Paul Slocum has an interesting post up about archival issues and art DVDs. We sold two DVDs out of my show at And/Or Gallery, the space he and Lauren Gray run in Dallas (go, us!) and now business details are being attended to. First Paul's post and then my thoughts follow:
With our first show at And/Or I was really surprised to learn that video does sometimes sell — we sold both of Tom’s videos.

I didn’t really expect the video pieces to sell, so I had to scramble to figure out archiving issues with DVDs. For most artists that we would show, getting a DVD produced would be cost prohibitive, so everything’s going to end up being a DVD-R. And how long these will last is unknown. I’ve read that playing burned media reduces its lifetime. ["I've never read that," Tom says nervously.] I’m not sure this is true, but if it is, DVD-Rs repeating over and over in a collectors home could have short lifespans. And using the wrong kind of marker could reduce its life. [Not Sharpies, I hope. --tm] Or a minor scratch.

Rather than go to great lengths to test DVD-Rs and research all the details of archiving, I’ve decided to take a “fair use” approach instead. First of all, I archive all DVDs that we sell via ISO images. If the collector’s DVD fails, then we can replace the DVD. But as a secondary backup, I burn those ISO images onto a CD-ROM that comes with the purchase, and suggest that the buyer copy this data to their own computer and keep it safe. It seems a bit much to instruct the collector on how to rip a DVD and burn a copy, but if they have the ISO image it’s easy to burn a copy. Maybe this all seems like a little much, but I guess it’s the role of the gallery to figure out this kind of stuff
Both DVDs I sent Paul were editions of five. (They didn't actually have Sharpie writing but nice printed labels.) There are trust issues that go each way between buyer and seller with the sale of multiples, the more so when both parties essentially own the means of production. I remember an artist friend of mine got a detailed contract from a prospective purchaser who was an attorney, trying to limit my friend's rights with regard to future production of a digital print. My friend refused to sign it and the attorney said "Oh, OK" and bought it anyway. I haven't investigated the costs of using the professional replicating houses, but I can't say Paul's way--selling a CD-ROM that allows the (tech-minded) buyer to make replacements--is any less acceptable than having a "pro" burn your DVD and then and then adopting an "all sales final" approach. I don't know what kinds of arrangements the big galleries make for such sales, and would welcome thoughts from anyone who doesn't think this is a taboo subject.

- tom moody 3-20-2006 5:23 am

It's definitely not a taboo subject for me. I've been thinking a lot about it lately, its even trickier when I incorporate specific equipment into the installation, what if that breaks down? I don't like the "all sales final" approach because I want my work to continue to exist. One way to handle DVD rot is to contract to exchange a new copy for a bad copy, if you are working with editions.

But for the record, I haven't had archival problems with DVD-R's yet. I've had a couple of them playing for 5 months, day and night. (gallery workers just had to turn the TV's off at night, we left the player going non-stop) I was amazed that my DVD players held up.

I've run into an additional problem with an ongoing DVD piece (has to be updated for the rest of my damn life), if it was sold to a public institution, I'd still want to keep it alive, therefore I have to figure out some sort of contract for the delivery of yearly updates, and then try to calculate the monetary value for it. (it would be kind of fun to come up with an agreement so totally Byzantine that it involved a team of lawyers and several insurance companies, perhaps I could get members of the clergy involved too)

