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10
transience and fluctuation. Meg Webster
stipulates that the twigs used for the Stick
Spiral must be collected from fresh cuttings
in the vicinity of the exhibition space.The
questionnaire covers all issues that need to
be resolved to reconstruct a work, whether
permanently or temporarily.'
I
n the discussion and treatment of a
great deal of contemporary art, much
attention is paid to increasing public access
and interaction.While the VMI has made
formidable progress in establishing best
practice in this and other areas, the role
and intentions of the artist remain funda-
mental. Are there or should there be diffe-
rent methods for documenting the artist's
intent, be it original or retrospective, from
those for treating the artwork itself? Would
this resulting dislocation of process from
product effectively necessitate the creation
of a whole separate paradigm? The answer
lies in the structures set up by the VMI
and in taking each work as it comes:
`Condition reports are carried out to
record the physical status of a work, but
overall it depends on the definition of the
work according to the variable media
guidelines.There is a danger of becoming
obsessed with irrelevant detail when con-
fusing the intent with the medium for
example, one occasion when gallery
employees were installing a Bill Viola
video piece, taking a condition report so
that it could be set up exactly as Viola had
intended.They were taking note of the
fingerprints that were all over the video
player, when they should have been wor-
rying about things like: Do they have
enough cable?'
T
herefore, while technical specifica-
tions can be crucial, it is necessary to
be able to see them in conjunction with
all the other elements of the work and
adapt accordingly.The central structure of
the paradigm attributes a different beha-
viour type to each work being considered.
Ippolito describes the process by which
different strategies are appropriated for
documentation and preservation for each
of these behaviours: `The artist decides
which methods are relevant when com-
responsibility.The VMI questionnaire acti-
vely takes into consideration the role of
the artist, so it would seem there should
also be a need to formalise the role of the
owner. Does it not follow that it would be
crucial to outline the difference between
the rights of an owner of an artwork and
their responsibilities? Ippolito agrees: `It is
a very interesting issue. It has been largely
dealt with by the Acquisition Agreement
that is drawn up when a gallery acquires a
new work. It also depends on the nature
of the piece - the Guggenheim recently
acquired a Website that specified public
accessibility.'
T
he variable media paradigm seems to
be mostly about formalising the roles
of all the people who play a part in the
lifecycle of an artwork, while keeping
open lines of communication between all
parties. As with the issue of concern over
media usurping concern over meaning, it
is not inconceivable that perfectionist
methods of preservation may also become
a fixation, having a detrimental effect of
variance on a work. Ippolito largely dis-
misses this apprehension: `There are two
definitions of being true to a work: to be
true to the material, and to be true to the
artist's intent.When concentrating on one,
it is important not to neglect other issues.
There is the danger of focussing too closely
on artist intent and missing issues associated
with public-use intent. But perfectionism
is a good thing, so long as it's seen from all
angles.' Once again then, collaboration and
communication are key.
W
ith the exception of the ever-chan-
ging and quintessentially variable
Robert Morris Site performance, most of
the VMI case study works are held in per-
manent collections at the Guggenheim. So
it would seem that the issue of permanence
in variable media has largely been over-
come, for the time being, at least.What
remains a more challenging task is the
relocation of works for temporary shows.
As Ippolito says: `Some works, for example
Meg Webster's Stick Spiral and Janet Cardiff 's
work that deals with issues of spatial
migration, actually consider themes of
by the medium they work in - as painters
or sculptors for example, in the Green-
bergian scheme.Yes, the danger is that the
work will not endure if artists rely on
media, but it does tend to define them
from the outset.'
T
his, then, is where the questionnaire
plays a central role. In allowing artists
to specify preservation and dissemination
options according to the properties unique
to their work, the question of medium
becomes less important than does the
question of how that medium is treated
and regarded. One of the case studies in
the VMI paradigm is Felix Gonzales-
Torres' Untitled (Public Opinion), which
actively utilises concepts of variability and
degradation: a large pile of candy is placed
in a corner of the gallery, while visitors
are encouraged to take pieces from the
pile. In this case and in the case of works
that conversely embrace ideas of repro-
duction and replication, issues of intellec-
tual copyright come into play. If the artwork
is so dependent on the process of variabi-
lity and that process relies on audience
interaction, then it becomes more compli-
cated to control authorship and ownership
than if it were just another picture hung
on a wall. Ippolito considers: `There is
definitely a need for new schemes to
address these issues.We must consider,
what is the museum acquiring? The right
to reproduce art. Artists [at the VMI] make
their material available by using Open
Source http://www.opensource.org/ and
keeping access closed is a mistake.The
artists are as keen as anyone to keep access
open.'The key lies in maintaining good
communication between artists and
museum staff, as Ippolito goes on to say:
`There is the Deferred Rights Agreement,
by which artists may keep the source code
invisible for five years, after which time it
becomes available to the museum.
Intellectual copyright may be a good rea-
son for artists to control reproduction, but
it makes the work more vulnerable in the
long term.'
A
nother key concern that stems from
the question of copyright is that of