Permanence Through Change: The Variable Media Approach
L'approche des médias variables : la permanence par le changement

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The publication Permanence Through Change: The Variable media Approach is published by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, in New York, and the Daniel Langlois Foundation, in Montreal. The texts are in English and in French.

It is available in pdf format :

Please click here to download the complete publication in one pdf file (2 MB), or select through the table of content below.

Title page and Table of content 1-3
Jean Gagnon 5-6
The Challenge of Variable Media 7-9
John G. Hanhardt    
Digital Decay 11-22
Bruce Sterling    
Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive 25-27
Richard Rinehart    
Franklin Furnace Archives, Inc. 29-32
Tiffany Ludwig    
Performance Art Festival+Archives 35-37
Thomas Mulready  39-41
Alena Williams    
Walker Art Center 43-45
Steve Dietz    
Accommodating the Unpredictable:
The Variable Media Questionnaire
Jon Ippolito    
Beyond “Conservative”: The Conservator’s Role in Variable Media Preservation 55-59
Carol Stringari    
Reality Check:A Year with Variable Media 61-64
Caitlin Jones    
Goals of the Variable Media Network 66-69
Alain Depocas    
Nam June Paik, TV Garden 70-77
Introduction by John G. Hanhardt
“Preserving the Immaterial” excerpts
Meg Webster, Stick Spiral 78-84
Introduction by Carol Stringari
“Preserving the Immaterial” excerpts
Ken Jacobs, Bitemporal Vision : The Sea 86-91
Introduction by Jon Gartenberg
“Preserving the Immaterial” excerpts
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Public Opinion 92-99
Introduction by Nancy Spector
“Preserving the Immaterial” excerpts
Grahame Weinbren and Roberta Friedman,
The Erl King
Introduction by Jeff Rothenberg
Interview excerpts
Mark Napier, net.flag 108-114
Introduction by Jon Ippolito
“Preserving the Immaterial” excerpts
Variable Media Network Members 116-117
Related Organizations 118-122
Glossary 130-137

Click at left to view a section of the transcript or click here to view a printable version.
"Digital Decay"
Keynote Address by Bruce Sterling

You may wonder why a science fiction writer like myself takes such obvious delight in hanging out with museum curators. It's a paradox, like the one we heard in the name of this conference, "Preserving the Immaterial." If it's immaterial, why would it need preserving? And if you're a futurist, then how come you're in a museum?

But there's no contradiction here; it makes perfect sense if you look at right. Futurists and antiquarians both work with the nature of time. I have a passionate allegiance to my esteemed colleagues in museums. Because the future is just a kind of past that hasn't happened yet. And obsolescence is innovation in revers.

Curators, conservators and archivists are much closer to the future than most of us mortals. That's because they store, catalog and preserve--they physically touch--the objects of the past and present that people in the future will see.

When you hang out with conservators and archivists, then you get to see what the passage of time really does. These folks have a job of work. The processes of decay may be a little hard to spot during a single human lifetime, but in a museum, you can find out that Entropy commands a mighty legion of ruin.

We've got all the usual awe-inspiring, mythical threats: fire, flood, storm, earthquake, frenzied mobs, carpet-bombings, plagues, and swarms of locusts. Egyptian rains of frogs. Asteroid impacts...

Read more about this in the full conference transcript.
Click at left to view a section of the transcript or click here to view a printable version.
Thank you Bruce. I have to say I'm a little disappointed in Bruce's pessimistic forecast for digital media. It seems to me that the very fact that the World Wide Web exists should give us hope for a self-sustaining, eternal repository of cultural heritage. And that's why I'm relying on it for my presentation.

The Variable Media Initiative is a radical paradigm for preserving art in new media--What the...? I swear this worked fine this morning. Oh, I see the problem-this is the Lynx browser. My site's not compatible with that particular interface. OK, I'll launch a version in another browser: Whoa, what happened to the images and colors? OK, everything's under control, this is just a different, but equally wrong browser: Opera. My site's not compatible with that. Let's try that again with Amaya. OK, a little better. Isn't there a copy of Netscape on this machine? Here we go-arrgh! No wonder, it's Netscape 3. How about 4...ah, perfect. Well...maybe Bruce has a point. Granted, I deliberately picked some rather esoteric browsers-with the help of Jan Schaumann, the Guggenheim's Webmaster. Yet the vulnerability of Web site display to the nuances of different browser flavors doesn't bode well for the ability of future browsers to re-create the Web we see today.

