Reports to the Field

Focus, Actions, Next Steps - Sherry Miller Hocking

“The American television and video heritage is now at a crossroads. One direction leads toward catastrophic losses of film and videotape, with the likely exception of studio and network programs in corporate archives that can be recycled for new income. Another direction leads toward the managed preservation of extant television and video materials that bear an important relationship to American history and culture regardless of their reuse potential or monetary value.” 

-   Television and Video Preservation 1997: A Study of the Current State of American Television and Video Preservation, Volume 1, page 123


On May 31st and June 1st over 50 media arts professionals, conservators, technical experts, and artists gathered at the historic firehouse home of Downtown Community TV Center in New York for Looking Back/Looking Forward, a working symposium on moving image preservation, organized by the Experimental Television Center in association with Independent Media Arts Preservation (IMAP) and Bay Area Video Coalition. Focused on the physical preservation of independent electronic media works and related issues concerning tools and ephemera, Looking Back/Looking Forward facilitated an honest and sometimes disturbing evaluation of our progress as a field and informed discussion about necessary and realistic initiatives and partnerships.

Participants at the symposium included representatives of Art and Science Laboratory (Santa Fe),  Artists Television Access (San Francisco),  Bay Area Video Coalition (San Francisco), Electronic Music Foundation, Electronic Arts Intermix, Experimental Television Center, George Eastman House, Guggenheim Museum, IMAP, la foundation Daniel Langlois (Montreal), La Guardia Community College, MercerMedia, Museum of Modern Art, National Museum of the American Indian, New York University Preservation and Cinema Studies Departments, New York State Council on the Arts, Smithsonian Institution Archives (Washington), Standby Program, Tate Gallery (London), The Kitchen, V Tape (Toronto), Video Data Bank (Chicago) and WNET.

Transcripts of the proceedings are available on the Experimental Television Center’s Video History site and on the IMAP site. Looking Back/Looking Forward was also documented by Bay Area Video Coalition. With funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, BAVC is producing a DVD on videotape preservation. The DVD will include footage of presentations made at Looking Back/Looking Forward as well as other recent symposia organized by IMAP and ArtTable. The DVD will feature interviews with leading conservators, curators, media technicians and artists on issues ranging from the latest techniques to ethical issues and viewer experiences. The DVD  will be distributed to museums, libraries, history archives, media arts organizations and colleges throughout the country.

In addition to the transcripts, the Preservation resource area of the Video History Web includes two commissioned papers -  Video Preservation: The Basics  (2000, revised 2002) written by Sherry Miller Hocking and Mona Jimenez, and Reel to Real: A Case Study of BAVC’s Remastering Facility (2002) written by Luke Hones, and edited by Sherry Miller Hocking and Mona Jimenez. There is also a selection of historically important texts concerning early efforts at media preservation.  

The first day of Looking Back/Looking Forward  was devoted to Issues in Physical Preservation, an intensive description and  analysis of the remastering process. Led by Luke Hones (Artists Television Access), Heather Weaver, Kacey Koeberer, and Jon Selsley (all of Bay Area Video Coalition) the session followed the process of preservation from the arrival of a tape to its remastering: from inspection, to cleaning, to playback, and finally duplication.  While focused primarily on 1/2” open reel, among the most endangered of video formats, the panel also explored the impact of the issues raised on other formats and on audio. In a technical discussion, the panelists presented hardware, including the intermediary devices used to monitor, measure, and “correct” the signals, as well as the documentation of the preservation process.  Reel to Real: BAVC’s Remastering Model, a Case Study by Luke Hones, concerning the history and configuration of the Bay Area Video Coalition’s remastering facility, provides a detailed look at this topic.

Concluding the first day, The Economics of Physical Preservation led by  John Thomson of Electronic Arts Intermix, Kate Horsfield of  Video Data Bank, and Lisa Steele and  Kim Tomczak of V Tape presented the realities and difficulties faced by non-profit organizations as they struggle with preservation.   What are possible models for getting the job done and what are the real costs? What kinds of problems of access and maintenance do the hardware and devices pose and how can we solve them? What does this discussion of economics tell us about where we need to go from here?

MercerMedia hosted a reception on Friday evening, which allowed participants to meet informally and to familiarize themselves with the port-production services and media streaming solutions for independent producers provided by MercerMedia and through a collaboration with the Standby Program.

Saturday morning opened with Media Formats Update led by Mona Jimenez (Materia Media) and independent media artist Steina Vasulka. Mona briefly summarized the different points of view in the archival and media arts communities concerning formats. Steina opened the discussion to the range of practical solutions to the remastering question, employing readily available resources. What do archivists and other professionals recommend for a “preservation format”? What are the pros and cons of various formats? How do these recommendations apply in practice to the independent media community?

