Kate Lewis is a Chief Conservator at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, where she focuses on the conservation of audio, performance, software, video and film-based works. Prior to joining MoMA, from 2005 she was a Time-based Media Conservator at Tate in London.
Lewis holds an M.A. in the Conservation of Works of Art from the University of Northumbria at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and a B.A in the History of Art from the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London. She formerly worked in the disciplines of paper and photograph conservation in private studios, regional labs and museums before specializing in time-based media conservation. She has served as Program Chair for the Electronic Media Group of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, on the planning committee for the TechFocus III workshop and is part of the Matters in Media Art initiative.
Beyond the Interview: Working with Artists in Time-Based Media Conservation
Communicating with artists and their assistants is an almost daily part of my practice as a time-based media conservator. The form of communication varies depending on the artist, the artwork, and whether this is a first encounter or part of an ongoing collaboration. In the context of a collecting institution, the relationship often begins at the moment of acquisition, as it may be the conservator’s role to help shepherd and negotiate the artwork into the collection. For artworks with an intangible or ephemeral aspect, as is often the case with contemporary media, exactly what the museum physically receives “in the box” is an important consideration for both conservators and curators. This is often how it starts, but there is a typical chain of events prompting dialogue with the artist and his or her associates. Key moments include: when an artwork is first installed for exhibition, when it is loaned and exhibited again, as the passage of time often requires that the technology for playback and display be adapted, treated, or replaced. Usually it is the first institutional installation that triggers the more traditional “Artist’s Interview.” Once a relationship has been established between the artist and institution, it can be extremely useful to revisit the artwork (and the initial interview) at later intervals. Reinstallation in a different space at a different time affords an opportunity to reassess and “retune” the work with the artist. These rarer moments can be useful as the artist may have changed his or her feelings toward certain aspects of the work. This paper intends to illustrate and reflect on this multi-faceted collaboration. It is as much about capturing and integrating the artist’s voice into the long-term preservation of an artwork, as it is about developing a flexible and mature approach to the conservation of an ever expanding field.