- L.M. 3-20-2006 6:15 am

give them a mini-dv under no circumstances trust DVD media. The standard, consumer-model burners (superdrive etc) are, from my experience, completely unstable. multiple burns of the same project produce multiple versions of fucked-up burns, dependent on variables i cannot fathom. Cheaper DVD media, of course, will lead to unstable burns, but there are weirder factors that I've guessed to be related to processor-related "time-outs" that cause a bad track of data to be written. Two anecdotes: an art collector friend showed me a disc he had purchased of a sort-of architectural study - an endless 3D animated loop cruising around a circular sci-fi corrider (kind of like Solaris.) After a few loops, beautiful, if unintended, glitches started to creep in. My friend said: "damn, I paid $20,000 for that!" (beat) 'Do you think he'll make me another one?" Second - I've had horrifying problems with some corporate work I've done, where a project had to be shown at an event (one in particular was for a well known and singularly snotty video game company) and their DVD just wouldn't play on ANY dvd players. This one had been burned on an AVID adreniline system, which is pretty damn top-notch. DVDs willl usually play on the burner that actually burned the disc itself, but there's no real standardization. The general rule of thumb is the crappier the DVD player (think $40 range) the more likely it is to play the most formats. Ask a technician why, but I'd image it has to do with a more "forgiving" laser, which probably has something to do with a crapier component. As for the cost of burning "professionaly," glass masters (a literal mold of the orginal disk is made, and typically that original disk is made at the dupe house via DLT tape) are very expensive ($500-$2000.) For a home-made/hand-made run, out of reach. As for the shelf-life of disks, I've had early-gen superdrive stuff (5 years old) become completely unreadable. Luckily, I keep multiple digital copies on multiple hardrives, and transfer the bulk of my digital masters onto each new harddrive I purchase. I also have, at this point, filled nearly 2 terrabytes of hard drive space spread of 15 harddrives (at least.) And much of that info is redundant. More ominously, digital archiving as a whole is not terribly reliable. I've had DV files go to complete, psychedelic digital snow. Files that were sitting on harddrives. I save them all, because they're quite pretty, but not when an hour of your raw footage transforms into useless data. So, to reiterate, store everything on some sort of analog tape media. If you're putting it on a DVD, then you can store your digital files. it's worth it! final note: As they get cheaper, (or your work gets more expensive!) the solid-state P2 cards, or even harddrives, are the best way to go. Even video IPODS. For now, expect to make multiple copies. final final note: they should have invented cheap "holders" for dvds. Like those VHS-C step-up-to-regular-VHS sized thingies. Or even the "shell" of the floppy disk. DVDs are you without your skin doing the Iron Man on Mars during a sandstorm. You're gonna get nicked.
- justin in jersey city 3-20-2006 6:57 am

how long until walmart doesn't sell dvd players anymore? or computers don't ship with dvd burners? do you jump formats for posterity? it seems like a lot of work to maintain your own legacy (or to keep a contract with a collector, which i guess could be a little like a subscription service with the same product every time).
- spd (guest) 3-20-2006 7:18 am

I have been thinking about those equipment dating issues, as well, I obsess about storage and archiving source files. I even have written instructions of how to rebuild certain digital video files (but that's more for me, since I have a really bad memory).

I can imagine that this will be a new specialty for art restoration in the future, if it isn't one already.

b/t/w spd, the more I think about it, the more I really, really like your subscription service model. Thanks.
- L.M. 3-20-2006 7:38 am

I've been hearing about miniDVs as an alternative to DVDs. I don't use them myself, my computers don't have recorders or software for them. I know nothing about them. Why are they less susceptible to the problems of obsolescence, etc., we're discussing here? Curious to hear why.

I don't own a video camera, which may be why miniDVs, digibeta and other tape media are unfamiliar to me. I have vinyl LPs, I have audiocassettes, I have CDs, CD-Rs, and CD-RWs. I have a broken 1980s Mac and a bunch of floppies for it, I have PC floppies, I have DVDs, DVD-Rs, and DVD-RWs. I have Sony Memory Sticks! I have hard drives, internal and external, I have a zip drive that Chris Ashley sent me for a '90s sampler I'll eventually figure out how to use. A bunch of gear has Flash memory. Oh, yes, and VHS tapes. (revised this paragraph a bunch.)

All of us--collectors, artists, consumers, producers, new media artists, tradional art world people trying to get up to speed--have data storage and saving issues. I think art should be supported, at real prices, and believe there will be ways for people to get what they want. I'll do the best I can to provide it, and will try to be helpful in response to a letter or email from someone who paid real money for something of mine. We're all working on this together.

