JOHN HANHARDT: Good morning. My name is John Hanhardt; I’m Senior Curator of Film and Media Arts, and it’s indeed a great pleasure for me to welcome you to the opening of this symposium, Echoes of Art: Emulation as a Preservation Strategy. And it was here in the Peter B. Lewis Theater three years ago that we held the conference Preserving the Immaterial, a conference on variable media. And the papers collected from that day-long gathering were collected and published, and I want to bring to everyone’s attention this remarkable, and I think very important resource, a publication identifying the variety of concerns and challenges that we face as curators, artists and conservators concerned with preserving the intentions of artists and artworks created in a variety of media and materials, forms and formats of presentation. The evidence of the research and experience of artists, conservators, media researchers and curators collected through the Variable Media Network and organized within the questionnaire developed by the museum’s Variable Media Task Force clearly identified a complex of strategies whose goal was to preserve and maintain the extraordinary history of late-twentieth century art. We face the challenge of preserving histories and contemporary art practices as they increasingly become vulnerable through changes in technology, a situation that’s been made more visible as this artwork is increasingly being made part of museum collections and exhibitions, reflecting, in both instances, new interest and research in those histories, and an interest in linking this work to contemporary art practices. I feel very privileged to have a really special group of colleagues here at the museum, from whom I have learned and who have given enormous energy, intelligence and innovative thinking - part of my performance strategy—to the challenges of maintaining artworks in the Guggenheim Museum collection. Recent exhibitions from our permanent collection, including Moving Pictures and the current Singular Forms, indicate the range and depth of our holdings in artwork from the past four decades, including much work employing non-traditional media; a collection whose importance has provoked a curatorial response to identifying and formulating means and strategies for preserving and maintaining these diverse artworks. It has been a unique challenge to a very special group of professional colleagues. And I want first to acknowledge the leadership of Jon Ippolito, Associate Curator of Media Arts, for his development of a sophisticated model for gathering and identifying strategies for preserving the immaterial. And one thing that has been central to Jon’s thinking and actions has been an openness to discussion, making available information and points of view, and thus creating a dynamic and open discourse of sharing and learning, very much at the heart of this project. And this philosophy has really animated this project from its very beginning, and including the formulation of the variable media questionnaire, and the in depth series of case studies pursued by the museum.
I also wanted to cite Carol Stringari, our Senior Conservator of Contemporary Art. And I have to say that in all my years of working in a number of major museums, Carol has really been the most open and receptive conservator to the challenges presented by media artists and curators. And she and her department have been really essential to this undertaking, in developing our case study investigations, and provided real leadership. And the other person I want to thank is Caitlin Jones, who has contributed in every aspect of this under— undertaking. Her energy and attention to all aspects of a complex set of institutional challenges and working closely with the artists has been a key ingredient in solving problems and organizing this exhibition and conference.
The opening of the exhibition Seeing Double: Emulation in Theory and Practice, and today’s symposium brings a new dimension of focus and definition to the Variable Media Network. You know, we’ve been hearing about the challenges and problems we face with the complex array of new and old media; but it is important—I think absolutely necessary—to present a set of solutions on concrete cases of problem solving. Thus, following the first stage of our project in our last conference, we are now presenting and testing solutions. I want to express my great appreciation to all of today’s participants in this symposium and to the artists whose work is on view in the Thanhauser Annex level three gallery. And I also want to thank our partners in Archiving the Avant Garde, who have contributed very importantly to this process. The artists’ willingness to participate and contribute so generously of their time and energy has been critical to the success of this undertaking. This exhibition and symposium, then, is really a strategic step in advancing the issues and debate, and again, fulfills the hallmarks of the Variable Media Network: to provide innovative solutions, constructing new paradigms to gather data, and methods for best capturing the artist’s intention and experience of the original presentation of an installation, performance, as well as the construction and deployment of the temporal moving image.
I believe that what we are doing today is of really enormous importance, and will be seen as such in the future. This project represents a challenge to curators and historians, as it provides a means to give full attention to historical and contemporary art practices as a complex of art making strategies that move through different media and materials. To see film, video and new media in the exhibition Seeing Double, alongside the other art in our galleries, furthers our appreciation of film and the media arts, and the moving image’s importance to twentieth century art as it has impacted on all the arts and become art forms themselves. As I look at that history and to today’s symposium, I’m reminded of how artists absorb and transform technologies, refashioning them into artist tools that provide us with new ways to see and represent ourselves and the world around us.
Now to— in achieving this project and this multi-year undertaking, and generating this quality of research requires financial support. And the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science and Technology is really an extraordinary organization that provides real leadership an innovative thinking in response to the challenges of making available important histories and the ideas and works of many artists. Their preservation, archival educational— education program, which I’ve admired for many years, is marked by its openness and readiness to innovate and make their materials available to a new generation of artist, scholar and researcher. Not only financially, but conceptually, they’ve been a real partner in this project; and I want to thank Jean Gagnon, the foundation’s director of programs, and Alain Depocas, who’s director of the Center for Research and Documentation, for their efforts on behalf of this undertaking, including the publishing of the book and— with the Guggenheim Museum—which I will show to you again; there we are—and making this project and symposium a success. And before welcoming Jean Gagnon, I want to acknowledge the National Endowment for the Arts for their generous support of today’s symposium. So thanks to all of you, our guests, our participants. Well, we’re all participants in this project. And I think that’s what’s really important. And it’s going to be an ongoing one, and we look to what everyone is going to contribute. So it’s my pleasure to welcome Jean Gagnon. Please. Thank you. (applause)
JEAN GAGNON: Thank you, John. I’m very happy to be here. And this event and this exhibition is somewhat the conclusion of our partnership with the Guggenheim on the Variable Media Network. It’s been about two years of work, and I followed the project a bit remotely; but my colleague, Alain Depocas, was working closing with all these people that John mentioned: Jon Ippolito, Caitlin, Carol Stringari. And as far as I can tell, it seems that it’s been a good working relationship. And so for the foundation, the Daniel Langlois Foundation, this issue of preservation of non-traditional media arts is, since the beginning, since our creation seven years ago, this issue was really at the core of our preoccupation. And we were really happy the day we got the proposal from Jon Ippolito, because at once, we had— for once, we had a real proposal that was proposing challenging ideas. And at times, I know that the variable media concept is— can be contested or discussed; but I think it’s the nature of these things to be discussed and debated. So I look forward for your debate today.
The last thing I would like to tell you is that the Daniel Langlois Foundation is now embarking on a vast research project on this very question, with partners—mostly in Canada [at] this time. The National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Center for Architecture are involved; a coup— some universities, like McGill University, the Université de Montréal, and other such institutions. And so for us, the whole issue will continue to be a very important research topic. And obviously, we’ll be, I guess, keeping in touch with our American counterparts on this issue. So I wish you a good day of debate, and I’m here to listen and learn. So have a good day. (applause)
CAROL STRINGARI: Good morning to all of you. Thank you so much for attending this symposium in relation to the exhibition Seeing Double, which hopefully, you have had a chance to see. And if you haven’t, there will be time today to go up and see the exhibition. There are many, many people to acknowledge: the Daniel Langlois Foundation and all of my colleagues here at the Guggenheim; and also all of the artists and people sitting at this table, who have been a delight to work with.
Our goal in the variable media initiative has been to work in a very interdisciplinary mode with people from various departments, and very closely with the artists. Our museum has a very firm commitment to the collection of contemporary art, and we have acquired numerous conceptual works, installation works, and most recently, a very large body of media, time-based works—film, video, electronic works. And that has created a need for a project such as this, for us to reevaluate our museum policies, our acquisition policies. We who work in the conservation profession have looked at conservation issues that are relatively insolvable, and we often put things on the shelf, and we discuss and we think and we talk and debate. That’s a very healthy thing, and many times, less is more, and we don’t do anything, because the piece is in a good climate and although we haven’t treated a certain problem we may perceive, it’s not deteriorating.
In the case of many of these electronic works, that isn’t, in fact, true. What I was faced with when we acquired a very large collection of media-based works was to do something fairly quickly.. I’m actually trained as a fairly traditional paintings conservator, but I realize that our role as conservators is constantly changing; the conservator has stopped being the police, (laughs) and has become more a participant in the process of understanding the critical spirit of a work. We have a number of people at the table who are not even involved so closely in the art world, so you have to develop a lexicon, a language to speak to these people, and to come up with a plan that will address many different things, from the presentation of a work to the understanding of the essence of the work, to the actual physical object and how it’s maintained and brought forward in the life of a work.
We have at the table Grahame Weinbren and Roberta Friedman, who are the creators of The Erl King, which is the early 1982 interactive video work, which you see up in the gallery. This particular panel is going to focus on The Erl King as a test case and prototype emulation project. Between Grahame and Roberta, we have Isaac Dimitrovsky, who is a computer programmer, and actually worked very closely with us and was brains behind the emulation process. Jeff Rothenberg, who is also a computer engineer at Rand, and has been a consultant from the very outset of the project. He has been extremely influential in the process, and has a very deep understanding of the artwork, and is very sensitive to the issues. And we have invited several colleagues from various institutions, who are dealing with many of the same issues that we have, and have developed programs and policies, and are working within their own museums, grappling with these issues, and have come up with some very creative and wonderful solutions. And that’s Pip Laurenson, from the Tate, who is the Sculpture Conservator for Electronic Media and Kinetic Art. And Jill Sterrett, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, who is the Chief Conservator and Director of Collections. And at the end, we have our very own Caitlin Jones, who, funded by the Daniel Langlois Foundation, has worked on every aspect of the variable media initiative and project, and is an invaluable resource for all of these things.
We’re going to discuss The Erl King, how this whole process developed. But I want, first of all, to ask the artists to give you sort of an overview of what the piece is, what the philosophical underpinnings are, and how one gets to the essence of the work. In my opinion, this is where, conservation or preservation always begins, because no one can make a decision without understanding the work. Years and years ago, when conservation used to be something that was done in secret in the laboratory or a studio, where people weren’t discussing things, I think misinterpretations were made, and people did things—very well-intentioned treatments—that maybe, compromised the intention of a work. And those of us who work on older things have seen series of restorations, in a history of interventions with works, some successful, others not so successful. I think it’s important that we talk about the success or failure of all of these projects. And in some ways, we feel that the exhibition upstairs is a test bed for these things, but it’s also a provocation. Because a lot of us have been flying all over the world, talking about issues and wringing our hands, and so we basically decided we were going to jump in and open ourselves up to whatever criticism - so that we can really raise the issue of how to go about doing this, and how successful it is, what the process is, and who’s involved.
We had asked Isaac, after this long, arduous process of emulating The Erl King, to write us a report—because that’s what conservators do, we write very detailed reports about what we do, and the rationale behind what we do. And we asked Isaac to do the same. And he produced an amazing document, when is extremely useful So I just wanna read his summation of this project.
“To sum up, I would advocate a pragmatic development approach that recognizes that each preserving project will require its own set of techniques and compromises. Since some of these will not be anticipated in advance, I think the best process for this type of project would be, as a rule, a relatively free-flowing one, involving developers, conservators, and if possible, the original artists. For those familiar with software development jargon, this would be in the extreme programming category—a flexible, iterative process, using partial releases and repeated feedback—as opposed to the waterfall approach, a more rigidly planned process.” And in fact, you’re going to see, through this discussion, that that is, in fact, what this has been. So I’m gonna turn this over to Grahame and Roberta, and they’re gonna give you a review of the piece.
GRAHAME WEINBREN: Let me say, first of all, since we’re all giving each other compliments, (laughter) this is the first… I mean, we’ve never had a piece preserved before, or conserved, or whatever you call it. And I would imagine that it might be quite difficult. But there was not a moment of conflict or difficulty through this whole process—which I think is… I imagine this must be unusual. I’m not sure, but I would imagine it would be. The only thing that would keep coming up is Carol would keep saying to us, “You didn’t change that, did you? You didn’t— you didn’t make that better, did you?” ’Cause, of course, the piece is twenty years old, and one would like to make things better. And we didn’t. We didn’t change… In fact, we worked very hard to make the emulation match the original in every way it possibly could.
But what I’d like to talk about is some of the ideas that go into The Erl King. Roberta and I collaborated on a series of experimental films during the 1970s. We’re filmmakers. And I think we’re gonna show you a part of one of these films in a little while. In fact, you can probably start it as I talk.
The issues that were interesting to us as filmmakers was really the question of how to break out of the linearity of the film strip; how to make a piece that could deal with many different kinds of time simultaneously, instead of being limited by the physical shape of the filmstrip, as most films are. So we developed a series of strategies as filmmakers, which address this issue. And the part of the film we’re gonna show while I’m talking, it’s called Future Perfect, which was made in our studio—in the mid-seventies sometime. And it’s an algorythmic film. It (Sounds) addresses a number of questions about the time in cinema. It looks forward from the point of view of when the film was made to the time when these marks, that were made by hand on the film. So as a viewer, one is both put back to the time of production, the time of shooting, and looking forward from that time, to the time past that, when we added the marks to it; and now, of course, looking back on those two simultaneous times. So it’s a very kind of conceptual project, but in this process, generates a kind of musical cinematic rhythm that we didn’t control, but were controlled by these mathematical series. So the idea is that we have a number of decreasing series, which generate the marks on the film, and they interact with each other so that you get different kinds of rhythms and different kinds of times. Each series meets— they get closer and closer together, so they get to be less than one, around the same time in the film. And you’ll see this happen. It was these ideas of trying to break out of this kind of linearity of cinema that, when interactivity came along, really gave us the idea that it would be possible to explore these cinematic ideas in a different way, by actually making something where the viewer could experience the different kinds of cinema— or where we could develop a non-linear structure that the viewer could explore and expose that.
WEINBREN: And so what we did is -- We really knew nothing about computers or anything. But we kind of learned what we needed to know, with a lot of help from a lot of different people, including all my brothers, to develop a system of equipment that would allow the viewer to have a kind of cinematic experience. It was a literal breaking out of the linearity of the filmstrip. So in The Erl King, there’s a number of interrelated stories. And as a viewer, whenever you touch the screen, it kind of streams off into another story. And we looked for very cinematic structures. For example, we needed the idea of an edit where the sound could continue, while the images could change; so you get the sense of both simultaneous continuity and interruption. And in order to do that, we found out, we needed to have three laserdisc players, so that the sound could come from one, while the images could come from the other two. And we needed a video switcher to control this. And then we needed a computer program and et cetera, et cetera. So the system was kind of built up out of these very specific needs that were fundamentally cinematic. Think I’ll stop there. Unless you have anything.
FRIEDMAN: Well, in the case of The Erl King, is there are two windows in The Erl King, where the original equipment is visible in the original, and then also, there’s a window showing the emulated equipment. This, in fact, was never visible in any of the iterations of the piece. Here you have the original on your right, and the emulated version on your left. And if you can imagine not being able to see any of that equipment…
The piece has been shown a number of times, and in each case, the actual installation— the presentation of the piece has been different, in terms of the physical construction. However, there were certain key points and key issues that had to be retained. And you might wanna talk about that.
WEINBREN: Well, first of all, kind of staying in line with the cinematic idea, we didn’t want there to be any sign of equipment. We simply wanted there to be images. We didn’t want any hardware. So we discovered the touch screen. So it would be a touch screen with two sets of images, and the person who was using the touch screen would kind of have to be isolated from everybody else, because it was supposed to be a private experience; but at the same time, it was important that there be viewers who could see what that person was doing, so they could learn the interface—kind of like a videogame arcade. So the idea was there would be a kind of a private, isolated space for the individual viewer, and a kind of public viewing space. And that was one of the parameters that went into all of the different constructions. And I must say, we were always looking for the right kind of presentation of it, that didn’t speak too loudly about itself—because it wasn’t a piece of sculpture, it was a piece of cinema that kept these particular parameters about the private space and the public space.
STRINGARI: These changing installation requirements, which are decided with the artist, is also another thing that challenges our notions of the original and what that means. We’ve come up with a design in this gallery, which worked with this particular space, I don’t think that the intention—you might correct me if I’m wrong—is that this becomes now the static piece that cannot change, in terms of the installation.
