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DOCAM Documentation Model


The DOCAM Documentation Model offers a framework that enables the structuring of a digital file of artwork or “Digital Workfile.” The model brings together, organizes and makes accessible the documentation created by various contributors throughout the lifecycle of a media artwork. It is rendered through a graphic interface that illustrates the links between the work’s documents, producers, lifecycle steps, successive iterations, and components.


The DOCAM Documentation Model was created with the following parameters in mind:

• Completeness of sources, range of document types, and agents (producers and users)
• Distinctive nature of media artworks
• Lifecycle of the artwork
• Hierarchical description of the work

For this purpose, documentation has been defined as a source of information that may fill many roles, depending on its use and timing. First and foremost, from the moment the work is conceived, its documentation serves the artists and their collaborators—the first producers of documentation. As its development progresses, the documentation targets an increasingly wide audience, from conservators to curators and art critics, thus playing an important role in the mediation, dissemination and history of the art. Next, and often concurrent to this, the documentation is used and expanded upon through a variety of actions and activities, such as the work’s installation, preservation and restoration. Over time, re-installation and re-contextualization may be carried out. Later still, documentary elements may serve to compensate for various “losses” or deteriorations suffered by the work, stemming primarily from the obsolescence of its technology or components. Ultimately, it is the documentation that will survive the work, becoming its historical witness and sometimes supplementing any remaining fragments or relics.


Completeness of sources, document types, and efforts of stakeholders (producers and users)


The DOCAM Documentation Model suggests that as many agents (producers and users, individuals and institutions), information sources and types of documents as possible be included.

Included among the stakeholders in the documentation cycle are artists, their collaborators, art historians, art critics, technologists, cataloguers, conservators, etc. At any given moment in the work’s lifecycle, each of these agents may be producer, user, trustee or disseminator.

The most common information sources are the production archives of the artist, conservation and restoration files, museum archival records, media files, and any records stemming from research projects such as those conducted by DOCAM.

The Model is also based on the broadest possible range of document types. These may even include work components such as code and visual or audio content particular to the work. A typology of documents has been created and is available via this link.

The DOCAM Documentation Model must therefore ask: who are the producers of this documentation, and who are its trustees? It must be capable of bringing together what are often disparate elements initially generated by a range of stakeholders. These elements grow in volume as the various activities surrounding the work progress from the research conducted prior to the production to the work’s acquisition, exhibition, restoration, and ultimate “demise,” which occurs when the effects initially produced become too far removed from those produced by subsequent replacement technologies to still be acceptable. At this juncture, the work’s documentation becomes the only accessible vestige of the work.

The documentation is produced, captured, generated and conserved during each of these steps by various stakeholders, each of whom has a different and complementary view of the work.

This exhaustive documentation approach must also benefits from new documenting strategies adapted to specific aspects of media art, such as interactivity. Within this context, it is important to document such things as the viewer experience and/or the effects and behaviours of the work.


Distinctive nature of media artworks


Media artworks draw on a wide variety of technologies.They produce many kinds of effects and can behave in a number of different ways. They are variable and change over time. These three major characteristics require and result in highly specific and adapted documentation.

Media artworks are technology-based and use a range of devices that are adapted or even created by artists and their collaborators. The key technology groups include computers, electromechanics, robotics and networking. They may be analog or digital, are often multimedia-based, and contain images and sound that may also be analog or digital, fixed or moving, pre-existing or directly generated, and so on.

Media artworks produce a range of effects. These effects are perceptual and related to sound, light, colour and movement. They are often combined and are produced by a host of components and devices. The works also display behaviours. They may, for example, be interactive, processual, procedural, programmatic, distributed, hybrid, migrant, ethereal, or collaborative. Certain works may in fact incorporate any number of these behaviours.

Media artworks are also variable over time; during their existence they are subject to diverse changes, transformations and mutations. There are many reasons for these changes. Some are inherent in the work’s design, as is the case with intensely participative Web works, where the work undergoes constant change through interventions performed by “user-viewers.” But this variability is mainly due to most works, at some time or another, having to rely on different technologies to continue to produce their effects and consequently requiring migrations and changes to their components. These changes are possible and indeed acceptable when the meaning and goal of the works lie in their behaviours and the effects they produce rather than in their material components.




Each document in the Digital Workfile is handled and described according to bibliographic and/or archival standards. Particular attention is paid to the identification of authors, trustees, and any other stakeholder involved in the documentary resource production process. Given that one person may perform many roles, the link between the agents and the documents must be established and qualified. Organic document groupings (source, original classification, etc.) within the Digital Workfile are identified. The DOCAM Documentation Model classification structure also provides an additional classification framework for documents in the Digital Workfile.

The DOCAM Documentation Model is based on two main parameters: the lifecycle of the work and the hierarchical description of the work.


Lifecycle of the work


Due to their many variation methods (technology, effects, form, and time), media artworks tend to follow dynamic and vastly different lifecycles.

