Conserving Digital Art

  • Patrícia FalcãoEmail author
  • Tom Ensom
Part of the Springer Series on Cultural Computing book series (SSCC)


The emergence of digital technologies has impacted not only the nature of museums as institutions, but also the practice of artists. Consequently, artworks which employ digital media (such as video and software) in their access or display are making their way into permanent collections in increasing numbers. These digital media can pose considerable challenges in terms of long-term access and display, due to a changing technological environment and resulting risk of obsolescence. Contemporary art museums are among those leading the way in developing approaches to collecting and caring for these types of object. This accompanies a general shift in conservation theory and practice, from a traditional object-centric approach to one which allows the continued evolution of the work through time. The presence of digital media in collections is also forcing the art museum to look beyond its walls and engage with experts from formerly unfamiliar domains. In this chapter, we will introduce the imperatives driving digital preservation and discuss the state of the art in the field of conserving and preserving digital art. We will then focus on recent research relating to specific digital media types and present a number of case studies from the Tate collection.


  1. Albert K (2018) A victory for software preservation: DMCA exemption granted for SPN. Cyberlaw Clinic. Accessed 21 Jan 2019
  2. Ambacher B, Ashley K, Berry J, Brooks C, Dale RL, Flecker D, Giaretta D, Hamidzadeh B, Johnson K, Jones M (2014) Trustworthy repositories audit and certification: criteria and checklist (TRAC). Center for Research Libraries, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  3. AIC (1994) Code of ethics and guidelines for practice. American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. Accessed on 21 Jan 2019
  4. AIC (2017) Inherent vice. AIC Wiki, American institute for conservation of historic and artistic works. Accessed on 21 Jan 2019
  5. AIC (n.d.) What is conservation? American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. Accessed 13 July 2018
  6. Arms CR, Fleischhauer C, Murray K (2017) Sustainability of digital formats: planning for library of congress collections. Library of congress. Accessed 21 Jan 2019
  7. Artefactual Systems Inc. (2019) Archivematica: open-source digital preservation system. Archivematica. Accessed on 21 Jan 2019
  8. Association of Research Libraries (2018) Code of best practices in fair use for software preservation. Association of research libraries. Accessed on 21 Jan 2019
  9. Atlas C (1971) Joints 4tet Ensemble. Tate, UK. Accessed on 19 Mar 2019
  10. BitCurator (n.d.) BitCurator. Accessed on 21 Jan 2019
  11. CCSDS (2012) Reference model for an Open Archival Information System (OAIS): Magenta Book (No. CCSDS 650.0-M-2). Washington, DC, USAGoogle Scholar
  12. Cochrane E, Tilbury J, Stobbe O (2017) Adding emulation functionality to existing digital preservation infrastructure. Presented at the iPRES 2018, Koyoto, JapanGoogle Scholar
  13. Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (2017) About CCSDS. URL Accessed on 21 Jan 2019
  14. Craig-Martin M (2003) Becoming. Tate, UK. Accessed on 20 Jan 2019
  15. Dappert A, Farquhar A (2009) Significance is in the eye of the stakeholder. In: International conference on theory and practice of digital libraries. Springer, pp 297–308Google Scholar
  16. Day MW (2000) Preservation of electronic information: a bibliography., Accessed on 21 Jan 2019
  17. Dekker A (2018) Collecting and conserving net art: moving beyond conventional methods. RoutledgeGoogle Scholar
