Documentary on preserving transient and "new media" installation art

"Notion Motion" is Olafur Elisasson's gorgeous 2005 art installation based on the interaction of water, light, and the viewer of the work. It's an amazing work, but how do you install something like this in a new location? How can the work be preserved over the longterm? The documentary above, "Installation Art: Who Cares?" explores this challenge from the perspective of museums and art conservators.

How to preserve and reinstall the work Notion Motion by Olafur Eliasson: 1.500 m2 of water, light and movement? What about works that are based on outdated technology? A large group of experts worked on the restoration of Exchange Fields, an interactive video-installation by Bill Seaman. Despite the fact that the work is only ten years old, it had to be completely restored and digitalized. And the artist Tino Sehgal doesn't allow any form of documentation of his works. Tate London acquired his performance This Is Propaganda in 2005. Will Tate be able to keep on showing this work to the public?
"Installation Art: Who Cares?" (Thanks, Brenda Tucker!)


  1. i’ve always thought that one of the main attractions of transient and installation art is its finite nature.  I’m no art critic but putting a time limit on its life increases its value in my head.

    1. I’m with you.  Some of these objects and environments were intended to be fugitive and exist in one time and place. Can you imagine trying to maintain a piece like Smithson’s Spiral Jetty?  I think entropy is a creative force that some artists embrace and use as an element of design.

      “The current exposure of the jetty to the elements and to the ravages of its growing number of visitors has led to a controversy over the preservation of the sculpture. The discoloration of the rocks and the exposure of the lake bed having altered the colors of the original, a proposal has emerged to buttress the sculpture and restore the original colors by the addition of new basalt rocks in the spirit of the original. It is expected that without such additions, the sculpture will be submerged again once the drought is over. The issue has been complicated by ambiguous statements by Smithson, who expressed an admiration for entropy in that he intended his works to mimic earthly attributes in that they remain in a state of arrested disruption and not be kept from destruction.

      In 2008 it was announced that there were plans for exploratory oil drilling approximately five miles from the jetty.[10]
      The news was met with strong resistance from artists, and the state of Utah received more than 3,000 e-mails about the plan, most opposing the drilling[11].”

      1. Transience and change is part of the art. Well, at least that’s the impression I get from things like *Spiral Jetty*. An installation in an art show, however, will need to be taken down.

        If you wanted to leave an installation up indefinitely to deteriorate naturally… maybe find an old abandoned building somewhere. Oh, and for what it’s worth there’s been “exploratory drilling” at Rozel Point long since before Smithson built Spiral Jetty. The natural tar seeps are part of the scene out there. Seriously y’all, if you get a chance go see Spiral Jetty, or Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels installation on the west side of the lake. It’s pretty neat.

    2. Damien Hirst had an installation that consisted of cigarette butts, beer cans, and other refuse that was accidentally swept up and thrown away by a janitor. Hirst actually liked that “response” and used it as an opportunity to recreate the work.

      It’s also one of those incidents that allowed people who aren’t fans of modern art to say, “Ha ha!”, although I think the opportunity for such a reaction became a part of the work itself. Its transience gave it significance.

    3. I agree. A lot of “preservation” efforts seem dedicated to missing the point or even cheapening the works they profess to want to preserve. As someone who greatly enjoys viewing and creating transient works myself, I have trouble understanding this desire to keep pushing a piece outside of it’s original context until it’s grown quite stale, blocking future artists from the same success thanks to the ease of relying on the “tried and true”, and suspect there’s a profit motive behind some of it…

    1. We only have an extreme preference for correct spelling in a modern tradition. If his name is recognizable within certain parameters that might be enough. Further, are we really so sure that the written version is actually a valid representation of its sonic value? I also will interpret and reproduce the written form that may be different based on my own vocal chords and my spoken language being American English that might not ring true to the artists’ ears. Maybe writing it down in the first place was a bad move, I am not so sure that writing the name Tino Sehgal might by a documentation of his work that is violation to it. 

      I love the pretentiousness of art. It is such a fun game! (and a form of art all in itself :) )

  2. Slightly off topic here, but around art circles in 2005 in Reykjavik it was pretty well understood that Eliasson stole the idea for “Notion Motion” from another Icelandic artist named Finnbogi Petursson (  

    I know artists copy artists all the time.  What I wonder is when an idea for an installation is copied is it different than when an apprentice copies the master’s painting of the Madonna or whatever?

    1. I remember finding Petursson’s works online several years ago, and wondering who was first, him or Eliasson. I guess you answered this for me. I have to say Petursson’s approach is much more interesting… 
      Yes, artists copy each other all the time – and steal – but as is the case in these installations, it’s mostly stealing an good idea, and implementing it differently. Comparing it to painted works, I’d liken it more to stealing a technique, a way of creating a certain visual effect. It’s still theft, but not copying.
      That said, it’d be really nice of Eliasson to give a nod of acknowledgement in the right direction.

  3. Thanks for the reply.  It turns out that Rebecca Horn also created a piece that uses the same “good ideas,” which your rightly seperated from teh copying of “technique.”  I guess if as an artist you’re interested in cymatics then you’re going to make a piece like this.  I first met Finnbogi right after Eliasson’s work went public and he was pretty distraught.  He just doesn’t have the international status that Eliasson has so it is hard to stand up for yourself in this instance.  But that’s a whole other conversation.

    Thanks for your excellent points.

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