In Assessing a Collection for Preservation Sarah Stauderman (Smithsonian Institution) introduced a working tool of her own design, the preservation priority worksheet for video tape collections, which seeks to standardize an approach to accessing a collection. It is based on a summary of the questions archivists and conservators typically ask when prioritizing a list of works from a collection for possible remastering.  How do cost and complexity of the remastering process impact decisions? In practice, how are works selected for remastering? Are there similar issues when tackling preservation of hardware and tools?

The afternoon session, Issues in Capturing Related Histories, was presented by Alain Depocas of the Daniel Langlois Foundation, Woody Vasulka of Art and Science Laboratory, and Joel Chadabe of the Electronic Music Foundation. A model for the presentation of historical documents on the web, and issues of preservation of performative media were presented. Media preservation must address needs ranging from intermedia performance, and installations and also artists’ instruments, tools and paper ephemera, all of which provide a richer context to enhance understand of the tapes we are trying to save and the history of electronic media art.

 The final session of the day concluded with a frank and honest discussion of the next steps, facilitated by Dara Meyers-Lingsley of IMAP and Luke Hones. Among the topics discussed and the actions identified were these.

Information exchange

  • broaden the conversation to increase learning opportunities and prevent duplication of effort and service
  • share information resources with an international community

Enrich the presentation of media history

  • participation by the entire community
  • preservation of documents and records which provide context for the history
  • collection and dissemination of information held by pioneering artists and groups
  • providing public access to these documents for research purposes

Economies of scale  

  • analysis of existing solutions and identification of additional needs, particularly in areas of remastering and storage
  • creation of stable public/private partnerships
  • identification of range of solutions appropriate to existing resources
  • relationships of exhibition, production and distribution centers to preservation activities


  • support for research directly relevant to electronic moving image preservation
  • outreach to corporate communities with needed resources, expertise and information
  • facilitate better understandings of where archival research is being conducted and published

Selection strategies for public collections

  • relationships of public to private collections
  • curatorial roles in preservation

Public policy concerns

  • methods of influencing dominant cultural policies to better serve needs of independent media communities


  • development and transmission of useful and usable information to funders
  • creation of methods to facilitate transfer information from the pioneers to the newer generations of media artists and activists
  • broaden inter-field and intra-field communication avenues


  •  identify the different needs and priorities for core constituents, media professionals, funders,  and the general public
  •  establish historical contexts from which to view preservation work
  • examine standards of ethical practice for moving image works



  • research best practices internationally
  • expand constituencies
  • develop pilot union catalog
  • preserve early knowledge-base
  • conduct interviews with early pioneers - artists, technicians, inventors
  • identify existing communications pathways and organizations with a stake


  • small group meetings charged with reporting to larger communities
  • use of web-based forms - email and listserves
  • use of existing organizations and their communications voices and resources
  • internships and mentorships to help educate about the tapes and objects
  • conservation case studies
  • de-localization of the problems
  • support for new and existing publications - concerning conservation practices that work; the early historical contexts of media works
  • clearinghouse with centralized access for information

Looking Back/Looking Forward is an activity of the Center’s Video History Project, an on-going web and research initiative begun in 1994 to reflect the complex evolution of the media arts field, and encourage a collective voice in the crafting of our histories.

 The goals of the Video History Project are to provide a dynamic vehicle for the creation and dissemination of an inclusive media history, crafted by those who are shaping it; to help establish bridges for intellectual access to information and to position independent media arts activities within a broader cultural context by cultivating research and public programming of these materials by those in the arts, humanities and sciences; and to encourage alliances among collecting institutions and educational and curatorial programs for the preservation of critically endangered works, instruments and documents.  

Launched in 2000, the Video History Website continues to serve as a both a research collection and dissemination medium.  The site structure depends on 9 interrelated resource databases containing a total of about 5000 records. The resource areas concern People, Tools, Groups, Distribution and Preservation. The Bibliography resource area contains over 1000 entries. In the Chronology area you can generate a timeline of events in media arts history, or view the events within a defined range. The search function allows visitors to search all of the records, encouraging the visitor to discover broad interconnections among people, places and events. Each resource area contains historically significant texts, descriptive information and extensive links.   

Looking Back Looking Forward was organized by the Experimental Television Center (ETC) in association with Independent Media Arts Preservation (IMAP), Bay Area Video Coalition and the Electronic Media Specialty Group of the AIC (American Institute for the Conservation of Artistic and Historic Works). Looking Back/Looking Forward was hosted by the Downtown Community Television Center and made possible with public funds from the Electronic Media and Film Program of the NYS Council on the Arts, and assistance from IMAP, MercerMedia and Dave Jones Design. The symposium was organized by Sherry Miller Hocking, Assistant Director of the Experimental Television Center, and independent consultant Mona Jimenez.