>> View screenshots of various browsers.
As a matter of fact, it wouldn't be a bad idea for every museum that collects ephemeral media to have a science-fiction writer in residence-preferably a dystopian one, to help them envision the worst-case scenarios that will inevitably befall the media in their collection. Indeed, in some ways new media preservationists and science fiction writers are in the same business. However questionable our goal of forecasting the future, there is no question that this imagining adds great clarity to our understanding of the present.

For this reason, I see the vulnerability of so much art of the past half-century as both a danger and an opportunity. The danger is that we decide to give up on the ephemeral art forms of the twentieth century, withdrawing into our ironclad citadel of durable Paintings and Sculpture, and watching from the ramparts as hapless masterpieces of video and online art are mowed down by the specter of technological obsolescence. The opportunity, on the other hand, is to craft a new collecting paradigm that is as radical as the art it hopes to preserve. The choice is ours: do we jettison our paradigm? Or our art?

Personally, I vote for the former-and so what you'll see tomorrow is a new paradigm. The Variable Media Initiative encourages artists to define their works in a medium-independent way so that they can be translated into new mediums once their original format is obsolete.
While it is to my knowledge unprecedented among museums and other collecting institutions, the Variable Media Initiative didn't emerge from some art history dissertation or philosopher's musings. It was inspired by the experience of people at work in the front lines of the battle to save art, from Carol Stringari and Paul Kuranko wrestling with fading photographs and skipping videodiscs to Steve Dietz and Benjamin Weil figuring out how to archive ada'web at the Walker. Above all, it is the artists who have shown us the way. In the 1960s and 70s, Conceptual and Process artists like Robert Morris danced, scattered, and bulldozed their way out of the static model of art they had inherited from Abstract Expressionism. Younger artists like John Simon have used digital technologies to create works that live as comfortably on Palm Pilots as on 30-foot videowalls. I'm particularly indebted to my frequent collaborators Keith Frank and Janet Cohen-the former for pushing me to improve the paradigm, the latter for failing in her attempt to persuade me against it. And somewhere in the background is John Cage, the first artist to recognize the value of indeterminacy and hence the patron saint of variable media.
To demonstrate how does the paradigm works, let's start with a quiz: can you spot the artwork in variable media?

Eva Hesse, Expanded Expansion, 1969
  Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #146, 1972

The artists who created these works had a lot in common. Both former painters, Hesse and LeWitt pursued painterly issues in new formats: Hesse made sculptures from latex poured on cheesecloth, LeWitt drew directly on the wall with a blue crayon. Both created expansive works that rebelled against the closed structures of Minimalism. The artists were even the best of friends. Yet one artist's work is now terminally ill--lying in a crate in our warehouse like a patient on life support--while the other guaranteed to last as long as there is wax and white walls. Paradoxically, the artwork that seemed least permanent at the time it was made-since anyone could paint over that wall--has proven to be the true survivor. LeWitt's wall drawings have endured not by being "built to last," but by being variable. For works of this kind, fixity equals death.

In some ways, these two works are beyond the need for the variable media paradigm. We may be too late to save the Hesse, since the artist died without leaving any solution to her work's failing status; and the LeWitt, which is based on repeating a fairly straightforward set of instructions, doesn't really need our help to stay alive. So, for this first conference on variable media, we've chosen eight case studies of works that fall between the extremes represented by Hesse and LeWitt.
These case studies, which we'll examine in detail in tomorrow's sessions, include:
Robert Morris Site, 1964. Performance
Jan Dibbets A White Wall, 1971. Photo collage
Nam June Paik TV Garden, 1974. Video installation Bruce Nauman False Silence, 1975. Audio installation
Meg Webster Stick Spiral, 1986. Installation
Felix Gonzalez-Torres Untitled (Public Opinion), 1991. Interactive Installation
Ken Jacobs Bitemporal Vision: The Sea, 1994. Film performance
Mark Napier Net Flag, 2001. Web site

Unlike the one-size-fits-all fixes that technicians tend to promote for preserving different mediums-recommending, say, that celluloid film always be migrated to DigiBeta-the Variable media initiative asks the artist to play the central role in deciding how their work should evolve over time. This approach reflects our faith that the creativity of artists is more enduring than the creativity of technologists.

To assist in our workshops with artists, we've developed a questionnaire meant to stimulate questions that will help capture their intent. The questionnaire is unusual in several ways. First off, the two links you see on the first screen divide the questions into two fundamental partitions: "In its original version, this artwork could be..." and "In later re-creations, this artwork could be..." So right from the beginnings, there is the assumption that the work cannot survive in its present form. Some thing's gotta give.

