Variable Media Conference

Variable Media Conference


Guggenheim Conference Showcases Innovative Preservation Initiative

Friday, March 30, 7 pm - 10 pm; Saturday, March 31, 10 am - 6 pm

A two-day symposium entitled Preserving the Immaterial: A Conference on Variable Media will be presented at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on March 30th and 31st, 2001. The focus of the conference is the museum's Variable Media Initiative, a radical new solution to the contested issues of new media preservation. Preserving the Immaterial will examine case studies of artworks in a variety of ephemeral media, ranging from photo collages and film performances to video installations and Web sites. Artists, curators, conservators, and media experts will debate strategies for safeguarding these works against deterioration, technological obsolescence, and cultural amnesia.

Preserving the Immaterial was organized by John G. Hanhardt, Senior Curator, and Jon Ippolito, Assistant Curator, Film and Media Arts Program of the Guggenheim Museum, and is presented in conjunction with the exhibition The Global Guggenheim: Selections from the Extended Collection on view at the museum through April 22.

The 2001 Film and Media Arts Program is sponsored by Deutsche Bank.

The Variable Media Initiative proposes that artists pass on guidelines as to how their artworks might be translated into alternate mediums once their current formats become obsolete. In keeping with the cross-disciplinary nature of this paradigm, a series of focused discussions compare artworks created in entirely different mediums that nonetheless present similar preservation challenges. Artists whose works will be studied include Jan Dibbets, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Ken Jacobs, Robert Morris, Mark Napier, Nam June Paik, and Meg Webster.

The Friday, March 30th opening session from 7 to 10 pm will feature a keynote address by science fiction writer and journalist Bruce Sterling, followed by a live film performance of Ken Jacobs' Bitemporal Vision: The Sea (1994) presented by the artist. The conference continues on Saturday, March 31st, from 10 am to 6 pm, with individual sessions dedicated to process-oriented art, reproducible media, and interactive media.

The twentieth century saw an explosion of new artistic media, from the celluloid film and magnetic tape of avant-garde film and video artists, to the industrial fabrication and ephemeral installations of Minimalist and Conceptual artists, to the interactive sculpture and Web sites of digital artists. Yet if the number of new media has exploded, the time period each medium remains viable has imploded: while some film may take decades to disintegrate, video formats may become obsolete in a matter of years, and Web projects in a matter of months. The problem of obsolescence has quickly outstripped traditional conservation protocols, and calls for radical approaches to collecting and presenting performative, ephemeral, and technological art. Preserving the Immaterial will explore possible methods to preserve endangered works of art.

This conference will differ from previous public presentations on new media preservation in several ways. First, the conference will be cross-disciplinary rather than segregated by particular media such as film, video, or Web sites. Each session will, nevertheless be highly focused, based on a comparison of two or more artworks that represent different media yet present comparable preservation challenges. Also, while past conferences have drawn attention to the problems of preserving works in new media, Preserving the Immaterial will be the first to present and evaluate a comprehensive solution proposed for these problems: the Variable Media Initiative.

The Variable Media Initiative is an unconventional new strategy that emerged from the Guggenheim's efforts to care for its world-renowned collection of Conceptual, Minimalist, and media art. For those artists working in new media who want posterity to experience their work more directly than through second-hand documentation or anecdote, the variable media paradigm proposes that artists pass on guidelines as to how their artworks might be translated into alternate mediums once their current formats become obsolete. As part of its ongoing Variable Media Initiative, the Guggenheim plans to publish sample variable media guidelines along with workshop proceedings to serve as an example for other public and private collecting institutions.

As part of the Variable Media Initiative, the Guggenheim is collaborating with outside organizations with expertise in particular media in an attempt to encourage open standards for variable media guidelines. For example, the Guggenheim is working with, a leading online resource for new media artists and host of the ArtBase archive of the Internet art, to establish shared strategies for preserving online art.

Participants in the conference include:

* Jennifer Crowe, ArtBase Consultant; Producer, EGG Online Thirteen/WNET New York
* Alain Depocas, Daniel Langlois Foundation Head of the Centre for Research and Documentation (CR+D)
* Steve Dietz, Walker Art Center Director of New Media Initiatives
* Jon Gartenberg, independent film curator and restoration specialist
* Susan Hapgood, American Federation of Arts Curator of Exhibitions
* Ken Jacobs, artist
* Mona Jimenez, artist and Independent Media Arts Preservation (IMAP) Interim Director
* Paul Kuranko, Guggenheim Media Arts Specialist
* Robert Morris, artist
* Mark Napier, artist
* Richard Rinehart, UC Berkeley Art Museum Digital Media Director and Art Department Faculty
* Andrea Rosen, Felix Gonzalez-Torres Estate Executor
* Jeff Rothenberg, independent computer science researcher
* Nancy Spector, Guggenheim Curator of Contemporary Art
* Bruce Sterling, science fiction writer and journalist
* Carol Stringari, Guggenheim Senior Conservator, Contemporary Art
* Stephen Vitiello, independent media curator and artist
* Meg Webster, artist
* Benjamin Weil, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Curator of Media Arts

Preserving the Immaterial and the Variable Media Initiative are projects of the Guggenheim's Film and Media Arts program, which was inaugurated in 1998 to provide a forum for the history of and contemporary directions in film and media arts. The goal of the program is to examine and represent, in innovative ways, the central role of media arts in defining global culture. The program presents a broad range of material from the world's cinema, video, television, and other media arts.

Preserving the Immaterial is held in the Peter B. Lewis Theater at The Sackler Center for Arts Education at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Tickets $10 ($7 members, students, and seniors) per day.

For more information, please call (212) 423-3587, e-mail or visit

March 15, 2001

For Press Information: Shannon Leib
Department of Public Affairs
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Telephone: (212) 423-3792
Telefax: (212) 423-3787

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