Interview with Manon de Boer

Greenwich, Brussels, September 18, 2008 and e-mail correspondence June 12 and July 1, 2009


Manon de Boer (Kodaicanal, India, 1966) lives and works in Brussels. Since the mid-1990s, she has been using film, video and sound to create a body of work in which time, history and subjectivity are the central themes. In her film and video work, she plays with the conventions of film language and with the functioning of images within a narrative framework.

Barbara Dierickx and Rony Vissers of PACKED spoke with her about the documentation and conservation of her work.


Her film series Robert, June 1996 - September 2007 (1996-2007) and Laurien, June 1996 - September 2001 – October 2007 (1996-2007) are intimate Super-8 portraits of friends. With intervals of several years, she filmed them each in the same position and within the same image frame. In addition to a phenomenological force, with the films Sylvia Kristel – Paris (2003) and Resonating Surfaces (2005) about/with female icons such as actress Sylvia Kristel and psychoanalyst Suely Rolnik, her work also gives the portrait a broader cultural and historical dimension. In recent years, in addition to portraits, sound and music have played an increasingly important role in her work. In films such as Presto, Perfect Sound (2006), Attica (2008) and Two Times 4’33” (2008) she investigates the role of sound with respect to sensory perception.

Manon de Boer is one of the founders of Auguste Orts,1 an artists’ platform which operates in the broad field of audiovisual production.


PACKED: What was the immediate reason for documenting your film and video works?

Manon De Boer: There were actually two reasons. The first was that one of my works, Attica, was sold and the buyer (FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais)2 made much greater demands with regard to conservation than I had previously experienced. They wanted the guarantee that when their digital Betacam or 35mm display copy broke down, they would still have access to the work. They wanted the masters to be preserved somewhere so that a new display copy could be made if necessary. When I make a sale, I only provide a display copy, never the master copy or the negative.

My negatives are stored in the film laboratory or the Royal Film Archives.3 If the display copy is no longer in the desired condition, a new one can always be made using the negative. This is my standard working method for film and I would like to have the same method for video. A part of my work exists on both 35mm film and video. For this reason, I contacted argos4 and asked them to preserve the master video. After all, I don’t really know at what temperature or in what place such a video master is best stored at home. I myself cannot guarantee the survival of my work. The buyers of my work are responsible for its conservation, but at the same time they also want a back-up which can be stored elsewhere.


 Manon de Boer, Attica (2008), courtesy: Manon de Boer


PACKED: And what was the second reason?

Manon De Boer: The second reason has to do with the showing of Two Times 4'33”. This work was shown for the first time in Berlin. It was shown there under very good conditions. Later though, I saw that it was being shown less advantageously elsewhere and I wanted to prevent this from happening again in the future. When I received a questionnaire5 from argos on conservation, I realised that it is good to indicate very precisely how a work must be exhibited and what can and cannot be done when doing so.

Above all, it is useful to have such guidelines. If you can’t be there to install your work yourself, this method allows you to issue very precise instructions. I know myself that my work does not function under certain display conditions, but you cannot expect the exhibition holder to know that too.

When I read the questionnaire, I realised there were a great many things I had previously never thought of, such as the aspect ratio of my films. Nearly all my films have an aspect ratio of 4:3, but because the normal 4:3 screen monitor is slowly being replaced by flat-screen monitors, one nowadays almost automatically puts the films in an aspect ratio of 16:9. It is therefore important to state that the 4:3 aspect ratio may on no account be altered.


PACKED: Your story about the sale of Attica to FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais is an interesting example of the way the possibility of conserving the work was an important focus of attention when it was sold. Do you have any other examples where the conservation of the work was mentioned when it was sold? Have any sales ever fallen through because of possible long-term conservation problems?

Manon De Boer: Not to the same extent. I do remember that when buying a sound work (Image, memory, story), the Van Abbe Museum6 in Eindhoven very explicitly requested a master on DAT7 and not just a CD, so as to have several supports for conservation. No, no sales have ever fallen through because of possible future conservation problems.


PACKED: What is striking in your story is the shift in or division of the responsibility for conservation. It seems to be different from the preservation of more traditional art objects. After all, if you sell a painting to a museum, the museum always takes responsibility for its long-term conservation.

Manon De Boer: It is indeed a strange situation. It is caused by my 35mm films. I don’t provide the buyer with a negative, only a display copy. The buyer wants the guarantee that these negatives will be well conserved, with a view to the possible replacement of the display copy. They are therefore kept in the film laboratory or the Royal Film Archives. This approach has led to the same system being used for my videos.

