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Janet Cardiff, Eyes of Laura, 2004

Janet Cardiff, Eyes of Laura, 2004 (Website Still)




Collecting web-based art poses documentation, conservation and budgetary issues that go beyond those specific to new media works. Consequently, the DOCAM Cataloguing Structure Committee felt that art of this sort should be given distinct consideration.


The chosen example is Eyes of Laura, by Canadian artist Janet Cardiff, one of four works commissioned by the Vancouver Art Gallery for the multi-year exhibition project On Location: Public Art for the New Millennium. Since this was the first web-based piece to enter its permanent collection, the Gallery had to adapt its customary acquisition process. Thanks to Senior Curator Bruce Grenville’s collaboration, the detailed procedures established for Eyes of Laura are set out below, in five sections, for the benefit of other museums and galleries venturing into the acquisition of web-based art:


1. Iconographic Description

2. Technical Description

3. Technical Issues and Maintenance

4. Technological Lifespan

5. Financial Expenditures


1. Iconographic Description


Resembling a personal website, Eyes of Laura (www.eyesoflaura.org) mixes fictional narratives with reality by means of two elements: a fictional blog and a factual webcam. On Day 1, the blogger introduces herself to her online audience: “My name is Laura. I’m tall with reddish-blond hair. I’ve lived in Vancouver for 10 years working as a security guard. I’m waiting for something to happen in my life.”


Laura produces daily journal entries and audio and video clips over a 253-day period as she observes the happenings of Robson Square – located at the corner of Howe and Robson Streets in downtown Vancouver – via a surveillance camera situated on the Vancouver Art Gallery’s rooftop. However, these blog posts are completely scripted and performed by Gallery employees. At the same time, the user-controllable live webcam transmits real-time images of Robson Square and its vicinity to the website via the Internet. Users may log on at any time and access a panoramic view of the Gallery’s public grounds at three-minute intervals.


2. Technical Description


Eyes of Laura involves numerous technical components (see Inventory List). The artwork is site-specific and has been installed for an indefinite period, following these instructions:


The Pelco video camera should be securely mounted on the southeast corner of the Vancouver Art Gallery roof, above the patio for the Gallery café. From its position, the camera should be able to rotate freely 360 degrees. Video feed and camera control cables run from the camera to the video streaming server that may be located anywhere in the building.


The website was launched on September 1, 2004; it is linked to search engines through key words like “voyeur,” “watching,” “webcam,” etc. The blog postings run for a nine-month period; the website then sits dormant for three months until it is restarted with the first posting. Eyes of Laura was created to be exhibited and viewed online in private domestic and work spaces, rather than in art institutions. On this basis, it has been part of two online exhibitions: Subversive Souvenirs – produced by Toronto-based Gallery TPW with the Virtual Museum of Canada in 2006 – and revolutionsonlineas part of the Sydney Biennale in 2008.


In acquiring this work, the Vancouver Art Gallery had to adapt its cataloguing and documenting methods. Former Registration Assistant Eric Dies consulted the archival and conservational policies of the Dia Art Foundation, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in order to develop an artist questionnaire that would help the Gallery establish strategies for dealing with the work’s technological issues. An interview with Cardiff provided the information needed to make long-term maintenance decisions. Subsequently, Dies wrote the Installation & Maintenance Instructions guide, which details the work’s components (domain name, web and video servers, administrative accounts with usernames and passwords, etc.). It also describes the promotional tactics employed, reports website statistics, records technical issues encountered, and forecasts possible crashes or bugs. Housed at the Gallery, this document is available to museum employees when questions or problems concerning Eyes of Laura arise.


3. Technical Issues and Maintenance


The instruction document notes the following technical problems that have occurred with Eyes of Laura:


• When the URL “eyesoflaura.org” was initially launched, the website’s media content was unavailable; users had to type “www” into the browser for the website to function properly;

• The email accounts “ This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ” and “ This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ”, created for users to contact Laura, received large amounts of spam. Until the spam filter management was improved, the automatic forward that transferred the messages directly to Cardiff’s personal email address was interrupted;

• Users sometimes had difficulty logging onto and manually controlling the webcam via the website;

• During the winter months, the webcam occasionally shifted direction, away from the preselected locations;

• The video streaming server sometimes crashed.


The guide details ways to overcome these issues, including software implementation to avoid computer crashes and instructions for museum technicians to reboot and reset computer servers and preset imagery. The aim is to minimize downtime for users.


It also forecasts minor technical problems with Eyes of Laura:


• The video streaming server may crash periodically;

• Configuration issues may occur if users’ home computers do not meet the specifications that the website requires; e.g., an older operating system or web browser may not support the updated website.