One thing I'm not going to do is go back to painting, just for the market. I don't actually know where most of the paintings I've sold over the years are, or what condition they're in. If anyone calls with archival issues I'll do what I can to help with those, too.
- tom moody 3-20-2006 8:03 am
- spd (guest) 3-20-2006 10:15 am

Thanks, and thanks to Justin for the high tech horror stories. It's actually very comforting to know that the higher you go up the tech and $$ scale, it only gets worse.
- tom moody 3-20-2006 11:42 am

The problem is that stuff becomes obsolete so fast. If an artist wants to provide a DV tape with their work, I'd be happy to do it. But what does a collector do in 15 years when their DVD goes bad, and they have a DV tape and computers don't have Firewire anymore? With work they could find somebody to read the tape and burn it to whatever current format, but with an ISO file on their computer, most of the work is already done. When DVD players are hard to find and whatever HD DVD format is the current deal, you know there will be some freeware tool to convert your ISO file to HD and burn it. Or you can just play it off a PC.

Also as MBS pointed out, it doesn't have to be an ISO file. It could be a high def or vector format so it's ready for future video formats. In the case of a thing I sold, I'm giving the collector the Atari 2600 ROM images as backup. While Ataris still exist, replacement cartridges can be made from the ROMs, and Ataris can be replaced via Ebay. And when working Ataris can't be found anymore, there will still be Atari 2600 emulators that can play the ROMs.
- paul (guest) 3-20-2006 9:21 pm

While individual disks may decay, I predict that CD and DVD formats will have some degree of longevity. The current optical disk form factor is friendly (as opposed to the Laser Disc). Industry associations take pains to specify backward compatibility with previous formats. And the semi-software based nature of current media processing chips allows some degree of portability of codecs. So I would expect a optical disk gizmo purchased in 2015 to have support for CD, VCD, DVD, MP3 CD, HD DVD, etc.

That being said, there's a risk that flash memory will obsolete the entire optical disk regime. Its got the density, but, for now, is nowhere near the right price point.

Tape, on the other hand, is being dropped as quickly as possible. The complicated mechanics of tape heads/transports, the finicky nature of oxide coatings, the fragility of polyester films, the expense of media, etc., etc., are all disadvantages. Its virtues are density and recordability, but optical media and flash memory negate those advantages.

Expect to see H.264 on flash as a dominant video recording medium for consumers, with H.264 on optical as the dominant atom-based distribution medium.

- mark 3-20-2006 9:47 pm

What's fascinating about all of this is that the formats most likely to survive the longest are probably paint on canvas and ink on paper. With each new generation of recording technology, archivists make the decision of what deserves to be transcoded into the new format. Not all wax cylinders were copied to 78 discs, nor were all 78 discs copied to 45s. The cycle will repeat as long as new technologies are invented.

Another interesting thing to think about is that recordings now allow current and future generations to hear spoken language from generations past, as long as someone takes the time to transcode the recordings into current formats. This has never existed before in human history and will have an impact on future language development. Those versed in written Chinese can easily read documents from thousands of years ago, because the symbols represent ideas rather than phonemes. Those of us with phonetic languages struggle with texts more than a couple of hundred years old because spoken language evolves so rapidly.

The lesson (if there is one) is that if you want your art to last, you'd better make it physical in form and not dependent upon electricity or written language (unless your language is written in ideograms).
- G.K. Wicker (guest) 3-20-2006 10:37 pm

Why not just make each piece of digital art accessible through a password protected URI and then just sell those?

This doesn't work for things like Atari cartridges where the packaging might be part of the piece, but if I was going to buy one of Tom's animated gifs I'd rather buy a password protected URI where I feel sure the piece will always be kept safe and up to date in terms of formats.

Isn't solving a lot of these obsolescence problems the point of the internet?
- jim 3-20-2006 10:48 pm

If you want your work to last, being fire proof and water proof goes a long way. War zones and dictators make for bad conservation too. OK, I'm teasing you now. Anything material requires that a lot of other people care about its preservation as much as the artist does.
- L.M. 3-20-2006 11:08 pm

Jim, the internet actually creates more questions than answers with regards to this sort of thing. In the short term (5 years or so) you can probably do exactly what you just described. Longer than that, though, and all sorts of questions pop up. Who pays for the storage and keeps the servers up-to-date? Who transcodes the art into new formats when mp3/mpeg/flash/wma goes obsolete and no one has the players for it anymore?
- G.K. Wicker (guest) 3-20-2006 11:09 pm

G.K. Wicker, the cost is very minimal (assuming you have already committed to keeping servers up full time.) I'd say the concerns you raised are equivalent to the same concerns for art in the physical world: where do you store your works? Who pays for this space? Do you need fire insurance? Who pays for that? Etc...

