What is Time-Based Media Conservation?

Time-based media conservation refers to the conservation of important objects, artifacts, and documents that exist in digital form. As technology continues to rapidly evolve and new software is propelled into mainstream use nearly every day, continued innovation leads to planned obsolescence for hardware and software, all too often rendering content created with older versions unusable. Educational institutions have vast amounts of electronic media in their collections, and each item of digital content represents a unique challenge from a conservation standpoint. While institutions have long employed art historians with specialties in artifact preservation, but to university libraries, it is often a challenge to find professionals who understand preservation from a computer science perspective. Just like ancient objects, digital objects can be fragile and require special care, and the growing dependence on changing technologies puts these digital items at great risk. As universities, libraries, and other organizations start to support and develop processes and resources for time-based media conservation, a new science and toolset is emerging to support and inform the work.

The above description does not adequately define this issue and conflates time-based media conservation with digital preservation, which waters down the definition of both issues. I refer to the Guggenheim's definition of TBM conservation (available at
http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/collections/conservation/time-based-media) as a good introduction to this topic: "
Contemporary artworks that include video, film, slide, audio, or computer-based technologies are referred to as time-based media works because they have duration as a dimension and unfold to the viewer over time. Collecting, preserving, and exhibiting these technology-based artworks pose complex technical and ethical challenges to conservators.
Instability and change are inherent to these artworks, since artist-selected equipment and technologies fail and become obsolete. Moreover, many time-based media artworks are allographic by nature; rather than being composed of a unique original, they exist only when they are installed, so every iteration can be considered a different representation of the artwork. To preserve the fragile identity of time-based media artworks, conservators must proactively manage the degree of change that may be introduced to each." - koven.smith koven.smith Aug 23, 2013

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • Most contemporary art museums, and many general art museums, are acquiring more and more of these types of art objects, without addressing how they will be cared for over the long term. This is a huge, if largely unaddressed, problem in our sector. - koven.smith koven.smith Aug 23, 2013
  • - adrianne.russell adrianne.russell Aug 26, 2013I agree that many museums, especially art museums, have little knowledge or idea how to conserve these works. As a result, the effort to acquire them may not be as enthusiastic as more traditional art forms.

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • Museums are acquiring more and more TBM objects, but neither conservators trained by traditional methods nor technical personnel have the full set of skills required to conserve these types of objects. The lack of training programs for conservators of this type of media is a major looming problem that will manifest itself in a big, ugly way within the next five years. - koven.smith koven.smith Aug 23, 2013 - don.undeen don.undeen Aug 25, 2013 concur
  • - adrianne.russell adrianne.russell Aug 26, 2013Contemporary art museums will quickly find themselves off-mission if knowledge isn't achieved in how to take care of these objects. I'm not sure that very many formal curation/conservation training programs are tackling this, and there's not a lot of professional development either.

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?

  • Conservation of Time-Based Media allows these objects to continue to be a part of the ongoing interpretive strategy of museums. Without it, these works deteriorate quickly to an inoperative state and effectively cease to be. - koven.smith koven.smith Aug 23, 2013
  • - adrianne.russell adrianne.russell Aug 26, 2013A large section of art history will be lost if attention isn't paid to conserving these materials.

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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