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Does it work or does it not?

Will it work or not?
Revolution in presentable condition once more

The Revolution of Shaw in action.

The Revolution of Shaw in action.

In the 1990s the Dutch media art exhibition IMAGO, Fin de Siècle in Dutch contemporary art travelled round the world. The thirteen video and new media installations were acquired by the State. The installation Revolution: A Memorial for the Television Revolution (1990) by Jeffrey Shaw and Tjebbe van Tijen thus became part of the current Collectie Nederland.

Between 2004 and 2006 Revolution was set up once again, restored and documented as one of more than thirty case studies under the international collaboration project Inside Installations: Preservation and Presentation of Installation Art. Partly thanks to this re-installation were the first guidelines drawn up for the management, conservation and documentation of installation art.

Revolution in actie.


Push forward

Revolution consists of a metal framework housing a television monitor, mounted on a round sheet of wood. Visitors push a rod-shaped lever, which sets the entire structure rotating. If you push forward, a series of 180 historical images of revolutions and social disturbances flit by on the monitor, with a soundtrack of unruly crowd noise. Each image is briefly displayed. If you pull the rod, then the screen shows a millstone grinding grain into flour. History does not allow itself to be rewound. The viewer is an essential part of the installation. Without you, nothing happens: the flour is not ground, the revolution not unleashed.


Although Revolution had already been selected as a case study for Inside Installations, in 2004 there came an acute reason for re-installation: a loan request of six months for the exhibition Moving Parts in Graz and Basel. This request formed the motive to assess whether Revolution was fit for a half-year trip. A test run was set up in the Montevideo Gallery (forerunner of the Netherlands Institute for Media Art Media Art, NIMk, the current LIMA). Due to the long-term storage of Revolution, the first question quickly arose. Does the installation still work? And if not, what can we do to get the whole construction going again?

Actie Revolution klein


A check of the registration and documentation data revealed that there were hardly any installation instructions. Therefore the project team went looking for visual material on previous presentations of the work. During the setting up of the installation every procedure was meticulously documented and photographed. In this way, the step-by-step 'guide' for Revolution came about.

Risk analysis

At the same time the most vulnerable components were registered and linked to a to-do list of questions and topics to investigate further. During a second test run in 2006, the research team subjected the installation to a risk analysis. This identified and named the components most prone to any damage. Unlike initial thoughts, the biggest problems in the preservation of the work did not lay with the framework of the turning mechanism. The image and sound technology provided more worries. The revolution images became stuck during playback, which seriously detracted from the experience of the work. Cleaning the carrier did not solve this problem entirely. Furthermore, all images were stored on a laser disc and were played on a laser disc player: a new medium at the time of the creation of Revolution but now, fifteen years later, hopelessly out-dated. Another problem was the 'Eprom', a sound box like that used earlier for conventional telephones, and handmade by the artist. This component proved particularly delicate and thus posed a high risk factor.

1508 001 jeff shaw Klein


When considering solutions to preserve these vital components, the researchers were faced with several dilemmas, especially in areas where preservation affects content. For example, what value should be attached to the original Eprom box? Should this be replaced by a less sensitive technology or not? Could the laser technology be transferred to software so that much less technology would be required?


Consultation with the artist must take place to answer these questions. Hence it is now standard procedure to conduct an artist interview before the re-installation and conservation of contemporary installations. By weighing up the artist's intent against conservation interests, decisions can be made that are accountable in all respects.

Revolution in actie

Revolution in action

About the artists

Jeffrey Shaw (1944) is regarded as a pioneer in the field of interactive art. His work bridges the gap between art and life and turns the spectator into a participant because, as he himself once said, "Art is essentially a conversation with the viewer, who is always reinterpreting and reconstructing the work of art". The introduction of digital technology enabled Shaw to achieve a greater degree of interactivity in his work. His artworks are databases of text, images and sound, which each time create a different form through an interface and the visitor operating it. The machine-like appearance of his installations invites action and physical movement.

Tjebbe van Tijen (1944) operates under the name of Imaginary Museum Projects alternately in Amsterdam and Hong Kong. He followed courses in sculpture in Den Bosch, Milan and London. In the 1960s he was the driving force behind various events and film projects, while over the next two decades, he mostly made exhibitions on ecology, urban conflict and subcultures. He brings to life socio-historical issues from the mid 1980s through interactive installations. Usually he works with other artists, such as in Revolution by Jeffrey Shaw.