Overall, the Vancouver Art Gallery is pleased with Eyes of Laura’s functionality. In-house maintenance procedures have been executed, and continue to be executed, in order to maintain this functionality success rate:


• Computer software was installed to prevent the video streaming server from crashing, and to perform automated reboots when crashes occur;

• The audio visual technicians monitor the video streaming server on a daily basis to forestall potential crashes by rebooting the computer themselves;

• The website’s domain name is renewed on an annual basis;

• The website runs on a web server maintained by Sprinklercity Creative Services, which runs a Linux operating system using Apache web server software supported by PHP and PostGreSQL databases. Web hosting is renewed on an annual basis, server errors are monitored regularly and the blog’s start date is modified when necessary;

• All usernames and passwords to email accounts and control panels are administered and documented;

• Since Cardiff responds to all emails sent by users to “ This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ” and “ This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ,” computer software was installed to automatically forward these messages to her personal email address;

• Cardiff recommends that the nine preselected views configured for the video surveillance camera be periodically updated over time to feature locations most likely to have human activity. However, Preset #8, “Rabbit Stole Camera Here,” should not be changed, as it relates to Laura’s blog entries;

• The website is 80MB. For archival purposes, a master copy of the artwork was produced on CD-ROM. As per Cardiff’s recommendation, the artwork was also copied to hard drive, since CDs are not infallible and expire rapidly;

• The Eyes of Laura Installation & Maintenance Instructions document, which includes all correspondence and information related to the artwork, was created and is maintained and updated to ensure proper long-term conservation strategies.


While maintenance has helped to sustain the continuous operation of Eyes of Laura, Cardiff also suggested ways in which the artwork could be preserved, catalogued and documented in the future:


• Re exhibition: Cardiff prefers June 1 as the blog’s start date; this may vary by no more than one month. The date can be reset by Cardiff or the Gallery’s audio visual technicians by changing a file on the web server. Cardiff also specifies that the artwork should not be displayed in the Vancouver Art Gallery or in any other art institution, unless the institution is located in an area where access to a high-speed Internet connection is unavailable or uncommon in homes;

• Re technological equipment: The model and brand of the components presently used are not essential to the artwork’s integrity. Cardiff simply stipulates that the highest quality equipment is to be used in future. Newer, updated versions of the components may be purchased and incorporated, as long as they function in the same ways (e.g., the video surveillance webcam may be upgraded to one with higher resolution or audio capabilities);

• Re site modifications: The video surveillance camera should be physically installed as close as possible to its original location;

• Re restoration: Cardiff suggests these options: migration – upgrading the current software to newer technological versions – and reinterpretation – recapturing the website’s audio and video footage to replicate the existing content in the event the video surveillance camera is moved;

• Re preservation: Cardiff proposes that Gallery technicians monitor the artwork on a regular basis, including verifying the proper working of the video surveillance camera, the website and the video streaming server. If any problems occur, they should be first documented, and then repaired;

• Ideally, Cardiff would like to be consulted by the Gallery prior to any conservation and exhibition modifications to the artwork. If she is unavailable, the Gallery should contact her partner, George Bures Miller, or the artwork’s programmer, Donald Goodes.


4. Technological Lifespan

Cardiff is of two minds about the artwork’s limited lifespan and its timelessness. On the one hand, the eventual obsolescence of the technology employed to create the website and of the architecture and fashion featured in the video footage contributes to her ultimate vision of Eyes of Laura as a video documentation: users viewing the website, clicking on audio and video clips, using the calendar and live webcam, etc. On the other hand, as long as the concept and content of the artwork are rendered similar to their original, she favours recapturing the video footage and upgrading the technological components to their contemporary equivalent to keep the artwork functioning properly.


While the exhibition of Eyes of Laura is ongoing and endless, if at any point in time the artwork cannot function in the manner originally intended – as an interactive website – Cardiff states that it may not necessarily be eternally conserved and may eventually cease to exist. In this case, the video documentation of the artwork may be exhibited. In Bruce Grenville’s opinion, however, Eyes of Laura should exist indefinitely. With Cardiff’s approval, the Gallery has already taken steps towards upgrading and reconfiguring the artwork’s video streaming server and software to allow for open source usability and new technology to be perpetuated easily in the future. a déjà fait des démarches pour actualiser et reconfigurer le serveur vidéo en continu et le code source de l’œuvre de sorte qu’elle puisse éventuellement migrer vers un logiciel Open Source qui en assurera la pérennité.


5. Financial Expenditures


With the acquisition of Eyes of Laura, the Vancouver Art Gallery pushed its boundaries, expanding its technical capabilities for new media art in general and web-based art in particular. The Installation & Maintenance Instructions document stands as a valuable source of information not only for this work but for other art of the same nature. All in all, the documentation, conservation and budgetary procedures followed by the Gallery for Eyes of Laura can serve as helpful references for other institutions envisaging the addition of web-based artworks to their collections.




