XFR STN – Media restoration and archiving

XFR STN – Media restoration and archiving for everyone

This summer, the gallery on the fifth floor of the New Museum in the Bowery (New York) is open for artists who want to copy their technically outdated audiovisual works with the help of professionals. This unique project, called “XFR STN” (= transfer station), was initiated based on efforts by the in-house staff to preserve the museum’s collection of works on U-matic and VHS tapes for posterity. From 17 July to 8 September, the transfer station is available to all artists who meet certain eligibiity requirements.

Filmmakers and artists can make an appointment online for a consultation with professional media conservators. Transfers can be done from video tape or for “born digital” works. Requests are managed through an Internet booking system in the order they are received, and the artists are asked to lend a hand with the rescue operation and also to provide information about their works for a future documentary.

Campaigns like this one can naturally not hope to restore or transfer all media and formats that are already obsolete. The New Museum is thus limiting its assistance to tape-based media such as VHS, U-matic, Betacam, Hi-8 and Mini-DV, formats with which it has gathered a great deal of experience through its own collection, as well as digital media such as SCSI and IDE hard disks and various other disk formats (floppy, zip, JAZ, CD). Analogue video formats will be converted into 10-bit uncompressed Quicktime movies. Digital formats will be transferred in their original codecs to other data carriers.

Aside from the storage material, which the artists themselves must provide, the rescue action is free of charge. However, the New Museum requires that the artists agree to subsequently make their restored works available to the public online. The museum is cooperating for this purpose with the open source platform of The Internet Archive, archive.org.

By requiring online publication, the New Museum is pursuing its own conservation policy, namely the paradigm “distribution is preservation”, in contrast to the traditional paradigm “preserve the original”. According to this viewpoint, the multiple distribution of audiovisual media is the best strategy for their sustainable survival. Inherent to the strategy is the assumption that digital media cannot be physically preserved indefinitely anyway, and that a “forward migration”, while continually transforming the work, can succeed in anchoring it in general cultural awareness by making it accessible to the public – rather than locked up in a museum vault.

For the sponsors of “XFR STN”, the project represents a pragmatic public service on one hand, but also an opportunity to promote the metaphor of contemporary media production as a continuous, dynamic transfer process.


Background info: When it was founded, in 1977, the New Museum was the first museum of contemporary art in New York. It focuses on exhibiting works by living artists who are not yet known to the wider public. Since 2007, the New Museum has been located in its own seven-storey building in the Bowery. XFR STN is a project initiated by Alan W. Moore, Taylor Moore, Alexis Bhagat and the artists of Collaborative Projects.

New Museum: http://www.newmuseum.org/exhibitions/view/xfr-stn
Project details: http://xfrstn.newmuseum.org/
Project results of the XFR STN in the Internet archive: http://archive.org/details/xfrstn

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