And that unfortunately, as it’s very difficult for us to get our minds around that within institutions and museums, because we purchase or acquire things that have a physical form, and they may or may not be rigid specifications. And how one defines the parameters of change and what someone can change, once you cannot discuss that with the artist, is something that we find challenging. We don’t want someone doesn’t go through the file and see the image Jewish Museum from 1984 and then that’s the only image that they have, so they very accurately reproduce it like that. Because that becomes somewhat an arbitrary decision, if you don’t know the sort of whole life of the piece, and how it’s evolved over time.
WEINBREN: There is something I’d like to add to that, actually. I mean as experimental filmmakers there was a kind of subversive quality to our installations. I mean, we wanted to use plumbing pipe in the Whitney Museum, for example. We were looking for ways to kind of undercut the preciousness of museum culture. Which actually, the Guggenheim staff encouraged us to do here. You know, these pieces are made out of cardboard, you know, rather than some kind of precious, beautiful material. So, I mean, this was another parameter that we stuck with.
STRINGARI: Within the sort of broader context of the variable media project, we define emulation as recreating the look and feel of a specific thing, of a specific object or installation, by other means. And that is a very broad definition. It’s not so different from sort of our traditional methodology in conservation, where if you’re in painting, a loss in a painting, you fill in that loss with a reversible medium that, you know, simulates what’s around it, but it is reversible, and it creates the look and feel of the work. but it’s in a different medium. So what we’re doing with an emulation continues that kind of tradition. But emulation in the computer engineering field has a very specific definition, and I thought I might ask Jeff to speak to that.
JEFF ROTHENBERG: The concept of emulation, the way I like to define it, which is, I think, very close to what Carol just said, is that an emulator is something is something that impersonates something else. So it serves the function of it, to as much of an extent as possible, invisibly, so that you’re not aware that you’re not seeing or interacting with the original thing. It can mean a lot of different things. You can use a physical machine, a piece of hardware, to do what a different piece of hardware does, and that’s a piece of hardware emulating another piece of hardware; or you can use a program to do what some other program does, and that’s a piece of software emulating software; or you can use hardware to emulate software, or software to emulate hardware. So there are four alternatives, depending on which piece you’re using to replace which other piece. And each of those has its place. But in this context, I think the intent really, when you boil it down, is to try to get away from having to preserve physical hardware, because that’s the stuff that decays on the shelf and ultimately becomes unmaintainable. You can’t buy more of it; it’s very difficult to rebuild it or re-engineer it or repair it. I know Grahame collects the videodisc players on Ebay to try to have spare parts to keep the original of The Erl King running. And eventually, that process becomes untenable— either too expensive or just impossible. So what we were hoping to do with emulation in this case was to use software to replace as much of the hardware as possible. That’s really the basic concept. Because software is just a bunch of, if you will, words, or bits in the digital medium, which can be saved indefinitely and reproduced without error. And hardware, on the other hand, ages and becomes obsolete. Now, the only trick with all of this, of course, is that the program that you write to emulate has to run on some computer. So you ultimately have to find a way of making it work on future computers. And that’s what we’ve done in this case. But I’d like to, I think, define emulation as broadly almost as Carol did, saying that it’s a way of using one component or aspect of a computer system to recreate or reproduce the behavior of a different component of a different system.
STRINGARI: Thank you. What I would like to do is ask Isaac who brilliantly orchestrated this emulation, to give us just sort of an outline of what are the recreated components. And there were a number of computer programmers who just weren’t willing to touch it, because it was far too complex and it wasn’t a straight forward emulation, in that we’re emulating hardware, but we’re also emulating software, and there’s number of different components to it. Isaac actually had to write an interpreter for the source code, which we were very insistent did not change, because that’s something that we’re discussing constantly in this digital realm of artists who are using code. You’ll see this afternoon, with John Simon’s work, that the code is actually a certain poetry. And so what we asked Isaac to do is find a way to preserve that intact. And if you’d like to just tell us a little bit about how you thought about doing that.
DIMITROVSKY: Yeah. I guess my experience with it began when I took a look at the original piece, which was running in Grahame’s studio. And I have to say, I was amazed at how well it was running, considering the age of all the hardware. I don’t know if I’m being nostalgic now, but I think there’s no way that the hardware that’s made today will last this long from now. I mean, I think the quality of the hardware and the software back then was, in my opinion, superior to what we have now. So I took a look at that. I mean, the timeline that we had available for the development was very compressed. So… (laughter) One of the first things I noticed was that there was source code available for the piece, which was in a relatively clean and self-contained state. So the original plan had called for emulation of the host computer at the object code level. I don’t wanna get too technical, but that’s essentially emulating the complete computer and operating system, which I thought was a interesting approach, but not feasible in the time that we had. So I proposed that we write an interpreter for the particular program that was running The Erl King, which would still allow us to preserve the source code unchanged, but would be less work than recreating the entire sort of environment that it ran in. Another part of the background, that this piece consisted of an authoring system, which actually allowed the artists to edit the piece, and the display system, which is what you actually see running.
WEINBREN: Well, this is another thing that actually would drive the conservators crazy, that one of the points for us about The Erl King was that we had an authoring system which we could change for each installation. So there was never an original piece, because each time we had a new installation we would update the authoring system. We couldn’t change the video, ’cause the video was already encoded on laserdiscs. But we could change the pathways through the video. And so one of the things that was important that Isaac do was that he make it possible for us to go on using the authoring system in such a way that the piece could be updated each time it was shown. So not only did the installation change, but also the pathways through the piece.
DIMITROVSKY: Ok. Yeah, so I guess that was the first step, which was getting the authoring system recreated, which went fairly smoothly. Now, the next step was where we started encountering a bunch of issues—which I think are fairly general, with regard to this kind of preservation—and they had to do with all the external devices that this computer was controlling, which included the laserdisc players, the video switcher, the touch screen. I think it’s likely that any other preservation projects would also have these issues. With video art, you’re likely to have external devices actually playing the video. And if there’s any interaction, those are likely to be controlled by user interface devices. So part of the work of preservation is figuring out all the control— you know, how the computer interacts with all these devices. And in particular, for this work, I think the video player was a major piece—which it turned out we sort of had to, for a variety of technical reasons, it turned out to be desirable to do that ourselves. So we had to figure out the protocols for controlling the switching, et cetera. One interesting thing was that— I was also pretty amazed by is how powerful just stock PCs are now. I found that basically, a regular old PC has the ability to play completely uncompressed video, using freely available software tools like open source, which I think is pretty interesting, from the point of view of anyone who’s approaching preserving digital video art or digital film. So that was one interesting aspect, that we were able to have on a regular PC, we were able to do this completely, play completely uncompressed video streams—in fact, play several at once, because this piece requires that we switch between concurrently playing streams without any delay.
WEINBREN: Can I just add something about the delay, which I think is something that is very interesting. One of the things about The Erl King is that there are a number of delays that are built in for mechanical reasons. It takes a certain amount of time for the laserdisc to find a frame; there’s the speed of communication between the touch screen and the computer. It’s a eight megahertz computer with 64K of memory. It’s small. So all of these delays were built into the system. Of course, when we were making it originally, as filmmakers, we worked with all these delays and made them kind of speak. And when Isaac first finished this and he presented us the emulated piece, there were no delays. And the piece kind of felt like a sort of porridge. You know, everything happened immediately; you couldn’t tell if you were doing anything. So the next step Isaac had to do, was to rebuild in all of the kind of mechanical delays that were in the original system, ’cause the digital system didn’t have them. And that was kind of very interesting. And I wonder if there’s not something generalizable out of that point.
DIMITROVSKY: Yeah, I think there definitely is. Actually… I mean, it would be more accurate to say that there was sort of a whole set of different delays, depending on what particular mechanical part of the system you encountered, so it could vary from almost instant to, say, a second or two, depending on… So that did have to be figured out and duplicated.
STRINGARI: I think on a very basic level, this is extremely important, because as you’re talking about migrating things forward and obviously, we have faster processors and better technology. And this whole idea of then programming in the sort of idiosyncrasies of an earlier technology is not unusual. I’ve seen, for example, Tanguelys which have motors that move parts. And the motor has died, and people have put on a new motor and at one point, the parts were moving like this, and now they’re (laughs) like this, and no one ever thought about it; they just put them back in the galleries with their new motors moving at this incredible pace. So, you know, all of these external devices and what they’re doing have to be looked at very carefully, in terms of pacing and I think Grahame and Isaac very faithfully looked at all of those things.
ROTHENBERG: Carol, can I interject something here, too? I think this is an interesting example of how any recreation, whether it’s digital or not, needs to worry about, you know, a range of attributes of the original—or dimensions, if you will. And some of them are obvious. You know, color and size and shape and things like that, depending on what the work is. But what we’re talking about here is that for any temporal work, there is this question of, first of all, the speed, and the smoothness, and pacing. And there are a lot of issues that pertain to the temporality. Similarly, sound, there are sound effects as, you know, side effects, as well as intended sounds, like the clicking noise of projectors that a lot of people like in their films. And so I think, you know, one of the things this exemplifies is that we need to start defining or identifying what those different dimensions are that we need to be concerned about. And then depending on the approach, you decide, you know, how faithful you want to be, how extreme you’re going to be, in order to be faithful to those dimensions. But I think this is an excellent example of that sort of thing.
WEINBREN: Well, one of the points about this that’s particularly interesting is I think what gave us the most difficulty in emulating this piece, were things that we didn’t think about in the original. I mean, everything that we kind of planned and thought about carefully when we made the original analog piece were pretty much there in the emulated version. The things that kind of came with the system—like the fact that it was very easy to have one screen that did have text and one that didn’t, for example, ’cause it was part of the original system; or the— the fact that you would freeze the video— it was very easy to freeze the video, it was built into the system. Those kinda came with the system, and we didn’t think about them much, we just used them. But then they had to be quite specifically recreated in the digital system. And it’s almost a paradox to me that what was un-thought about in the original had to be very carefully considered and rebuilt in the emulation.
STRINGARI: Another thing what we struggled with was also the format of the video. The videodisc players were able to do things that— as an analog medium, that they could encode each frame, and you could search those frames and decide exactly where you wanted to go, because each frame could be encoded. And we talked endlessly about what digital format we were going to use for the digital version. And actually, Isaac came up with the idea, to actually save each and every image as a bitmapped file. So it’s a totally uncompressed file. We lost none of the information. And it’s a file that can be then accessed by many different means. And he actually wrote a program to replay that as video. And it will be very easy, then, for us to migrate that forward. But maybe you can talk about the playback.
DIMITROVSKY: Yeah, well, I mean, that was kind of unexpected, that the PC would have the speed to be able to just play a completely uncompressed set of images like that. But I thought it was worth a try so, you know, we went ahead and did that. And it turned out to be feasible.
STRINGARI: I would like to first ask Jeff if he would respond to having spent some time with the original and the digital version, since you were the first you made us the first proposal for how to go about preserving this. Maybe react to— to what you saw, and how the experience was for you?
ROTHENBERG: Sure. Yesterday was the first time that I really sat down at the original and played with the screen, as well as the new version. It was one of those instances, for me, of having conceptualized something and gone away and had somebody else actually build it. And you come back and see it, and you think: “Oh, my God, this actually worked. How delightful.” So it was really fun for me. And I thank you, Isaac, for (laughs) bringing that to fruition. I’d like to stress that , I think everyone here would agree—that the fact that the emulated version is digital is really quite profoundly irrelevant. We don’t really care about that. The only reason it is digital is that that happens to be the current mode in which it’s easy produce things, and that having done that, we have this advantage that perhaps it will last a little bit better than physical hardware would. Although there certainly is hardware involved. So when I played with the two of them, I was sort of trying to ignore what I knew about how they were implemented, and simply get a sense of how they felt and how they looked. My impression was that it was really very, very successful. I mean, I think the experience is very much the same—with the one caveat that— that Carol mentioned, which is that we have physical windows that allow you to see the hardware and the two machines, and that’s sort of an esoteric aspect of the exhibit, which I realize was a choice; and one might argue that you really should’ve hidden the hardware, because it wasn’t the point of the exercise. On the other hand, if you hid the hardware, the two versions are so similar that people would just say, “Well, why have you got two of these?” And, you know, “What are we looking at? What’s the point?” (laughter) Which is really…
STRINGARI: They’ve said that anyway. (laughter)
ROTHENBERG: I had a colleague years ago, a computer scientist, who used to say, “The way you know that you’ve built a computer system right for users is if you ask them about it, you say, you know, ‘What do you think of this?’ and they say, ‘Eh, it’s ok.’” (laughter) You know, if they don’t… “It’s fine, you know? Leave me alone. I got work to do.” I mean,, it doesn’t excite them, it doesn’t thrill them, it doesn’t annoy them; it’s just there, and it does what they expect it, and that’s fine. And so I felt, to some extent, that way about the emulation. I just felt like: Well, this really does an amazingly good job. And that was my reaction.
STRINGARI: Thank you. I’m gonna open this up to my colleagues. We’re in the trenches, and we’re expected to preserve collections and make decisions and have responsibility for these works. And I want to also raise the notion of nostalgia and historical context and issues about what are the ethics of our profession? And how far do we go in retaining every component that may or may not be the essence of the piece? I, as a conservator, look at that bank of videodisc players and the early SMC-70 computer, and I just feel like somebody is gonna really want to see that at some point in the future, and is gonna feel very excited about it. From Grahame’s standpoint, that is not the piece. There is an argument to be made that that is a disposable portion of this piece. And we struggle with that concept. And how far do you go to keep something like that alive? Do we actually have the means to keep something like that alive? And is it worth it, if you can retain the look and feel of the piece by an emulation such as this? And I would like to hear if they’ve had similar projects, how they’ve responded to this particular project and, you know, have them give us some insight into what they do.
One of the things I wanna say is that the idea of bringing the artist into the process is not something new; it’s an important part of the process. However, everyone that works in the conservation field, I think has a horror story, where you bring in the artist and they say, “Well, you know, I really wanna repaint that work,” or, “I didn’t really like it when I sold it to you, and now I want it to be— I want it to be a sculpture, (laughter) .” You now are the caretaker of a piece, and the historical context, and where it was when it was purchased. So we have to weigh and measure what information we get from the artist.
LAURENSON: Well, I think the first thing is that it is wonderful to have an exhibition in a gallery which talks about some of these things that happen behind the scenes, and have an opportunity for a dialogue. And I think that what we’ve seen through the context of this project and other projects that have been going on around the world is that we’re developing some texture and depth to the space in between the ideas. Where you would think it was appropriate to preserve every aspect of these complex systems, and the other sort of extreme flip of that, which is to try and reframe these works as if there is no connection with some sense of the medium in which the artist was working. And so I think it’s that space in between those two poles that I think is really interesting for us at this point.
Where it affirms our conservator’s training and approach is that each case is different. And I think that what we’re looking at is the identity of the work. And that dialogue about the relationship between the equipment and some notion of the equipment and the technology as being part of an expanded idea of the medium, I think is really pertinent, in terms of the sorts of decisions you make; in terms of what it is you’re trying to preserve. And I think we see this very clearly The Erl King. And I think that where I was very interested in this idea of the texture that is being fed back into the digital. There is a sort of notion here that we’re losing some authenticity in the connection. And I would love to have Grahame’s response about whether there’s anything important about that link that needs to be retained, that you’ve lost. You know. Maybe even from a museum point of view. I think that this dialogue between the artist and the museum is a really interesting one, because we’re working with quite a different range of values here. There’re sort of layers of it.
WEINBREN: For me, the answer is no. And that’s why I wanted to present kind of some of the cinematic background to this. For me, it’s about moving images and ways to navigate through them. And, you know, the whole development of the technology was to deal with those problems. And if we can do it without a-hundred-and-four cables, I couldn’t be more for it. Yes, I mean, the font’s not quite right. And I never thought about the font in the original. You know? and I notice it, and I don’t know if that’s just because I’ve exhibited this piece thirty times and I’ve seen it, but I suspect that that is the reason that I’m aware that the font’s not quite right. But it really has to do with Roberta’s and my attitude towards making this work. You know, we came to it as image makers, not as people who had any interest in any of the other technology. I’m sure that for someone else, who worked out of the equipment, the answer would be very different.
