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2.4 Non-technological equipment


Many works featuring technological content are presented as installations or an arrangement of primarily sculptural components that converge to bring form to their manifestation, or to “activate” it, in the words of Nelson Goodman. Consider, for example, the sculptural components of Royal Canadian Mounted Police by Nam June Paik, an assembly of recycled radios and television sets used to conceal a collection of monitors within the work and integrate a traditional Chinese wood sculpture of a horse. Another example is the physical grid of Morpho butterflies pinned to the panel of Tlön, a work by Christine Davis. The grid constitutes the surface onto which a variety of slides are projected. Other conditions impacting the correct manifestation of a work (Genette) are associated with the physical venue of the installation and involve spatial and architectural factors; even lighting and the route taken into and through the installation venue must be considered to assure visitors of a complete experience. These particular characteristics must be the subject of meticulous and multi-faceted documentation (written description, illustrated schematic representation, photographic and videograph records, comprehensive compilation of samples, etc.) to ensure the work’s longevity.


Non-technological physical materials are therefore very often built into media art installations. Indeed, some of these components, due to their being too architectonic or large to store as a single entity, may be entirely re-constructed with each iteration of the work. This further underscores the importance of thorough documentation in the contemporary art field. Certain components also acquire a highly singular status, and Paik’s work is a good example of this. A number of elements used in Royal Canadian Mounted Police are strictly industrial, such as the various radio and televisions that make up the work, but the sculpted horse, while perhaps reflective of a standard production method, is nonetheless artisanal. All of the components in the work are dated and show signs of wear and tear, which further amplifies their unique character. For these components, the traditional conservation approach is favoured, i.e. maintenance of the work’s original condition to the greatest extent possible. This method is deployed both for preventive reasons, by introducing factors to promote maintenance of the components’ condition (environment, protection via packaging, handling techniques), and for remedial purposes, should original conditions need to be restored following a breakage, the physiochemical deterioration of the materials, or changes to the surface appearance of the components. And because this approach focuses on the types of the materials used and their technical aspects, it has the advantage of drawing on exhaustive documentation regarding specific preservation and conservation techniques. For certain materials, this documentation can be found by pursuing various investigative channels outside the art world, such as in ethnological, natural history or archaeological collections. The Morpho butterflies that comprise the screen in the Christine Davis work are another example of a component whose preservation techniques can be found in natural history documentation.


In the latter case, the possibility of replacing items deemed too damaged or deteriorated constitutes a viable preservation strategy, with the replacement protocol including documentation on the handling, mounting and supply source of these fragile objects. The same is true for many components whose industrial production and the stability of their materials allow for the feasibility of replacement and the storage of spare “parts.” It is therefore quite possible to use different approaches for the same work based on its specific components, status, materials and their production methods. It must nevertheless be acknowledged that all works are historically positioned and in principle produced during and for a specific moment in time. A work’s maintenance and preservation must inevitably take into account the fact that more stable materials will age at a slower pace than others and that a number of materials may need to be replaced, while others, deemed as unique, will display more obvious traces of the work’s actual positioning and age. On an aesthetic level, the work must be viewed in its entirety and a traditional preservation approach taken for all of its components, including those whose replacement methods promise a longer lifespan.