A number of collectors notice that they do not actually have the knowledge to conserve these works themselves. They find that their knowledge is not able to keep up with technological developments. Some, for example, still own works they once bought on VHS tapes and which are now no longer worth anything. I think that is why they are trying to shift the concern for conservation more towards the artists. The conservation of films and videos demands special knowledge. Restoring a painting is a different matter, but museums and other collectors have acquired more experience in this field over the years.


PACKED: Is this shift in and division of the responsibility for conservation also linked to the fact that you make editions of your works? Is it important to conserve the negative because there are various buyers who must be able to have recourse to the same negative?

Manon De Boer: Yes, I usually make an edition of three or five copies. Furthermore, I also show my work at film festivals. There is also increasing demand from private collectors. They have the same problems as the museums. You would expect the museums to accrue the knowledge needed to conserve this sort of work, but they already have to keep up with so many different conservation methods... I find this difficult myself. For example, I still have old Hi8 cassettes from my early period. These video tapes have all completely perished. The deterioration happens very quickly. For example, I can no longer even open the computer files I created for my old assembly programmes.


PACKED: Your editions consist of from three to fives copies. Are there any artist’s proofs in addition to these copies? If so, how many?

Manon De Boer: Yes, in most cases there is one more artist’s proof, sometimes two. There is no fixed number.


PACKED: Where does your work end up once it is sold? It is mainly in the collections of such public institutions as museums or in private collections too?

Manon De Boer: Mainly in public institutions, but it’s in several private collections too. The proportion is about one private to two public.


PACKED: Do you see any difference between the way the two sorts of collectors deal with the work when it comes to keeping and showing it?

Manon De Boer: No, I don’t see much difference. If there is a difference, it is that the public institutions make more demands.


 Manon de Boer, Sylvia Kristel – Paris (2003), courtesy: Manon de Boer


PACKED: Can you tell us what your own archive consists of? Do you conserve only the end products? What do you do with rough takes for example?

Manon De Boer: I keep several tapes myself. I have a DVCAM8 sub-master of all my video and film works. After all, I regularly need to have copies made myself.

During the last six years, I have been keeping hard disks with the rough takes and the edited versions. But recently I discovered, for example, that I can no longer open the hard disk with Sylvia Kristel – Paris. I need to find out whether the files can still be recovered. I hadn’t used the disk for five years.

I really cannot guarantee that the masters and negatives will be well preserved at home. I therefore think it safer to place them at a specialist institution. The best guarantee for good conservation is to place a good master somewhere where they will take care to store it properly and where they follow developments in conservation methods.


PACKED: What else is there in your personal archives?

Manon De Boer: My archives consist mainly of working material; lots of writing, test recordings and interviews (on various sound media).


PACKED: Do you also systematically keep installation photos, publications, reviews and so on?

Manon De Boer: I do keep them, but not very systematically. It’s working material and I don’t think it needs to be kept.


PACKED: Are the rapid technological developments and rapid deterioration changing your way of working? Are you searching for more long-lasting technology?

Manon De Boer: This is more of an economic question. I happen to possess Final Cut software and this allows me to edit my work at home. For each work, I now try to document which editing software (Final Cut or AVID) I have used.

You have to continuously upgrade to a more recent version. If you have left out a few too many steps, the upgrade no longer works. If a work has been edited with software that runs on OS 9.1, Macintosh’s old operating system, you can no longer open the original files with the new system.


PACKED: With the rise of the contemporary arts, material and object have become less important. As a result, documentation for conservation has become increasingly crucial. Do you believe that the artist can play an important role in the documentation process? Or can this be left to the curator?

Manon De Boer: I believe that documentation is something the artist must do him or herself. After all, it is your own work... A custodian is perhaps in a better position than a curator.


PACKED: Did you know from the start how you would approach the documentation of your work? Did you contact other people for help?

Manon De Boer: I have mainly done it myself. I asked Jan Mot9 to read through the documentation, primarily with the sale of the works in mind. As a gallery owner, he suggested a number of important points, for example providing notification that the old digital Betacam must be handed back when creating a new version (in order to prevent copies from continuing to lie around, ed.). After all, documentation is primarily based on one’s own experience.


PACKED: You say that you let Jan Mot read the installation instructions and that he suggested some valuable additions. What role do the Jan Mot gallery and the Auguste Orts production platform play regarding your work?

Manon De Boer: Jan Mot keeps track of almost everything shown or sold in the visual arts. Auguste Orts is very important to me for the production of my work and as a producer it keeps an eye on most of what is shown on the film festival circuit. This arrangement with Auguste Orts only applies to me, because it has a different function for each of its members.