STRINGARI : Well, I know— we’ve had requests from Bruce Nauman, who originally worked in film, transferred to video, to put the soundtrack of the film behind the video. So that kind of thing happens. And as you say, it is a case by case. You certainly wouldn’t do that with everything.
FRIEDMAN : Well, I think Jeff made that point much earlier: to decide when you look at the piece, what elements are the most critical to emulate. You know, without destroying the whole sense of the piece. And I think it was successful in this case.
STERRETT: Actually, that’s a perfect point for me to jump in, because I think that I wanted to echo that point that Jeff made. I think maybe the thing that strikes me as the most critical kind of seminal first step in planning is to understand clearly what the criteria is for success; you know, what it is that is gonna make, you know, the work live on. And I know that I personally, in my capacity as Director of Collections at SFMOMA I’m most interested in our process of decision making, and most interested in the way this example of working together forges new territory in museums; and the way in which the art itself may be shifting that whole notion of a museum. And I wanted to actually tell you all about a conversation recently that we had with Robert Irwin, where he reminded us, really, that a museum is a tool; it’s a tool for understanding. And we made it. And the art itself asks us to occasionally shift the construct that we use. And I think we’re in the process, right here, of seeing this happen. And there are a number of places where there are rubs every day. Conservators are used to doing their job in a certain way. I think we do our best to forestall change at all costs. And that has actually worked in many instances. What happens in the latter part of the twentieth century, when our successes will really be gauged by not how well we’ve forestall change, but how successfully we usher it in? I think when you look at the code of ethics that exists for the way that conservators work, you see that we are, in that code, asked to respond to the completed state of a work; that is, the artist’s completed state. What happens when we actually invite them in to participate in the treatment? Have we adjusted the completed state? What are we to do about those things?
LAURENSON: I think the only thing that I would just like to add is that, a contemporary art museum is a really complex idea (laughs) to start with, because you have two very different cultures working there. As a conservator, I’m employed to take the long view, and I’m employed to think about the historical aspect of the collection. And I think that’s important, to hang onto that perspective. I loose something in terms of somebody going to a museum and really being able to understand how radical these pieces were because they were made at a certain time, and because they were made with the limits of the technology that was available. And so if we think about Erl King and the point at which you were doing that, in an analog environment, in which you were working, that was quite an extraordinary achievement. You know. And I think that’s an important part of the of the museum and the art historical aspect of the collections, is to have a sense of just what artists were doing at that at a historical point.
WEINBREN: But it’s two different aesthetics, isn’t it? I mean, one is the museum as a kind of house of culture and history; and the other is the concept of the museum as a place of kind of living art that deals with artistic ideas. And I think there is a real conflict between those two things. I mean, artists are very conscious of that difference, always, you know. And I think it’s that conflict that you’re kind of pointing at, you know? We tend to fall on one side, and conservators, by the nature of their job, tend to fall on the other. I mean, what I like about this is that, you know, we’re all kind of meeting in the middle, you know.
JONES: Can I ask a question to you, Jill? You asked about the completed state of an artwork. I mean, I think what Grahame just said today is that every time he installed this, the used the authoring system to change it a little bit. I think maybe the idea of a completed artwork is problematic. I mean, how do you judge that? Is that at the moment it enters your museum? That’s the completed state?
STERRETT: Because it’s always better to, I think, illustrate points with real examples, I wanna throw out a couple things that we’re working on right now at SFMOMA, one technological, and one not, because maybe that’s a nice thing to do. We’re currently looking very closely at Julia Scher’s Predictive Engineering. The work was originally made in 1994—1993 or 1994. It was remade in 1998. And for those of you who aren’t familiar, I’ll just briefly summarize. Her work has very much to do with surveillance and she made an extraordinary installation that involves, actually, tape and footage that she made; but it also involves new footage that’s grabbed at the moment people walk into the building. And then all that information is remixed and fed into the galleries. What that means is, is that it’s constantly changing, it’s constantly updated. And we, in updating it in 1998, renamed it Predictive Engineering II. And five years later, we are revisiting the work right now. And this question of the completed state becomes a very, very complicated thing to negotiate, and one for which I think we’re pretty clear that there is no one completed state.
I think a shift that we’re seeing in museums is that if conservators are the ones who used to—or still do—sit in the studio or the laboratory and conduct treatments, it is a team effort. That is something that’s actually one of the shifts we see in museums, that you can’t it’s no longer possible for it to be one person’s job to do the treatment, for instance, of The Erl King. And the ability in museums for teams of experts—I think that is curators, registrars, installation crew, the artist, as we see here with Isaac, too, and Jeff—technological expertise that makes an important contribution to the success of the project. I think we’re beginning to see that we have to develop new ways or working within the structure of the museum.
STRINGARI: I think there is a shift, and I think it’s an important shift. I think working in a vacuum is very dangerous, especially with the range of works we’re dealing with today. No one can have information about every technology and every medium that’s out there. And by making decisions in a vacuum, you may end up with these sort of decontextualized, but very shiny (laughs) brand new fragments of an artwork. I think with conservation treatments, you can choose to act on something, you can choose not to act on something; but I think that there’s a whole range of possibilities for regret because, you may have chosen not to act and something has deteriorated. So we’re constantly weighing and measuring these things. And with these new technologies, it’s essential that we talk to other people, because most of us don’t have the background or the training to answer all of these questions. I think our role is to sort of guide this process of not losing historical context, and you know, if something is going to be altered in any way, shape or form, our mandate is to document that; and not only document that it’s changed, document the rationale behind the change, and who you were speaking to, and why you were speaking to them, why did you consider them the authority on such a topic?
LAURENSON: I want to bring another example to the table, where it’s about how we deepen our knowledge and our understanding; and it goes back to the notion of the identity of the work - what the work is and what we’re trying to preserve with aspects of the medium or aspects of the technology used. And I was reading a paper by Rosalind Krause about James Coleman’s work, Photograph, which, in the language of a very wonderful philosopher of music called Steven Davis, would be described as ‘thickly specified.’ He has this idea that you have thinly specified performances or installations, and thickly specified ones, which I think is very useful for us. And Coleman is somebody who’s very thickly specified; he’s very precise about the aspects of the technology and the environment and what he’s doing. And it just so struck me. She writes very eloquently about the relationship between the circular slide carousel and the work. And I thought: God, you know, it’s so important that we have the space and time within the museum to have that dialogue with the range of people who can draw our attention to those sorts of details. So it’s important that we make really informed decisions. And as Carol was saying, we can’t do that alone. We can’t do that alone, not just because of the depth of technical knowledge we need to understand the technical aspects, the more traditional physical medium of these pieces, but also because of the complexity of the identity of the works that we’re dealing with, and how they may or may not link to what might be instrumental, but also may be quite central to the identity of the work, in terms of the medium and the equipment.
STERRETT: You know, I wanted to jump back. Carol, you were talking about exhibition. I think it’s also interesting to me to think that contrary to, you know, earlier notions that display is bad for preservation, what we’re increasingly finding is that exhibition, display, those moments when a work is actually in the galleries, are really our greatest opportunity to do preservation, to actually understand a work. I think Grahame said that there was a certain capability to anticipate some things, but it was the stuff you couldn’t anticipate that was really very interesting. And the more opportunities that you have to actually work those things through, the more they’ll come to the surface. To illustrate this, I don’t know how many of you know the work of Sarah Sze; we had an installation in our atrium that was intended to be up for four months. And it turned out, that it was up for close to eighteen months, nearly two years—and blasted with light. All of the sort of textbook guidelines for display were being broken—for the preservation of this piece—when it turned out that it was actually the best thing we could’ve done, because it was the opportunity to invite the artist out, not once, but three times, to see how it was aging, let her weigh in on where those thresholds of ok and not ok were existing. That is something, then, that we can log in as part of our documentation. It allows us to actually inform those decisions down the road.
FRIEDMAN: I think being able to have this dialogue is incredible. I think Pip brought up a very interesting issue before. And that is, when I look at this piece, for me to see all the apparatus that goes with the presentation, with the old presentation, for me has enormous meaning. It was incredibly complicated to bring in this little guy in some Midland town in London, who— you know, we’re dealing with him over the telephone to put together the pieces that we needed to do what we wanted to do; and another person, who put together the switcher. Everything was really built for us. So I look at it and I say, “Wow. How can you not have that?” It does preserve the piece in a time, in a particular context—and probably way more for me or us than anybody else. However, it doesn’t change how the viewer responds to the piece. And in the end, that’s what it’s about. The piece works now beautifully, in the way we intended it to work.
LAURENSON: But this is interesting, because what you fed back in were the discernible kind of qualitative aspects of the technology that the viewer could encounter. You know, the things that the viewer felt was the delay, because on laserdiscs, you’ve got to find the frame, and the texture, which got fed back in. And I think there’s something very practical and very useful, in terms of how we analyze these works and what’s important to preserve, in that experience. And neither Jill nor I nor Carol work for a history of technology museum. And how responsible we need to be for the history of technology is actually a very difficult question. You know. And I don’t know if anybody in the audience is from a computer history museum or something like that, who feels that we need to take on some of these responsibilities. I mean, we were talking about this earlier. And what we’ve learned is that the barriers between disciplines are breaking down in response to these works
STRINGARI: It also brings up the whole question of resources and storage and mundane things of that sort, the idea of a museum where we could send that completely analog system, and they could maintain it, would be a wonderful thing. It would take a great burden off of the museum, because we would still have our piece, and its look and its feel, and everyone would be able to experience it; but yet we wouldn’t lose the historical context. And that’s, I think, where we struggle all the time, for example, framing… I know of many cases, where original frames that artists put on works were discarded, for various reasons, and then, you know, a whole new wave of concerns and curators and aesthetic decisions; everyone is searching for that original artist’s frame, and “Oh, my God, how could that possibly have been discarded? What were they thinking?” (laughter) So also don’t want to be in that position, where we’ve thrown everything away. (laughs)
LAURENSON: Well, and I think we can absolutely predict that people will become more interested in a notion of the authentic object, in terms of these works, than less.. And kind of part of our job is the— context.
WEINBREN: Well, there are a couple of problems here. I mean, one is just the functionality problem. In fact, I know that the original version of The Erl King does not work as well as it used to, and certainly doesn’t work as well as the emulated version for— the equipment’s wearing out. And it’s going to wear out. And, you know, if we want to think about the kinds of values that we brought to the piece, the emulated version, in fact, serves those better. I mean, there is the fact that Roberta was referring to that in the development of the piece, of course as artists, there was a real relationship to the materials, as one has with any work. You know, and a lot of the ideas of the piece came out of working with those very materials. But, I mean, I don’t know if I agree with that idea.
I mean, it’s a question for me. Is that relationship visible in the exhibition of the original piece? Or is it still visible when you go and look at the emulated piece? I mean, nobody knows, you know, like I do about the way that the SMC-70 displays text, or the way that text is wiped off the screen, and how we actually worked with that. We’ve emulated it; we’ve imitated it. So yes, you’re absolutely right, a lot of our ideas did, in fact, come out of relationships with the original material. And maybe there’s some kind of, you know, mystical aura when you look at the original piece that kind of exhibits that. But… I don’t think so.
STERRETT: You know, I have a question - is it feasible from a financial point of view, in your experience? Is it something that nonprofit institutions can— can really consider?
STRINGARI: Well, it’s an extremely important question. Again, resources. I mean, part of this exhibition is also to raise awareness about the fact that a lot of these very complex media works, if you have a commitment to collecting them, are going to require resources that we’re not accustomed to applying to works that are so new into the collection. Just the putting in motion a policy and a methodology for migrating obsolete formats forward is a whole new field for a contemporary art museum, and requires a whole new budget, and requires, staff and all of those things. And that is a reality that we have to face. The other thing is, is, you know, we were funded to do this project by the Langlois Foundation as a test bed. Now, The Erl King was an important historical work, and it had many different aspects and components of things that we were working with in other artworks. So it made a lot of sense, Although you won’t apply it completely to the preservation of another work, many of the problems that we resolved, or tried to resolve, are applicable to other things. So I think they were resources well spent, in this case; but how many works are gonna get this kind of attention? And who decides which works get the attention? I mean, we’re finding more and more that it’s basically exhibition driven, and if something is asked to be exhibited, that’s what gets the attention, and that’s what gets the resources applied to it. So this is also a discussion that has to be had at the level of the administration of a museum; what is your policy? And what are you applying your resources to? And is this practical? But I have to say, and maybe Caitlin wants to speak to this a little bit; we had a recent Paik exhibition, where trying to maintain the original equipment also requires a tremendous amount of energy, resources, and research; and in some cases, it’s totally unsuccessful, and you’ve done all of this, and tried all of this, and you’re gonna lose the piece anyway. So do you wanna speak to that a little bit?
JONES: Well, I think that’s exactly right. I mean, the money that goes into emulating something, the effort that goes into emulating something, is equal to the amount of energy, money and effort that goes into maintaining old equipment. And I think one thing that, like, Carol and Pip and Jill have always been saying is that it takes a lot of money, and time and energy to do a treatment of a painting too. Sometimes they’re working on something for six months to a year. I just think that the big question is, is that exactly institutions aren’t used to having to deal with these questions immediately. And the Nam June Paik exhibition that Carol’s talking about was a new commission, Global Groove 2004, that used some older technology; but this was a brand new work that we had to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of money, just to get this six-year-old equipment working, for a brand new piece. Before the work was even exhibited for the first time, we were having to deal with issues of conservation.
WEINBREN: I will probably be unpopular in saying this that these decisions — they’re curatorial decisions. It’s about what enters the canon. I mean, we’re thrilled that The Erl King is being preserved. Yes, it’s all the books; but it would be gone without this. So suddenly, it’s gained much more historical importance, because of the money that was put into it. But because it took so much money to do it, the number of works that can get this kind of treatment gets smaller and smaller
ROTHENBERG: Can I add a technological perspective? I think despite the fact that this obviously— this effort was something of a heroic undertaking, — the technological approaches, I think—particularly in the digital world—offer at least the potential that techniques can be developed that are somewhat generic. Now, there will always be special purpose, special aspects of an individual work—in particular, having to do with specialized hardware and specialized interfaces—that have to be dealt with. But for example, if you look at some of the other works in the show, which used off the shelf emulators to run on— on newer equipment, there’s a case where we didn’t pay for the cost of developing the emulator; it was an off the shelf product, which— you know, something like Virtual PC or SoftPC, which you can run on a Macintosh. That’s something which the market developed for us, and the museum was able to pick up and say, “Well, this happens to work quite well for running certain kinds of older artwork that happens to be emulatable that way.” So there are cases where you may be able to get a lot of leverage out of the commercial digital marketplace. And that has the potential, if we can sort of nudge those products in the right direction, or develop our own versions of them, that we might be able to apply this to a larger number of works for less heroic effort. So the first time you do something like this, you are in the position of rethinking the way the work is implemented, so that not only do you recreate the original, but you allow it to be recreated successively in the future, for less effort.
LAURENSON: You know, the Tate has four-hundred works of time-based media; every one is exhibitable. It’s something that museums all over the world are getting on with, making sure that these works can be shown. It does take a huge amount of commitment and resources and this proactive approach, where, exactly as Caitlin was saying, conservators are now getting involved sort of, you know, right at the point where things are being considered for acquisition, to think in terms of the long term. But you know, there are many people who are providing some really useful tools.
One of the things that I think is very important is to remain in touch with that whole scope of work that is being done, both in museums, but also in the independent media arts sector, and to really— for us to sort of tap into the range of expertise that is out there. And the reason that I think it’s worth saying is ’cause I remember having a conversation with somebody who was absolutely a computer person, and not a video person; so when they needed to synchronize DVDs, they went to really extravagant, extraordinary network solution, because they were computer people and that’s what they did. And they didn’t realize that in the video world, these things have been solved in another way, and it was very standard to be able to synchronize video; there were all sorts of solutions for that. It’s about recognizing the range of expertise that is already out there and being developed kind of world-wide, and the whole number of different strategies that I think are being developed and being used successfully in museums and institutions all over the world, you know.
