For more than 50 years, the use and integration of technology in art practices has greatly changed the cultural landscape and has prompted us to review and adapt our conservation and documentation methods. The work and results of DOCAM demonstrate that the preservation of media art requires that its particular characteristics be taken into account. The mission of the DOCAM Research Alliance has been to identify and implement five research axes and propose tools, guides and methods that contribute to the preservation of the media arts heritage. The axes are conservation, documentation, cataloguing, history of technologies and terminology.
DOCAM was entrusted with a mandate to examine the factors that threaten the technological arts heritage and to put forward solutions and tools to allow artists, collaborators, museum professionals and collectors to better document and preserve this heritage. The causes of this fragility are many and varied. Most notable among them is the increasingly rapid obsolescence of the technologies used in these artworks. It is this obsolescence that is driving us to re-examine the factors that define the authenticity and integrity of new media works and recognize that they are based on variable media. It therefore becomes clear that the essence of a new media work is found more in its behaviour and the effects it generates than in the materiality of its components.
These works also often include transient features that leave them unstable and in a state of constant transformation. These features lead us to view the works as having a variable nature, in that they are subject to diverse changes, transformations or mutations through the course of their lifespan.
Within this context, DOCAM conducted a number of case studies on works that feature technological components and that belong to the collections of museums associated with the Alliance, such as the National Gallery of Canada, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and Canadian Centre for Architecture. These works were created by artists that include Janet Cardiff, Stan Douglas, Gary Hill, Nam June Paik, David Rokeby, Greg Lynn and Bill Viola.
The practical work carried out as part of the case studies produced five tools and guides that are now accessible to all on the DOCAM Web site:
• A Preservation Guide for Technology-Based Artworks
• A Cataloguing Guide for New Media Collections
• A Documentary Model adapted to media arts
• The DOCAM Glossaurus, a bilingual terminological tool
• A Technological Timeline, which includes both media artworks and technological components.
In addition, a number of educational activities such as the DOCAM seminars and international summits were undertaken and generated many audiovisual documents, which are also available on the DOCAM Web site.