Both Jan Mot and Marie Logie (of Auguste Orts) make sure that the work is shown and stored in the proper way. For example, both of them always read every contract. And if I cannot be present for an installation, one of them will be there if necessary.


 Manon de Boer, Laurien, June 1996 - September 2001 – October 2007 (1996-2007), courtesy: Manon de Boer


PACKED: Does the documentation process influence your work? Do you make the documentation a part of your work?

Manon De Boer: It is true that the instructions are now an actual component of the work. However, variation remains possible. For example, you can display your work in a box as well as in a free space. I normally state the minimum or maximum dimensions.

The instructions are above all a useful document to send to buyers and exhibition organisers. It helps to make very clear arrangements regarding the display conditions. These arrangements are necessary because in the past I had many bad experiences, mainly at exhibitions abroad where I could not go in advance. Then, when I arrived three days before the opening of the exhibition to install the work, the lack of clear, prior arrangements sometimes resulted in a messy or bad installation.

The documentation and instructions impose a lot of control, but I think this is better for both parties. It prevents arguments. For example, when I install a work with sound and there is another with sound next to it, it is better that the curator knows in advance that the two works have to be separated by properly sound-proofed walls.


PACKED: Does organising an exhibition become easier with the aid of the documentation? Or even more difficult?

Manon De Boer: I have already been able to forward these documents in advance a couple of times and it has occurred that the requirements could not be fulfilled. However, I prefer this to people saying that everything is fine. Otherwise, it’s only when you arrive on location that you realise there is no sound installation or box... and that they have only built one wall. I’d rather do fewer exhibitions which have been well put together. With the documentation, you have a sort of contract you can send. If the conditions cannot be fulfilled, the work is not exhibited. However, as some works can be adjusted slightly to the situation, there is sometimes room for negotiation.


PACKED: Exhibition and conservation are naturally interwoven. In order to safeguard a work for the future, you must also conserve the installation instructions. After all, if the work is no longer exhibited in the desired manner, the question arises as to whether the work still actually ‘exists’...

Manon De Boer: That’s why I believe that the artist should really do the documentation him or herself. But I’ve only now just begun doing so...


PACKED: Do you know any colleagues who also describe their work in such great depth?

Manon De Boer: It tends to be more the foreign artists, such as Deimantas Narkevičius10. He does it very thoroughly. For example, he doesn’t let any of his work be shown on the internet. He gives very clear instructions for it.

Whether a work is described in-depth or not often depends on whether it is an installation. There are artists to whom it makes no difference how their films are shown because the method of screening is not important for the works themselves. When it is important, however, artists are much more specific in their instructions.


PACKED: Have you also documented your audio works (e.g. Switch (1998) or The Alpha & Omega Project (2000)) in a similar manner?

Manon De Boer: No, not yet. But I want to do so for all my works.


 Manon de Boer, Two Times 4'33'' (2008), courtesy: Manon de Boer


PACKED: We have noticed that you use not only text but also photos to document your work. How important do you consider a visual depiction to be?

Manon De Boer: If it is really about the installation, such as with the work Two Times 4'33”, the text is not sufficient for the description. In such a case, it is easy if you get to see a floor plan. With other works, I have only attached photos plus the minimum and maximum dimensions of the projection.


PACKED: For nearly every work, you state in the documentation that it may not be shown on a flat-screen monitor. Does the method of screening and projection form an integral part of the ‘look and feel’ of your work?

Manon De Boer: Yes, for Sylvia Kristel – Paris, Resonating Surfaces, Presto, Perfect Sound, Attica and Two Times 4’33” that is the case. These are all works which were originally shot on negative film. I did not do that without reason. I therefore very much want the image to have a particular size. This is important for the perception of the work. The detailing and spatial aspect play a role.

The black and white portraits Robert, June 1996 - September 2007 and Laurien, June 1996 - September 2001 – October 2007 are the only ones that can be shown on monitors because they have no sound.

In the case of the works which may not be shown on a monitor, the sound is very important. I want the viewer to sit in a sort of sound room whereby the sound surrounds you. The sound quality is much poorer with a monitor. You can’t hear certain bass tones so well with a monitor. For me, the sound is important for the perception of the work. Loudspeakers are therefore essential so that the scale is large enough.


PACKED: Jon Ippolito11 once put forward the idea of replacing broken cathode-ray tube monitors by placing flat-screen monitors in the original frames (and so creating the illusion that it is an original cathode-ray tube monitor). Would you permit that sort of emulation in your work? Or do think it’s a step too far?

Manon De Boer: It’s difficult....I would want to see it first. It is perhaps a solution for some works, but first I would still want to see if it is not too makeshift. Otherwise, you are better off using a flat-screen straight away.