I'm imagining a digital gallery of sorts. There would be money to pay for it the same way physical galleries have money to pay for their physical spaces and upkeep.

But okay, this is getting slightly off topic.
- jim 3-20-2006 11:18 pm

If longevity was why an artist made work, I'd put my money on digital media over paper or canvas. This is the subject for another post, but I'd argue that the GIFs are "purer" in Internet form than scrunched onto DVDs--because I made them for this medium--and more people already have them on hard drives than would ever have possession of one my original drawings. It's just a matter of increasing the odds something will survive. If someone values something, they find a way to preserve it. But to me present-day interaction (there's that word "present" again) is more important than creating a self-monument. I've never had much interest in people who work in bronze because they want their work to "last."
- tom moody 3-20-2006 11:22 pm

I wrote that last comment before reading the 3 that preceded it.
- tom moody 3-20-2006 11:27 pm

I make fun of artists who need archival Kleenex every time they sneeze, but I also admit that I'm not intentionally making disposable work. But the work comes first, and the materials fit the logic of the work not its permanence. Keeping it in decent condition, if I really like it, is something I worry about afterwards.

- L.M. 3-20-2006 11:41 pm

Space is cheaper in the digital world every day. What's not cheaper is the work required to keep track of all of these files and to make sure they play on whatever players everyone is using. Will browsers still play animated GIFs in 20 years? MP3s? Who knows. My guess is that some of these formats will have shorter lives than cassette tape or eight-track did, since corporations have a vested interest in making us chase after new, incompatible gewgaws.

Spreading the work around as widely as possible solves part of the problem; if it's enjoyable, someone will go to the effort of keeping it up-to-date. But how will others find it?

The answer to the larger problem is probably a digital gallery of some sort. It would need an endowment to pay for the work of maintaining and transcoding works as required. Sort of like how paintings have to be stored properly and maintained over time in the physical world. Hey, someone could probably get a grant for that!
- G.K. Wicker (guest) 3-21-2006 2:58 am

Sorry Jim, I see that I proposed exactly your same idea... That'll teach me to stop reading posts halfway through!
- G.K. Wicker (guest) 3-21-2006 3:02 am

What separates MP3 and GIF from 8-track and cassette tape is that no special machinery is involved. It's all just software, and portable software at that. Some of the more obscure, proprietary formats may die, but certain ones (MP3, JPEG, GIF, MPEG-2, AAC, etc.) are safe bets for the next several decades. I'd take a long bet on any of those formats.
- mark 3-21-2006 3:21 am

mark said "So I would expect a optical disk gizmo purchased in 2015 to have support for CD, VCD, DVD, MP3 CD, HD DVD, etc." So that's 10 years, if not 20. (Oy--I wrote this before mark posted again. Agree with the drift.)

Museums are all over this stuff, particularly ones that collect new media art. (In case CJ is reading this.)

I have a couple of comments from emails and other blogs responding to this thread that I want to post, on the issue of DVD sales, buyer to buyer. Thanks for the input folks have given so far.

Also, LM, I know you were being rhetorical, but people "intentionally making disposable work" is definitely not the issue here. It's been a while since Alan Kaprow sat around a New York loft with a group of artists watching ice melt.

It used to be flux was a desired condition in art; this is more about coping with it as the status quo in our current working landscape.

- tom moody 3-21-2006 3:38 am

I'm bumping into this now too, and it seems like the standard is to sell a DVD and a digibeta, and have a contract that allows a new DVD to be burned only if the original dies. Also you'd want to include that if they want to move thier digibeta data onto a new format they can but must desrtoy the old one when they're done. I'm pretty sure this is how eai handles it.
- joester 3-21-2006 3:56 am

I like Paul's way better--ISO on CD-ROM with data transferable to a hard drive, with similar replacement terms. I really don't want to buy a Betamax or whatever.
- tom moody 3-21-2006 4:08 am

I am curious Tom, why, in your original post, did you speculate on the possibility that some people may think this is a taboo subject.
- L.M. 3-21-2006 5:52 am

