By Sherry Phillips, Conservator of Contemporary and Inuit Art
“The viewer has the opportunity to determine the fate of found family photographs. The robot is programmed to pick up a photo from the hopper on the right, present it to the viewer, wait several seconds for a response before proceeding. Should the viewer choose to intervene by covering one or both of the hand silhouettes in front of them, the robot will place the photo in an archival box. Should the viewer choose not to act, the robot will place the photo in a shredder and the shredded photo will be conveyed to a pile. The robot runs continuously.” (Dean, 2013)
The passage above, taken from artist Max Dean’s website, provides a description of As Yet Untitled as the robot featured in the artwork might: succinct and detached, without any of the emotion we often attach to a family photo. Photographs are often the first personal possessions rescued from a fire or flood that has devastated a home. They are records of times past and loved ones who may no longer be with us. On the other hand, the photographs used in this artwork were all found, which means that someone discarded them. What circumstances could lead to the discarded family memories? And when faced with shredding or salvation, what response will the viewer, a stranger, choose for someone else’s photographic memories?
The concepts that the time-based media installation evokes are complex, and so are the physical components that allow it to operate. Like all pieces of technology, they need upkeep. The Conservation Department of the AGO is undertaking a restoration and mechanical upgrading of As Yet Untitled, in collaboration with Max Dean, Dr. Richard Voyles — associate professor in the University of Denver’s Department of Computer Engineering — and Marcel Verner of PV Labs in Hamilton, Ont. The aim is to prepare the work, which became part of the AGO’s collection in 2007, to be exhibited and ensure that the technology is rugged and reliable well into the future. The work has been promised for loan to the city-wide Le Mois de la Photo, in Montreal, Quebec, September to October 2013.
Time-based media, meaning that time or duration is a dimension of the artwork and is revealed to the viewer over time, often involve a kinetic component. In the case of As Yet Untitled, there are several synchronized moving parts and as with any mechanical system, components wear or become obsolete. Unlike more traditional areas of art conservation, the conservation of contemporary art may involve the replacement of an artwork, in part or entirety, in order to continue the operation and comprehension as the artist intended. In this case, all components of the work will be inspected and upgraded as needed, and a new controller will be designed and programmed to correctly operate the various components. Max Dean as well as computer and robotics specialists will take the lead on upgrades to the mechanical and operational program systems and, as the conservator, my main role will be documentation of changes to the current format of the artwork.
Sherry will be conducting work on As Yet Untitled until mid-August 2013, and will add updates to the blog along the way. Use this link to find more As Yet Untitled posts!
Curious about Conservation?
If you have a burning question about Conservation, leave a comment below. We’ll do our best to give you an answer in an upcoming Conservation Notes post.
Signature Partner of the AGO’s Conservation Program