With the acquisition of Eyes of Laura, the Vancouver Art Gallery pushed its boundaries, expanding its technical capabilities for new media art in general and web-based art in particular. The Installation & Maintenance Instructions document stands as a valuable source of information not only for this work but for other art of the same nature. All in all, the documentation, conservation and budgetary procedures followed by the Gallery for Eyes of Laura can serve as helpful references for other institutions envisaging the addition of web-based artworks to their collections.


Elaine Tolmatch, Grants Co-ordinator for Government and Foundation Giving, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

and Dina Vescio, DOCAM Research Assistant


Vancouver Art Gallery - Inventory list for Eyes of Laura, Janet Cardiff


VAG 2004.381 a Work Data:

CD-ROM (to be installed on web server) – Two (2) copies


VAG 2004.38.1 b Domain Name: eyesoflaura.org


ANC 2004.38.1 a Video Camera, including:

- Pelco Esprit ES30C/ES31C Video Camera

- Pelco C225M-B EWM Wall mount

- Pelco WCS1-4 environment power supply


ANC 2004.38.1 b Video Streaming Server, including:

- Computer

- LiveWave server software CD-ROM

- LiveWave software dongle

- Windows 2000 operating system CD-ROM

- Video Card drivers and crash recovery scripts on CD-ROM


ANC 2004.38.1 c Cable and Connectors, including:

- RS-232 to RS-422 Connector

- RJ-45 wall block (connecting cable from universal keyboard, cable from RS-232, cable to camera)

- 12 V a.c. power supply for RJ-45 wall block

- 24 a.w.g. cable to video cable to video camera from RJ-45 wall block (send control signals to camera)

- Cable from video camera (video signal) to computer

- Data cable from universal keyboard to RJ-45 wall block

- Cable from RS-422 to RJ-45 wall block

- Parallel cable from computer to RS-232


ANC 2004.38.1 d Web server, including:

- Artwork data CD-ROM installed

- PostgreSQL database software

- PHP module


ANC 2004.38.1 e Mini-DV Tapes (2)

Original video footage from surveillance camera


ANC 2004.38.1 f Source Material CD-ROMS (9)

Containing original images, documentation, and correspondence between: Vancouver Art Gallery, Don Goodes, and Janet Cardiff


ANC 2004.38.1 g High Speed Dedicated Internet Connection

(for Video Streaming Server)


Items useful for installation and operation, but not required (Location: A/V):

- Router/Firewall

- Video Monitor

- Computer Monitor

- Keyboard

- Mouse

- Video Amplifier

- Pelco KBD300A Universal Keyboard (with Joystick)


Other related items, accompanying but not used in installation or exhibition (Location: EX-W1-B3-B308):

- Manuals for hardware and software

WCS1-4 Power Supply Manual

KBD300A Universal Keyboard Manual

C1922M-A Remote Keyboard Wiring Kit Manual

ES30C Operation and Programming Manual

C225M-B Wall Mount Installation Manual

ES30C Installation Manual

LiveWave FirstView User Manual v3.5

- LiveWave Client Software CD-ROM

- Hardware CD-ROMs (Motherboard, SupraModem)

- Extra installation supplies (two (2) additional RJ-45 wall blocks and camera wall mount supplies)


Audio Interview with Janet Cardiff


Sources consulted


Janet Cardiff, ed., Eyes of Laura / Janet Cardiff (Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery, 2005).



Sarah Boxer, “When Seeing is Not Always Believing,” New York Times, July 11, 2005, B3.


Clint Burnham, “Here’s looking at you – the art of surveillance,” The Vancouver Sun, December 14-20, 2006, Visual Arts, D17.


Murray Whyte, “Every breath you take, she’ll be watching you,” Toronto Star, July 23, 2005, H8.



2008 Biennale of Sydney Online Venue. http://www.bos2008.com/revolutionsonline (accessed July 9, 2009).


Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. http://www.cardiffmiller.com/ (accessed July 6, 2009).


Virtual Museum of Canada. Dubious Views, Subversive Souvenirs, Gallery TPW, 2006.

http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/Exhibitions/Photos/dynamic/en/index-mk.html (accessed July 9, 2009).



Dina Vescio, Researcher and Writer, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Interview with Bruce Grenville, Senior Curator, Vancouver Art Gallery, January 20, 2009.


Eric Dies, former Registration Assistant, Vancouver Art Gallery. Interview with Janet Cardiff, March 31, 2005.


Archival Files:

Janet Cardiff, Eyes of Laura (2004) archival file, Vancouver Art Gallery.