Time-Based Media Symposium

A Collection of Misfits: Time-Based Media and the Museum aims to encourage a discourse about the practical and philosophical considerations involved in building, maintaining, exhibiting, and preserving time-based media art collections.  

Bringing together professionals from all points along the media continuum – artists and archivists, curators and conservators, academics and media archaeologists – this symposium addresses the opportunities and challenges that working with time-based media presents.  

From well-established museums to independent projects, from physical galleries to digital spaces, the symposium seeks out the sites where time-based media resides, with an eye toward innovative approaches in traditional and non-traditional venues alike.

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About the Symposium

As “time-based media” — a term that encompasses film, video, audio, and computer-based work — have grown in prominence and scope within the art world, they have presented a variety of challenges to the established procedures at cultural institutions for the collection, preservation, and exhibition of art. These media exist on a cutting edge that cuts both ways: the same characteristics that place time-based media at the vanguard of art practice also risk relegating those works to a liminal position in our museums and archives. We categorize these works as “misfits” (not derogatorily, but proudly) to express their incompatibility with the fine art tradition that still prevails in museums, and to suggest the potential in these works to force art institutions to evolve and grow.

The changes in the field are already becoming apparent. Museums have been forced to adapt to the new spatiotemporal dimensions of time-based media work, and the technological infrastructure that comes with it. Archives have turned their attention to developing best practices for preserving increasingly ephemeral artworks, as they become further and further abstracted from the concept of objecthood. Curators and museumgoers have grappled with new forms of user experience based around duration, interactivity, and new modes of looking at (or listening to) art. The conversation surrounding time-based media in museums is growing ever louder, and MISFITS hopes to push the discussion further, by celebrating innovative approaches to time-based media, probing the most pressing issues facing museums, and speculating on how the field will change in the future.

Questions that may be raised include:

  • How do collection strategies change when the art “objects” being collected are ephemeral, replicable, or intangible?  
  • How can — or how must — museum spaces be (re)designed to accommodate moving image, sound, or computer works? What can we alter to fit the misfits?  
  • What new modes of presentation are being driven by time-based media?  
  • What practical, legal, and ethical considerations are involved in making time-based art available online? Is the Internet the natural home for misfit works?  
  • How do museums and archives keep pace with emerging time-based media technologies? How do we preserve time-based media works in the face of accelerating format obsolescence?  
  • What new capacities can curators develop to best work with time-based media art? Does the shift in technology require a philosophical shift as well?  
  • How can museums inure visitors to the experience of watching, listening to, or interacting with time-based art? Do time-based media exhibitions have an obligation to educate in this respect? How are time-based media affecting the relationship between artists, institutions, and the public?  
  • What can we look forward to as time-based media take on an increasingly vital role in the lives of museums and archives? How will art institutions adapt to a future in which the misfit becomes the mainstream?