Beyond the interview: Working with artists in time-based media conservation

Kate Lewis

Abstract

Communicating with artists and their assistants is an almost daily part of my practice as a time-based media conservator. The form of communication varies depending on the artist, the artwork, and whether this is a first encounter or part of an ongoing collaboration. In the context of a collecting institution the relationship often begins at the moment of acquisition, as it may be the conservator’s role to help shepherd and negotiate the artwork into the collection. For artworks with an intangible or ephemeral aspect, as is often the case with contemporary media, exactly what the museum physically receives “in the box” is an important consideration for both conservators and curators. This is often how it starts but there is a typical chain of events which prompts dialogue with the artist and his or her associates. Key moments include: when an artwork is first installed for exhibition, when it is loaned and when it is exhibited again, as the passage of time often requires that the technology for playback and display be adapted, treated or replaced. Usually it is the first institutional installation that triggers the more traditional “Artist’s Interview.” Once a relationship has been established between the artist and institution it can be extremely useful to revisit the artwork (and the initial interview) at later intervals. Re-installation in a different space at a different time affords an opportunity to reassess and “retune” the work with the artist. These rarer moments can be useful as the artist may have changed his or her feelings towards certain aspects of the work. This paper intends to illustrate and reflect on this multi-faceted collaboration. It is as much about capturing and integrating the artist’s voice into the long-term preservation of an artwork, as it is about developing a flexible and mature approach to the conservation of an ever expanding field.