Welcome to the 14th edition of the e-journal
MAP - Media | Archive | Performance


MAP #14
Doing Documentation

Documentation is a burgeoning field that has been explored by researchers in a range of disciplines and practices, including performance, theatre, film, music, opera, digital and new media arts, archival and museum studies, conservation, curation, and human computer interaction. Methods have varied significantly across these fields, though the increased popularity of performative and digital practices has tended to bring disciplinary approaches closer together. More and more commonly do artists, researchers, and cultural organisations document not only the reception or user experiences of an artwork, but also its creation (even retrospectively) and iterative development over time, offering detail about a given artwork’s context, convergence, and even deterioration. Here, building on what we showed in our article ‘Digital archive environments’ also published by MAP (2022), we chose to bring together a series of researchers from different disciplines spanning music, conservation, curation, film, festivals, video games, digital art, and installation art to map the very latest trends in their respective fields which they chose to discuss through a series of case studies focussing on specific museums, artworks, festivals and conservation practices.


Complexities of digital art

Key findings from this issue of MAP are that artworks are becoming so complex and varied that no one documentation method would work for all of them and that despite the growing number of methods available even more sustainable practices need to be developed to cover the range of works that are being produced. Carlijn Juste, PhD researcher in contemporary art at Université de Lille and University of Groningen analyses in her contribution, “Documenting for Present Use: The Interplay of Documentation and Human Expertise in the Exhibition of Interactive Digital Installations”, the uses of documentation for the installation, preservation and restoration of digital artworks using the ZKM and Le Fresnoy as case studies. Looking into the differences between documenting and documentation, as well as documenting for preservation or for exhibition, Juste investigates the values of different kinds of documentation methodologies and templates, concluding that there is a key value if not a ‘necessity’ to maintain a human expert since, despite the burgeoning number of documents, documentation in itself is often insufficient to ensure a work is installed as intended. Similarly, in her contribution “A Plant’s View: Documenting Presence in Olafur Eliasson’s Your Uncertain Archive”, Olivia Eriksson, lecturer and researcher at cinema studies at Stockholm University, looks into what happens to the documentation of artworks that are grounded in presence when only online documentation is possible. Using Eliasson’s artwork as a case study, she analyses how the artist utilised this artwork to both “capture and expand on the original on-site art experience”. Eriksson asserts how this archive exists outside of museological conservation parameters and yet acts as a participatory site in a work that can no longer be accessed, making possible an “expanded gallery experience”.


Documentation as validation for disappearing contemporary art

The introduction of these artworks within collections is likely to continue to produce major shifts in the museological context especially in terms of what documentation can do about the validation and valuation of contemporary art. Aga Wielocha, researcher and collection care professional currently based in the Activating Fluxus project at the Materiality in Art and Culture Institute at Bern Academy of the Arts, highlights in her contribution, entitled “Against Dissociation: Documentation as the Object of Care”, how the number of artworks defying current collection strategies has grown over the years, which challenge existing institutional frameworks and associated practices. However, key, she argues, is not only that these works are documented, but also how existing documentation is “subsequently understood, conceptualised and cared for”. Maintaining that the identity of contemporary artwork is distributed between objects and documents, and building on Peter Osborne’s The Post Conceptual Condition (2018), Wielocha reconceptualises contemporary artworks as archives comprising both the work and its documentation. To better understand the complexities of this entanglement, Wang-Yun Yen, PhD candidate at ASCA, University of Amsterdam turned his attention to the role of documentation in archive-based moving image artworks. His contribution “Documents of a multi-screen installation and archival films: Péter Forgács’ Looming Fire” focuses on the role of documentation in which Yen shows how repositories containing both films and non-filmic documents can be used in exhibition, leading to the question as to the ‘curatorial’ relationship between the artwork, its iterations, their documentation, and the archive.