STRINGARI: I would, unless anyone has anything to say, what I want to do is open this up to questions from the audience, because I realize that a number of curatorial issues have come up, and there may be some curators that may wanna weigh in, or anyone who wants to ask questions and…
JONES: Howard’s got his hand up.
HOWARD BESSER: I’d like to push it a little bit further on some of the things (inaudible) the original technology and the materiality. Grahame, you’ve said that the piece, The Erl King is really about nonlinear cinema, and that you would hide the wires, or get rid of them, and that these things are not important. But it appears to be a contradiction, as Pip said, when you insert pauses that were related to the technology at the time. And I understand that that’s trying to be— from, say, Carol’s point of view, we want it to look like it did then; but you’ve already made things look different each time you show them, by playing around with the authoring system. So I mean, isn’t there kind of a sliding scale of these things? So that— that’s part one.
And then part two is that you think of this as important for these reasons. Might you change your mind twenty years from now, when nonlinear cinema is ubiquitous? And might the piece be more important for the technology that it used, because it used that technology for this nonlinear cinema?
WEINBREN: No and no. (laughter) And let me tell you why. We use the pauses positively. I mean when you work in film, what you think about is the rhythm and the timing and the way the images are presenting themselves in a very kind of deliberate way, so that the timing of each piece, the way each piece comes up in relation to the viewer as well, is absolutely essential to the experience of the piece. So no, we didn’t want to put the pauses back in for authentic reasons; we wanted to put the pauses back in because they contributed very basically to the meaning of the piece.
So as I said, when we first looked at it, where there were no pauses, not only was it not the same piece, it was meaningless. You couldn’t tell, when you touched the screen, whether you’d affected it or not, because it happened immediately; and there are lots of things that happen all the time. We used the fact that there was a pause to signal to the viewer that there was a change. So that was very important. I mean, I hope the piece is better than, you know, just an example of the technology. Maybe I’m wrong. You know, but I’d hate to think that in twenty years, all that will matter about it is the technology that it ran on. But you know, you’re asking the artist about that; you should ask somebody else, right? (laughter)
STRINGARI : I also wanna make sure that we’re not trivializing look and feel, because look and feel mean— doesn’t just mean how it looks. (laughs) Which, I mean, I’ve had people respond and say, “Oh, like, those computers look really different.” Which is quite obvious. So, I mean, look and feel is about the spectator and how they’re interacting with the work, and what experience they come away with it. So I wouldn’t just stick those wait states or things in there because it has to look like something; it’s because of the experience.
BESSER: One of the things that I’m thinking of is that the user experience or viewer experience changes radically over time. And again, you know, using the analogy of ubiquitous nonlinear cinema, people will be used to a completely different kind of pacing at a different point in time; they will be used to certain things happening that really, you do need a historical context to understand them. Like you do with some of the other pieces—Jodi’s piece and some of these other pieces or the I Shot Andy Warhol. I mean… Without historical context and look and feel, I think, are very much tied to one another.
STRINGARI: But the question is, though, can you do that by documenting— since Grahame’s work, you don’t see those things. Whereas, you know, Cory decided he didn’t want any sort of emulation, because in fact, the hardware are important, visual elements. But we don’t see those in Graham’s piece. And is documentation of that sufficient?
WEINBREN: I don’t think this piece belongs in a museum of technology; I don’t think it’s very interesting. I mean, we showed it near the Silicon Valley. And all these guys came up. And of course, all the equipment was hidden. And they were amazed at what it could do, until they saw the equipment; and they walked away from it in disgust. You know, there’s nothing technologically interesting about it. I think it’s like saying, “Isn’t what’s interesting about a Griffith film that, you know, it was made with his hand-crank camera?” Well, no; we don’t care about the camera. But of course there’s a historical context. I feel as if, in a lot of ways, the piece is about New York in the eighties, when there were abandoned cars everywhere, you know; we’re kind of looking back into this picture of twenty years ago. So it’s— it’s that that interests me, I think, much more than the, you know, than the machines.
LAURENSON: But then you do have some works where the meaning of the works is very explicitly linked to hardware, And so you make decisions based on the significance of those aspects in relation to the identity of the work. And that’s the point about our criteria of success. And that is just my point about it’s not a clear flip-flop sort of, “Let’s reformulate these— all of these works,” as if they don’t have any link to some of the medium and the technology. You know, or “Let’s preserve every tiny little aspect, regardless of whether we understand its significance.” You know. We need to get away from this polarity and understand why we might make certain decisions in certain cases.
ROTHENBERG: Well, let me make one other addition to that, which is, you know, if you go somewhere like the Smithsonian, which preserves lots of material equipment, it’s wonderful to be able to see it and read descriptions of what it did; but most of it is no longer functional. And so you can’t actually see it behave. You know, the Wright Flyer, or some version of the Wright Flyer, was hung in the Smithsonian, in the Air and Space Museum. That particular version of the Wright Flyer no longer flies, and probably never could’ve flown, because it was pieced together by various people over the years. So, you know, it’s lovely to be able to see, and maybe even touch the original material essence of a work; and there may be cases where it really is an essential aspect of the aesthetics, in which case, you have to preserve it; but in many cases, you may want to divorce the original material embodiment as an artifact in its own right, from a recreated or emulated version…
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STRINGARI: I don’t advocate throwing anything away, but I think I’m somewhat fetishistic. We have these artist-made loopers (laughs) for another piece that I won’t throw away; and the artist has said, “That is ridiculous. I cobbled together those loopers, because I didn’t have any money.” (laughs) And, for me, they become all part of the historical context of the piece. The problem is, is when you fetishisize those things and don’t understand where they fit into the context. So all of this equipment, if we have access to it, it’s gonna tell us a tremendous amount in the future. It’s just that is it essential to the experience of the piece?
Anyway, we are out of time. It’s time for lunch, and hopefully, you’ll have a chance to go up and see the exhibition, if you haven’t seen it; and then we’re gonna come back with Jon Ippolito and the second panel and we’re gonna come back with a performance by Jodi and (inaudible voices over each other) Both Jodi and Dirk couldn’t make it.
JON IPPOLITO: What you just witnessed is an emulation-versus-vintage smackdown by Joan Heemskerk, half of JODI, the dynamic duo of net art, and now of emulated art, as well. We’re going to talk about Joan’s performance and what it means for “Generation Emulation”, as the title of this last session of this conference is called. We’re gonna look at some of the themes of the previous panel, but explore them in the context of the specific ways that younger artists are using emulation, or choosing not to use emulation-- sometimes to deal with issues of hardware obsolescence, but also to confront technological nostalgia and the fast pace of media change that we all are trying to cope with in this increasingly frenetic age.
I’m Jon Ippolito, Associate Curator at the Guggenheim, and Co-director of Still Water for network art and culture, up in Maine. To my left is Mary Flanagan, an artist who’s in the show. We’ll be looking at at least two versions of her work as we move on into the presentation; John Simon, also an artist in the show, known for net art and digital sculpture, and even physical sculpture; Joan Heemskerk, you’ve already seen her back and her fingers up close, but now you can see her face again, welcome here from the Netherlands; Cory Arcangel, next to her, enfant terrible of emulation; and Tilman Baumgaertel, writer, critic and net art scholar, if there is such a thing, from Berlin; Christiane Paul, Curator of New Media at the Whitney, and critic and writer on many topics associated with digital art and culture; Francis Hwang, Director of Technology at Rhizome.org, which is one of our partners in the Variable Media Network, and a critic of digital media in his own right. So we’re thrilled to have both the artists in the show, as well as the respondents here to talk about this question of emulation in a broader cultural context. Let’s see if I can bring up some of that context.
This is Seeing Double, the show Seeing Double; the work that we focused on in the first half of our presentation today, Erl King. This is also Seeing Double—Dolly the sheep—speaking of anxiety about emulation. Dolly, of course, was the sheep that was cloned, the first majorly publicized example of biological cloning. And how did that cloning work? It worked by analyzing the code—in this case, the genetic code—of the original specimen, and recreating another sheep, based on the first sheep, using the exact same code, down to the molecule. Dolly created incredible anxiety, at least among the press and among certain ethical watchdogs of the biotech industry. But in the end, I believe that in many ways, the anxieties about cloning turn out to be completely misguided. For one thing, a clone is not the same thing as a genetically altered being. It is simply another version, just like a twin, that is delayed in time. Right? Typically a clone would be taken from an adult or a matured specimen, and then grown in a Petri dish and, transplanted into a living sheep, and there would be basically a later version of the same sheep. But anyone who can cut through the sort of utopian fantasies of the current scientific or parascientific focus on the genome realized that no two twins are the same, even though they’re created from the same genetic material, so we shouldn’t really be that worried, in my opinion, about two different versions of sheep, or even humans that are the same, at least in the sense that the environment that they grow up in will have an indelible effect and, in essence, create two independent individuals, distinct from each other, even if their code is the same.
Well, I think we have a kind of comparable example here in the world of new media, where, in this case, the digital components—that is the code—underlying the work The Erl King was the basis of the transformation into a new later version of The Erl King, in which the code remained intact, even if the time and the particular materials may have changed. However, there is a difference. And I think the difference is something that came out in this morning’s presentation, basically because in the one hand, in the case of Dolly, the concern that we had was that suddenly we’d have all these individuals that are no longer individuals, they’re exact copies of each other, and we run around with this confusion of identity. And the fact that the environment played a role in determining how phenotypes evolve from genotypes in a certain climate and conditions and, nurturing situation meant that we didn’t have to be so concerned about there being an exact version of Mary Flanagan or Cory Arcangel out there. We knew that they would diverge, because the environment that they grew up in would diverge. But it’s unfortunately the exact opportunity goal we have in the case of artwork. We don’t want them to diverge. Many of us—at least the people in this room who devote their time to preserving and conserving art—often want them to be identical, to stay the same, to remain fixed, for there to be no distinguishable difference between the two clones. And yet, as this morning’s discussion brought out, there are many cases in which particularities of hardware and software really make a difference. I think it was well argued by the artists who were involved — that they really resolved most of those differences. But in every case, there are some differences that can never be resolved, because the viewer themselves have changed. The Erl King in 1980 is not The Erl King in 2004, at least as far as the viewer is concerned.
So times have changed, culture changes. And what we’re gonna look at in this panel is whether, in fact, there is a way for us to understand the culture that is around now—in particular, culture that increasingly has become used to emulation and used to there being clones of older versions of things recast in a new guise. Is there any way that the younger generation, for example, or gaming culture, has adapted to the frenetic pace of technologies? We’ll be looking at that in a number of specific cases, from artworks in the show, from people who have dealt with this issue, who are respondents in their own exhibitions, in their own thinking and critical work.
But we also tried to get a sense of what viewers to the exhibition thought of the idea. And here’s some quick— [a] sneak preview of some of the research we’ve done based on the questionnaire, that asked the question, “How successful are the recreations up in the Tannhauser Gallery on the third floor? And one of the main goals that I was interested in gathering this data—which, by the way, are from a survey that we handed out in a relatively unscientific way; but eighty-five people responded—some of them new media experts, some of them lay public who happened to show up at the Guggenheim on various Saturdays. And I was very interested to see would the response break down differently by, say, age? Is the younger generation more used to emulators? Because, as we’ll see, they involve them in their work or in gaming or in entertainment. But I looked at a couple different characteristics—many of you may’ve filled out these forms—one by age, roughly grouped, you know, under twenty, in your thirties, forties, fifties, and so forth; and another by the familiarity with computers, familiarities with art, and familiarity with emulation. I won’t go into the details, except to say that I think these plots are pretty horizontal. There isn’t a huge difference that you can perceive—or that I can perceive—in the reaction, across all these different forms of society. Most of them gave, roughly speaking, these are averages here—between three and a four, which was between a fair to good job of recreating the experience of the original. There’re are many questions that could be brought up by the survey, like what does it mean to recreate the experience, and so forth; but we asked the viewers to make up their own minds, and these are the results.
If you did wanna generalize a bit, I might say that in a work like Grahame Weinbren, where the differences were really not visible on the surface, perhaps the younger artists weren’t as appreciative, but the older viewers were a little bit more—now, this little green bar here, a little lower than this higher green bar here; whereas in a work where there was a visible change, such as the John Simon work that we’ll see an image of later, where there’s an actual size and kind of equipment difference, perhaps the younger viewers felt that it was more successful, whereas the older viewers felt that it was less so. And we might talk about the expectations of the change in material and hardware among those groups. Overall, the lesson I draw from this is what Jeff Rothenberg said, when people say, “Yeah, you know, good enough, I don’t really see such a big difference,” that’s perhaps what we’ve achieved here—at least to judge from this initial data.
So with that sort of quick introduction, I’d like to bring up the question of the anxiety about the loss or gain in a emulation, an attempt to recreate the experience of a new one, in this case, by focusing on the performance we just saw, which first might be good to explain exactly what it was we were looking at. We were looking at a original game from the 1980s called Jet Set Willy, that had been hacked by Joan and her partner Dirk. And how did you come to think of representing it both on this technology that is really pretty old for you guys, as well as on the emulated version? Where did that thought come from?
JOAN HEEMSKERK: Actually, first, we only showed it on the Spectrum. But since we made the whole project in a PC, and then put it in the old hardware, we decided to put it online as well, in an emulated version. But the emulated version could be of any medium. Jet Set Willy really was one of the first games which was rewritten to different platforms, like Atari and Commodore, because it was very popular.
IPPOLITO: And tell us a little bit about the game, as it existed before the hack that you guys created, before this abstract kind of modernist version of— of Jet Set Willy.
HEEMSKERK: Yeah, it’s an exploring game of a guy who has to go to different rooms. But for us, it was important to show hardware. And I think that as the hardware has changed that much from ’82 till now, that even if you can run it easily on a PC, you somehow miss the whole experience, I think, of waiting five minutes and so on.
IPPOLITO: We should clarify when you were waiting to— when you were running the emulator, playing the game on the emulator, typically you were waiting for the Spectrum to load, and how do you have to load programs on the Spectrum?
HEEMSKERK: They start on audiotape. You just have to listen to the bytes and until it is loaded. Around the eighties, when these programs existed, there were even radio programs broadcasting the code, and people at home with tape recorders, recording the data, and then finding out after the program what the hell was on the tape. (laughter)
IPPOLITO: We don’t the technology anymore, but I suppose it’s analogous to what you’ve done by making the emulated version available on your website. But I’m also curious, from the other people on the panel, what your reactions to the two versions. You know, what are the most noticeable differences, and what is gained and lost in the use of the emulator?
CHRISTIANE PAUL: Well, I actually find the emulated new version very problematic. I also must say that this probably varies a lot, subjectively. I guess I’m a purist. I love the old game, the original version, in its aesthetics, particularly of the blurred line. It has a specifically eighties aesthetics about it. If you look at the emulated version, if you run it on a PC now, it looks very slick in its presentation, while the graphics feel pretty dated. I know it’s a bad comparison, as any comparison, but to me, it is comparable to viewing a Rembrandt in a Plexi-aluminum frame. So you have this up-to-date, very much of-the-moment presentation mechanism, and graphics that look slick, but somehow feel of a different period of time. So for me, the presentation on the original hardware, as what it is, is incredibly important. Then again, you have to make compromises. And I prefer to have it preserved in this form, rather than having it lost. But the differences in aesthetics is very important to me, and very noticeable.