I have general question, joester's comment makes it obvious that we are concerned with controlling copies, so the reproduction rights stay with the artist or the artist's estate. Is there a default agreement about broadcast rights? Is there an assumption that broadcast rights remain with the artist, or is that contracted, as well, in a purchase agreement.
- L.M. 3-21-2006 6:22 am

Mark, I agree with you in the 10-50 year time frame, but I wouldn't count on those formats being around in 200 years. Remember that software is machinery; it's just not physical machinery. Imagine for a moment that there are no more 8-track players remaining to play the last copy of the Bay City Rollers' "Saturday Night". As long as plans to build an 8-track tape player could be found and someone could interpret them, this timeless classic could be transferred safely to a new format, assuming someone was willing to foot the bill to construct a player. As long as companies continue porting MP3/WMA/AAC/MPEG playback software into their systems and as long as engineers stay versed in these standards, our files will play fine. As new and improved formats are introduced, however, these older formats will become less and less important in the marketplace, which means fewer companies will include them, which means fewer universities will include them in their engineering coursework, which means that fewer engineers will take the time to understand them. It is true that as long as the plans to create players remain available, someone who can read the plans can rebuild a player if he's not busy doing something else, and if he can still read the plans (computer languages get old and crusty and no one wants to use them anymore so they invent new ones -- it's more fun that way).

Of course the plans may also exist in a text format, which of course is also probably stored on a computer somewhere and needs to be archived and copied by someone who thinks that it's important enough to warrant copying. Oh, and the text format is probably written in a phonetic language like English, which, in 500 years will be indecipherable Beowulf-like gobbledgook to anyone except someone with a PhD in 20th century English, and that person is unlikely to be much of an engineer so they'll probably pass it right by in favor of translating the November 2002 issue of People Magazine to learn about our religious practices.

My only point in all of this is that if you want your art to last hundreds or thousands of years, you'd better not rely on any kind of machine (virtual or physical) to play it back. We can still appreciate the beauty of a Mayan ruin, an Egyptian obelisk, or a Bastis Master statue because the only software necessary to understand it is built into our brains. Our electronic art may be just as beautiful, but it is unlikely to be as timeless.
- G.K. Wicker (guest) 3-21-2006 6:40 am

"no more 8-track players remaining to play the last copy of the Bay City Rollers' "Saturday Night"."

Doesn't mean it will never be heard again. Stuff will be copied and handed down, good and bad, original format or no. It will change in the process. Let's try to keep this discussion in the 50 year time frame, which is what Marcel Duchamp gave as a useful life of an artwork. I can't say it any clearer: wanting your work to last centuries unchanged is a dubious motivation.

"am curious Tom, why, in your original post, did you speculate on the possibility that some people may think this is a taboo subject."

My guess is most hot shit NY galleries don't want these issues talked about as frankly as Paul and I were doing in the original posts. A lot of dealers survive on flim-flamming the client that works will last for centuries. The whole industry survives as some kind of bogus hedge on the future. This sounds bitter, but you don't have to be an evaporating water artist to feel the whole timeless thing is a bit of a crock.
- tom moody 3-21-2006 7:48 am

wow, an exciting post string!

as to my mini-dv preference:

it obviously isn't for every work (particularly non-traditional aspect ratio stuff) but the good thing about tape is that you'll always have dub houses. Go to a good dub house now and, in a fun afternoon, you can transfer a DVD to 3/4, dump it to a 1/2 inch, drop the audio to 1/4 inch reel, put that on a mag track, mix it all back together on a 4 channel beta, burn a few real-time DVD dubs while you're knocking it back down to Hi-8, and throw it to 1" and run the open reel around some microphone stands, wrapping a nude model like a brown shiny mummy.

Your "collectors" can always take a tape and get it bumped to whatever format they want. Dub houses never throw away gear, because some crazy old man always walks in with 57 hours of homemade porno he shot on BETAMAX, and a sale is a sale.

Dub houses are kind of like the interzone of the media world.

Also, mini-dv is relatively stable. Unlike my DVD horror stories, my mini-dv masters hold up remarkably well. I'm a bit of a slacker when it comes to taking care of my stuff, (you're supposed to 'rock the reels' once a year, for example) but my tapes have held up great.