This curatorial challenge is taken up by Bilyana Palankasova, a curator and contemporary art and technology PhD research student at the University of Glasgow, and Sarah Cook, Professor of Museum Studies in Information Studies at the University of Glasgow. Their contribution ‘Historicising media arts: the role of documentation and records of festivals’, investigates the documentation of festival events, analysing the kinds of records that are produced during festivals, looking into how to historicise and valorise media arts before they enter institutional spaces. Palankasova and Cook also discuss how cultural value is often produced through institutional and curatorial authority via documentation, illustrating in a graph how records of artistic activity are distributed through cultural networks, looking at internal and external records as well as public and private records. Palankasova and Cook conclude by analysing how the re-evaluation of artworks can be traced through documentation and organisational records to reveal and understand “thresholds of validation” as well as key “mechanisms of valuation”.


Complexities of documenting

Posing the question “What do videogames want? Preserving, playing and not playing digital games and gameplay”, James Newman, research professor of Games Development at the Playable Media Lab at Bath Spa University, highlights the paradox that while video games are becoming increasingly popular and more and more gaming platforms are being produced, they are altogether also disappearing largely because of the complexity of their preservation. Noting that in videogames the documentation of the user experience is key, he describes how the myriad of different ways in which one could play a video game render the question of how to document a video game, and so how to capture the contexts and intentions of play, extremely complex. Newman concludes that video games may be best preserved as a “documentation project dedicated to revealing, collecting and archiving experiences”. Hence, what remains a key concept and indeed site for documentation is not so much the collection, which is hardly mentioned by contributors, but the archive.

Indeed, musicologist and sound engineer Miriam Akkerman shows how the archive becomes a time-based practice more than a site, in which the archive is in fact far from static, or reliable. In her contribution, entitled “A Matter of Sources”, she analyses current approaches to the documentation and archiving of electroacoustic music and computer music, looking specifically into what she perceives to be a “gap” between the preservation of historical performances and making technology and information sustainably accessible so as to enable the production of new performances. Reflecting on the nature of the archival repository of documentation, Akkermann notes that this fosters the “illusion” of preserving a “time-independent status quo”, while tapes, recordings and other media reconstructions provide another kind of “illusion”, that of the possibility of re-experiencing a performance “beyond the limitations of time”. To this extent, complex interdisciplinary documentation and archival methods still need to be developed that will be sustainable and adaptable to different resources.

In a similar way, sasha arden, conservation fellow of time-based media at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation show in their contribution, ‘Integrating Change Through Documentation of Experience for Immersive Media’, how the burgeoning field of research and preservation practices of immersive media, including Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality  and Mixed Reality or XR (extended reality), builds on key findings in software-based art and installation art preservation, but also requires novel documentation and cataloguing practices which, they point out, are likely to set off larger institutional shifts. Excavating what it might mean to document experience, they reflect on the value of preserving individual perspectives, and propose a “post-human collection” approach based on Fiona Cameron’s call for posthuman museum practices [Cameron 2018] in which the social and the material are brought together. Indeed, it is precisely the instability and the unreliability of the archive that makes it possible for it to be used not only to replay, or re-enact, but also to augment and even change existing artworks. A porous boundary object as well as an apparatus through which the everyday is mapped [Giannachi 2016], the archive is expanding to become the key site in which to encounter and indeed also make art and documentation.


Doing documentation

The entanglement between the archive, making art, and doing documentation is clearly visible in the review of Tarrah Krajnak’s exhibition at Huis Marseille in Amsterdam, where Maria Tane observes how for Krajnak, distorting Ansel Adams’ photography is an act of appreciation as much as it is an act of questioning the process of archiving and preserving his art. Rather than trying to preserve the intentions or essence of the art, as described by Tane, Krajnak’s series “challenges the very idea of an essential, immutable spirit that belongs to an artwork, opting instead to document how interacting with art dissolves the possibility of its fixed condition and involves an act of co-making”. Moreover, by bringing her videos into circulation on social media such as Instagram enhances the performativity of documentation through the audience’s (potential) engagement, but it also destabilizes documentation as “a window into the past” and, as argued by Tane, hints toward how preservation has instability built into it. Krajnak’s doing documentation may “ultimately turn into decayed matter feeding the ground from which art keeps on emerging”.

