Newsletter Issue Number:
AICCM National Newsletter No 143 September 2018
Rose Cangadis-Douglass

Co-presented by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), the University of Melbourne’s Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation and RMIT School of Design, ACMI hosted a day-long symposium on July 28th about the challenges of preservation in the digital age. From time-based media and interactive art to the petabytes of digitised analogue content in institutions, the presentations explored pressing concerns and new perspectives in the digital landscape. All seven sessions can be viewed in full on ACMI’s YouTube channel .

After an introduction from Katrina Sedgwick (ACMI Director and CEO), the first session presented a discussion between Wukun Wanambi, the cultural director of Buku-Larrnggay’s The Mulka Project and its creative director, Ishmael Marika, with Robert Lane and Professor Robyn Sloggett of the Grimwade Centre. The Mulka production house and archive sustains and protects Yolŋu cultural knowledge in Northeast Arnhem Land under the leadership of community members.

Ben Fino-Radin, founder of Small Data Industries (New York) presented next on the increasingly complex challenges of time-based media conservation and how approaches have changed over recent years. Ben highlighted the importance of dissemination of conservation knowledge, especially outside of the small group of specialist technicians with the skills to maintain obsolete technology (as he dubbed, the ‘elite priesthood’). Ben argued that more work needs to be done to pass down knowledge around time-based media conservation beyond a small circle of conservators to a wider group of participants.

The following session held a panel discussion between artists – Oscar Raby (Co-founder VRTOV) and Dr Troy Innocent (Senior Lecturer Swinburne, Artist) – and conservators – Nick Richardson (ACMI, Head of Collections), Candice Cranmer (ACMI, Collections Digitisation Officer) and Asti Sherring (Time-Based Conservator, AGNSW). The discussion highlighted the importance of collaboration between artists and conservators, preserving artist intent, and the role institutions play in preserving time-based media. 

The final session of the morning was a presentation by Jan Müller, National Film and Sound Archive CEO, outlining the vision and mission of the NFSA. Jan outlined what it means for the NFSA to collect, preserve and share, and their key priorities in the coming years. A short conversation between Jan and Katrina Sedgwick followed where they discussed the necessity of partnership between institutions at a national level to overcome shared obstacles.

The afternoon sessions began with a presentation from Kelani Nichole, founder and director of Transfer Gallery in New York City. Kelani discussed how her gallery works as an experimental space for exhibiting variable contemporary art, working closely with artists and new formats. Transfer encourages collaborative approaches to preservation focused on art in digital, networked or virtual spaces.   

The following session presented the perspective of collectors, with Charles Justin giving a presentation on Justin Art House Museum, a privately owned, not-for-profit house museum. Charles spoke about the display and difficulties of their collection of contemporary art with a focus on digital and video art.

The final session of the day rounded out the symposium with a series of provocations around preserving the present, and what role institutions need to take. The open discussion was held between Dr Adam Nash (RMIT), Associate Professor Melanie Swalwell (Flinders University), Asti Sherring (AGNSW) and Seb Chan, ACMI Chief Experience Officer. Their discussion explored major themes of the day around the challenges institutions now face in preserving artwork beyond a traditional object-centred approach.