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Caitlin Jones

Surveying the state of the art (of documentation)

Our model/decisions

From the outset, it was never our intent to propose a new "model" or paradigm for documenting works of media art. With so many well thought-out and clear structures already in practice, we felt adequately armed with examples and philosophies to draw from. After examining these existing paradigms, it became clear that when talking about documentation, three distinct phases emerge: Collection and Creation, Arrangement, and Description and Access.

Collection and creation

Artist interviews form the backbone of our case studies; the Variable Media Questionnaire provided an unparalleled framework through which to conduct interviews with the artists and gather information about the conceptual, technical and experiential nature of the work. In addition to our interviews, we collected and created documents specific to the installations by David Rokeby and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The DOCAM checklist had an impact on the basic document types as did examples from INCCA's Inside Installations project and, of course, our experience within the field.

Our fortuitous collaboration with fellow Researcher in Residence Lizzie Muller also contributed significantly to the interview process. Her work on audience experience and questions about the experiential nature of an artwork influenced the direction of the interview and further illuminated many issues, providing us with an enhanced interview strategy. As well, her collection of video documentation of her interviews forms a significant portion of the David Rokeby case study.

For the first time, we also attempted to incorporate "amateur" photographs and video from file sharing sites such as Flickr and YouTube. Countless photographers are documenting artworks overtly or serendipitously and uploading them to these online repositories, providing viewers with access to an unprecedented range of sources. It is within this wide range, however, that DOCAM's focus on proper attribution becomes increasingly important. A photograph taken by a museum visitor and uploaded to Flickr and one taken by a conservator serve different functions and should be noted as such. This aspect of the preservation of documentation became increasingly important within our work. In the case of the David Rokeby The Giver of Names case study, the majority of information was created by us (see Muller and Jones, "The Giver of Names: Documentary Collection") and therefore needs to be viewed from this particular perspective.


Once the documentation is collected, to be useful it needs to be arranged in a logical order or contained within a usable data structure. As seen by the survey of the field, however, this order is highly variable.

Traditional archival arrangement in Canada follows the principle of respect des fonds, meaning that the original order in which the records were kept is a key element to maintaining the integrity of a collection of documents. In the case of a created collection such as ours, however, these rules are significantly less prescribed. Our aim was therefore to arrange the materials in a system similar to that proposed by V2_'s CMCM and Richard Rinehart's MANS. These structures allow for levels of description related to the work as a whole as well as more detailed descriptions of specific iterations/occurrences of a work. For a work that has been exhibited as often as David Rokeby's The Giver of Names, this multi-level approach was deemed particularly relevant.

Such a structure would also emphasize the tension between the "ideal" notion of the artwork (as a composite, theoretical idea constructed from artist statements, technical schemas and the accumulation of many iterations) and the "real" individual experiences of the audience members as explored through our collaboration with Lizzie Muller.

Although this multi-level approach was our original intent and the preferred logical arrangement of materials, we subsequently arranged the materials on the Daniel Langlois Foundation web site simply by broad type, for example interviews, installation views, technical details and hardware, exhibition context, other installations, and audience interview. With the documentation arranged in these general categories, any structure can be applied to it. We do not intend to impose a strict hierarchy of information, but rather through the future application of tags and keywords to allow for multiple combinations of information, from general to specific and back. This structure is also highly flexible and will allow for easy expansion in the future.

Description and access

While it is not our intent to provide an in depth analysis of the documentation, we hope our brief description of the various elements articulates the nature of the documents collected and their relation to the collection as a whole. The description should also illuminate the relationship between the documentation of the audience experience and the documentation of the conceptual and technical/installed aspects of the work. Through the future use of tags and keywords, we hope to help people make connections within the documentation — between specific interview clips, technical diagrams and audience interviews. These will be drawn from various cataloguing standards developed in the field, particularly those developed by DOCAM and the Variable Media and Forging the Future projects.

In terms of access, all documentation will be made available via the Daniel Langlois Foundation Web site. Given its excellent track record in providing digital access to materials, we have drawn on its existing examples and experience to provide access to the information. The Tate and INCCA's Inside Installations project have also provided us with excellent examples of how to make documentation available in a logical format.

Caitlin Jones © 2008 FDL