VARIANT. Documenting New Media Art

The dependency of new media art on technology, and the constantly shifting quality of the latter, puts the longevity of these types of artworks into jeopardy, or in other words, impedes their ability to be carried into the future in their initial version. When faced with this situation, namely obsolescence, museums, who have a responsibility to preserve cultural artefacts, are currently striving to find solutions for the preservation of new media artworks.

The constantly changing nature of technology results in new media art (similar to artworks with elements of performance art) having a quality that is contradictory to the traditional art preservation practices of museums. This quality forces us to find an answer to the question, ‘Can an artwork produced within the constant flux of technology be preserved without alteration?’ According to the art critic and media theoretician Boris Groys, this question cannot be answered in the affirmative. According to him, documentation will be all that remains of art in the internet age, and “Today’s artistic events cannot be preserved and contemplated like traditional artworks. However, they can be documented, ‘covered’, narrated and commented on. Traditional art produced art objects. Contemporary art produces information about art events.” (1)  As for Jeffrey Shaw, a leading figure of new media art, the main priority should not be to preserve their medium, but instead to preserve the description, functionality and software of the media artwork. (2) This suggestion implies a significant deviation from the general approach (of preserving the original medium) relating to the conservation of media artworks.

In this light, technological artworks can only survive by participating in, and adapting to the constant transformation state created by technology. The project’s title, ‘Variant,’ is a reference to this viewpoint, and implies that these kinds of artworks, just as in microbiology or virology, can only survive by changing their DNA.

The research project VARIANT. Documenting New Media Art approaches the idea of documentation from a new perspective, by focusing on the practice of reinterpretation, which is perceived among digital conservators as a radical solution. The project, bringing together experts from many different fields, such as artists, curators, conservators, new media researchers and computer scientists, aims to consider the matter from all aspects, by discussing the following questions: 


  • How can we protect the timeless value of art against the rapid change of technology? 
  • Can documentation replace the artwork?
  • How can we transform documentation into a living and evolving process?
  • What can we learn from new media documentaries for documentation practices?
  • What can we learn from network science for documentation practices?


*Variant. Documenting New Media Art; was designed based on the outputs of the conferences Strategies Of Keeping It Live: Conservation Of Performance and Preserving Immersive Media held by digitalSSM between 2019-2021 within the scope of the Technological Arts Preservation Project. These conferences were held on 28 February 2020 and 8 April 2021 with the participation of Tate Modern Interim Head of Conservation Louise Lawson, Time-Based Media Conservators Tom Ensom and Jack McConchie, ZKM Media and Digital Art Conservators Morgane Stricot ve Matthieu Vlaminck, New Media Artist Jeffrey Shaw, manager of the digitalSSM Archive and Research Space Osman Serhat Karaman, and Sabancı University Computer Science and Engineering Faculty Member Cemal Yılmaz.

(1)  Boris Groys, In the Flow (London ; New York : Verso, 2016)
(2)  Jeffrey Shaw, "Media Art and Interactive Media," in Screen-based Art (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2000) doi:


27 October 2022, Thursday, 17.00 (Online)
What Can We Learn from New Media Documentaries for Documentation Practices?
Zeynep Merve Uygun (Faculty Member, Özyeğin University)
Deniz Tortum (Director)

16 December 2022, Friday, 17.00 (Online)
The Tension Between Static Documentation and Dynamic Digital Art
Prof. Annet Dekker (Faculty Member, University of Amsterdam)
This presentation explores how documentation has become a solution to capture digital art. By presenting several documentation projects, it shows how documentation can shift from a static representation to a dynamic and performative act thereby encouraging a rethinking of what documentation means. Such rethinking signals a shift from documentation as a single interpretation (for instance, in historical performance photography and video art practices), or a set of instructions or guidelines (as happened in, among others, several conceptual artworks), to a conceptual method from which new artworks and interpretations can be made, which can provide additional ways to understand the value of documentation. One of the outcomes is how such documentation moves beyond the conventional (often static) documentation methods in preservation practices to prioritise more dynamic and performative methods. The talk discusses how the valuation and subsequent hierarchy of museum documentation changes by emphasising the ways users are taking control of documentation through various networked processes of image circulation.

In Between Performance and Documentation
Dragan Espenschied (Preservation Director, Rhizome)
In the preservation of digital art documentation is filling the gaps in between manifestations of a piece. When an installation is set up in a gallery, net art is migrated from one server to another, or generally, when an artwork finds itself in a technical environment that is different from the one it was made in or made for, documentation plays a vital role in guiding curators, preservation specialists, and exhibition technicians. This talk proposes that specific types of documentation can become part of an artwork’s manifestation, and that, over time, artworks can be moved into a mixed form that is part full performance and part documentation.

Please follow the link for the conference program,

26 January 2023, Thursday, 14.30 (SSM Conference Hall, İstanbul)
Artist Talk: Ali Miharbi 
Ali Miharbi
In the conversation moderated by Osman Serhat Karaman, artist Ali Miharbi will seek an answer to the question, “Can documentation replace the artwork?” as he discusses the concepts “re-enactment” and the “second original” in digital preservation, based on his network-based Reversing the Conditions (2002) and his physical work Rüzgar (2017), which uses live data.

Please follow the link for the conference program.

01 February 2023, Wednesday, 17.00 (Online)
Réseaux-Mondes (Worlds of Networks)
Olivier Zeitoun (Curator, Centre Pompidou)

On the Conservation of Flash-based Net Art
Anna Mladentseva (Researcher, University College of London)

Please follow the link for the conference program.

24 February 2023, Friday, 17.00 (Online)
Documentation as an Acquisition and Collection Tool for Time-based Media Artworks
Patricia Falcão (Digital Art Conservator, Tate Modern)
Ana Ribeiro (Digital Art Conservator, Tate Modern)
Francesca Colussi (Digital Art Conservator, Tate Modern)

Please follow the link for the conference program.

29 March 2023, Wednesday, 17.00 (Online)
From Thousands of Documents to One Wiki – Our Journey Toward Collaborative Documentation
Morgan Stricot (Senior Media and Digital Art Conservator, ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe)
Matthieu Vlaminck (Senior Media and Digital Art Conservator, ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe)

Please follow the link for the conference program.

31 May 2023, Wednesday, 15.30 (Online)
Variantology and Travelling in a Time Machine - The Work of Art in the Age of its Infinite (Re)Producibility
Prof. Siegfried Zielinski (Faculty Member, European Graduate School)

Registration Link:

Project Management
Osman Serhat Karaman