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Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Nam June Paik


Nam June Paik, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Nam June Paik, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 1989, Video installation, Collection The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Photo: MMFA, Christine Guest.


Royal Canadian Mounted Police (1989), a work by Nam June Paik, is a combined representation of modern and older television sets. A single-channel videotape is broadcast by 11 televisions that have been fitted into ten old-fashioned television and radio casings. The sculptural entity takes the form of an RCMP officer mounting a wooden horse—the latter being a traditional Chinese sculpture. This case was selected by the committee because it raised the problem of the obsolescence of cathode-ray tubes and spurred reflection on the emerging methods of preserving video.


First problem: the donation issue

This work was donated to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1990 by Esperanza and Mark Schwartz. Acquisition through donation complicates the management of the long-term preservation of a work. A discussion with the artist at the time of the acquisition is often required to obtain his or her opinion on the conservation techniques most appropriate to the work. Furthermore, the acquisition is often the best time to obtain from artists or their studios proper preservation materials to ensure the migration of the original materials and the creation of exhibition copies. A donation implies discussions are held with a third party who does not possess the necessary resources to preserve the work. And, in many cases, the acquired work constitutes an exhibition copy, even if the work itself is in fact one of a kind.


Second problem: obsolescence of cathode-ray tubes

The work uses cathode-ray tubes, a technology that is currently being gradually replaced by LCD and plasma screens. While the older technology is still functional, with a few monitors showing only slight signs of wear and tear, the desire to preserve the authenticity of the work would involve preventive preservation efforts. Basic maintenance of the devices could also extend their lifespan.


Nam June Paik, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Partial view of the back of the structure with television set of Royal Canadian Mounted Police by Nam June Paik, 1989, Video installation, Collection The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Photo © 2008, DOCAM.


It may be necessary to assess other conservation options (storage, migration, emulation, etc.) to ensure presentation of the work over the very long term. To this end, a theoretical analysis of various restoration possibilities was conducted and the impact of each on the work’s authenticity and integrity evaluated. Given the likelihood of the complete disappearance of cathode-ray tubes, migration and emulation are the possible restoration solutions, providing that the preservation of the work’s integrity offsets the authenticity lost when the technological components are replaced.


Third problem: preservation of the video

Like cathode-ray tubes, videotapes may also become obsolete if the equipment used to read them is no longer available. In addition, a number of environmental and storage factors might contribute to their early deterioration. Heritage institutions currently favour migration (also known as remastering) as a video preservation strategy. Video migration consists of regularly migrating video content to more recent formats. For this case study, digitization—either to a digital tape or digital file—were analyzed on a theoretical basis.


Ethical problems

Authenticity and integrity


The difficulty over the long term will be to maintain the work’s components, given their relative fragility. The eventual obsolescence of cathode-ray tubes further threatens retention of the original technology. Even if conservation options such as migration or emulation can be considered, there is no way of knowing if they would reflect the artistic intentions of Nam June Paik, as he was not consulted in this matter prior to his death in 2006. However, during the research process, an analysis of comments from Paik’s collaborators and an examination of documents containing the perspective of a number of conservators allowed an informed decision to be made. The cathodic equipment must be maintained, as it was integral to the conceptual objectives of the artist; his body of work focused on experimenting with the cathode-ray tube.