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Wednesday, May 31 • 9:00am - 9:30am
(Electronic Media) Obsolescent Technology: The viability of the cathode ray tube used in art

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The cathode ray tube (CRT) is a substantial vacuum tube used to display images in television sets, computers, automated teller machines, video game machines, video cameras, monitors, oscilloscopes and radar. It is composed of one or more electron guns and a phosphorescent screen. Like many other examples of redundant technologies, CRTs have been integral to installation and video art in galleries since the ‘60s. Installations and art that incorporate electronic components are often vulnerable to sustained technological development and other factors outside their physical nature, which accelerate their obsolescence. In fact, the declining production of this particular technology coupled with an increasing inability to source used CRTs has become a concern for institutions and collectors where it is integral to a work of art. While external factors influence the lifespan of a CRT, such devices generally benefit from ratings that estimate the lifespan of the instrument - typically related in number of operational hours - before the CRT becomes unreliable and/or ceases to function entirely. Due to the finite longevity of CRT technology, the need to change certain elements is unavoidable, particularly when the physical form of the CRT is essential to the functioning of many works that rely on those instruments as core components. Today, the role of a conservator encompasses a broader understanding of preservation. Specifically, conservators no longer focus exclusively on the repair of an art object, as they are also concerned with documentation, determining the acceptability of change and managing the changes deemed necessary. Nam June Paik, who transformed video into an artist's medium with his media-based art and understood the impact of technological redundancy/obsolescence, granted the owners of his works permission to make the technical modifications necessary to ensure their continuous operation. In preparation for the loan of "Nam June Paik: Global Visionary" to Smithsonian American Art Museum (December 13, 2012 – August 11, 2013), the conservation department at The Art Institute of Chicago embarked on a conservation project to revive one of the Paik robot assemblages in their collection, Family of Robot: Baby. Prior to the Smithsonian, Baby had not been exhibited since 2000 (at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in the exhibition, "The Worlds of Nam June Paik"). This presentation will focus on the history of CRT replacement in art, the efforts conducted to maintain the CRT technology for Baby's video playback and the viability of this overall approach. It will conclude with a discussion of works by several other artists in which changing the CRT technology for playback or as a sculptural component is impossible, and the implications that will have on those works.


Sara Moy

Project Conservator, The Art Institute of Chicago
After graduating from Bennington College with a BA in Visual Arts, Sara Moy earned an MSc in Conservation from University College London Her professional interests focus on preservation methods associated with modern and contemporary objects and installations, as well as material... Read More →

avatar for Raphaele Shirley

Raphaele Shirley

Light artist and composer
RAPHAELE SHIRLEY (Wisconsin, USA). Shirley’s solo exhibitions include: 12.6 Lyrae at the Chimney, New York (2016), 0910 Light Shots, Chelsea Art Museum , New York(2010); Arctic Lights, Dorfman Projects, New York (2010); Jewels of Kvinesdal, Kvinesdal, Norway (2009; Sunken City... Read More →

Wednesday May 31, 2017 9:00am - 9:30am CDT
Comiskey Concourse Level, West Tower