TILMAN BAUMGAERTEL: Well, I would like to add that I don’t think the Jet Set Willy really is about emulation. The first place, I think that emulation helped to write the game and have it distributed over the internet, and in the long run, to preserve it. But obviously, I also prefer the hardware, the 1980s version of it. The piece was first shown in an exhibition I had set up in Basel, in a media lab that’s called Plug-in. And maybe Jon wants to talk a little bit about that too, but apparently— I wasn’t there when it was set up, but— it seemed to be very difficult to get even this type of TV set in Basel anymore, because apparently, people in Switzerland are so rich that they just throw their equipment away after five years or so, and then you just don’t get this hardware anymore. And even if you get it, if you run it for a month—that’s how long the exhibition was—then, you know, it just dies on you at one point, or the images get so blurred that it’s not so aesthetic and not so good-looking anymore. Then we did the same thing in Berlin, and there it was much easier to get this old type of TV set, and you know, and there are much more thrift stores and flea markets and stuff like that. But this hardware is limited. It’s going to be done at one point and, you know, then there’s either nothing left, or there’s emulation left.
PAUL: Or tape recordings of performances.
FRANCIS HWANG: But there are a range of options. I noticed, as well, the difference in the display. Color is actually an extremely difficult thing to emulate across different computers. If you talk to anybody who’s a graphic designer, they always have to be really obsessive about calibrating their monitor just right. And it changes a lot, as technology changes. But as emulations kind of come along, they can actually mimic these sorts of effects. In the arcade game emulation scene, there’s an issue with this because, although most of what we see now are CRT screens, early on they were monitors that were basically vectors; they effectively burned lines into the screen. And they were fundamentally different on— they’re engineered as different machines. A game like Tempest… Tempest is probably the one most common that was played. And so they would kinda figure out the Tempest code, and they would render it; but it never really looked right, because these lines actually, they glowed as they were being drawn, and then the glow would fade. So then they had to basically write a thing that actually emulates on a CRT screen that glow— which I think is part of what makes Tempest… I mean, it’s a very distinctive look. The same could be done here. I think a lot of it is a question—sort of on behalf of critics, audience members, and the artists, really—is that what’s important? Or is that simply a strange little artifact, that it doesn’t matter that much?
IPPOLITO: We should clarify that we deliberately chose pieces, for this panel particularly, where they provoked the question of the accuracy of emulation, not necessarily as in the artists trying their best to recreate the work. In this case, we had a sort of readymade emulation, because Joan and Dirk had had to use the emulator to write the piece. And why did you choose an emulator? Why didn’t you sit down with the original Spectrum and sort of… You got a working version here; why didn’t you just sort of bang it out in that?
HEEMSKERK: Actually, we use programs on the PC, written by players of the game. And as I see it, emulation of old platforms is nowadays mostly used by nostalgia, people who want to realize their days behind the Spectrum, but can’t find the thing anymore, or don’t have it set up all the time. There were modifications, also, done directly in the Spectrum. But now on the PC, this modification software is much more widespread, so to say. Technically, it was much easier to do it directly in a PC and then output it back to audio. And I think that’s thanks to all these fans who still run Spectrum sites and collect old programs, or— write new programs.
IPPOLITO: And there is this pervasive nostalgia now. There has always been a group of people who were nostalgic about old technologies, but it seems to be more and more the younger people, not the old people who, “I remember when I used to use this,” but people like you and Dirk, who may not have even had a computer in 1980, but you still— that old feeling appeals to you.
HEEMSKERK: First thing I want to say, we didn’t do it out of nostalgia. Now, as Tilman said, we were asked to do a show in a real space. Like, not on the net, but really a space. So we were talking about hardware. And first it didn’t seem necessary to put an internet site on a computer in a real space, ’cause someone can look at the work at home, which for us, it’s more valuable with that kind of work. So then we thought: Yeah, we want to do something with hardware. And the hardware, which is now still available, but not everyone has set up at home. It’s like old dying hardware. On the other hand, like, works we made, now ten years ago, they already have to be emulated in 0SX to work properly. So in a way, when we made those works, we were thinking, like a painting, it would last for at least thirty years or so. But now for me, it seems more like a long performance you do over a couple of years. And then you have to go on to the next performance.
IPPOLITO: Well, this issue of nostalgia and performance is very relevant to Cory’s work. And I’m not sure whether you would agree. Are you a nostalgic artist, or are you more in synch with what Joan’s saying.
CORY ARCANGEL: I think I’m on her side on that one. Yeah. Nostalgic kind of shortchanges it a bit, you know what I mean? I think I started using these computers just out of utilitarian reasons. First of all, you know, me and my partners at the time in BEIGE, we just got fed up with trying to keep up, you know? And we just kinda really started thinking a lot about how to make something on computers, and what it means to program. And not being the smartest guys in the world, we were like, “Well, maybe if we try to take on one of those older computers, we could maybe handle it, you know?” (laughter) And it made a lotta sense, because these computers have such a really specific set of limitations; there’s not so much you could do. And so, when you’re trying to make something, if you only have a few things you could do, it kinda helps you clear your mind a bit.
I think another reason we started using ’em is that they’re really cheap. Like, twenty dollars for a computer beats, you know, three-thousand dollars for a computer. And also, if you make something that’s already— barely works and obsolete, it kind of like takes care of that already, you know what I mean? (laughter) Like, you don’t need to worry about it twenty years from now, you’re already worrying about it when you’re making it. So, yeah, I think those are the definite reasons that I started working with the older computers. Like, a Nintendo example; I never even had a Nintendo.
I guess I’m of the age where I just grew up in front of the TV playing video games a lot; and so it’s kind of the language that I understand the best. I always try to explain it to people; I’m like, “Well, you know, to be honest, I spent more time in front of a TV than I ever did going outside, so why would I ever paint a landscape?” Do you know what I mean? (laughter) If I understand the language of a television better, you know? It’s just what I know, and I, like, have no option. You know what I mean? (laughs) Like, if I could make something else, I would, but I just don’t understand anything else. (laughter)
BAUMGAERTEL: I would like to say something about this aspect of nostalgia, and I think we’re going to hit upon this again and again. Right now, there might be these tendencies, to snicker about people who collect old computers and these handheld games and this old software, and they’re just these nerds who spend a lot of money of this kind of stuff on eBay. But I think a lot of cultural reevaluation, if you look at things again, you know, if you try to re-read them again, look at their cultural significance, start that way. At first it’s fans, it’s nerds, it’s just these geeks who spend all their time poring over, I don’t know, forties movies magazines— but they were also the first ones to take cinema really— not the only ones, but they were kind of like the subculture who really took cinema very serious, not just as entertainment, but really as a text to read. This is basically how postmodernism started, that you reevaluated certain aspects of modernism, reread them again. The final episode of this process so far is somebody like Quentin Tarantino— most of what his films are doing are really just rereading or pointing out certain qualities in B movies that nobody saw at that time, then they saw them in some cheap cinema next to the station, or next to the… I don’t know, the strip show joints. Because there are no certified institutions to collect or to evaluate pop culture; it has to be done by the fans at first, and then eventually it trickles down into the mainstream of society—as in the case with cinema now.
PAUL: But I also think we’re looking at a culturally different space here, apart from the fact that for Cory and others, there’s easy access, it’s easier to handle hacks, et cetera. I think computers have a different place in history. Of course, there are many people who are collecting old TV sets. And maybe the TV started slowly, but it then really became a mass media item that made it into most households, while computers really only became ubiquitous in the 1990s, despite Apple’s “computer for the rest of us” in the 1980s, and how long these machines have really existed. So I think there is a gap in reevaluating the past and keeping track of it, which has been carried largely by an underground movement, which I think is very different from being nostalgic about other parts of technology or televisions.
HWANG: I’m definitely getting the sense from Joan and Cory that as practitioners in this technology, you’re really not that concerned with the longevity of your work, in a technological sense. And we just had a morning where we kind of talked really extensively about how do you get the work to hang around and be seen? Can you sort of talk about your work in the context of do you imagine being around in ten years? How does that affect your aesthetic decisions?
HEEMSKERK: No, I think you start thinking about the future of your work once it’s made. And not while you start making it. But I think there is now—at least with this conference—there’s a kind of conscious[ness] of how to preserve everything. And the way to preserve digital media, you could migrate or emulate it, but there is a thing I’m concerned about, is while you start only to talk about conservation through emulation or through migration or what else, in a way, you stop a medium. There is no progress anymore. If I would say, “Oh, shit, I can’t use Netscape anymore, I have to use Explorer or Safari…” Shit, I want to, emulate Mozilla and then start working again. I mean, that’s the end of the medium, no? So it’s better to just say, “Ok, I don’t care about the conservation,” so the medium will evolve, than saying, “Oh, yeah, but everything we did five years ago, it’s slowly dying, so let’s concentrate on how to conservate that. In a way, you have to do that on the background; but I don’t think it’s the work of artists, ’cause then you stop any evolution.
IPPOLITO: ’Cause you’re always looking at what you’ve done, rather than what you want to do next? Well, I think there’s a really good question, and one that I’d like to kinda raise maybe after we’ve seen examples of everyone else’s work. Cory, since we were on you, maybe if you wanna show us some examples, because although you are keen on this old hardware, for whatever reasons you have given us, maybe you can show us why emulators are still something that’s part of your daily toolkit.
ARCANGEL: Yeah. I was gonna say I think emulators have gotten a bit shortchanged on this panel so far, so I wanna say that maybe it’s important to think about it a little bit differently sometimes. Like, when I make something… Even though I refuse to let you guys emulate the Warhol thing, I think when I make something like that, I make it for two different audiences; one is for the real hardware—you know, people who are actually gonna come see it, but a lot of the inspiration to do these hacks is… (Ippolito: But…) Yeah?
IPPOLITO: Yeah, I’m sorry. Maybe we should mention the piece that you have upstairs, that you chose deliberately not to emulate, just to get the context.
Those of you who’ve been upstairs know that we have examples of a work side by side. In this case, the Jodi JetSet Willy Variations, just as you saw them onstage upstairs, they’re in the gallery with the old Spectrum computer, next to a contemporary PC running the emulator. Well, if you go over to Cory’s piece, all you see is one piece. An old TV, a light gun, Nintendo light gun, cartridge that loads the Nintendo program, and nothing next to it; there is no double in this version of Seeing Double. And when we talked to Cory, in particular, Caitlin Jones, who co-organized the exhibition, had the thought that: Well, you know, we should show examples of cases where the artists choose not to emulate, and ask them why. And Cory, you could give us sort of why you didn’t make another one of these.
ARCANGEL: Well, I like my work to be really simple, right? And I like it to be really easy to understand for the public. And I think with this, you know, these kind of cartridge hacks, it’s really easy for people. Basically, there is a cartridge like this, that has been torn open. And so I think it’s really easy, if people see a cartridge, and then they see a game that’s messed up—even if they don’t even know what computers are, they could be like: Oh, the artist must have done something weird. Which is fine, good enough for me. But I think when you start to emulate a work in a gallery, the public doesn’t understand emulation yet, and you get into all these weird issues. Like, doing the hardware hack is basically the reason I did that work, you know, ’cause I thought it would be cool to see a light gun hardware hack. And just the Nintendo and the era of the machines is so important to the reception of the piece, I just thought in emulation, it just wouldn’t make any sense at all to the public. And that’s why I didn’t want it to be emulated.
IPPOLITO: But you do have other cases.
ARCANGEL: Yeah. But I will put them online. Like I said, when I make something, it’s for two audiences. Like, this is another project I did with these— just the clouds from the Mario Brothers game, and I’ll make a page like this, to show people who I made it, and give away all the source code, and let people download it. And so in this case, I guess— it teeter-totters. I won’t let it be emulated in a gallery, yet most of the reason I make the work is so I could put it online and have people download it and run it in emulators, just to participate in the homebrew culture. So I get to show one or two, that would make maybe… So I have all these little ROMs, and these are just emulated versions of my Nintendo cartridges. Like, here’s the one with the clouds.
IPPOLITO: So you used a off the internet Nintendo emulator for that?
ARCANGEL: Yeah, this is a emulator called Rocknes, R-O-C-K-N-E-S, which I don’t know who wrote it, but it’s the best one. So let me show another work . So this is a Nintendo iPod I made. This is an emulated version of an iPod, in the Nintendo, which is being run in the emulator. So I just basically made this just so— (laughter) so people would download it at home. And I don’t mind putting things on the web in emulated format, because I think the web people and the people who would download these things understand emulators. And as long as they understand what an emulator is, I’m happy for it to be emulated. Does that makes sense? So I think it’s important to not shortchange emulators because to make the work and to put it on the web, it’s like, pretty much most of the reason to make the work. You know? It’s cool to have a cartridge and have this pristine object, but you know, that’s not always the reason to make it.
PAUL: But in this case, you’re really creating a new work through an emulation. It’s really not about emulating (Arcangel: Yeah) the iPod, but you’re (Arcangel: Yeah, yeah, exactly) creating a new piece of art. So I think it’s a very different scenario we’re looking at. It’s the emulator itself, as a medium for making artwork.
BAUMGAERTEL: The funny thing for me about this piece is it’s kind of like this mobius strip. You know, you take something very recent and have it emulated, so you can use it on really dated hardware; but you need to use an emulator that runs on only very recent hardware; so it’s really a very strange time loop there.
ARCANGEL: It’s kind of a joke for the nerds. (laughter)
BAUMGAERTEL: That’s another way to say it, I guess. (laughter)
IPPOLITO: There’re whole groups of people, including many people at this table, who are interested in the emulation of games—and often not the hacked games, such as the JODI game we saw, sometimes just real, straight-up games that were viewed in the eighties and in that period. Tilman, you’ve done some work on that. Maybe we could take a look at one of the exhibitions briefly that you have done and you could talk me through it.
BAUMGAERTEL: Last year, I curated a show called Games, which took place in Dortmund, Germany and showed computer games by artists. It wasn’t really about the subject of emulation; in fact, we had to use very little emulation in order to restage the show.
There again, the idea was to show that you can show this kind of work in a real space. And I approached the place that showed the exhibition—they are called Hartware—I first suggested just to set up some beer benches and put some computers in it, and just have some artist-made games run on it. But then they got this huge space. This is in a former steel mill, it’s bigger than a football field, the whole place. So you really had to think of ways of how to present this kind of work as an exhibition… In the background, you see there are some computers where you can just sit down, and this was kind of like the beer bench part; but then there are installations, — Cory’s work, for example, that we just saw. Mario Clouds shown as a projection, and we had diagrams on how to set it up put on the wall. So there was an effort to really show how— even though the interesting part is that you can distribute it over the net, and that you can download it on your own home personal computer and, you know, show it there, it also works and you can also set it up in a physical space too.
But to come back to the subject of emulation, I also think that we can never underestimate the importance of what is being constantly referred to as nerds, you know, with the snickering— these weird guys who write these programs. I mean, this is one way to look at it, and it’s the way most people look at it; but then you can also look at it like this people’s movement, really. I mean, one of the most important emulators, I guess, is the one that’s called MAME, which stands for multiple arcade machine emulator, and that runs every arcade machine game from the seventies and eighties, and I think even to the beginning of the nineties. And that was started in the middle of the nineties, by some guy in Italy, whose name I can never remember. But now it’s like a whole team— it works a bit like Linux, where you have all these independent programmers, who for one reason or another, feel it’s important to be able to run these games. Again, I think, as Jon said, most of them played them as kids, and now they want to relive that. But what they have done, and what they have accomplished is really sophisticated programming, and it keeps getting better. There was a problem for some time, for example, that this MAME emulator wouldn’t run under Windows XP, because it was based on DOS. So Windows XP didn’t really support it that well. And after two or three months, there was a new version that didn’t have this flaw anymore. So I think what’s really impressive for me is it’s a bit like this Linux phenomenon that people all over the world collaborate on these things, and there are different versions for different systems. Again, there are no institutions who cater to this kind of pop art or pop culture so far. There is a museum for video games in Berlin. I understand at the Museum of the Moving Image, they have a collection of old hardware, but you know, these fan communities who write these emulators are much more effective and much more successful, in many ways, to keep these games playable.
