Coral Salomón is currently the National Digital Stewardship Resident in Art Information at the University of Pennsylvania, and attended the annual conference of the American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) with support from a Kress Cross-Pollinator Fellowship. Learn more about Coral, or read on for her reflection on the conference. Materials Matter?: Searching for ethical and practical conservation strategies in the age of reproduction and digitality Thanks to the generous support of the Digital Library Federation, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works (AIC), I had the opportunity to travel and present at AIC’s 46th Annual Meeting, Material Matters 2018, in Houston, Texas. Although I am an archivist (currently I am the National Digital Stewardship Resident in Art Information at the University of Pennsylvania), working with new media artworks has led me to confront issues that also beguile conservators: How do we acquire, provide access, classify, document, and preserve these works? Material Matters 2018 was my first experience at a conference dedicated solely to conservation. I spent most of the time learning from the excellent speakers in the Electronic Media Group, the section where I also presented. However, one of the joys of AIC is that I had the opportunity to listen to presentations on a wide array of themes and materials, whose lessons can be applied to our line of work. During the Whitney Replication Committee: Transparency in the Age of Reproduction, conservators Margo Delidow and Clara Rojas Sebesta expounded on the challenges that led to the committee’s creation. They discussed why we feel comfortable with certain replications and not others, the need to seek an ethical replication practice, and the importance of clarity in language, especially when transmitting information of museum interventions to patrons. Historically, artists directly transmitted their handwork into a singular authentic work. However, as art objects become reproducible, it has become necessary to rethink how we frame our approaches to preservation and conservation in a way that respects the work’s physical and conceptual identities. The Whitney Replication Committee’s creation came as a consequence of the major interventions performed on Richard Sera’s Prop. Throughout the life of the work conservators glued new Velcro strips, changed its aluminum foil, and performed other extreme conservation measures to ensure the work’s survival. These interventions forced the conservators to ask: When does the work stop being the work? At what point do conservation efforts cross the line? The speakers acknowledged that transformation has always been a part of a museum objects’ lifecycle. However, museum interventions have become so pervasive that the profession needs to create standards, guidelines, and document how they impact the works. Some of the recommendations issued by the Replication Committee are already best practices for the stewardship of time-based media art, such as interviewing artists at the time of acquisition. The artist questionnaire anticipates museum interventions and asks the artists to predetermine when these would have to take place. One of the ideas that I found very compelling is that instead of seeing interventions as subtracting from the authenticity of the work, the Replication Committee sees it as an integral component that needs to be clearly articulated, especially to the public. Clear and standardized language is not only for internal documentation, but to better educate the public about the museum’s hand in the artworks they are viewing. They embrace transparency as a technique to mediate some of the tensions posed by contemporary art. C.Rojas-Sebesta & M.Delidow on why we feel comfortable with certain replications vs others, seeking an ethical replication practice & clarity in lang esp. when transmitting info of museum interventions to patrons. Can’t wait to read the @whitneymuseum Replication Committee paper! pic.twitter.com/DDoyEqPR12 — C.Sal (@CSalinPhilly) June 1, 2018 Another thought that struck me during the conference is how valuable and crucial it is to use a code of ethics to guide the decision-making process, regardless of the artworks’ medium. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute’s Christopher Mazza and Sarah Scaturro provided a great case study on this topic. When struck with a challenge between conservation principles and Kawakubo’s curatorial choices during her career encompassing exhibition, Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between, the team relied on AIC’s Code of Ethics to navigate their actions. What to do when artist’s curatorial choices/vision run counter to conservation principles? Code of ethics helped @metmuseum #costumeinstitute conservation dept. navigate initial decision making process. #AICmtg18 pic.twitter.com/FK8L6yEeov — C.Sal (@CSalinPhilly) June 1, 2018 As technology blurs and subverts traditional notions of authenticity, ownership, spaces, physicality, perceptions of stewardship, and the role of patrons and knowledge institutions, adhering to a standardized Code of Ethics for replicable mediums and new media art becomes increasingly paramount. As time passes, we might stumble upon challenges that careful documentation and detailed artist interviews might not anticipate. As articulated by Delidow, science might evolve to the point where we could clone an artwork to the molecular level. But, should we? This isn’t going to end well. I left AIC thinking about what it means to reconcile the tensions that arise between replication, entropy, and fulfilling our professional duty of safeguarding the cultural patrimony for future generations. While these are not easy questions with simple answers, I am animated by the conversations I encountered in Houston and believe there is hope in this collaborative search for strategies. Until next year.