 Manon de Boer, Robert, June 1996 - September 2007 (1996-2007), courtesy: Manon de Boer


PACKED: With some works, you state that if the video tapes have worn out, a migration to a tapeless format is potentially possible. In the future, do you also think a transfer from Standard Definition12 video to High Definition13 video will be possible? This would mean an increase in the resolution...

Manon De Boer: Yes, I can imagine that it will become possible. But with High Definition, you get a picture which is much richer in contrast. You then have far fewer details in black and white, among other things. This is also why I chose not to transfer the 35mm films to High Definition video. But perhaps we’ll get used to it. Maybe I’ll decide sometime in the next twenty years to transfer those works.

It is above all a choice based on the question of whether the work can or cannot be conserved or shown in its original form. If the original format is no longer available, by transferring it to High Definition video there at least remains the possibility of preserving and showing the work. You only notice the difference in quality if you compare the two versions with one another. Although many young people no longer notice such a difference in quality, I nevertheless believe that you should try to stick to the original quality as far as possible. You may only transfer the work when you reach the point where a certain technology no longer exists. At the same time though, such a work does not have to exist for thousands of years. But perhaps at least for the next hundred years...


PACKED: How far do you want to go in issuing guidelines for showing your work? Is this still the task of the artist or would you rather hand it over to someone else?

Manon De Boer: I have found that this differs according to the situation. Since the conservators or curators have a better knowledge of the situation in their exhibition spaces, one needs a dialogue with them. I prefer to leave that sort of detail to them.


PACKED: If you sell an installation to a museum or private collector, do you also have an arrangement with the buyer that they are to contact you whenever they put the work on show again?

Manon De Boer: No, they are not obliged to contact me at all. I usually only go the first time the work is installed on site. But when a sale takes place I do provide a list of instructions that describes how the work has to be installed.


PACKED: When you sell a work do you ask the buyer to sign a copy of the installation instructions? To make sure they will at least read them?

Manon De Boer: No, I assume that they will read the installation instructions because it is only in their interest that the work is set up as well as possible.


PACKED: The spatial context is very important to certain works. In a work such as Attica, you also see the audio and visual display equipment. It forms part of the installation.

Manon De Boer: The equipment is very important in this sort of installation. You then have to indicate whether the loudspeakers and projector are to be visible or not. It is good to describe these things because people often don’t think about them.


 Manon de Boer, Presto, Perfect Sound (2006), courtesy: Manon de Boer


PACKED: Do you therefore also want the audio and visual display equipment to be conserved?

Manon De Boer: This aspect is not so important for my work, other than for Attica. I have discussed this with the conservators at FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais, which bought Attica. They bought a projector themselves but they cannot guarantee that they will be able to find the right replacement parts if the projector breaks down.


PACKED: What is your attitude to updating the visible audio and visual display equipment? The visual appearance of a projector that is visible in the installation today probably evokes a different connotation than it will in 30 years’ time. The look of equipment refers to a particular period in time.

Manon De Boer: I think that I would prefer to update the visible equipment, otherwise the time connotation starts to play a role. The work itself is more important than the creation of a particular time connotation. I actually always want to have video projectors as invisible as possible.

It’s different for Attica, the film project. In that case the 16 mm film projector and the loop mechanism are part of the installation. The fact that the film is shown as a loop is part of the content of the work. You can see this because of the loop mechanism on top of the projector. In Attica I show a group of musicians playing the piece of music with that title, written by Frederic Rzewski in 1972. Rzewski based his composition on a piece of writing by Sam Melville on the 1971 uprising in the Attica jail in New York. The text in the piece of music is about the future that is actually the same as the past (‘Attica is in front of me’). The 360° camera movement and the repetition of the projection in a loop also give the viewer the sense of being incorporated into an endless circular movement.


PACKED: How can documentation be encouraged?

Manon De Boer: It is good to make a start on it in education, but these sorts of questionnaires or templates should really be available online somewhere. It should be known that you can consult such things, via PACKED, for example. Perhaps it is also the case that museums themselves should ask the artists more about it. For example, I once sold a work to a museum and they didn’t ask a single question about its conservation such as I now get. If the museums themselves would ask questions relating to conservation, you would be more compelled as an artist to document your work. I think things would then be clearer for everyone.


PACKED: Works like Attica and Two Times 4’33” refer back to works by other artists. Their origins lie in musical compositions by Frederic Rzewski and John Cage. These compositions come to life again when they are reinterpreted and performed by musicians. These reinterpretations/performances (and the compositions themselves) are then safeguarded for the future when you in your turn reinterpret them and capture them on film. This is a good illustration of the way art and culture are preserved and at the same time are able to evolve over time. In autumn 2008 you and Auguste Orts gave a screening at LUX in London where Scanner worked with the soundtracks of your films and videos. Did you see that as part of the same process?