The fact that artworks, or their documentation, change means that the human factor continues to be important (something especially interesting in the context of the introduction of AI in this field) though at the same time a post-human approach looking into the after-life of a work may become more common in years to come. In an attempt to synthesize some of the outcomes of a series of workshops that formed part of Documenting Digital Art (2019–2024), a collaborative research project undertaken by University of Exeter, London South Bank University, The Australian National University Canberra, LIMA Amsterdam and The Photographers’ Gallery London, Annet Dekker, Katrina Sluis and Gaia Tedone trace the shifting cultural value(s) of photographic documentation and consider the ways in which documentation is diffused, operationalised and valorised by different agents in contemporary visual culture. Indeed, at a time where art selfies mix with installation shots on Instagram, control of art’s documentation has become diffused, with a range of distributed agents contributing to art’s global hyper-circulation.

Showing how ‘old’ and ‘new’ media collide and become reference points for preservation of objects, Michelle Henning argued that “from this perspective, the original painting might already function as a ‘reproduction’ that is entangled in a meshwork of cameras, books, scanners, screens and tagging systems”. So, when images circulate and ‘infect’ the restoration process, they produce new kinds of facsimiles, whilst the ‘original’ becomes the event. Moreover, and building on the presentations and research by Henning, Ben St John (software engineer) and Ofri Cnaani (artist/researcher), showed how documentation practices increasingly diffuse the notion of ownership: turning into a mode that moves between creators and various users, as well as forming a network of various documentations that is co-curated between humans and technologies. According to Cnaani, this creates a multiplicity of document(ation)s that produces a type of “speculative documentation” that is more relational and which operates like a performative environment instead of a fixed archival categorization system [Cnaani 2023: 92]. Dekker et al. conclude that the dynamics in documentation praxis are changing so that digital circulation and audience documentation are privileged over the relations between art object and photographic reproduction which “results in an epistemological shift in focus from ontologies of reproduction to ecologies of networked documentation”.


To conclude

Exploring the interdependency of documentation and the archive with the collection, with this special issue of MAP we aim to show how documentation becomes not only (part of) an original artwork, but how the expanded practices of documentation can impact the value and experience of the documentation as well as the documented event or artwork. In doing so, the contributions in this special issue analyse how new ways of representing cultural value are developed and can be identified through practices of documentation. With these insights we wanted to look into how this might in turn affect the traditional authority of the institution as creator of documentation used for future reference, historical relevance or cultural memory. At the same time, we aimed to unpack the influences of the archive, as well as computational and online platforms, on creating, distributing, collecting and presenting documentation. The latter we feel is crucial in understanding the presentation and preservation of art in years to come. In this sense, and taking a speculative step forward, the special issue also focuses on the future of doing documentation, looking specifically into how museum documentation might use non museum generated documentations, and the ethical concerns that would emerge from this practice.

Editors of this issue:
Annet Dekker & Gabriella Giannachi

We acknowledge our funder, the AHRC, and the Documenting Digital Art project, AH/S00663X/1

Editorial staff:
Franz Anton Cramer, Annet Dekker, Gabriella Giannachi, Barbara Büscher, René Damm

March 2024
ISSN 2191-0901


Cameron, Fiona. “Posthuman Museum Practices.” 2023. In: Posthuman Glossary, edited by Rosi Braidotti and Maria Hlavajova. London: Bloomsbury, 349–351.

Cnaani, Ofri. “Leaking lands: Museum Documentation without Digitisation.” 2023. In: Documentation as Art. Expanded Digital Practices, edited by Annet Dekker and Gabriella Giannachi. London/New York: Routledge, 87-99.

Dekker, Annet and Gabriella Giannachi. “Digital Archive Environments,” MAP 12, 2022. http://www.perfomap.de/map12/digital-archive-environments.

Giannachi, Gabriella. 2016. Archive Everything, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Osborne, Peter. 2018. The Post Conceptual Condition. Brooklyn: Verso.

We thank the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation, DFG) for support in the publication of this issue.


If you would like to receive regular updates on our work, please
send us a short eMail under the ref “Newsletter” to >>