Let's look at the way we chose to describe the current state of the artwork.
One of the problems the idea of the questionnaire faced early on was: how do you capture information about media that don't exist yet, about future media? Our first categories were going to be "video installation," we'll have "film," "video," we'll have "computer driven," we'll have "online art." Then I realized, those categories won't hack it -- when you have to add another category in the future, your standards will be useless.

Instead, we decided to talk about the artwork as a dynamic medium. What are the behaviors of that artwork? After a lot of wrangling, the behaviors that we considered important were: installed, performed, interactive, reproduced, duplicated, encoded, and networked. These categories are driven from the bottom up, by looking at artworks and asking: what are the pertinent questions? ...

Read more about this in the full conference transcript.
How about the "variable" part of variable media? Artistic media may be in a state of flux, bit at least we can measure its rate of flow. That's basically what you see here in the "can vary" pull-down menus: They are rating the variability of the artworks. Somewhat, greatly, not at all. Presumably some artists would go though and pick "not at all." Some are rigid, some are flexible. The more flexible your description, the more likely your artwork is to be propelled into the future, maybe not in the exact form as present, but in a recognizable form. For example, the plug-in for an artwork might be Quick Time, but it doesn't have to be Quick Time. An artist can say, I don't care what the plug-in is, make it whatever plug-in you want.
As the bifurcation of questions on the first screen implied, there will be an unavoidable variation in the artwork when it is re-created in the future, even knowing all the facts gathered about the present state of the artwork. What the artist can do, however, is to choose the best directions for this slippage to take place. That's what these strategy tabs found under the "later re-creations" link, are for. These are different strategies for recreating the work, or preserving the work for the future: in the future the work can be stored, emulated, migrated, or reinterpreted.
Should dedicated hardware such as a computer be stored? Well, that's something a lot of museums are thinking of doing now. I think it's dumb. But it's something that if you have storage space and you live out in a state where there's lots of low cost storage, it's an option for you. Obviously the hardware itself is going to become obsolete, and eventually you are not going to be able to find parts for it. So it's a limited solution at best. How about mass-produced items that go obsolete: should we store quantities of any products in advance of going out of production? We did this at the Guggenheim with Public Opinion, these black licorice candies, and we had boxes and boxes of them surrounding my office. I will never eat licorice again. But there are definite advantages to that approach, because it turns out that candy manufacturers change their labels constantly, in an attempt to lure you with some new product. But it also has the disadvantage of going stale.
Emulation means not storing digital files on disk or physical artifacts in the warehouse, but creating a visual facsimile of them. It looks the same, feels the same, experientially is the same, but it's in a totally different medium. This is a possible solution to obsolete hardware: should the effective obsolete hardware be executed on different equipment such as the samples of Pong running on Windows 95? Obsolete mass produced items: should we custom-make a facsimile of obsolete products? Are we going to take those Dan Flavin light bulbs and get his former assistant Stephen Morse to custom-make a fluorescent light bulb that's pink and eight feet long? Even though part of the motive, the impulse behind Flavin's work, was to deliberately choose something that you could find at Home Depot for three bucks and install it? Or do I custom print candy wrappers so that you can re-create Felix Gonzalez-Torres candy that no longer exists?
Let's go on to other strategy solutions. The premise behind this is not that it's either/or, but that someone can say: I prefer this, but I also think this other option is acceptable. "Migrated" data is from an old version and into a new version, making whatever modifications are necessary. But it's not necessarily as extreme as emulation; it is not going to a totally different medium. You're upgrading it from Netscape 3 to Netscape 4 or 6, or something like that. Obsolete hardware can also be updated, as can candies and fluorescent tubes; however, the further you go in the future away from the original equipment, the less clear it becomes what you should migrated this equipment to, and the mere interpretation is required on the re-creator's part. Which brings us to the last strategy for variable media preservation.
"Reinterpretation" is the most radical of these strategies. With hardware, the question becomes: should obsolete hardware be replaced by different apparatus with the same social or metaphoric function? There are quite a few artists, performers, and choreographers who do this themselves in the case of performance. Others might not. I was informed recently that the Samuel Beckett estate is extremely stringent about performances, and will shut down a show that changes a line from the play, or that has cast a male role with a female actor. In other cases, obsolete mass-produced items, or out of date products, can likewise be replaced with their functional and metaphorical equivalent.

It's impossible to capture every decision artists might make about their work, especially about its translation into mediums that don't even exist yet. Nevertheless, the results of a questionnaire like this can serve as an "aesthetic constitution" to guide the curators and technicians charged with re-creating the work in the future.

