#AskTheExpert Time-Based Media Conservation

Our new initiative #AskTheExpert invites the Eyebeam community to ask an expert questions pertaining to their field. First up: Ben Fino-Radin on time-based media conservation. Stay tuned for more to come!

Ben Fino-Radin spent years as a digital art conservator at MoMA and Rhizome before he found Small Data Industries. Small Data Industries’ mission is to empower and support people who ensure the permanence and integrity of the world’s artistic record.

@bryce.bot: I’m an artist working with hardware and robotics, and I have a question regarding the long term role of the artist in the maintenance of their own work. With any piece of technology, there is an inevitability that it will eventually break and require repair. Considering this expectation, how does one navigate the sale and warrantee of technology based work, and what is the responsibility of both parties going forward into the future?

Ben Fino-Radin: Great question! All artists handle this differently. Some provide one year warranties on hardware. Others don’t really address the issue, and leave it up to collectors to figure it out on their own. As an artist you certainly aren’t obligated to offer any kind of promises about service or support, and in doing so you can create a lot of work for yourself. If you do plan on supporting your work over the long term, absolutely charge for this service and let the collector know what they can expect in the future. Rafaël Lozano-Hemmer wrote a great manifesto on this topic. If you don’t aspire to build out support and service as a part of your studio, find a private practice conservator you trust, and build a relationship with them so that they can effectively support and service your work.

@n1ckfg: I’m looking at some digital artworks from the early ’80s archived on cassette tape. We know the files are NAPLPS vector format (which is readable), and of course we can record the audio to a digital file, but we don’t know how to start researching the process of converting the audio file. Do you have some suggestions on how to recover digital files from cassette tape–for example, are there some common “disk formats” (if that’s the right term), like there are for Mac/Windows/Linux today?

Ben Fino-Radin: Fun question! Last year our lab helped an artist’s estate recover animations that were saved in a similar way — data in the form of modulated audio on cassette tape. Do you know what kind of computer those tapes were created on? Digitizing the tapes as WAV files is your best bet for preservation, and if you can find an emulator of the kind of computer that the tapes were created on, you’ll be able to feed that WAV file into the emulator and access the files (and even potentially export them for use outside of the emulator). For instance in the example I linked to, we knew the tapes were created on an Atari 800, so we fed the WAV files into an Atari 800 emulator.


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