Just put a clear sticker on the Mini-DV - MUST BE DUPLICATED EVERY 5 YEARS. Drop your media onto a good Panasonic tape, and you're good.

Also, you can pick up a fine quality one chip mini-dv camera for a buck fitty at the floor-sample rack at best buy.

I've been using mine hassle-free for 4 years.

Last note on mini-dv: if you're putting it onto DVD, then you're already forcing the aspect ratio to TV format. DVD studio pro is neat because it'll automatically convert any thing you throw at it to an MPEG-2, 720/486 movie. I've even tried stuff from my cell phone, and WHAM.

Paul Said:

Also as MBS pointed out, it doesn't have to be an ISO file. It could be a high def or vector format so it's ready for future video formats. In the case of a thing I sold, I'm giving the collector the Atari 2600 ROM images as backup. While Ataris still exist, replacement cartridges can be made from the ROMs, and Ataris can be replaced via Ebay. And when working Ataris can't be found anymore, there will still be Atari 2600 emulators that can play the ROMs.

The concern with this is the assumption that your buyer will be saavy enough to do these conversions, and you still have to deliver the media somehow.

- justin in jersey city 3-21-2006 8:03 am

a haiku-inspired poem:

is the auto ball grab
of a modern artist
scairt of getting crushed by a slab
of marble


when m.angelo
spoke to the angel in the stone
he wasn't speaking of
1 and 0

- justin in jersey city 3-21-2006 8:11 am

John Belushi never had thes kinds of problems.
- anonymous (guest) 3-21-2006 9:31 am

Ampex VR-1000, 1956

- mark 3-21-2006 10:17 am

Marius Watz links to this thread and offers:

C.E.B. Reas sells his Process pieces as uniques, complete with the computer hardware to run them.

Update: Paul Slocum has posted a tip about using Taiyo Yuden pro-quality storage media.

Another approach mentioned to me was providing the buyer with a DVD (display copy) and a hard drive with the original file on it (e.g., a .mov file--the "archival" copy). The idea is the buyer could see, and own, the "real," underlying file, shorn of all of the DVD- making compromises we make regarding quality, clarity, color, etc. I guess my off the cuff response to that is "never give the viewer a choice"--you make your compromises and live with them. Or alternatively, make it clear from the outset that you are involving the consumer in your process, like musicians selling alternate takes on a CD (something rarely done before you sell out a stadium). My version of that is, the Internet is for original files and alternate takes, the product is that messy compromised thing I'm selling. I bought a CRT TV for the first time in years, so I could view the worst case display scenario and actually try to compose for it proactively.

- tom moody 3-21-2006 6:58 pm

All that could be true by putting it on digibeta, and it won't be on a fragile crash prone HD. Plus it'll be cheaper for the artist.
- joester 3-21-2006 9:14 pm

OK, so what piece of equipment do I need to buy now for my "complete studio"?
- tom moody 3-21-2006 9:19 pm

about electrical failure regardless, an expensive Dan Flavin comes with a paper the collector must treasure. A deed. Indeed the small art world will venture to replace the florescent tube if something is a miss. Like insurance companies that last a long time, there's trust and a belief system.
- anonymous (guest) 3-23-2006 4:47 pm

Long-term archiving of tape discussed at TV Technology

Recovering recorded information is especially daunting. For a long time, broadcasters have been faced with the videotape “format-of-the-month” challenge. Two-inch or quad video recordings were the mainstay of the industry for about two decades. This changed in the 1970s with the advent of 3/4-inch, one-inch and 1/2-inch format variants. Then came digital. Acquiring and maintaining devices to play back all of these formats is a nightmarish proposition.

The library has managed to acquire four quad VTRs—early RCAs and an Ampex VR-2000 and AVR-2. There are no spare parts or service manuals for them and Snyder appealed to anyone with such items to donate them to help restore one or more VTRs to operating condition. The library is looking for additional VTRs and other broadcast gear, especially if it’s operational.


“Most libraries are just storage for recordings. They have no equipment for playback. We want to be different,” Snyder said. “The point isn’t just preservation. The point is to be able to use the material.”
I think the problem of long-term availability of equipment for later tape formats may be less of an issue, as the number of units manufactured is much, much higher. It's much easier to restore a '59 bug than a '31 Bugatti.
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