  18. Depocas A, Ippolito J, Jones C (eds) (2003) Permanence through change: the variable media approach. Guggenheim museum publications and the daniel langlois foundation for art, science, and technology, New York, USA and Montreal, CanadaGoogle Scholar
  19. Digital Preservation Coalition (2015) Digital preservation handbook, 2nd Edn. Accessed on 21 June 2017
  20. Dover C (2016) How the Guggenheim and NYU are conserving computer-based art. GuggenheimGoogle Scholar
  21. Dreher T (2014) History of computer art, 1st Update (Sept 2015). (ed) IASL online, OnlineGoogle Scholar
  22. Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (2012) DCMI metadata terms. Dublin core metadata initiative. Accessed on 13 July 2018
  23. Engel D, Phillips J (2018) Introducing ‘Code Resituation’: applying the concept of minimal intervention to the conservation treatment of software-based art. In: Presented at the AIC 46th annual meeting, Houston, TX, USAGoogle Scholar
  24. Engel D, Wharton G (2014) Reading between the lines: source code documentation as a conservation strategy for software-based art. Stud Conserv 59:404–415. Scholar
  25. Engel D, Wharton G (2015) Source code analysis as technical art history. J Amer Inst Conserv 54:91–101CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ensom T (2018) Revealing hidden processes: instrumentation and reverse engineering in the conservation of software-based art. In: Presented at the AIC 46th annual meeting, Houston, Texas, USAGoogle Scholar
  27. Falcão P (2010) Developing a risk assessment tool for the conservation of software-based artworks. MA thesis. Berne, SwitzerlandGoogle Scholar
  28. Falcão P, Alistair A, Jones B (2014) Virtualisation as a tool for the conservation of software-based artworks. In: Presented at the iPRES 2014, Melbourne, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  29. Falcão P, Dekker A (2015) Virtualizing John Gerrard’s “Sow Farm” (2009), or not?Google Scholar
  30. Fino-Radin B (2018) Digital art storage: what every conservator needs to know. AIC News 43Google Scholar
  31. Gengenbach M, Peltzman S, Meister S, Graham B, Waugh D, Moran J, Seifert J, Dowding H, Carleton J (2016) OSS4EVA: using open-source tools to fulfill digital preservation requirements. Code4Lib J vol 34Google Scholar
  32. Gerrard (2009) Sow Farm (near Libbey, Oklahoma) 2009. Tate, UK. Accessed on 19 March 2019
  33. Gilbert and George (1970) A portrait of the artists as young men. Tate, UK. Accessed on 19 Mar 2019
  34. Gilbert and George (1972a) In the Bush. Tate, UK. Accessed on 19 Mar 2019
  35. Gilbert and George (1972b) Gordon’s makes us drunk. Tate, UK. Accessed on 19 Mar 2019
  36. Haidvogl M (2015) Acquiring and documenting Jürg Lehni’s “Viktor” (2006). Vimeo. Accessed on 21 Jan 2019
  37. Higgins C (2016) Saturday interview: Frances Morris. The Guardian, UKGoogle Scholar
  38. Kenney AR, McGovern NY, Entlich R, Kehoe WR, Olsen E, Buckley E (2003) Digital preservation management workshops and tutorial. digital preservation management: implementing short-term strategies for long-term problems. Accessed on 20 Jan 2019
  39. Kentridge W (2008) I am not me, the horse is not mine. Tate, UK. Accessed on 20 Jan 2019
  40. Kirschenbaum M, Lee CA, Woods K, Chassanoff A et al (2013) From bitstreams to heritage: putting digital forensics into practice in collecting institutions. Accessed on 19 Mar 2019
  41. Kreymer I (n.d.) Webrecorder. Accessed on 16 July 2018
  42. Laurenson P (2013) Old media, new media? significant difference and the conservation of software-based art, In: Preserving and exhibiting media art. Challenges and perspectives. Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, pp 73–96Google Scholar
  43. Laurenson P (2006) Authenticity, change and loss in the conservation of time-based media installations. Tate Papers. Tate, UK. Accessed on 20 Jan 2019