Of course, the artist has the option to preclude any variation from the original form of their work. This is fine, but for ephemeral media gives the work an inherent expiration date. However, those artists, and those institutions, who accept the concept of an artwork that can change may find a number of their time-honored assumptions changing along with it. They may cease to view preservation-the conservator's job, as independent from presentation-the curator's job. They may begin to view an artwork not as a singular object but as a series of events. Not as a stony artifact-for stone is brittle-but as a stream of water, which endures by variability.
Water is also the subject of our final presentation tonight: a live film excerpt of Bitemporal Vision: The Sea by Ken Jacobs. A central figure in American avant-garde film, Ken has been tremendously influential both as an artist and as a teacher (most recently as Distinguished Professor of Cinema at SUNY-Binghamton). I like to think of him as the Cezanne of cinema: with the help of an apparatus he'll describe for you, Ken manages to push and pull the picture plane of the silver screen into an extraordinary visual experience for which I know no precedent. Yet, as we'll see in our workshops tomorrow, the world of film preservation has yet to come up with a method for preserving this remarkable hybrid of film and performance.

Ken is going to perform an excerpt live, then replay a video taken here tonight--both to explain how he achieves these remarkable effects, and to demonstrate the compromises inherent in translating this work onto a conventional format.
Click at left to view a section of the transcript or click here to view a printable version.
JOHN HANHARDT: Good morning, everybody. My name is John Hanhardt. I'm Senior Curator of Film and Media Arts, and it's a great pleasure for me to welcome you back after last night's very spectacular opening to Preserving the Immaterial, our conference on variable media.

Bruce Sterling, in his remarks at the beginning, made vividly clear how precious and how transitory and how increasingly vulnerable technologies are and are continuing to be, and the impact that this has on our culture, and how we will preserve and continue to understand it.

And Ken Jacobs' presentation of the Bitemporal Vision, the projection of the film, demonstrated a tangible engagement with the material of film, which really began in the end of the 19th century, our whole engagement with the new way of representing the world around us, interpreting it, and creating a whole new visual arts language. And then seeing that on video further raised questions of its preservation and the differences between film and the video image, in both a negative and very positive sense. I think that will be something that we'll return to.

So this morning, we begin a day-long conference that will go into greater detail about the Variable Media Initiative...

Read more about this in the full conference transcript.
JON IPPOLITO: Ok. If we could have the Web site up. Well, yesterday we made a lot of grandiose claims for establishing a new paradigm for art, a paradigm based not on fixed objects stored in vaults, but on a fluid chain of events that can be recognized as an artwork with the help of a collecting institution like a museum. And central to that paradigm is the artist, and the artist's intent as to how their work should evolve over time.

So today we're gonna try to put our money where our mouth is, and look at specific artworks with the artists or representatives of the artists who created them, in an attempt to actually capture that intent. And I'll got into a little background for those of you who missed yesterday; but my goal is to jump as quickly as possible into today's session. There are two other sessions, as indicated on your card, both in the afternoon, one beginning at one thirty and another at three forty-five.

The Variable Media Initiative is a paradigm based on the presumption that ephemeral works - be they, as you can see the variety here, electronic circuits, candies, branches, diodes - all of the unusual materials and media that artists explored in the latter half of the 20th century and the beginning of this current century are all doomed unless we do something radical about them...

Read more about this in the full conference transcript.
JOHN HANHARDT: Thank you, Jon. Just picking up on what Jon has said, in focusing this first session on the reproducible media - on photography, audiotape, film, and video - I just want to say that in choosing these individual projects that we're gonna be discussing, I think they become exemplary instances of the challenges we face. And this workshop that we had on this issue was an extraordinary experience. And I hope that we can convey a sense of what that meant to each of us. And as I introduce each of the participants in this morning's discussion, I'm gonna introduce everybody in order of presentations...

Read more about this in the full conference transcript.
JON IPPOLITO: A White Wall is a work on board, twelve photographs, about six inches, wide apiece, square, in two rows, that originally ranged in a continuous gradient from white to black. The way they were created is that the artist, who is well known as a conceptual photographer, active in the seventies - this is a work from 1971 - shot a white wall with a little letter, the number "1" there, with his exposure setting of the camera set wide open, at say, two seconds. So the camera let in a lot of light and got a perfectly white photograph as a result.

Then systematically, over time, in each successive shot, he reduced the exposure time to one second, half second, quarter second, eighth of a second, sixteenth of a second and so on, each time letting in less light, thereby creating a darker image, until it went to black.

