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Digital Heritage: Symposium, exhibition and study edition of video art in Germany from 1963 to the present

Saving the cultural heritage of video art
Video art is one of the most important forms of expression in contemporary art. Documenta 11 once more impressively proved its attractiveness. Of the works presented there, video art occupied a prominent position. However, the continuous ‹success story› of this genre has a dark side: Unnoticed by the public, a dramatic deterioration of historical works of video art is taking place. Videotapes require professional help at the latest 20 years after their origination. Today, numerous works of art have only been preserved in a damaged form and continue to disappear because their carrier materials deteriorate more and more quickly. This process of decline affects, above all, the first original tapes. In the past, even outstanding artists such as Ulrike Rosenbach have neglected to make high-quality and loss-free duplications of their works. The progressive destruction of video art poses an acute threat to a significant element of 20th-century art.

On the preservation and restoration of video art
The central media-historical objective of this edition project first of all involves countering the deterioration process of video art with models of preservation, and beyond this developing the urgently needed processes for its actual restoration. The project will also be doing pioneering work in an international context. Up to now, the rare video archiving projects in the United States and in other European countries have been confined to strategies of limiting damage and securing videotapes. «40yearsvideoart.de» goes a step further by combining these preservatorial tasks with restorial objectives. Together with the artists concerned, video technicians from the industry, curators and archivists are working on the detailed and exact image reconstruction of historical versions and their duplication onto digital video formats, which will also enable loss-free copying in future. Up to now, neither museum collections nor the artists themselves were in a position to perform this archiving task. The project is now developing the competencies for the restoration methods and techniques, communicating them in an international context, and is thus assisting artists, archives and all of those collections confronted with the deterioration process of videotapes.

Milestones and current tendencies of video art in Germany
The project shall not only be path breaking in its technical and editorial orientation; it intends to set standards for the public presentation and art-historical reappraisal of video art in Germany. While painting, for instance, is also disseminated in catalogues, up to now the time-based medium of video has for the most part been dependent on local presentations, exhibitions and festivals. As it becomes disseminated in contemporary art, the public interest in being able to examine works of video art independent from attending an exhibition is growing. The fact that museum collections receive inquiries almost daily from people wanting to borrow video art confirms the need to also make it permanently available outside of art institutions. The «Edition» is responding to this public interest by exhibiting and publishing milestones of video art. Since its inception, central works from the genre—primarily in Germany—have been produced. Nam June Paik, Wolf Vostell, Klaus vom Bruch and Ulrike Rosenbach can be considered to be forerunners in the development of video art in an international context as well. However, the youngest generation will also be taken into consideration and contact made with contemporary practice. The selection of almost 60 works for the project has been carried out by an internationally known jury of experts:
  • Dieter Daniels, Professor of Art Theory at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst (HGB) Leipzig

  • Rudolf Frieling, Project Director and media scientist, ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe

  • Susanne Gaensheimer, Collection Director and Curator of the Lenbachhaus Munich

  • Søren Grammel, curator, formerly Director of the Videonale 9 Bonn and curator of the Kunstverein Munich

  • Wulf Herzogenrath, Director of the Kunsthalle Bremen

  • Nan Hoover, video artist, former Professor of Media Art at the Akademie Düsseldorf

  • Doris Krystof, Curator of the K21/Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf

Presentation of the «40yearsvideoart.de»
The selected linear videotapes will be preserved and restored, digitalized and finally conveyed to the public in various forums and media forms.

1. Symposium on digital heritage
Can our heritage be digital? In the case of video art, it will have to be digital or it won't be visible any more in the future. What other questions are put to the foreground by an analysis of today's technical possibilities? A symposium that deals with the practical as well as the theoretical issues regarding the preservation, restoration and archiving of video art will signal the journalistic start of the «40yearsvideoart.de». The symposium is therefore intended for national and international curators, restorers and archivists as well as for artists, who will be invited to learn about the possibilities and strategies of the future securing of electronic data carriers. The scheduled venue is the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Dusseldorf. The dates will be July 1 and 2, 2005.

2. Exhibitions (March–May 2006)
Five exhibitions will guarantee the visibility of the project. They will take place contemporaneously in the following institutions:
  • Kunstsammlung K21/Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf

  • Kunsthalle Bremen

  • Lenbachhaus Munich

  • Museum of Fine Arts, Leipzig

  • ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe.

The selection of approx. 60 works constitutes the core of the presentations, each of which is imbedded in various contexts and presentation strategies. The exhibitions therefore do not solely convey the main focus of the project, rather they obtain a curatorial framework at five different venues.

3. Catalogue
The comprehensive catalogue will present in detail the individual works and give a theoretical as well as historical background by a series of topical texts. The art-historical presentation of the genre's panorama will be enhanced by a reflection on the preservatorial and restorial issues and measures. The catalogue will contain a DVD-ROM with excerpts and further «bonus tracks» on the selected works.

4. DVD Study Edition
The publication of a DVD video compilation constitutes a special offer to academic institutions in the interest of sustainability and the promotion of further academic teaching and research. Restricted to study contexts, universities, libraries and archives will be able to purchase a full-length version of the «40yearsvideoart.de». In addition, the Goethe-Institut will promote the study edition in the context of its cultural programs abroad.

Rudolf Frieling

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