  44. Leckey M (2015) Dream english kid, 1964–1999 AD. Tate, UK.
  45. Library of Congress (n.d.) About—digital preservation (Library of Congress). Library of Congress—digital preservation, USA. Accessed on 23 Jan 2018
  46. Lozano-Hemmer R (2015) Best practices for conservation of media art from an artist’s perspectiveGoogle Scholar
  47. Lurk T (2008) Virtualisation as conservation measure. In: Archiving conference. society for imaging science and technology, pp 221–225Google Scholar
  48. Martinat Mendoza JC (2007) Brutalism: stereo reality environment 3. Tate, UK. Accessed on 19 Mar 2019
  49. McDonough JP, Olendorf R, Kirschenbaum M, Kraus K, Reside D, Donahue R, Phelps A, Egert C, Lowood H, Rojo S (2010) Preserving virtual worlds final report. Library of congress, USAGoogle Scholar
  50. McGovern N (2007) A digital decade: where have we been and where are we going in digital preservation? RLG DigiNewsGoogle Scholar
  51. MediaArea (2017) QCTools. Accessed on 20 Jan 2019
  52. MediaArea (2018) MediaInfo Accessed on 21 Jan 2019
  53. Mitcham J (2017) How can we preserve Google Documents? Digital archiving, University of York, UK. Accessed on 20 Jan 2019
  54. Mundy J (2012) Lost art: Edward Ihnatowicz. Tate, UK. Accessed on 16 July 2018
  55. Muñoz-Viñas S (2012) Contemporary theory of conservation. RoutledgeGoogle Scholar
  56. Stefano, PD, Fleischhauer, C, Goethals, A, Kjörling, M, Krabbenhoeft, N, Lacinak, C, Mandelbaum, J, McCarthy, K, Murray, K, Navale, V, Rice, D, Ruggaber, R, Owens, T, Zwaard, K (2014) Checking your digital content. Accessed on 19 Mar 2019
  57. Owens T (2018) The theory and craft of digital preservation. Johns Hopkins University PressGoogle Scholar
  58. Paul C, Mancusi-Ungaro C (2018) Programmed: conserving concepts. The institute of fine arts, New York University. Accessed on 21 Jan 2019
  59. Phillips J (2007) Reporting iterations: a documentation model for time-based media art. Revista de História da Arte, Perform Documentation Conserv Contemporary Art 4:168–179Google Scholar
  60. Phillips M, Bailey J, Goethals A, Owens T (2013) The NDSA levels of digital preservation: explanation and uses. In: Archiving conference. Society for imaging science and technology, pp 216–222Google Scholar
  61. PREMIS Editorial Committee (2015) PREMIS data dictionary for preservation metadata, version 3.0. OCLC, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  62. Rechert K, Espenschied D, Valizada I, Liebetraut T, Russler N, von Suchodoletz D (2013) An architecture for community-based curation and presentation of complex digital objects. In: Urs SR, Na JC, Buchanan G (eds) Digital libraries: social media and community networks. Lecture notes in computer science, Springer, pp 103–112.
  63. Rechert K, Falcão P, Ensom T (2016) Introduction to an emulation-based preservation strategy for software-based artworksGoogle Scholar
  64. Rice D (2018) Sustaining consistent video presentation. Tate. Accessed on 21 Jan 2019
  65. Rosenthal DSH, Robertson T, Lipkis T, Reich V, Morabito S (2005) Requirements for digital preservation systems: a bottom-up approach. D-Lib Magazine 11.
  66. Taylor GD (2014) When the machine made art: the troubled history of computer art. Bloomsbury Publishing USAGoogle Scholar
  67. van de Vall R, Hölling H, Scholte T, Stigter S (2011) Reflections on a biographical approach to contemporary art conservation. In: Presented at the 16th triennial conference Lisbon, Almada: Critério. DOI: 11245/1.344546Google Scholar
  68. von Suchodoletz D, Rechert K, Valizada I (2013) Towards emulation-as-a-service: cloud services for versatile digital object access. Int J Dig Curation 8:131–142. Scholar
  69. Wilson A (2007) Significant properties report. InSPECT work package 2.2 No. Version 2Google Scholar
  70. Yeo G (2010) “Nothing is the same as something else”: significant properties and notions of identity and originality. Arch Sci 10:85–116. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tate GalleryLondonUK

Personalised recommendations