The Video History Project has received support from the Daniel Langlois Foundation, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Statewide Challenge Grant Program, the New York State Council on the Arts, and New York Foundation for the Arts Technology Planning Grants Program, and from the Everson Museum of Art, the Media Action Grant Program of Media Alliance, and the Institute for Electronic Arts at Alfred University. Corporate support has been provided by Blackhammer, Dave Jones Design and VidiPax as well as individual contributors. Partners have included the New York State Alliance for Arts Education, IMAP, BAVC and the Electronic Media Specialty Group of AIC. The Project is under the direction of Sherry Miller Hocking of the Experimental Television Center; independent preservation consultant Mona Jimenez served as major contributor for conference and web planning and for the symposium. David Jones Design implemented the web design, and David serves as webmaster.

-   Sherry Miller Hocking,  2003

Reports to the Field - Summary - Mona Jimenez

Dear Friends,

In June 2002, the Experimental Television Center held the symposium “Looking Back/Looking Forward” to investigate how we can expand the options for physical preservation and the preservation of related devices and ephemera. Representatives were invited from media arts centers, universities, museums, archives and post-production facilities, along with technicians, artists, funders, and preservation consultants. We invite you continue the dialogue with us.

The symposium was a combination of information sharing, brainstorming and strategizing. The symposium was videotaped, and the tapes are being transcribed and will be available at the end of the year at ETC’s Video History web site ( 

In the closing session, the question was posed: “Where do we go from here?” The following is a summary of the actions suggested, and observations voiced by participants. Please jump in: email your reactions and comment, update us on related activities, volunteer to take on a task, suggest or initiate a collaboration. The proposed actions are in no particular order; so we also encourage your comments on how they should be prioritized.

Mona Jimenez


Proposed actions:

1. Conduct a study of independent media preservation efforts internationally for distribution internationally  - particular mention was made of efforts in the Netherlands.

2. Conduct a survey to collect descriptions and contacts for preservation initiatives, such as BAVC’s project to create a DVD on video preservation, the Variable Media Initiative, and research by the Image Permanence Institute. Do at least a portion of this information-gathering through web-based data collection (Artist Television Access may help with this.)

3. Establish best practices on specific areas of preservation, use a tiered approach with small working groups who test theories, make recommendations, and bring to a larger body for discussion.

4. Connect to, involve and dialogue with the next generation of preservation activists by offering internships in collections for students enrolled in Moving Image Preservation Programs (such as UCLA, NYU, George Eastman House).

5. Investigate the feasibility of a direct tape-tape duplication system, where the tape doesn’t have to pass through a tape path on a deck. (Luke Hones and Bill Etra may help with this.)

6. Prepare detailed guides about technical issues with older videotapes: how to spot problems with the physical object and how to spot playback problems. For example, it is particularly important to distinguish between the look of productions made with of 1/2” open reel equipment (editing glitches, softness of image, etc.) and the results of subsequent tape defects or equipment problems.  

7. Create a study collection of older equipment, including artist instruments/devices, with technical documentation such as manuals, and videotapes of how to use the equipment.

8. Locate older equipment through a survey of media arts organizations and related groups. (NAMAC could be asked to do this, and Artist Television Access may help with an online survey form and database.)

9.  Carry out an oral history project with artists and designers who created artist instruments and devices, and who have developed one-of-a-kind devices that are part of installation works.

10.  Continue and expand the mechanisms (such as the ETC web site, Woody Vasulka’s site and the Kinetic History site of Electronic Arts Intermix) to collect multiple histories of early video – creating a fuller picture of such areas as artistic practices, aesthetics, politics, and organizational infrastructure.

11.  Create consensus on ethical standards for media preservation. Look at the standards of practice used in conservation and archival communities as models to begin the discussion.

12.  Continue to explore the complex preservation issues with technology-based installation work raised by the 2000 symposium TechArcheology: Installation Art Preservation.

13.  Raise awareness of the need for preservation through exhibition programs combing historical and contemporary productions; i.e., showing activist tapes from from the 1970’s with current activist video.

14.  Ask NAMAC to take on a specific task (such as equipment survey above) to advance preservation work.

15.  Connect to other efforts at the forefront for NAMAC (such as media literacy) to go beyond a segregated discussion about preservation.

16.  Raise awareness with funders and supporters of the need for preservation.


* We are making progress! There has been significant increase in the amount of information available on media preservation and media history, and in the networking between different groups working on or concerned about preservation.

* Media preservation is an international problem; we need to learn more about efforts in other countries and find ways to collaborate and share information to prevent “re-inventing the wheel”.

* We need to focus on what we want to see happen – a “wish list”, and less on projecting how it will happen – we may not be able to imagine all  possible solutions.

* We need to come to consensus around preservation practices and dissemination the knowledge.

*  We need to pass along our knowledge and passion, including our technical expertise and understanding of the aesthetics and production of early media works, to a new generation of preservation activists.

* Trends toward editioning of media works, and increased collection by individuals and private galleries raises questions about availability of the works to the public (through public institutions and non-profit distributors), and how they are being preserved.

* The contextualization and preservation of media works will come from contributions to video history sites and repositories, with “the data creating the history.”