Recovering Eyebeam's Archive, as told by Resident Jonathan Minard
When the hurricane’s record storm surge swept through Eyebeam's ground floor, it left behind three feet of saltwater mixed with sewage and corrosives. In a single day, Sandy claimed over $250,000 worth of AV equipment, computers, and books. Among that wreckage was an archive of analog and digital media chronicling Eyebeam's fifteen years of experimental art and technology. Disaster became the impetus, and Eyebeam’s plans to secure a collection stored on unstable formats now had critical urgency.
As an artist in residence already filming a documentary on digital archiving—and having recently addressed Eyebeam's collection of media art history in conversations with New York City’s conservationist community—I was compelled to participate in Eyebeam’s archive recovery effort. Just days after Sandy, I was in touch with Kara Van Malssen and Chris Lacinak, media conservation professionals from AudioVisual Preservation Solutions, and Eric Piil from Anthology Film Archive, who rushed to the scene to help Eyebeam implement a system for stabilizing 1275 items.
By promoting our triage effort through social media, we mobilized a volunteer army of archivists including students from NYU's MIAP program, conservators from MoMA, Rhizome and Heritage Preservation. In under two weeks we have inventoried all the submerged DVDs, VHS and Beta cassettes, Mini DVs, and digital storage media, all of which are now in preparation for transfer to servers. Eyebeam now hopes to make the entire collection accessible online in the coming years, working with AV Preserve to develop a long-term preservation strategy.
We hope Eyebeam's recovery will offer a lesson for other institutions: to secure their archives before a natural disaster or gradual obsolescence renders the media unrecoverable.