The results of this systematic approach to photography in the original version of this piece created an even gradient, a very beautifully, smoothly varying spectrum from white to black through all the grays in between. But when we brought the artist to a warehouse to show him what the work looked like now, he was aghast. It looked like this - basically, a row of nearly white photographs, followed by a row of nearly black photographs.

The contrast of the prints had increased dramatically over time. There were also discolorations due to the glue that was used to affix the photographs to board. And in essence, he said, "This is no longer my work."...

Read more about this in the full conference transcript.
JON IPPOLITO: Do you wanna go into the Bruce Nauman piece, then?

CAROL STRINGARI: Sure. The next work we're gonna look at is a conceptual work which belongs to the Panza Collection. We have a very large and wonderful collection of conceptual art. And this is Bruce Nauman's False Silence. It was done in 1975. And essentially, what the museum owns is a certificate and a drawing, which you're looking at here on the screen, of the physical construction of the installation, which has specific dimensions, parameters.

It's a long corridor, with two triangular rooms off of it. And it has an audio component to it. I'm trained as --I wouldn't say a classical restorer, but I am a paintings conservator- so I'm starting to deal with new media from a preservation standpoint. I think most museums don't have a conservation specialist looking at new media. I think the Tate Gallery is leading this. They actually have a conservator in house who works on this.

We, luckily, have Paul Kuranko, who is our media arts specialist. The restoration of the audiotape, which we own for this work, is played into the corridor- You can see on the left, there's a notation. Actually, the work was requested for loan. And Paul and I went over what exactly we needed to do to get this ready for loan. And of course, you think: Oh, it's a conceptual piece; it has a certificate; we send them the certificate, they figure it out and, you know, that's it...

Read more about this in the full conference transcript.
JON GARTENBERG: Thank you, John Hanhardt. Ken, the first thing I just wanted to say is it's been a real privilege and challenge working with you over the last few months, for myself, to try to more fully appreciate the experience of your work. And I'd just like to preface everything that we talk about now by saying that as a human being, I am sure I'm experiencing that I'm moving through three dimensional space; and as a film spectator, I had a clear understanding that, since I was age five, seeing my first Charlie Chaplin film, that films were two dimensions with the illusion of the third.

But I have this very unsettled feeling that you're projecting me into another dimension, and I'm not quite sure where I stand in that dimension right now.

KEN JACOBS: The queasy dimension.

GARTENBERG: Yes, the queasy dimension. (Laughter) Your Nervous System performances are so paradigmatic of two aspects of this issue of your creation and the preservation. One is the physical materiality of what you're working with, and the other is the performative.

So these are the questions that I asked myself: What does it mean to preserve a Ken Jacobs film? What is one preserving? Is one preserving the physical film stock? The performative aspects of the projection? The external projection of your inner nervous system sensibility? The spectator's own appropriated experience of your spatial and temporal manipulations? ...

Read more about this in the full conference transcript.
JOHN HANHARDT: But we're now going to talk about Nam June Paik's TV Garden. In 1982, at the Whitney Museum of American Art, where I was curator of film and video, I organized a Nam June Paik retrospective, and last year curated The Worlds of Nam June Paik, here at the Guggenheim. So I've been privileged to know this artist for many years. And in organizing these exhibitions, became very close to him, conversant with his thinking, ideas, and ways of working.

And I cite this because we've been talking about the artist. But it's also, throughout this history, curators, people who have been identified with or worked with a number of artists, who have had first-hand experience with realizing it and seeing it installed. So how do we preserve those experiences in a way to inform future exhibition and presentation of work? ...

Read more about this in the full conference transcript.
Click at left to view a section of the transcript or click here to view a printable version.
JON IPPOLITO: Hello, and welcome to the second Saturday session of the Preserving the Immaterial conference. I'm Jon Ippolito, and we're picking up from where we left off this morning, but looking at a very different kind of work.

This session is on performative artworks. "Performative" is one of those buzz words that you see crop up in art history dissertations, and occasionally outside, in describing works that fit in the space between performance and art. But today, we're gonna look at performative in a very practical sense, in a sense that describes artworks that need to have some aspect of their process documented if that behavior of the work is to be preserved.

And those of you who've been in yesterday, or the earlier session today, know that we're thinking about the Variable Media Initiative as a way to create guidelines for recreating works, if the artist so desires, in media that are different from the original, or in conditions that are different from the original, with the presumption that certain aspects of the expectations of works as built by artists are not necessarily gonna be preserved by the existing standards of museums and other collecting bodies.

