Home III. Bringing together information Three approaches Audio Interview with Anne-Marie Zeppetelli, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal

Audio Interview with Anne-Marie Zeppetelli, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal

October, 2009

Anne-Marie Zeppetelli, Registrar


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Anne-Marie Zeppetelli is the Registrar at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. She worked on the “Digital Art” project, led by the Canadian Heritage Information Network, and then became a member of the DOCAM Research Alliance Cataloguing Structure Committee from 2005 to 2010.


The Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MACM) has a significant collection of new media works. Did the inclusion of these works in the MACM collection create any challenges in terms of cataloguing, documentation and data capture?

Indeed. It would be fair to say that the Musée faced quite a few cataloguing challenges before the arrival of new media works in our collection and prior to the Documentation and Conservation of the Media Arts Heritage project (DOCAM). We constantly face cataloguing issues when dealing with contemporary art practices. One of our first problems arose with documenting installations. The Musée acquired several installations composed of many parts, each produced with different mediums and techniques. Most of the records in our database consist of one work, one element and a single record. With the installations, we needed to reflect upon the best way to describe the work while keeping up with the way that rest of the collection was registered in our database. We could have handled each component part as an individual work, but we chose instead to gather the information pertaining to one work and its components into a single record. Note that at the time the MACM used a non-relational database known as PARIS from the Canadian Heritage Information Network, which made it possible to capture several components into a record by separating the entries with semicolons.


Were there certain works that required some re-thinking about data-entry methods?

Yes. Consider for example conceptual works, which consist only of an installation plan, without a physical object that can be inventoried and stored, or ephemeral works, which decompose and disintegrate over time. The new media works push the limits of our practices. Fortunately, new technologies have also improved collection management softwares, most of which can now manage, integrate and link more complex and diverse documentation, making it easier to enter data and link files to the collections’ information management system.


Is the Museum able to follow its usual cataloguing practices when documenting new media works?

New media works were included in the MACM collection in the early nineties. At the time they were catalogued, it was difficult to recognize and identify their components or even understand how to carry out their installations. The production of these works went beyond our understanding of the mediums and techniques used in the current artistic practices in contemporary art. Compared to the other works in our collection, these works challenged our usual procedures and documentation standards. The issue was to determine how we were going to translate much more complex works into a rather rigid structure. We found it was necessary to build a complete list of all component parts and equipment and to have clear installation and dismantling instructions, not only for conservation and exhibition purposes but also considering the possibility of institutional loans. Over the years, we learned from experience that it is important to keep all component information up to date in the collection management database. It is essential to properly document the artist’s intent and the work’s technological concept, and to have an overall understanding of the technology behind the artwork.


As part of their work, the DOCAM Cataloguing Structure Committee conducted five case studies on works from the MACM. How did you integrate and interrelate the information associated with these new media works in your database?

Obviously, it is important that all essential information be entered in the collection management database. A descriptive record is then created in the database, as is done for the other works in the collection. Using more suitable entry fields, for example iconographic, technical or installation descriptions, as suggested in the cataloguing guide, requires only a simple adjustment. Furthermore, these fields already exist or correspond to similar fields in most current collection management systems. This makes it possible to maintain a certain consistency with the in-house documentation practices. The challenge was to find a way to store and organize the information we needed to properly manage the new media works, such as information on the work’s components and technological evolution, the artist’s intent, the specific installation and de-installation details, and so on. We took a different approach in order to link all this information by creating another technical record that was external to the Musée’s database. We simply used Word to create an interactive file, that is, a comprehensive information record that contains links to other external documents that are essential to the understanding, conservation and presentation of the work. For example, we can establish visual links to the images of the component parts of a work, to the scanned images of the installation plans as well as to the images taken during the installation and de-installation of the work. We also inserted in this file a video recording of the interview with the artist and the filming of the work’s installation.


See the interactive file about Générique by Alexandre Castonguay


For the Museum, what are the benefits of this information-linking approach?

We find there are several advantages to using an external interactive record. For us, this record respects the specific characteristics of new media works, as it ensures that the varied elements of information stored are dynamic and interrelated. The interactive record was designed for museum professionals who work closely with new media collections though do not necessarily have full access to the collection management database. It resides separate from the database on a shared server, however, linked to our database, which prevents the duplication of information and reduces demand on the system. It encourages record sharing and frees curators and technicians from having to fully understand the functionality of the entire database. The interactive technical record is easy to use and provides easy access to all documentation pertaining to the work. Lastly, these strategies are based on the current use and dissemination of the documentation of the Musée’s collections, taking into consideration the potential use of our present database, which will probably be in use for the next few years.