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Curiosity Preserved the (AV) Memories

“When did I get my first TV? When I was eight?” 

*Mom laughs* “More like when you were one…”  

Baby Kayla Henry-Griffin
Screenshot of Kayla Henry-Griffin as child from a collection of family Hi8 tapes.

Family and technology have always been in the picture for me. They are intertwined, connected, and that bond can never be broken. I have always been interested in how technology works and how I could use it not only in my artistic practice, but also how I can save family memories. I look towards pictures of my grandmother whom I never met to understand my family and how we are dispersed globally. I look towards camcorder-recorded home movies of me to understand my role and my place in the Henry/Griffin/Toney family. I picked up skills from the Mac computer in my childhood home, I learned about pop culture through the TV with the wooden cabinet in the living room, and I picked up my love of video games when I bought my first game at the age of eight (it was Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life for the console GameCube).  

video game screenshot, Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life
Screenshot of gameplay in Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life (Gamecube English version).

All of this to say- I have been immersed in audio-visual technology to the point that I wanted to preserve the memories behind it. All forms of technology are a vessel for me to get closer to how I memorize math equations to even how I recollect that major move I did from California to Mississippi. Of course, this took a while for me to truly understand that this was a personal and professional path I wanted to take on. At my alma mater, I created my own major to encompass my love for photography and optics (my degree literally says ‘Photography and Optics’). I learned about art conservation during this time and since then, I have been on this professional journey of preserving cultural heritage.  

In 2018, I attended a Software Preservation Network (SPN) workshop in Texas that focused on emulation and preservation. I met a multitude of folks in the cultural heritage field that worked with non-traditional materials from VHS tapes to computer software like Microsoft Golf. After talking with someone who works for Strong Museum of Play, I was more than elated to hear that I could preserve video games if I wanted to. That moment, in combination with all of my heartfelt experiences with technology, led me to pursue this dream of preserving memories from non-traditional mediums.   

During the pandemic, I attended the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation (MIAP) program at New York University. During that time, I interned at various organizations (Los Herederos, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Third World Newsreel, and The Museum of the Moving Image) that shaped my philosophy on preserving cultural heritage. Even though I mostly worked with magnetic media in the internships, I also had experience with software-based art and film. I found a love for mysterious and obscure formats like the HIPAC, and soon learned that my love of video games meant that I also would love to preserve them and the experiences that people have with video games.   

Following my graduation from the MIAP program, I took on a fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where I continuously worked with conservation of time-based media with mentor and supervisor Jonathan Farbowitz. One task I was focused on during the fellowship was to finish a project from my internship with a Philippe Parreno artwork by the name of, With a Rhythmic Instinction to be Able to Travel Beyond Existing Forces of Life (Purple, Rule #3). This was a project that challenged my philosophy and practice of preserving audiovisual media and time-based media. The project further pushed me to critically think about the ethics of preservation and showed me that all media will not be treated or preserved the same.  

Time-based media art, Philippe Parreno artwork
Philippe Parreno. Pilar Corrias Installation view of With a Rhythmic Instinction to be Able to Travel Beyond Existing Forces of Life (Green, Rule#1), 2014.

My experiences have been mainly with museums and small non-profits and those experiences have shown me that in fact, no matter how small or large the institution is, saving cultural heritage means preserving memories. My role at the Audio Visual Media Preservation Initiative (AVMPI) has been to assess, catalog, and conduct conservation work of collections throughout the Smithsonian. Knowing that I am a part of the work that is occurring to preserve media collections has personally made me more sensitive to how we care for others and their experiences. My time at Smithsonian has just started this summer and I have seen the progress and impact AVMPI has made to care for the cultural heritage on media. My role as a professional in this field is similar to my role as a Henry-Griffin family member- preserve memories and stories for years to come.  

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