The lifecycle of these works as put forward by the DOCAM Documentation Model is based on four types of events, where the nature of the activities involved generate documentation organically. These broad categories are in turn sub-divided to allow documents to be associated with more specific activities within each step, thus adding an additional layer of contextual information useful in interpreting the documents.

Artwork lifecycle events are as follows:

Creation [1] of the work: definition of the concepts mobilized and their method of structure (conception), definition of the presentation method, and the production of elements required for the work’s presentation (materials, environmental aspects, etc.).

Dissemination of the work: all of the strategies used to present or publicize the work. Eventhough, most often, dissemination of media artworks is conducted via exhibitions, the Documentation Model recommends the inclusion of any alternative or emerging method that promotes viewer interaction with the work. The activities associated with dissemination include installation, presentation, deinstallation and criticism. Depending on the nature and level of sustainability of the work’s components, these steps may also involve the production of elements needed to exhibit the work for the dissemination activity in question.

Research: represents all of the activities surrounding the study or critical analysis of a work, its components or associated sources unrelated to a dissemination event.

• The custody of the work: includes the various facets of responsibility, storing and preservation directly or indirectly associated with the ownership of the work and most often conducted by the artist, a collector, or a heritage institution such as a museum. This category includes the steps involved in the work’s accessioning (or acquisition), cataloguing (or documentation), curation and management and conservation.

Figure 1 - Lifecycle events of a work as per the DOCAM Documentation Model


These broad event categories constitute modules that can be added to the Digital Workfile as new events occur or are planned.

To promote the application of the Documentation Model to the widest possible range of artistic practices (SEE DOCAM TYPOLOGICAL GRID), the choice of key words describing the events and activities in a work’s lifecycle has been based on the broadest and most inclusive concepts.

Hierarchical description of the work

It is not unusual for media artworks to have numerous parallel “existences,” the most common of which take the form of multiple versions, editions or copies.

To ensure that all possible iterations of the work and the changes it and its components may be subject to during its lifecycle are taken into account, we propose the adoption of the description model offered by the IFLA [2] Study Group on the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR). [3] This model puts forward a hierarchical structure for a description of the work that progresses from generic to levels that are successively more detailed:

work: “A distinct intellectual or artistic creation”
expression: “The intellectual or artistic realization of the work”
manifestation: “The physical embodiment of an expression of a work”
item: “A single exemplar of a manifestation”

According to the model proposed by the FRBR, “the entities […] [work, expression, manifestation and item] represent the different aspects of user interests in the products of intellectual or artistic endeavour. The entities defined as work […] and expression […] reflect intellectual or artistic content. The entities defined as manifestation […] and item […], on the other hand, reflect physical form.” [4]

To these entity levels we add an even more specific level, the component. This level is necessary because components are at the very heart of the changes affecting most media artworks. The addition of this level promotes the identification and collection of documents that make reference to a specific component in the item, which in turn facilitates the tracking of changes made to the work throughout its lifecycle.

Each entity level for the work can be deployed in a modular fashion to reflect the work’s iterations or the changes to its components as they occur.


Figure 2 - Relationship between the work’s entity levels based on the DOCAM Documentation Model





Currently, the DOCAM Documentation Model is offered as a visualisation interface that allows users to explore the relationships between the contents of a documentary record, moments in the lifecycle of a work, iterations of a work, and the –agents-producers. This interface applies to six works that were the subject of case studies as part of the DOCAM research activities. For now, these interfaces remain static and do not relly on a database. The DOCAM documentation concepts would therefore benefit from further development.

One of the key steps remaining is the establishment of a relational database housing the information and relationships that are part of the Model. The ideal Model should also be collaborative and open to allow all agents the opportunity to add documents to a workfile that concerns them and update information on the work throughout its lifecycle; there will always be new documents, new moments, and new iterations in the work’s lifecycle.

Another missing component in the current research effort is an examination of the way in which the documents are used. The methodology and actual research experience with the case studies have not allowed for the gathering of data on the various uses and users of the documents. Development of the collaborative aspect could go at least part way to bridging this gap by enabling users to record how they use the documents.

Two other limitations to the current visualisation interface should also be noted: the limitation for users to access documents through the related agents/stakeholders, and the fact that not all documents are accessible online due to copyright concerns.

One of the goals of the DOCAM Documentation Model is to raise awareness among the various individuals involved in the documentation process (both those who produce and those who use the documents) about the importance and impact of the roles they play and about the usefulness of each document.

We invite you to learn more about the DOCAM Documentation Model by exploring the visualisation interfaces we have made available. We also invite you to send us your comments and thoughts and to contact us if you have questions or wish to use the Model or participate in its development!



[1] Documentation model keyword. For definition, see DOCAM Glossaurus.

[2] IFLA – International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions

[3] Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records: Final Report / IFLA Study Group on the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, Munich, K.G. Saur, 1998, (ISBN original: 3-598-11382-X):


[4] Ibid. pg. 12.