Ann Burns is a Metadata Librarian at the University of Virginia Library who attended the annual conference of the Visual Resources Association (VRA) as a Kress+DLF GLAM Cross-Pollinator Fellow. Learn more about Ann, or read her reflection on the conference below. The Visual Resources Association (VRA) Conference, which I attended in Philadelphia in late March, is not long; three days pretty much does the trick. VRA bills itself as “the professional organization supporting those who store, preserve, share, and interpret visual content.” The members are primarily managers of visual content collections for museums, archives, libraries, academic departments or commercial environments. All are aware that “visual content collections” has become a much bigger tent over the past 25 years or so. Based on the sessions offered, visual content management encompasses a wide swath of types and interests. Sessions ran the gamut from asset management of audio-visual files through managing intellectual property rights to applying embedded metadata to digital files and working with virtual reality. The Association announced 60+ new members, and I was struck by the number of them in attendance, eager to expand their technical and managerial knowledge. Some of the issues addressed included the role and responsibilities of a solo visual collection curator and ways to use digital images and their metadata to facilitate access to actual objects in cultural collections. VRA’s theme this year was “Workshop of the World,” and their approach emphasized in-depth explanations of popular tools and programs in digital management. I found the session IIIF in Practice – Use Cases for Implementing and Using IIIF APIs, organized by Jeff Mixter of OCLC, particularly helpful. There are a number of places where IIIF is used to present images, but exactly how it works and what programs can be used to implement the APIs locally are not always clear. Mixter’s explanation of how IIIF works was tremendously informative, but oddly, Robb Detlefs’ excursion into his attempt to write IIIF manifests on his own illustrated as nothing else could why it’s a better idea to choose a service or an open source tool for this task instead! Another session that interested me involved an introduction to audio-visual formats, including a case study for making in-house instructional videos, and an in-depth explanation of the different data layers in GIS files; the last section demonstrated the intricacies of GIS data for those who like to be forewarned as to what they are getting into. I attended one workshop: Collaborative Digital Asset Management: Practical Approaches and Useful Tools. Samantha Norling and Tascha Horowitz from Newfields (formerly the Indianapolis Museum of Art) presented their Framework for Collaborative Digital Asset Management within Cultural Heritage Organizations. The workshop made it clear that it is possible to flounder in this task simply because of the number of questions, the number of answers per question, and the number of stakeholders and their orientation in such a project. From the structure and the topics discussed, it was obvious that the presenters had invested much time in understanding different viewpoints and expectations in their effort to implement a Digital Asset Management System at their institution. When you read through their list of activities and considerations, it seems wonderful that DAMS are ever implemented at all, simply because each interested party perceives their interest as paramount. The session Engaging New Technologies featured a process for digitizing deteriorating negatives at the Library of Congress; a demonstration of the use of drones for GIS projects; and an explanation of Blockchain, which I found absolutely fascinating. Several sessions discussed the fair use of images, video and music; the one I attended reminded me of a similar talk given at my library, but also reminded me that listener-friendly presentations on this important topic may not be generally available, even in academic settings. There were a number of social opportunities provided, to discuss what we had all been exposed to with our colleagues, or to discuss our individual interests. The Association maintains an active mentoring program, to guide new attendees to resources and help them make useful colleague connections. VRA attendees were also treated to a Raffle to raise money for conference travel with a personal appearance by Benjamin Franklin, impersonated by a curator who is also an actor. The VRA Conference is not an academic conference. Its strength is in its ability to introduce technologies, sharpen skills, and provide opportunities for networking, collaboration and support among members of a particular specialty: the management of visual content for cultural heritage research, teaching and exhibition.
Alexis Logsdon (@librarianrover) is a research and instruction librarian at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN who attended the annual meeting of the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA) as a Kress+DLF GLAM Cross-Pollinator Fellow. Learn more about Alexis, or read her reflection on the conference below. This February I had the honor of attending the ARLIS/NA conference in New York City as the DLF + Kress/GLAM cross pollinator. While I work with art history students, I am not an art librarian, so I found myself drawn to sessions that were focused on the area that intersected most with my DLF-related interests. As it happens, there were three sessions on topics relevant to digital publishing. In one session, I learned about the development of e-journals in art history. One panelist discussed retroactively making a born-digital journal more sustainable and discoverable. Another panelist explanded on this concern: how are the journals we are supporting on various platforms—repositories, WordPress sites, or elsewhere—searchable in our ILS or on the web? How are readers coming to these materials and is there more we can do to guide this? A second panel focused on that old digital publishing mainstay: the institutional repository. Like many libraries, art librarians reported challenges in getting buy-in from faculty and students around contributing to their repositories. But the resistance to depositing appears to take a very specific flavor for artists and art students: intellectual property. Many artists are resistant to making their work widely available via a repository for fear of losing control of their creative output. Panelists offered some strategies they have employed to build trust and buy-in. A third panel took up the question of digital publishing from the perspective of less traditional digital projects: an interactive fashion history timeline; a critical edition of a digitized French fashion magazine from the turn of the 19th century; a multi-platform urban architectural history project. A wide array of tools were used to develop, host, and preserve these projects. I was most curious about a project out of Columbia’s lab for experimental methods in the humanities. Columbia’s (and DLF’s) Alex Gil discussed “minimal computing” and “publication as preservation,” which I won’t pretend I fully understand, but did find very intriguing. Plus—bonus! —cool images of fashions of bygone eras! It was great to learn what challenges art and academic librarianship share, as well as encounter some novel approaches and projects that are particular to art libraries. I am so grateful to DLF and Kress for providing this opportunity!