And I also think that in preserving culture, it’s very important that you have a decentralized process. I mean, most of the classics from Greece, for example, the plays of Aristophanes, we can still read them today, because monks in cloisters all over Europe copied them and, you know, two-hundred, three-hundred, four-hundred years later, somebody found one part of this play in a cloister somewhere in Germany, and another one in Rome. So, if you have just one central institution, or just one museum who keeps emulating and writing new programs— this might not last. And I think also what’s important about emulation, that you see how strong the support is, that people really spend hours and hours and hours of time they could spend differently—for example, being paid for their program—just to maintain these programs. And that says something about their cultural value, and ultimately, I guess, will lead to a reevaluation of these games, whereas, if it just takes place in the basement of a museum, it probably wouldn’t. I think this variable media initiative is very valuable, because it raises these questions, because it did restore The Erl King, and it really set an example, but for a lot of pop culture, I think it’s very important this effort to preserve things come from different angles and from different areas, because when you just decide to keep certain artworks working— you also decide now what’s going to be important in the future. I don’t know, I think that’s really a tough one, to say what’s going to matter in two-hundred years or three-hundred years, about the things we surrounded ourselves with. Shakespeare wasn’t considered to be a great writer, I guess, in his time; he was really a writer of popular games. And now we think of him as this really important writer. This view on certain aspects of culture really changes over time. And these emulations really have to preserve pretty much everything, so future generations will have an opportunity to pick something completely different. Maybe they think, you know, screensavers are the most amazing cultural program of our period. And then hopefully, they can still be able to run them.
PAUL: But I think this particular emulation, within the gaming community, has far more relevance than we might think. I mean, Tilman and Cory are far more specialists than I am; but as far as I know, none of the classics of gaming has really been lost, due to this community driven approach of emulating everything. So we can basically count on a whole community doing this work for the future. They will continue to emulate their favorite games, the classics. And art can actually piggyback here, because there will be Windows emulations, et cetera, that also will help us to preserve artworks. What is an amazing cultural shift—I’m probably exaggerating a little bit—but what we’re looking at is that artworks are going to be preserved because seventeen-year- olds are doing the work of preserving them. And it’s not driven by institutions, because a lot of it is available as freeware, shareware, over the internet—which is a very peculiar situation. But I think incredibly important and relevant, to take a look at this.
BAUMGAERTEL: Yeah. It’s really a grassroots historic movement, in way. And I mean, it’s not a magic trick or anything. Something like The Erl King, for example, couldn’t be preserved it with this method, because the technology is far too specialized. I mean, most of these games ran on fairly standardized software and hardware; they were, PCs that everybody would [have] at home. So that’s why it’s much easier, also if you just manage to emulate the Spectrum, again, you can play—I don’t know, two-hundred, three-hundred, four-hundred different games with it, if you have the game software. But as I said, you know, The Erl King, for example, that requires some really specialized work.
HEEMSKERK: I agree, it’s great that all these games are safe, and games are entertainment. When we did the Jet Set Willy, we found a lot of resources on games on the net, but with the ZX Spectrum, we were also interested in BASIC. The programming language, which is essential to ZX Spectrum where every kid tried to program him or herself on this machine at home, in front of a TV set. The world of Spectrum has a collection of millions of cassettes, with games on it. But if you start searching for examples of BASIC… So what did the home community do with these machines in the eighties? More than buying a cassette and playing a game. Actually, there’s no information; we had to go to eBay, buy old analog ZX Spectrum Basic books, and try to find out ourselves. And we made a DVD out of it, to have the experience back of just fiddling around on a computer.
IPPOLITO: I think we see a tradeoff there. We get to piggyback on this open source grassroots development, which ultimately, I trust better than I trust the Smithsonian to take care of writing emulators for new media works. But you do see a narrow band, perhaps, the entertainment genre being the one that’s really protected. That sort of question of is emulation sufficient to protect all the different ways that artists might want to use computers, I think is something that John Simon has really addressed in the work that he produced for the show. And I should say by way of background that we’ve been talking to John about his work and its future for five, six years now, it seems. And we’ve finally been able to get to the point where, although his work can sometimes be very difficult to imagine how it can proceed in the future, he’s taken up the charge and done an experiment, which you can see upstairs in the gallery. I’ll show you just an image of it here. And John, you can tell us both where this work came from and where it went.
JOHN SIMON: So what you see there on the right is Color Panel version one. And on the left is Color Panel version one-point-o-one. I made Color Panel in 1999. And it was the first time that I presented software on a wall. Where I stripped a laptop computer and made kind of a frame for it. And it was a marked change in the way I thought about the kinda work I was doing, and also the way that the work was consumed. I was, up to that point, pretty much purely digital on my programming, and I was very interested in software and the way it was constructed. And here, I made an object out of the software. And that ran me into a lotta problems. And one of ’em was when the Guggenheim Museum bought a copy, and other museums and collectors bought copies, they were interested as much in preserving the artwork as preserving the investment that they made in the artwork. And the question always immediately comes up: When it breaks, what happens? Tilman, as recently as last Tuesday, brought back a work that he had bought that the hard drive had crashed on, and I replaced it and brought it back to him today. So that’s (Baumgaertel: Great maintenance, really. Great maintenance) often what happens. (laughter)
IPPOLITO: The warranty hadn’t run out.
SIMON: No, still under warranty. The core of my artwork is the software. And that’s what I want to keep going. And I believed that pretty much a-hundred percent, until probably this experiment. And now some question has arisen about it; I’ll go into that. But I still believe that the core of it is the software, and I think on one hand, comparing this work to a painting, in terms of preservation, it’s woefully short, because you know that bulb in the screen is gonna burn out, and you know the hard drive [will] probably crash, and the power supply will burn out. And as long as we can get parts for Apple 280c computers, we can keep it going. And if eBay’s any indication, that’ll be quite a while still, and the stockpile of 280cs that I have in the studio will also keep it going. But there is a day, somewhere in the future—whether I’ll be here or not—when there won’t be any more parts. So on one hand, compared to, say, a painting, you know that this system is going to fail; on the other hand, compared to a painting, which perhaps if it’s in a fire or a flood, would not survive so well. The core of this artwork is some writing, the source code, which you type into a word processor and compile, and can make copies of, and print out, and store in different places. So that if this machine fails, or if the parts are no longer available, the source code then can be brought up and read, and understood for the kind of model and experiment that it was exploring, and then recompiled and rerun on a new system. And so the experiment here was to imagine that day, and to move it to another system, and just see what some of the problems were. And I had always maintained in the interviews that I’d done with Carol Stringari and with Jon and Caitlin, and maintained steadfastly, that the core of the work was the software, and that was all that needed to be thought about and preserved; and as long as the timing and such were correctly redeployed, the piece would be whole again when it was on a new system. So I agreed to build a copy and display it there next to the original. And so I redeployed it, there to the left. And it ran pretty much as I expected—with some speed adjustments, of course, ’cause the processor runs faster, but the ratio and the size and everything worked well. But the one difference which was disturbing, and sort of brought me kicking and screaming into this area of materials, is that, if you’ll notice on the piece on the right, in the middle bottom, there’s a circuit board, which is pretty much an inverter board and a speaker and a brightness adjustment for the screen; and that’s part of the 280c, which is the Duo laptop that Apple made. That was just part of the engineering of the screen. And I had the choice whether to put that behind the plastic or in front of the plastic. But if you’ll notice, the bottom of the screen kind of makes a U shape, the metal makes a U shape, and it just didn’t really look that good, it looked sort of unfinished. So I put that on the front—also to refer to the fact that it was computing, and I like the aesthetics of the circuit board, et cetera. But it was a choice that was somehow facilitated by the fact that that was there— when you opened up the 280c screen, and you had to deal with it. And on the left, the screen is from a G3, and it’s completely rectangular, and it’s nice and neat. And what circuitry exists on the board on the 280c is pretty much a chip somewhere—or part of a chip somewhere, buried onto the board of the G3. That circuitry’s all been reduced and eliminated. So there was no board like that. And yet, having published this artwork and said, “This is a finished artwork,” and displayed it in the gallery, and engaged in a museum, and having it photographed and written about, somehow had merged that physical presence of that along with the circuit board, and— what happens on the screen with the idea of the software. And so when I built the one on the left, it just was not complete without that piece of hardware. And I can’t explain that to you, but if you take it off, it’s not Color Panel; and if you put it on, it is. So… There it is. Now, the long-term strategy there is quite good, because the circuit board doesn’t do anything now, so it’s not gonna break. (laughter)
IPPOLITO: So in essence to use the terms of variable media that we often use, you have both emulated and migrated. Emulated just the look of the piece, in that you’ve brought over this now non-functioning, but emblematic circuit board. But you didn’t emulate the code. You chose to migrate the code, by which I mean simply adapt it to an updated system that is as close as you can get to the original, but more recent in time—in this case, the G3 instead of the 280 Apple PowerBook. And yet you could have, in theory, emulated it by writing a shell that interpreted and so forth. Why did you choose to migrate the code? I think this is an interesting question.
SIMON: Yeah. First of all, as a programmer, I wanna keep it as simple as possible. Systems that are simpler tend to last longer. And if you emulated this 280c code on a G3 with an emulator, and then you went to something else and you were emulating the G3 emulating the 280c, you start to build shells inside shells; and that terrifies me. And the other is that it’s really about the source code, and reading the source code, and to my mind, having that what that’s about run. And of course, it was me doing it, and I know what decisions I made. And so I was there to make the adjustments. I think that that’s one reason you asked me to do it, so you would now have this comparison, and you could say, “Well, he thought this was important, and that wasn’t important,” about the timing. There’s something really nice about the source just compiled and running native on the machine; I think that’s as close the machine is possible to getting whatever performance you can get out of it. And it really came down to a matter of timing here. And I learned one thing. When I was doing the first piece of code, the hacks were just to put the timing in wait states in the code. And so you would have to recompile. But actually in doing this, I figured out that the wait states, and all the things that you would have to change to move this from one Macintosh to another, could all be put into a file. So it actually could be arranged that the binary set of instructions could sit, and never be recompiled, and some external file could contain all the timing information—just be read in. And so if you wanted to move it from one machine to another, it might just be editing a text file and changing the timing a little bit.
There’re two things to say there. One is that it’s fascinating that the binary files that are written properly, according to Apple’s specification for the original Mac, can still run all the way up the line; that there’s binary compatibility. So as long as you have this Apple Macintosh system going into the future, you can continue to run your binaries all the way up. If you run System Ten now, and you run a System Nine program, it goes into this classic mode, which is kind of an emulator.
IPPOLITO: And your reaction to the finished experiment. Did you feel it was a success? Do you feel like it provoked you to explore other directions? Did people that you showed it to say, you know, “This is the new version, this is code(?)…”
SIMON: Well, we brought a collector in who actually owns one. This is more or less my big concern, because I sell these commercially at Sandra Gering Gallery. And it’s been more or less supporting me for a few years. And so the reaction of the collectors to new versions is fairly important to us. The collector came and saw it, really liked the larger screen. They said, “Well, I really want the bigger screen. I think this is nice.” (laughter) And we had to really come to some decisions about: Well, there’s an edition of twelve, and if we let another screen go, then we have this artifact, the smaller screen; and so our policy at the moment is that if we come to this moment in time when this step must me made, and the one on the right no longer works, then that physical piece must be returned, to get the new one. The edition is twelve, and if you upgrade one, then it’s only twelve pieces that are considered part of the edition
IPPOLITO: The economics of recreations. (laughter) We might return to that in questions later. Thanks, John. Mary Flanagan is the last artist we have to talk to today. And she’s actually arranged for an emulation demo of her own.
FLANAGAN: Yeah, so this is gonna take a little while, ’cause this is a older computer; it’s a Win98 computer. My first laptop, I believe. So, something that came up in all of our conversations with the Guggenheim folks, in general. And I guess I think I’m kind of gonna be echoing some of the things you’ve heard from some of the other artists on the panel. Maybe not John, because again, this idea physicality. Most of my work you can download from the web. I give my work away. If it’s possible to zip it and put it somewhere and give it to somebody, I generally do. When I was approached by Jon, Caitlin and Carol to ask this question about preserving the work of [phage]. I know [phage] is in the Rhizome database, but I thought well, the code still runs and it still exists; but it tends to run a little fast these days. And I haven’t changed the code. But it is pretty fascinating that the original version running on a Pentium 366, I think— running on, you know, four gigahertz machine, or three gigahertz machine— it’s, like, suddenly a very different work. And at what point does it run? So in the show, some of us are seeing double, some of us are seeing single, and I’m seeing triple. (laughs)
FLANAGAN: So that’s the triplet. The one on the left is a Win98 version of the work running; and then we have a WinXP version on a new kind of off-the-shelf HP, you know, consumer thing- a PC. And then the one on the right is running on a new Mac, and it’s running using Virtual PC. The program was made only for PC, originally. And it still doesn’t actually run on a Mac. So it is working through the emulator Virtual PC. And so I thought it was a fascinating experiment, just to really sit down and compare one work in some many different ways of reception, so many different ways of experiencing the work. And the other idea that comes up, then, is the cultural aspects. Because, how the program works is it goes through the user’s hard drive, and it grabs bits and pieces of email and, you know, text and audio and images, and starts displaying them in a three-dimensional kind of time-based landscape. And so the question is, you know, what material? I mean, the work really is the material it finds. So it’s very specific to which computer it’s running on. And in fact, this computer I found in my office. I haven’t used this computer in years. And it’s still running my original files from Win98, when I made the piece. Weirdly, of course, as an artist, I don’t think about having the work live on; I don’t sit down and say, “Oh, gosh, what is this gonna look like in five years?” I just make things I’m interested in making. And weirdly enough, I had burned CDs of everything on my hard drive, including things like my cash files from internet browsing from 1998, 1997. I had these cash files. And you know, after the show, I was like: Oh, God, I better go archive my trash. (laughs)
Yeah. So there it is. So this [phage] running. It’s running off of this hard drive here. And the reason I never updated it to a later version of Windows is because actually the CDROM drive broke and I was never able to do it. Otherwise I probably would have, and would’ve erased all the stuff on it. So it’s kind of interesting. So this is just running off of, you know… Stuff. It’s all my stuff. So it’s mixing code with coat hangers and shoes and, you know, whatever.
IPPOLITO: When— when someone would normally access this, it wouldn’t be to go to your computer (Flanagan: Right, right) to see your things.
FLANAGAN: It’s made in Director, so you can download the application and run it on your own machine, and the work— it regurgitates stuff off of your own hard drive. So what’s happening is this piece ends up being about you. So if you, for example, surf for a lot of shoes, clothes or whatever, you might see a lot of that coming up and regurgitating. Or if you surf for a lot of pornography, you might, start having a lot of pornography come up. Anyway, whatever people’s interests are here— the things they surf for, the things they write about tend to come up a lot. And so the work really does kind of reflect your experience with your computer, your everyday. And then the other thing is it also kind of plays around with authorship, because if my stuff is just as important or interesting as the stuff that, you know, the help file that came with Photoshop 5, then who’s really the author in this thing? And how many people are authoring this collection of… stuff?
IPPOLITO: Ok. So what you’re looking at now is a version of Mary’s project that’s running on a Macintosh. Now, again, we chose Mary’s project for a number of reasons, and not the least of which is that she was very willing to think through a lot of these issues. But one of them was that we wanted to show an example of emulation. And of course, the ideal would’ve been to show emulation of a platform that everybody uses, right?, rather than maybe old technology that only a handful of artists perhaps used in the 1980s. It would be great to show people who used a Pentium and Windows XP, ’cause it’s the most popular one. But the question was then, how do you prove that any kind of real transformation took place? If I show a Pentium in a gallery running, or I manage to emulate a Pentium, it’s no big deal, because people say, “Well, I’ve got a working Pentium already, what’s the big deal?” So we said, “Well, ok, there is an analog to the distance between something that’s far away in time and into the future and that’s the distance, if you will, between two platforms—Windows and Mac. Many people know that a Windows program doesn’t always work on a Mac, and vice versa. So we found an emulator, in this case, off-the-shelf, that simulates the Windows environment with a Macintosh one. You can’t really tell from looking at it here; it just looks like I’m running a Macintosh version of [phage]. But as we said, [phage] doesn’t work on Mac. If I close out, by quitting the [phage] program, you see that I am in fact running Windows. And I’ve downloaded [phage] dutifully from Mary’s website. Using Internet Explorer Windows within the Mac environment, I can access all the different parts of Windows and so forth. And I’m basically still within the Mac environment on the outside. So here’s an example of an over-the-counter, if you will, commercial emulator.