Manon De Boer: For us it was a way of combining the work of the four artists in Auguste Orts (Herman Asselberghs, Sven Augustijnen, Anouk De Clercq and myself) into one single new work. But it certainly came close to that idea, in the sense that we let another artist use the sound tapes from our work to create a work of his own.


PACKED: Can you imagine that anyone might one day do something with your work?

Manon De Boer: I can’t really see how, but I have nothing against it. After all, the person who uses it creates a work of their own. That new work will take its place alongside my work. It will not easily harm the expressive power of my work.



Click the titles below to view the installation and conservation instructions:

- Robert, June 1996 - September 2007 (Manon de Boer, 1996-2007)

- Laurien, June 1996 - September 2001 – October 2007 (Manon de Boer, 1996-2007)

- Sylvia Kristel - Paris (Manon de Boer, 2003)

- Resonating Surfaces (Manon de Boer, 2005)

- Presto, Perfect Sound (Manon de Boer, 2006)

- Two Times 4'33" (Manon de Boer, 2008)

- Attica (Manon de Boer, 2008)


 Manon de Boer, Resonating Surfaces (2005), courtesy: Manon de Boer


[Translation: Gregory Ball]





  • 1. Auguste Orts is a small production platform set up by the artists Herman Asselberghs, Sven Augustijnen, Manon de Boer and Anouk De Clercq. See:
  • 2. See:
  • 3. Koninklijk Belgisch Filmarchief. See:
  • 4. Argos is an art and media centre in Brussels. See:
  • 5. This questionnaire was based on the Matters in Media Art Installations Specification Template (Installations Specification Template. See: ) and the Preservation section of the EAI Online Resource Guide for Exhibiting, Collecting & Preserving Media Art (see: ).
  • 6. See:
  • 7. DAT stands for Digital Audio Tape. It is a sound medium developed by Sony in the mid-eighties. The DAT cassette is about half the size of the normal music cassette. The sound signal recording is digital rather than analogue. Using a DAT, at 16 bits one can record at a higher, equal or lower sampling rate (48, 44.1 or 32 kHz respectively) than a CD. DAT was used mainly by professionals and never really broke through onto the consumer market. Moreover, after the appearance of the Minidisc, some DAT users moved to this cheaper but lesser quality alternative. Sony has not produced any more DAT devices since the end of 2005.
  • 8. In response to the emergence of the Super-VHS format, Sony Video introduced Hi8 (abbreviation for high-band Video8). Hi8 is an improved version of Video8. The tapes are the same size and shape as Video8. The difference is that tape containing metal particles is used, which enables recording at a higher resolution. It is an analogue format. It has a resolution of 420 horizontal lines, which is a substantial improvement on Video8 tapes. This format fell into disuse when MiniDV and Digital8 appeared.
  • 9. Jan Mot is the owner of his eponymous gallery in Brussels which, in addition to Manon de Boer, also represents artists including Pierre Bismuth, Rineke Dijkstra, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Douglas Gordon, David Lamelas and Sharon Lockhart.
  • 10. Deimantas Narkevičius (1964) is a Lithuanian artist who is primarily known for his films and videos. A recurring theme in his work is history, which he views from a subjective and contemporary viewpoint. Using interviews, archive material, animations and photography, he focuses on authentic and existentially coloured biographical experiences. He exposes historiographical processes and evokes questions on cultural identity on the basis of contemporary themes. In his work, Narkevičius makes use of technical anachronism by deliberately opting for aged attributes such as cameras and recording material from the communist era. In doing so, he creates an aesthetic which does not correspond to the age in which he himself lives but which reflects the age in which the events depicted in the image take place. Like Manon de Boer, he is represented by, amongst others, the Jan Mot gallery in Brussels.
  • 11. Jon Ippolito is assistant professor of New Media at the Univeristy of Maine (USA). Together with Joline Blais, he is the author of the book At the Edge of Art. He collaborates with the Variable Media Network on creating new conservation paradigms for digital culture. He has held exhibitions for the Guggenheim Museum on virtual reality and Nam June Paik.
  • 12. The term Standard Definition (SD) refers to a picture resolution of 480 lines (for NTSC) or 576 lines (for PAL). The term resolution means the number of lines that make up the video picture (horizontal rows of visual information).
  • 13. The term High Definition (HD) at present refers to video formats whose resolution is higher than Standard Definition (SD). There are currently two resolutions for HD: 1080 and 720.
logo vlaamse overheid