Inside the New Museum’s “XFR STN” Lab: Liberating Art From Obsolete Media

September 10, 2013 | Kyle Chayka

This summer, the entire fifth floor of the New Museum was transformed into a devoted archival lab. This functioning exhibition and lab “XFR STN” allowed for any New York-based artist to set up an appointment and work together with one of the museum’s digital media archivists to carefully extract artworks from their recently antiquated storage devices.

This innovative preservation effort assisted the artists in “liberating” their media from VHS tapes, Hi8, DVCam — as well as something I’m told is called “a floppy disk.” Due to the age of many of these works, some haven’t been viewed by anyone for quite some time.

ANIMAL spoke to Walter Forsberg, an Audio-Visual Conservator for XFR STN who was actively working on this massive file archiving effort. With generous equipment donations from DuArt Restoration and the help of Internet Archive, over five-hundred of these newly restored files can now be viewed and downloaded in their entirety.

“Personally, I have a pretty open idea as to what qualifies as art,” Forsberg tells ANIMAL, while giving us a walkthrough of the lab, just before it closed. Some of the best artifacts include Best of YO! MTV Raps circa 1991, bizarre home videos, manic dance abstractions“Hip Hop boxing”footage of Bill Creston and students experimenting with video equipment at the Channel 13 studios, and some kinky stuff, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Without the “XFR STN” lab, many of these artifacts would have been trapped indefinitely within the confines of their own obsolete formats, their conditions disintegrating as time goes by. And yet, all participating artists have been explicitly advised to hold onto their original file containers. They were told to do so in anticipation of more advanced archiving technologies that will inevitably emerge.

After all, even the advanced digitalizing lab at the New Museum will, at some point, become outdated.

XFR STN” was made possible by Alan W. Moore with Taylor Moore, Alexis Bhagat, and the artists of Colab (Collaborative Projects, Inc.), supported by the Solo Foundation. It was organized by Johanna Burton, Keith Haring Director and Curator of Education and Public Engagement, with Ben Fino-Radin, Digital Conservator, Rhizome; Tara Hart, Digital Archivist, New Museum; and Jen Song, Associate Director of Education, New Museum.

(Video: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)