So we've created this unusual new standard, embodied in this questionnaire you're looking at now on the screen, which describes work not in terms of media, but in terms of these sort of mutually compatible behaviors. Earlier, in the first workshop session, we looked at reproducible artworks; now we're going to look at performed artworks - but performed in the broad sense, as you'll see as we move through the discussion today...

Read more about this in the full conference transcript.
JON IPPOLITO: I thought we would start off by looking at a work by Robert Morris, one of our eight case studies. In this case, a piece created in 1964, a performance called Site. And rather than go into a description of the work, I'd like to play an excerpt from a film that the artist created with director Babette Mangolte in 1993, on the occasion, and for demonstration in the artist's retrospective in 1994 here at the Guggenheim. So if we can cue that up, we'll just look at the very first few minutes of this film of the performance.

(Sounds of the film)

IPPOLITO: Might be a good point to stop. At the risk of cutting short the performance. But then again, that's what this symposium is all about, the question of whether we need to cut short performances. And Bob, tell us a little bit about how you got into this, where did the impetus for making a film version of this performance from 1964 originally come from?

ROBERT MORRIS: It came from Rosalind Krauss, who curated the show. She thought it would be an interesting idea to have these pieces shown on the ramps, like the other works, since they were in that period. So that was what got us started...

Read more about this in the full conference transcript.
CAROL STRINGARI: What we're gonna look at here is an installation entitled Stick Spiral. It was first conceived in 1986 by Meg Webster, who's sitting at my left. And you can see it as it was presented in the Material Imagination show here at the Guggenheim. And what I'm gonna do is try and evoke a description of how Meg feels about the piece. Because as we spoke about this morning with Nam June Paik, there's an incredible amount of variability, and yet there are some fixed aspects of the work that are really important. So we're gonna try and define those now.

In terms of Jon's questionnaire and his strategy towards preserving the work - which of course, we don't store those sticks of the spiral - what is it that you would want us to store in our archives?

MEG WEBSTER: That's a good question. Do we have a picture of its first incarnation? Yeah. There were five works in a long space. And all were meant to be attended to with the body. You looked across a volume of water, you went into some air. And in this case, case you went into some sticks or branches, actually. And they were gathered from an estate where someone had done some pruning, taken down some saplings and so forth. And that's why they look the way they do. I was just basically making forms out of the material that I found nearby...

Read more about this in the full conference transcript.
JON GARTENBERG: Thank you, Jon. I just wanted to start with a quick preamble, in terms of talking with Jon Ippolito about this whole issue of preservation of film, particularly of experimental and independent artists such as Ken. When Jon and I started to talk about this, we subsumed all of this work under the category of reproducible media. What struck me about that is that this description is really insufficient to describe the enterprise of artists such as Ken, next to me.

Because I believe that they are very significantly also concerned about the performance aspects, and the way that these films are presented, the environments that they're presented in. And without going into a lot of details, from my own decades of experience preserving experimental filmmakers' works and independent artists' works, the whole issue of dealing with the different versions, the different iterations of what it is that they created, beyond the issue of the film stock, it is: What version of what showing at what time is it that we're trying to account for?

And I think no one is more wonderfully paradigmatic of this example and engaged in this process than Ken Jacobs. So I thought we would start this afternoon by asking Ken a couple questions about the issues of the projection space and the projection environment. And I thought, Ken, maybe the first place we could start was with maybe if we talked a little bit about your shadow plays.

KEN JACOBS: Shadow plays need standard proscenium stages, they need darkness. And they're actually, for some years now, 3-D shadows. They're shadows that loom from the screen, come out into the audience, and they're lots of fun for me to do. I don't get a chance to do them as often as I'd like. I must say, you put me in mind about the environment. A little story? Ok? ...

Read more about this in the full conference transcript.
JON IPPOLITO: One of the possibilities, when we talk about moving to the digital realm in terms of performance, is a performance that doesn't take place in one room, either for the viewers or even the performers. And one of our respondents today, Tiffany Ludwig, has worked with an artist who was mentioned earlier - Jack Waters, mentioned by Jon Gartenberg - to produce an online performance. Tiffany, if you wanna talk us through, just quickly, how that works and how it is different from the performance, even in the wide variety that we've just talked about in physical space.

TIFFANY LUDWIG: Ok, I think Jon's gonna pull it up on the screen here, also. This is Jack Waters' piece, Superschmoozio. And this screen capture was presented at the Kitchen in January. And what you're seeing here are avatars in the Palace, which is a graphical chat environment online. Each of the avatars you're looking at is in a different place around the country or the globe.