And Mary, how do you feel about the emulated version, versus the migrated. I should clarify that, of course, to use these same terms, as we often say in the Variable Media Network, the first version, that 98 computer running on that grubby beige box that everyone used to have on their desk, with a fifteen-inch screen, is an original one; it’s stored. You know, it’s the old code, the old operating system, and the old equipment. The newer one is migrated; it has a much larger screen. And as Mary, I think, suggested, it runs faster. And then the one that you’ve just seen on my computer is the emulated one. So of those three…
FLANAGAN: (laughs) I feel like it’s a game show. (laughter)
IPPOLITO: Pick a door.
FLANAGAN: Well, I guess for me, what the experiment showed me was that— It just reaffirmed that, for me, the piece is not about the hardware; and for me, the piece is about the software. But also, the sense of time that happens in this work. You know, I didn’t really realize how important it was to me. You know, as it gets speeded up, or you know, as it becomes kind of frenetic— it can end up being really kind of not very fun, and kind of uncomfortable for me. Like words are flying by, things are going way too fast. So for me, it was about time. I should think about John’s solution about having all my timing stuff in an external file so for the future, when I make future work… But I rarely think that way. I was very careful in the original one, you know, with this kind of size processor, and not three gigs of RAM or something, that it would have a particular pace, and kind of have a meditative quality. And I think the new one just kind of feels like popcorn to me. The Mac version, actually, because Virtual PC is such—Well, it pretty much dogs on the Mac. So what’s kind of nice is that that slows the whole process down. So I kind of felt like the Mac version was more like the Win98 version than the WinXP version. So that was kind of how I read the experiment.
IPPOLITO: But of course, you’re the best judge of the pacing, but the worst judge of the cultural emulation, that is the stuff on the hard drive, because you see your own things come up and go, “Oh, there’s that email from my boyfriend,” or “There’s that picture of my dog from 19…”. And I’m wondering, you know, maybe for the rest of the panel, are examples of this kind of cultural emulation, where we try to take the context that, again, came up in the panel in the morning, and somehow extricate the work from the context, but also drag some marker or something of the context along with it? You know, is there any strategy? Or what other genres, besides Mary’s particular case, do we see that problem?
PAUL: I think it’s a very interesting case, in this context, and I have no solution for solving this. For me, [phage] always very much relied on the person connection I had of running it on my hard drive and seeing my data flying around. So let’s say the piece wouldn’t work anymore on the average computer, so your only chance of seeing it is in a museum context, et cetera; but it will never be your data; there were always be a distance. Now, this would presumably be true for [phage] anyway, as soon as it’s shown in a museum context. What is even more challenging is the next version Mary did, which was [collection], which is [phage] networked. And so the program will basically sample from everybody who has downloaded the application onto their machine. And what you would see in the museum context is still your hard drive being sampled, together with that of other people, creating this collective unconscious. And that is something that simply cannot be replicated. I mean, I don’t see a choice, unless you as a museum—as Mary is now giving away programs on a CD or whatever—would make available, ready format, handed out to people, and say, “Here, this is a present from the museum to you, so go home and you can still participate in this artwork.” But I don’t think that we have any good solutions for this type of more culturally or network oriented emulation, which makes the preservation of internet art so much harder.
IPPOLITO: You had mentioned the example of Anna Karenin, which I have on the screen here. You might wanna describe the work and why you brought it up in our previous discussion.
PAUL: It’s an early piece by Olia Lialina, which very much relies on the embeddedness of content within the network, which was a big theme in the 1990s. So what she did is basically titled the piece Anna Karenin Goes to Paradise, and it has three acts, Anna Looking for Love, Anna Looking for Train… And what you get here on this page are basically just links that are being returned by searches run on search engines at the time for these terms. So you get everything from the home page of the band Love and Rockets, or a lot of sex sites that are here. If you click on these links now, most of them will be dead. This is a network ruin at this point in time. So the question being: What do you do with a piece like this? And of course, Olia could probably update it for current search engines; and depending on how that whole market evolves, and if Google will really be the final search engine ever that will dominate the market—which is not likely—that whole update would need to be done again and again and again. And then you look that the peculiar situation, where you have a piece that conceptually is very much embedded within the 1990s in its conceptual concerns, and updated to a version that works with the current network environment. And again, for me, it creates this weird tension between the original historical context of a work and the current environment, and it doesn’t quite go together.
(END OF VHS TWO)
IPPOLITO: —the completed state of a work. And my concern—especially for the younger artists working in newer media on this panel—is that completing a work kills it. New media is like a shark; it has to keep moving to survive. And those of us who’ve been involved in new media know that it rarely has a static sort of form for very long. An artist may start out by working with a certain number of collaborators in a studio in Williamsburg; and the work has whatever components were kluged together to create the experience, as of that point. Then they go to the Kitchen, where there’s the first presentation of the work; and they add some elements, or they swap out a computer, say. It goes to New Langton Arts in San Francisco, and there’s a different programmer— someone couldn’t make it ’cause they got food poisoning on the way, on the plane; and so it has a new cast of characters, and a new life. And then it comes back to the Whitney Biennial and is shown there, with a different change. And, you know, I think these things are not something necessarily to, that we’re just waiting for it to fall into a stable position, but something to sort of—as Jill Sterrett said—find ways of accommodating that amount of change.
HWANG: Though in some ways, I think it’s really important for us to understand. I mean, you know, we’re kind of in a very technologically mediated sphere; there’s a constant pressure for us to stay current at all costs. But I think it’s important to understand that things we do age, and they carry a history with them. And history’s actually really important. It’s really useful for people to be able to look at media works that are five years old, ten years old, thirty years old, and kind of see what those works may have implied about the tools that were available at the time, and how they affected culture. It happens in a really broad sense. I saw, years ago, a staging of Death of a Salesman—only the cast was African-American, which was sort of this attempt at reinterpretation, but it seemed to me to be completely off, because first of all, it’s fairly— this story’s very clearly set in America in the 1940s; there were no middle-class black families back then. Then there’s also a part where he fantasizes about his brother, who’s went off to Africa to make a fortune in the mines—which, if you know the history of how people made a fortune in the mines in Africa, a black man wouldn’t do that. You know? These facts are really important, and technology sort of kind of always carries this promise that we’ll be freed from history, that we’ll freed from sort of the encumbrance of the real world, and sort of all these— all these old things. But the old things, they make us who we are.
PAUL: And I think it really varies from work to work. There are works that can be reinterpreted, and that are still current and make sense; and others where, as Francis says, it’s so important to preserve the moment, the interface, the historical context when they were created. This is also something I find pretty remarkable about The Erl King—although Grahame probably disagrees with me—but The Erl King, and many of his other works, are incorporating classical works: Goethe’s Erl King, Schubert’s musical interpretation, Tolstoy, Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. And if you look at them, they feel very timeless to me. Apart from the references to the eighties, in abandoned cars—which you would still find in— depending on the part of the country you were talking about—I think this is a truly timeless piece. I wouldn’t look at this today, if I encountered it in its current emulated version, and say, “Oh, God, this is so eighties. How did they do this, or work the technology?” Perhaps that’s also due to the fact that interactive cinema hasn’t made huge advances, because this is not technologically driven, but inherently narratively driven. So if you look at interactive cinema today, it’s not that it’s oh so different from what Grahame has done here. So I think that’s an example of a very timeless piece. And again, this morning, the question became: Isn’t it remarkable that he was able to do that twenty years ago? And how do we preserve that fact? Or is it important to preserve it at all? My point being that it’s always, again, a case by case basis. Some pieces may work in reinterpretations; others are completely ruined, or you do a huge disservice to the work, because it suddenly feels dated.
BAUMGAERTEL: I think that all these questions that we are discussing become even more interesting if you don’t just focus on art, on high art, or what’s presented in an institution here, but if you think of them in a broader cultural sense, because what I find very striking about these emulations of these old games, for example, in which we’ll never get from screen shots or pictures or anything, is really the sound. Because I think a lot of the people who played these games when they were teenagers in the early eighties grew up to either listen to or produce techno music. I mean, there is really unexpected outcomes, all of a sudden. This kind of sound, I mean, it was never that loud. This is really where this emulation and this performance failed. I mean, it was more, in the background. But still, I think that got, generations of people used to electronic music, electronic sound, not Stockhausen, not you know, John Cage or whatever, but this was really—all these tiny little sound chips really made these sounds probably not acceptable, but it just got people used to it; and then ten years later, all of a sudden, you had raves and these big parties, where the music was basically produced with this kind of— not with this kind of equipment anymore, but which sounded very, very similar.
ARCANGEL: I can kinda add to that. I got into doing this stuff through making records. Beige, the group I’m in, started as a record label. And we released techno records. And then we started using old computers to make records. And then people were always like, “Well, we have this gallery. Why don’t you guys show something when you do a concert?” I was like, “Alright, we could see what we could do.” You know? So I came through the exact same way - through music. And probably because I heard that stuff so much, (laughs) it just seems more natural.
BAUMGAERTEL: And I guess this whole electroclash movement really is— kind of like the musical equivalent of the people who write these emulators, because it is also a way of looking at this old music again and not, just from a museum point of view or from any institution point of view, but really from a fan’s point of view. I mean, in Germany, I recently saw Kraftwerk again; this is also another way to reevaluate what they’ve done, and all of a sudden they’re back again, and they sound completely different from what you really remember them to be, and Kraftwerk, you know, still sounds like a contemporary group.
IPPOLITO: I have more questions, but if there are some from the audience, we’d be happy to have someone join in.
MAN: In terms of migration, I mean, is the emulation of, let’s say, something like multiple stations as simple as Pacman or Asteroids the experience on a PC, which is taking place on that four-by-six screen, is not exactly the same type of physical experience that you’re gonna get at an arcade. And so I, you know, depending on the type of work, depending on the mechanism of it originally shown, in terms of hardware, do you see this as similar to looking at a painting in a museum, or looking at a painting in a book? I mean, there’s a relationship there that I would like to know if you’ve thought about or how do you feel about that?
PAUL: Well, there definitely is a loss there, no doubt about it. And I don’t know if it can be solved in any way. As Francis said, there are possibilities, you know, to recreate the whole thing; but I think the value of it is mostly on the level of a cultural artifact. I mean, nobody today will probably find asteroids dazzling in any way. But it still is…
BAUMGAERTEL: I do, but…
PAUL: (laughs) Ok. I take it back. Tilman does. But you know what I mean, in terms of the graphics that are being…
BAUMGAERTEL: The vectorgraphics are just fantastic; I wish, you know, there would be more computer graphics like that today.
PAUL: Yeah. No, they are. And you can really enjoy them that way, but there still is a way of translating a basic experience. And the gap between those different manifestations is there. And I don’t know if anyone can really solve it. But at least you still are able to have the original experience, to some extent. You’re not looking at a book, something static, a screen shot; it’s still the real thing, in some way.
BAUMGAERTEL: And again, millions of people are able to play it. And if it’s in a museum, it’s going to be gone in thirty years anyway. But even there it’s only accessible to a very limited number of people, so I guess it’s the next best thing, you know? It’s better than just disappearing at all.
IPPOLITO: I think we have to fight the fantasy that we will be able to have everything; that we will have the original experience, the original cultural context, the original equipment. We have to choose for each thing what we are most interested in. Different people and different institutions may make different choices. An art museum may choose one thing, a technology museum may choose something else. And I think the question is really, -- is it better to do something or to do nothing? Is it better to create a version that is changed than to let it lapse into history? And I think in some cases, it is best to let it lapse into history. But people do pretty creative things to keep these things alive. Tilman mentioned American Museum of the Moving Image. Carl Goodman, the curator who’s been involved in emulation there, told me that there is an interface that has basically a universal game interface, with every joystick and roller ball, and all these conceivable doodads and gadgets for playing all of these ancient games. So you pull out your one size fits all interface, and suddenly you can access several decades worth of game interfaces, consoles, on this one machine. That’s a pretty interesting development in its own way. And I’m excited by the creativity that people are bringing to this question, even if some aspects of authenticity are lost. Howard?
HOWARD BESSER: I think you’re right, Jon, in terms of we can’t have everything. But there are ways to kind of have your cake and eat it too. In terms of reinstalling a piece, no, we can’t have everything in the reinstallation, in all cases. But there are lots of other little things we can do to try to carry forward pieces of things that are missing in that reinstallation. The idea of videotaping someone experiencing or interacting with something at the time period helps carry over some of the interface issues, the pacing issues, some of those things that we might not have—some of the look, some of the bulk—that we might not have in a reinstallation. To interview some members of the public interacting with it at the time of the work might carry forwards some of the social context, some of the meaning. You know, people saying, “Oh, wow, this is, like, just like this thing that— that’s out on the market now that I’m interacting with,” or, “I’ve never seen anything that has this aspect,” or… You know, so that there are little kind of supportive things that we might try to save that are really documentation of the work as it was initially installed. I think they do carry forward that historical and technological context.
BAUMGAERTEL: I think apart from talking with people who are playing these games, for example, I think it’s also very important. Right now, it’s pretty much only fans doing that— talking with the people who wrote those games. For example, they might not be artists in the traditional sense of the word, but if you wanna understand where they’re coming from and how this developed, and what the ideas behind was, I mean, this is very important work. And I keep coming up with these examples from music, because maybe the fan base is stronger there, but in my time, I have seen four or five disco revivals. And now there’s another disco revival, but it’s very different, in the sense that it’s not just people putting platform shoes and Afro hair wigs on again, but you know, all of a sudden you have this eight-hundred pages book coming out, just on the history of clubs in New York. And they are really academic, to the extent that they’re almost pedantic. But they really use a lot of the information that has been gathered through the last four or five disco revivals by, you know, people who did their little fanzines or did these websites in the nineties. I mean, it’s not like you don’t have to do any research for yourself anymore, but the basic story was already there if you went through music magazines and fanzines and stuff like that, and then you just had to put it together and make it, you know, eight-hundred pages long. There again, you have this process, where fans basically set the agenda, and then the professionals just, turn it into readable books.
PAUL: One thing we haven’t talked about yet is whose responsibility is that? Who is going to do the work? It seems to work perfectly for the gaming community, where you have a grassroots driven movement that is simply taking care of it; but I don’t quite see that happening within the art world. First of all, many of these works haven’t been collected yet. There are only a few in collections. And as soon as a museum has to deal with those pieces, of course we have to come up with strategies. But it’s also easy to just escape the issue, as long as there isn’t any pressure. So what happens to all the pieces that haven’t been collected? I mean, I completely agree with Joan; why put all the weight on the artists, and expect them to constantly be concerned about emulating the next browser version and keeping old going? And I don’t see a movement that really carries this and takes care of it. And of course, we’re writing books and we have documentation, but that’s still very different from the experience of the work.
IPPOLITO: I think, Francis, your organization. Every organization and community of individuals, perhaps, has different skills or interests they can bring to bear. Rhizome has talked about creating a software archive, where potentially out of date, you know, operating systems, software, browsers, plug-ins could be stored, because those will be needed on top of the emulators, if emulators ever do play a role?
