The Wexner Center's Film/Video Studio has been working on something big. For the first in a series of reports on what's up, here are Studio director Jennifer Lange and Mike Olenick, a former studio editor who's recently taken on a new role at the center.
A little over a year ago, the Wex was granted $150,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to develop an archive of the over 400 works made with the support of our Film/Video Studio residency program. Often referred to as the Wex’s best kept secret, the Studio has offered support to hundreds of artists and independent filmmakers over the past 27 years, including Sam Green, Sadie Benning, Jennifer Reeder, Jem Cohen, Kevin Jerome Everson and Barbara Hammer.
At the very heart of the Wex’s founding mission to support creation and experimentation as well as presentation, the Studio offers artists technical and creative support in the form of residencies that are driven by the specific needs of the project. Some artists come to the Wex near the end of their creative journey to mix the sound and correct the color on a new film. Other artists arrive at a much earlier stage, with hours of raw footage and an idea for a film. It’s a program that’s unique in the world for its flexible nature and nurturing environment, which allows artists the freedom to follow their creative process wherever it may take them. In return, we ask only for a support credit and a master copy of the work. Until recently, that copy was on videotape.
In the 1990s we started a very simple database to catalogue this collection of tapes. Over the years, we realized this wasn't adequate for our needs. Also, that we'd have to address the issue of tape preservation. We decided to apply for funding that would allow for proper preservation and cataloguing of the works we’ve supported. With the generous grant from IMLS in hand, we embarked on the center’s first-ever archive project.
Our first big step was hiring Mike, who worked as an editor in the F/V Studio for nearly 15 years, to oversee the development of this archive. His knowledge of the collection, the program’s history, and the technical aspects of video production made him the perfect person to lead this project. It's now well underway, with the tapes in the process of being converted into digital files. Mike has also been consulting with peers in the field with similar collections to research best practices.
So what does this mean for patrons of the Wex, as well as scholars, students at Ohio State, other artists, and film fans? At the start of this grant, a majority of these works were on old three-quarter-inch or BetaSp videotapes and we needed to maintain outdated equipment simply to view them. We’re pretty familiar with the recent films and videos completed with the support of the Studio, but there are older works that we don’t know much about. Having digital files of these works will make it easier for staff at the Wex to watch them and make notes about them, without risking wear and tear on the tapes themselves. As we catalogue each of these works, we are writing new descriptions, filling in gaps in our current database, and adding thematic keywords. This means that in the future, it will be much easier for a curator in our film department to look for works by female filmmakers, filmmakers from Ohio, or even works with LGBTQ themes, among others. In some instances these newly-discovered works might also be shown in The Box, screened in our F/V Theater, or presented in our galleries.
We’re also looking into whether we can share some of these works in other ways. In the past, many of the videos were available for viewing on VHS tapes in the university's Fine Arts Library. We would love to continue to provide access to this collection to Ohio State students for research purposes. We also plan to publish much of the information that we generate about individual artists and their works on our website. Our current webpage for the Studio is minimal; we hope that near the end of this project, it will be more robust with more in-depth information about our history. There’s a rich legacy of works that we’ve supported. After 27 years, we're ready to be a little less secret about it.