Superschmoozio is a piece about kissing up in the art market, and schmoozing your way through the art world. And it was originally conceived as a video game with a theatrical concept, where the players would have characters that they would embody. And instead of punching or stabbing to knock down your opponent, you would try to draw them to you by kissing and making sucking sounds and talking about your artwork. (Laughter)

Jack's background is in dance and choreography, so it's interesting; this work probably links most of the variable media descriptions that Jon's been talking about in his dropdown chart, because performance and networked art combine so many aspects of the temporal and the impermanent...

Read more about this in the full conference transcript.
JON IPPOLITO: So you see a wide span of works that fit in the category of performative, from literal performances, such as Robert Morris', through ephemeral installations, film, and even in the online world. Any other questions from respondents about some of the things that we've talked about?

SUSAN HAPGOOD: I had some questions for Meg Webster and for Robert Morris. In particular, Robert Morris, you seem to have an attitude that no matter how hard we try to do the best thing, or to try to recreate, or to reconstruct something, that basically, you're never going to be able to do it to your satisfaction. And you seem to have a certain acceptance of the fact that that's just the way it is. And I'm just wondering how comfortable you feel with some of the initial discussions of this whole initiative, allowing the museum to say what's authentic or not later on, according to these plans. Is that still part of the initiative, or no? When something's recreated, say, after your death, according to instructions, are you comfortable that they will be able to say whether it's ok or whether it's the real thing?

ROBERT MORRIS: No. (Laughter) But I don't think you have a choice.

HAPGOOD: So you are resolved to the fact that history's gonna do what it will with you, and that's just the way it's gonna be?

MORRIS: Sure. I mean, you put up a fight. But...

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JON IPPOLITO: Hello, and welcome to the final session of the Preserving the Immaterial conference on variable media. As those of you who've been through last night and today's sessions know, each of these sessions is devoted to a behavior or two that characterizes an artwork that's likely not to survive, according to the traditional methods of preservation. I say "or two," because in addition to the first two workshops or sessions on reproducible media and performative media, this is sort of a double header here at the end, on interactive and duplicable artworks. That is, artworks that can be interacted with, and artworks whose media can be duplicated, in the sense of automatically cloned with no loss of quality from one copy to another.

And we're very fortunate to have a number of artists and artists' representatives, as well as an assembled team of multitalented experts to help us plumb the preservation questions of this kind of work.

But first, I'm gonna run you through the questionnaire that I've showed as a kind of running backdrop to this conference, in which I'm attempting to stimulate artists to investigate ways to capture their intent, so that as the work in an ephemeral format expires, it can be translated into new formats, including formats that don't even exist yet.

What you're looking at here is, again, the variable media questionnaire that we've been working on in prototype form, eventually to launch on the Guggenheim Web site. And you see again the two sort of bifurcated questions. "In its original version, this artwork could be..." and "In later recreations, this artwork could be..."

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JON IPPOLITO: So I'll introduce the case studies and the people who will be talking about them. The two- the last two of the eight that we've looked at today-are the work Untitled (Public Opinion), from 1991, a candy spill by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and this work - actually a work in progress, soon to debut on the Guggenheim's Web site-Mark Napier's Net Flag, 2001, a Web site, Web-based project.

And we're lucky to have representatives of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, as well as the artist Mark Napier here. Mark Napier just to my left: anyone who's familiar with online art knows his name. Best known for projects like the Shredder, which took Web pages and reassembled them in different forms, so that no longer looked like Disney intended, he is also an artist featured in such shows as 010101, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and BitStreams and Data Dynamics at the Whitney Museum of American Art, both on right now. And we'll be talking to him particularly about his work that we commissioned at the Guggenheim.

Also here to help us understand the work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, an artist who worked in various media, but who is now deceased, are Nancy Spector, the Curator of Contemporary Art here at the Guggenheim, who has done many projects here, including a important retrospective and book on Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and is now working on an upcoming Matthew Barney retrospective as well as Andrea Rosen, gallerist and executor of the Felix Gonzalez-Torres estate and a long-time friend and colleague of the artist.

Then in the discussant table, we have a particularly action-packed group over here, including - let's see - starting from the left, Alain Depocas, who is head of the Centre for Research and Documentation at the Daniel Langlois Foundation. And he's headed that center, actually, since September of 1999. It's a very important documentary collection covering the history, works, and practices in electronic and digital arts, including archives of work by the Vasulkas and E.A.T., Billy Kl¸ver's Experiments in Art and Technology...