HWANG: Yeah, it’s been sort of floated around, I think. Just to give you guys a little background, Rhizome has this thing called the ArtBase, which is an online database of new media artworks, which was basically started a couple of years after the founding of Rhizome itself as sort of a text discussions group. The biggest problem with new media art is, since there’s very little collector’s market, there’s almost no preservation of it happening. So a lot of works go up on some website, and then the artist, you know, decides she’s into video or she just doesn’t wanna pay her hosting bills or whatever, and the thing just disappears, and you have this piece of history that just winks out of existence. So the ArtBase is sort of a place where people can submit things and it’s fairly grassroots, in the sense that the artist has to do a lot of the work of sort of tagging it, which nobody really likes to have to figure out their own META tags and stuff. META tagging is never fun for anybody. And then, you can give us a copy of the work, and we save it forever, pretty much. Right now, we have more than a thousand works. Because net art is fairly new, obsolescence is not something we have to deal with right this minute. Most of the stuff that we have on the site still works. But of course, that’s not really to be guaranteed. The interesting thing is sort of that for whatever reason, almost all the stuff we see uses a fairly well established set of languages or programs. There’s a lot of Perl, there’s a lot of Flash and Shockwave, there’s a lot of QuickTime. All of these are extremely well supported in the technological community, outside of the world of fine arts, either because they’re open source—like Perl, MYSQL and PHP—or because they’re supported by some gigantic company that wants to keep them around. In the long term, we’ll see if one of those is better than the other. There’s definitely a sense that there is a strong need for a very focused kind of technical archival strategy, which goes outside of the art world, even. Because if you talk to people who work in documents archiving for giant federal organizations- they have these exact same problems. The names of the technology are different. You talk to the Census Bureau, they have piles and piles of stuff on, you know, tape or punch cards or whatever, and you know, they’re just racing to get it to a modern format, before it all disappears. And in fact, by the time they get it to that modern format, that modern format will be obsolete. So there’s probably a very big nebulous goal in there, which is sort of, as more of our history becomes encoded in forms that slowly disappear, how can we keep up?
HEEMSKERK: I think that that archive might be a nice idea, but it loses its context. When we were asked to put something in the Rhizome archive, we said no. Then Alex Galloway said, “But you’re already in there, ’cause you once made a splash page for Rhizome.” And a splash page, for people who don’t know, is a first page which comes up before you enter a database or a website. That was the purpose of the work we made for Rhizome. Now it’s somewhere in a database. Rhizome is closed. It’s for members only. So the funny thing is, the now archived splash page has a totally different meaning, and… I don’t know, maybe you can answer in how far things which are archived in a database, like one big collective thing, have their original connection to the web. ’Cause most things on the web are not isolated, as we saw with Mary’s work.
HWANG: You mean given the way that Rhizome works? Or you’re talking more generally? I’m not clear about what you’re asking.
HEEMSKERK: It seems that Rhizome has a solution for the emulation and the conservation, is to put - you yourself said over a thousand artworks on one server, as like, a database. But a lot of these artworks were made in another context. Also, since Rhizome now only is for members, I’m just asking you how you see that in a reflection of the worldwide web.
HEEMSKERK: Now, let’s formulate different. What I want to ask is what makes it more preserved on your server than, for example, on Guggenheim’s server or on Tilman’s server?
HWANG: Oh. Oh, nothing makes it more preserved. I mean, you know, we’re all sort of trying to do the same thing.
HEEMSKERK: Yeah, but for example, we just saw Olia’s work. Olia’s work is about this little title bar.
IPPOLITO: You’re referring to the works there, where the location bar, the actual— (Heemskerk: Yeah) what it indicates in the location bar of a browser, the things we usually take for granted, the URLs, are actually part of the work, the way that it’s worded, or the punctuation becomes relevant and as a whole project
HEEMSKERK: Yeah, I think it’s a kind of authorship, this URL title bar.
IPPOLITO: And yet, that’s also a marker for its existence in the network, rather than being on some other server. (Heemskerk: Yeah) When you change the location in the network, you change that fundamental part of that work, in that case. I think that speaks to the larger question of access. And we promised we wouldn’t go into this too much in this symposium, because there will be others on this topic, but whether we’re talking about, you know, a nonprofit like Rhizome that’s forced to charge five dollars a year because they need to keep afloat, or whether we’re talking about the difference between the proprietary and open source codes that are now supported by many artists—Flash being an example of a proprietary one and, HTML being an example of an open one—increasingly, I think, we will find that many of the solutions we now take for granted are threatened by an increasingly strong copyright regimen. Every month, I see a different article about the manufactures or games or representatives of intellectual property at large criticizing people who make emulators. The act of emulating — say a game from the past, if it’s software emulation, or even a hardware from the past, in practice, often violates several copyrights or patents. And even if the company doesn’t exist anymore, even if there’s no office full of intellectual property lawyers to send cease and desist letters to the people who are writing these emulators, nevertheless, there is this consensus among a certain more copyright maximalist group of lawyers that they shouldn’t be doing it; it’s violating someone’s copyright. So I think increasingly, the things we’ve come to take for granted about emulators are not so big of an issue when we’re talking about dead computer companies from twenty years ago; but when we start saying, “How are we gonna emulate all the works that are now made for Windows and Pentium?,” we may be in hot water, unless we resolve some of the issues of intellectual property.
JEFF ROTHENBERG: I’d like to make a couple of comments. One will speak to that point, which also harks back to something that was said earlier, that the emphasis in this panel of looking at emulation as something that’s, you know, done sort of by the margins, by this sort of underground group of people around the world doesn’t quite put it in its proper historical context. It’s actually been a mainstream activity in computer science for forty-five years. IBM used it long ago, when it introduced the System/360. It introduced an emulator, the previous 7090 and the 1401 machines, and people used those — for exactly the same purposes we’re talking about here, in order to run old software on new machines. So there is a long history of its being used in the mainstream computer market, without the legal problems that you’re alluding to in the game world. Apple used it when they went to the Power PC and wrote and emulator for the 68000 Motorola chip, so that you could do code, as John Simon mentioned, you know, it’ll still run on the newest Apple G3 or G4, because there is an emulator that emulates the old 68000. So I think it is useful for us to realize that, you know, in this context—and there are specialized issues that come up when you’re talking about games or artworks that are perhaps not the things that mainstream emulation writers are concerned with the technique and the practice and the precedent—legal precedent—for doing it goes back forty-five years. I don’t think that’s as big an issue as, you know, as we may be seeing, seeing it from this perspective.
BESSER: Jeff, those are all the same companies emulating their own software, so there’s not an intellectual property issue. Where the intellectual property issue comes up is when the company’s gone out of business or the company doesn’t want somebody else emulating their software. And that’s a really serious problem.
ROTHENBERG: Well, actually, it’s not the case in the case of Apple emulating the 68000. Apple didn’t make the 68000. Also, there’s an emulation of the Pentium that’s used in some of the Sony VIOs. And so the technique is used all the time. Now, yes, there are legal issues, and there may be issues about, you know, dead companies somehow rising from the dead and being nastier than the live ones.
BESSER: Like, look at what SCO’s trying to do to Linux. You know. I mean — intellectual property is a hugely contentious (Rothenberg: Absolutely) area.
ROTHENBERG: Absolutely. But, you know, hardware emulation is a somewhat different subject from software emulation. (Besser: Yes. Absolutely.) Hardware is relatively simple, compared to software, in its functional point of view. And that makes the situation somewhat different.
IPPOLITO: Another question.
PIP LAURENSON: Can I change the subject? I just want to get back to one of the things that Joan said. And I’m really aware of this image of museums, as places that store things (inaudible) has come up. When did you start preparing for this in the museum.
IPPOLITO: Four years ago.
LAURENSON: Four years ago. And the question I have is that in that four years, when you traveled around and met people who were working in contemporary art museums, the mission to get these things on display, to respond to artists’ intent and doing all of that, whether you still think that is your perception of how museum’s responsibility or whether your perception has changed from the experience of meeting people working behind the scene?
IPPOLITO: Well, I’ve certainly been educated by people like Pip here, who just asked the question, who work on this on a daily basis. And I’m always impressed by just about any conservator anywhere—probably you run across a few that are below some norm or standard, but to me, they’re always the people who really are the— you know, they’re the caretakers of— of art, much more than the curators, who are often worried about other things. The fact that there are these people who are the nurses and doctors of the museum world is amazing. And the ethical questions they wrestle with are gigantic sometimes and particularly with the variable media works. What I have found in my experience is it’s not necessarily the people making a conscious decision that, you know, at some high level, some director meets with the chief curators and says, “Ok, we’re gonna just store things, and that’s how we’ll take care of it.” It’s almost that it’s the lowest level of hierarchies, and often in these marginal cases that are quietly or tacitly understood.
And I’ll just give you one example. We had the announcement card for the first symposium on variable media, which took place in 2002, Preserving the Immaterial, had an illustration of Stick Spiral by Meg Webster, which is this work based on gathering downed branches with the flora on them, from the nearby area, recently enough in time that you got the aroma of the flora of the nearby ecosystem, and creating this huge spiral in the gallery that filled up the gallery. And it was one of our test cases, because it was: Well, how do we keep this? What are the instructions? Obviously, storage is not going to work if you’re meant to have living flowers and plants every time you install the work—or recently dead ones. But when I went approve the copy for the announcement card, I’d written “dimensions variable” on the caption, because over the course of the show the flower wilt and the size— dimensions of the piece change slightly, and obviously, from one installation to another, it changes dramatically. And instead, it came back to me from the editor saying something like, you know, “a-hundred-forty-six-and-a-half inches wide by a-hundred-thirty-two inches tall,” and I said: No. (laughs) No. No. Maybe it was that way once, with some registrar leaning over a ladder with a tape measure, trying to say, “Well, that leaf is exactly such-and-such a height,” but that doesn’t make sense to describe the work in general. You may be describing one instance of the work. But even in one particular installation, it changes its dimensions through time. And I had a big battle with this person, who was not in charged of the museum, but was executing what they thought a museum was about.
What I’ve learned from this process is increasingly that the popular conception of a museum has been: This is a place where they’re expert in putting things in a box. You know: They know about climate control, they have a big lock, they have, (laughs) you know, lots of crates with neat foam in them and so on. And I think we need to move to a direction where we say, “That’s true, but increasingly, with new media and variable media art, museums are expert in interpretation.” And the interpretative faculties they bring, the expertise, whether it’s from the curators or the archivists or the conservators, is really what’s going to be most critical to preserving a lot of these works.
BESSER: Isn’t it a huge amount of interpretation on the part of the museum to convince you that you look at the demographic which is part of the larger piece- that you’re having some sort of an authentic experience? Or how can the museum factor in that interpretation of this for a very long time?
IPPOLITO: That’s a good question. I would say that they are in the business of interpretation. Some people would claim interpretation is the only game in town. I think the question is, are they interpreting the work according to its most important aspects? And as part of our work with variable media, we try to interview artists to get a sense of, from their perspective, what the most important aspects are. In reaction to some of the feedback we got from some of the people in the audience, and other members of, most particularly, estates and friends of artists, for works where the artist was pushing up daisies already, we’ve started to include the perspective of other people, of friends of the artist, estate representatives, gallerists, curators, conservators who’s worked with the artist. And in the current version of our questionnaire that John Hanhardt alluded to at the beginning, which is a digital instrument for gathering intents, we have a number of different accounts that can be inputted. Interpretation is imposed on a viewer by whatever context the museum brings it, even if it’s a white cube. And the viewer is often unconscious, as you point out, of that level of interpretation, that level of an imposition of meaning, just through the act of presentation. What I’m trying to do is make museums a little more conscious of rethinking what that presentation might be like, and what the assumptions about interpretation are that follow.
WOMAN: One thing that really struck me, both in the morning and in the afternoon, were a few comments made by artists, and also by Pip Laurenson, that it’s sort of struck a core work done by Dario Gamboni on the destruction of art. But what we’re talking about is sort of fighting against the destruction or loss of art. And it was very interesting, because he tried to study the controversies that have somehow led to the reconstruction. When I heard, for example, Mary Flanagan and Grahame Weinbren talked about not realizing until they saw the emulation how important pacing was. It made me realize that it wasn’t until that you studied the destruction that you understood what the expectations were that were being transgressed by the destruction or by some surface. It would be neat if you could build in those discoveries, not as a sense of failure; but when you’re creating your system for keeping records, to create a system for keeping records that’s that shock of recognition. Without thinking of it as a failure, but rather thinking of it as a moment of understanding. So I don’t know if you can build that in somehow, Just somehow of having those creative flashes come into the record keeping process.
IPPOLITO: I’m not sure that it’s possible to build that into a questionnaire or a structure, because it’s precisely about those things you couldn’t have predicted. And that, of course, is the predicament of the variable media questionnaire. We try to do that. We try to create structures of dissent and anticipation. But ultimately, I think the best way to do that is to recreate the work. You know. You saw what Grahame and Roberta said about things that they took for granted, because they were there in the original machinery. The dumb, mute blocks of silicon or you know, metal that they were working with had these constraints that they didn’t realize, until they tried to recreate it in a new block of shiny, silver Sony metal. So unfortunately, it’s kind of like exercise. You know, the act of recreation is really the best way, I think, to learn those things. And I think some of the artists on the panel might... agree or disagree.
HEEMSKERK: I think it’s a question of percentage. Like, if it’s one second or one-point-zero-five seconds faster, you don’t really notice it. But for example, when you start to have a base, like, five times faster, you might. But some things are even fifty times faster. And it’s only time-wise. But it seems that the emulation—it’s always for a way back. So like, the Nintendo and ZX Spectrum and so on. Like, nobody’s bothering about that. OS 9 is constantly emulated in the OSX, ’cause it’s a different system. But nobody noticed the differences yet.
FLANAGAN: Yeah, but go out and try to buy a Windows 98 CD, as we found (laughs) during the setup of this show, and it’s a real problem. So, it’s the most recent that ends up being a very funny in between places. And I don’t know, I just wanted to make an aside. Like, I just keep thinking of all the R. Mutt, you know, Duchamp’s urinals that are not the actual urinal, that are everywhere. And I’m not an art historian, but I also think about the Large Glass being delivered, and then, oops. You know. (laughs) I feel like the artists, for the most part, working in this medium —I shouldn’t speak for everybody, but I get a sense that it is that ‘oops.’ You know, that it’s a very wiggly and flexible medium. We’re attracted to it because it’s so weird, and pops up in so many different ways, and we’re not the first kind of people to be dealing with that. And so I just kind of wanted to put it a little bit in perspective. And, you know, how many Bicycle Wheels pop up here and there.
HEEMSKERK: Recently, I saw a work of Bruce Nauman in Rotterdam, and it used to be a film work on four walls of rotating windows. Now they made it on DVD. Like, the image is almost white; only you see a line going up, you don’t hear the sound, what was said in the morning, of the projectors anymore. But on top of it, instead of seeing the shapes of the window, you see all the huge pixels of the cheap projectors they use. And I think, yeah, you can discuss is this good or bad? I can see the good thing is that they can leave it on forever, everyone can see it. But I don’t know what they are seeing.
IPPOLITO: Well, I think in closing, that we need to start thinking about this not as good or bad, but as each recreation as a kind of performance. Some performances are good, some performances are bad. And I’d like to use that actually as a lead-in to a little promo for another show that the Guggenheim is doing in about, oh, a year’s time—but I might as well mention it—which is a work of recreations of performances, and emulations, if you will. This is an example we’re looking at of the emulation of the Robert Morris performance from the gallery, where they chose the actors and the props and everything, to look as identical as possible to the original. But in this case, I believe we might see it more as reinterpretation—we’ll have to see. The show will be called Seven Easy Pieces, and Marina Abramovic, well known as a performance artist in her own right, a very historically important one, will be recreating performances by Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci, Gina Pane, Valie Export, Duchamp, and herself. And they will be one per week, taking place in the rotunda. So it will be her interpretations, or reinterpretations, or emulations of those performances. There will also be a show adjacent to the rotunda, in which documents of the original performances are there.
BAUMGAERTEL: Do you have— do you have the copyrights for these performances?
IPPOLITO: No, actually, there’s one artist I didn’t mention. But many of you may know that he nailed himself to a Volkswagen, who is current under negotiation with Marina to see whether she got permission, because she did get permission from everybody else. So that issue also isn’t going away any time soon, even for performance artists of the sixties and seventies.
Anyway, I’d like to thank Mike Lavin and his crew, who made all this possible on a technical level, with the direction of the theater; Paul Kuranko, our media specialist, who had a very important role, both in the exhibition upstairs and here; Karen Lim, our intern; and obviously, all of the artists and specialists who went out of their way. This is not a show where artist came and installed something that they had, you know, hanging around the back room; this is a show where artists really went way beyond the call of duty to take the challenge we threw to them, and run with it. And I think they deserve an incredible appreciation from the rest of us. Thank you. (applause) So if you have any questions, you can come see us afterward. Thanks again for coming.