching audiences who are not currently engaged with digital art and museums. Visitors will benefit by having a greater understanding of their role in the generation of documentations of digital art. As they will become actors in the production of new content and value for the museum, they will learn about their impact on the sector. The project aims to critically address and challenge the traditional authority of the museum as creator of documentation used for future reference, historical relevance or cultural memory. The team will endeavour to include policy makers (see Pathways) to ensure the widest dissemination of the impacts of the proposed research.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description This project looks at the documentation of digital art as a preservation, communication and exhibition strategy. Key findings so far have had to do with the roles played by the audience, re-mediation and re-interpretation of artworks.
Exploitation Route The outcomes of this funding are likely to change museum documentation practice.
Sectors Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://documentingdigitalart.exeter.ac.uk/
 
Description We have been told that findings from an initial workshop held at LiMA are likely to impact documentation practice at the Stedelijk Museum (see http://aaaan.net/curating-documentation-2/)
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Inserting documentation in museum questionnaire
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
URL http://aaaan.net/curating-documentation-2/
 
Description Dekker, Annet with Gaby Wijers, "Gezamenlijk Beheer", Modern Art: Who Shares?, Stichting Behoud Moderne Kunst, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, 6 March 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact A paper presented with Gaby Wijers at the Van Abbemuseum
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Dekker, Annet, "Homo Documentator. Expanding documentation in the arts", KUVA, Helsinki, 24 October 2019. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Towards a new understanding of documentation in the arts.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Francesca Franco, 'Art and Technology at the 1968 Venice Biennale', Dundee NEoN Festival, November 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A paper about the 1968 Venice Biennale
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Francesca Franco, 'Inconceivable yet computable: algorithmic and sound art based on the high tide at the Venice Biennale', University Paris 8 St Denis, What makes an image symposium, February 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Conference paper
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Francesca Franco, 'Inconceivable yet computable: from algorithmic music to algorithmic drawings and back', RE:SOUND, 8th International Conference on the Histories of Media, Art, Science and Technology, August 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Paper presented at leading international conference.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Francesca Franco, 'The troubling affair of born digital art conservation: creative design for computational art documentation', Computational and Cognitive Models of Creative Design, Heron Island, 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact A paper on born digital art conservation
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Francesca Franco, 'Venice Biennale 1070: Ricerca e progettazione', CAA 2020 Chicago, College of Art Association Annual Conference, February 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Paper on the 1970 Biennale
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Francesca Franco, 'Venice, 1970: Ricerca e progettazione - The First Computer Art Show at the Venice Biennale', SHOT Special Interest Group Computers, Information and Society, Annual Meeting, Milan, Italy, 24-7 October 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact A focus group interested in computers, information and society
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Gaby Wijers, Lima as a Platform for Media Art, New Technologies and Digital Culture', Artworks from a digital Area in Galleries and Museums at Vasulka Kitchen Brno 22 november 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact LIMA is a media art platform, agency and digital repository which takes care of 1000 ends of media artworks for artists and collections. Since 2016, we have been exploring ever more alternative ways to examine documentation and re-interpret it as an experimental but emerging practice for the conservation of media artworks. Presentation will share with the audience questions and outcomes of projects such as the Artwork Documentation Tool, or the Do-It- Yourself tool for documentation, as well as video documentation practice and reinterpretation, in order to capture the hybrid, contextual and living qualities of an 'original' piece, rather than proposing an ongoing process of changing technical platforms and operating systems. In addition, LIMA is currently updating its digital repository and workflow. With an emphasis on net art and complex digital artworks, the new repository, collection information system, and associated workflows, are tailored to capturing the mutability inherent to the life cycle of digital artworks. These methodologies, requirements and architecture are being explored in the research project Art Host.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.vasulkakitchen.org/sites/default/files/document/program_vkb_colloquium_.pdf
 
Description Giannachi, G. (2019) 'Documenting performance and digital art, the role of the audience', Capturing Digital Art and Performance, LIMA, 20 November 2019. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact A talk given at LiMA outlining early project findings about the role of the audience in digital art documentation
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Giannachi, G. (2019) 'Documenting performance and digital art, the role of the audience', Capturing Digital Art and Performance, V&A, 22 September 2019. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A talk given at the Victoria and Albert Museum about the role of the audience in digital art documentation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Giannachi, G. (2019) 'Experiencing, documenting and preserving digital art and museum installations', Radical Immersions DRHA, Watermans Arts Centre, London, 8-10 September 2019. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk about the role of the audience in digital art documentation and preservation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Giannachi, G. (2019) 'Le problematiche legate alla documentazione, cura e conservazione di opere d'arte digitali e multimediali', CIRMA, Turin University, 25 September 2019. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A special interest seminar for professional practitioners at Turin University
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Giannachi, G. (2019) Keynote: 'Documenting digital art: the role of the audience', 'Bridging the Gap: Theory and Practice in the Conservation of Contemporary Art', Maastricht, 24-7 March 2019. To be published in Bridging the Gap: Theory and Practice of Conservation of Contemporary Art, Springer, eds RenĂ©e van De Vaal and Vivian van Saaze. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact A keynote addressing the importance of documentation audience engagement in digital art documentation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description UNFOLD: Audience/Performer/Mirror 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact On the 15th of January 2020 LIMA invites Keren Cytter, Jan Robert Leegte and Emile Zile to present their version of Dan Graham's performance and video work Audience/Performer/Mirror. Reinterpretations by Adad Hannah, Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard, and Judith Hopf will be exhibited as well.The works together show the possibilities of reinterpretation and give an artistic anthology, and criticism, of the work of Graham. Gabriella Giannachi (researcher & professor of Performance and New Media at the University of Exeter), Annet Dekker (curator & researcher, assistant Professor of Media Studies University of Amsterdam) and Willem van Weelden (curator & researcher, tutor media theory Gerrit Rietveld Academie,) will reflect upon reinterpretation as both an artistic as preservation strategy. Moderated by art historian & dramaturgist Suzanne Sanders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.li-ma.nl/lima/news/unfold-audienceperformermirror