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JON IPPOLITO: So what you see here is a view of the piece installed at the Guggenheim on the ramps upstairs. I think what I'm going to do, perhaps, is to ask my colleague Nancy Spector to describe the conditions under which this piece was acquired by the Guggenheim; and then maybein the midst of a dialogue that she has with Andrea Rosen about the artist's intent for this work, I'll sort of jump in with some issues regarding its vulnerability to obsolescence. But first, a little background on the artist, and this piece in particular.

NANCY SPECTOR: This piece came into the collection, actually, in 1991, when Felix made it. I believe we had a grant from the Bessie Adler Foundation, and selected the work and presented it to the trustees, et cetera, without really at that time thinking through the implications of storage and replenishment and refabrication to anywhere near the extent that we're doing now. In 1995, the Guggenheim presented a survey of Felix Gonzalez-Torres' work that filled half of the museum. And at that time, we installed this work for the first time, along with a number of his other replenishable works.

Just a little background on the artist. His practice was an incredibly generous one. He invented these forms of candy spills and paper stacks that to some extent emulated Minimalist sculpture, but were entirely mutable, in that they are replenishable. Viewers are invited to take pieces of candy from the candy spills or sheets of paper from the paper stacks. The sheets of paper are often photographic works or text based pieces. And the owner of the work is responsible for replenishing it during the run of an exhibition.

The piece may exist in more examples than one...

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JON IPPOLITO: We'll now move on to a case of an artist who's very much alive - at least he was last time I checked, (Laughter) although he's been in so many shows lately it wouldn't be surprising if he expired here at the table. But we've got another hour; if you can last, that would be great. Mark Napier, a work called Net Flag. And again, although it is a work in process, Mark's done a lot of work with us already on imagining its variable media aspects, which is an exceptional opportunity, working with someone who not only is still alive, not only has just made a work, but is in the process of making it.

And Mark, I'm gonna sort of hand over the keyboard here, so that you can give us a quick demo of what the work will look like, and then we talk about some of the preservation aspects after.

MARK NAPIER: Ok, first of all, this is not the final piece. I'm probably gonna say that about ten times. This is a demo that's a little bit rough still, and doesn't show all the features. The main purpose of it is to demonstrate the interface and the thinking behind the piece.

Net Flag asks the question: What would a flag for the Internet look like? We think of the Internet as a territory. We describe it using words like space, and we talk about navigating or browsing or going to sites, as if they are physical spaces. And certainly, the countries that are behind a lot of the sites, or countries that are behind some of the infrastructure of the Internet, want to impose control over the Internet, and also want to impose some of their laws on the Internet. There is often the question of how are laws distributed across this now murky territory that's been created by this common shared global infrastructure.

So Net Flag starts with the premise that we're going to attempt to, or that we want to create a flag to define this new territory, and then asks the question what should that look like? ...

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ANDREA ROSEN: I think Benjamin's also talking about the intrinsic dilemma, in contemporary art, which is this: Art at its basis is about our desire to have something that sustains itself longer than we do. I've spent a lot of time thinking about why, for instance, we think fine art is more meaningful than fashion or film or, you know, the sort of commercial? And I think it's about this obsession that we have with a sense that the permanent object is actually somehow representing us in the future, and that we devalue the transient gesture.

And it's very intrinsic to Felix's work, as well. Past his death, the primary writing about his work doesn't even address the idea that all of these pieces can be regenerated; they only talk about the loss, the death, the transient moment of an image. He uses very transient images - you know, footprints in the snow and birds in the sky as a sense of loss, of what we can't hold onto. In fact, what Felix was interested in, and- and what I'm interested in, (Laughs) is this idea that those existed and changed and mutated the surface of, you know, either the universal mind or experience that goes on to other experience.

And I think that what Benjamin was also talking about is why we think that the transient gesture is less imperative or less transformative than holding onto the object.

BENJAMIN WEIL: In a lot of things that we've been looking at today, the whole notion of process is way more important in how it triggers thought, and how it adapts itself. When artists made a deliberate choice to use off the shelf products rather than creating their own, I think that they engaged the obligation to think along the lines of the effect it had on their work, and the instability of the medium that they were using.

It was interesting to see, for instance, the Nam June Paik exhibition staged here at the Guggenheim, and this whole discussion about, do we use vintage televisions, or do we just go to the store and buy new televisions? To me, it made completely sense to buy new ones because, I mean, why fetishize the television as object? It's not very interesting. And it's not what the point of the work is...

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