Seeing Double: Emulation in Theory and Practice


Report Visit Seeing Double: Gaby Wijers, Netherlands Media Art Institute, June 2004

Seeing Double: Emulation in Theory and Practice, exhibition
Echoes of Art: Emulation as Preservation Strategy, symposium

19 March to 16 May 2004 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Exhibition and symposium focused on the possibilities of Emulation as preservation strategy for media art works.

'Echoes of Art' provided a forum for artists, curators, conservators and computer scientists to discus the role of emulation in keeping digital culture alive.

Participants were:
Cory Arcangel, Tilman Baumgaertel, Isaac Dimitrovsky, Mary Flanagan, Roberta Friedman, Joan Heemskerk, Francis Hwang, Jon Ippolito, Caitlin Jones, Pip Laurenson, Christiane Paul, Jeff Rothenberg, John F. Simon Jr., Jill Sterrett, Carol Stringari, and
Grahame Weinbren.

Preservation strategies:
Storage (store and maintain the original hard- and software)
Emulation (original look with new hard- and software)
Migration (upgrading hard- and software)
Reinterpretation (current medium used for representing the concept)

The term emulation can be applied generally to any prefabrication of an artwork's components, as is the case with the refabrications and reconfigurations that are essential to the preservation of conceptual, minimal, and performative art. In the digital media realm, however, emulation has a specific definition. An emulator is a computer program that 'fools' the original code into assuming that it is still running on its original equipment, thus enabling software from an out-of-date computer to run on a contemporary one. Computer scientist Jeff Rothenberg describes emulation as one computer 'impersonating' another; emulation 'allows the new computer to run virtually any program that originally ran on the old computer, thereby virtually re-creating the old computer.' This allows the computer code, often written by the artists, to remain untouched.

Case studies:
The exhibition paired artworks by Nam June Paik, jodi, Grahame Weinbren in endangered mediums side by side with their re-created doubles--and sometimes triples--in newer mediums. Exhibition and Symposium offered a unique opportunity to judge and discuss whether the emulated works capture the spirit of the originals.

Artists such as Cory Arcangel, jodi, and Robert Morris may choose emulation in combination with other preservation strategies, such as storing obsolete equipment or recording staged performances. When manipulation of hardware is critical to the artwork, as with the electronic sculptures by Nam June Paik or John F. Simon, Jr., emulation may not be as appropriate for the short term as migrating the original components to their up-to-date equivalents. And even in cases where emulation looks like the ideal solution, as in works by Mary Flanagan or Grahame Weinbren and Roberta Friedman, practical logistics and cultural factors may force artists to augment pure emulation with creative solutions of their own.

The general idea is all right but is not a general solution. Conservators have to explore both traditional and experimental strategies for experimental strategies for dealing with ephemeral, variable and digital works. The role of the conservator is changing into interdisciplinary cooperation. Research should be done through case studies such as these, to document how conservators and artists and their associates regard the long-term preservation of their work. The Langlois Foundation is dealing with a similar project in Canada. Recreating look and feel (colour, size, shape, speed, smoothness, effects, sounds) was the hardest part, it seems. 'the things we didn't think off during the development, causes the problems': Grahame Weinbren.

Detailed information is available at:

a summary:

Cory Arcangel, I Shot Andy Warhol

2002, Sony Trinitron television (ca. 1990), Nintendo Entertainment System, reprogrammed videogame cartridge, and light gun
2004, Sony Trinitron television (ca. 1990), Nintendo Entertainment System, reprogrammed videogame cartridge, and light gun

Cory Arcangel / I Shot Andy Warhol / Installation view of Digital Media


To hack the Nintendo game cartridge, Arcangel pried off the chip corresponding to the game graphics, rewrote its programming to include new game characters, and soldered it back onto the original cartridge. Arcangel left unchanged the chip that controlled the logic of the game itself, as well as the light gun used to interact with it.
The impact of Arcangel's original intervention--hacking an obsolete game cartridge at the level of hardware-- would be lost in an emulated version. In the short term, storage of the original equipment--with potential migration of the television--is the ideal option for preserving this piece of technological nostalgia.

Mary Flanagan, [phage]
1998, Macromedia Director code, Windows 98
2004, Macromedia Director code, Windows XP
2004, Macromedia Director code, Windows 98 emulator on Macintosh OSX.

Mary Flanagan / phage from


Flanagan originally intended [phage] to be downloaded and run on individual users' hard drives. The version shown here mines data copied in 1998 from Flanagan's own hard drive, running on a PC under the Windows 98 operating system.
To migrate the original [phage] program to a contemporary PC, Flanagan downloaded the program, installed it under Windows XP, and set it loose on data in her current hard drive. Although [phage] is compatible with this new configuration, the faster processor of the contemporary PC accelerates the tempo at which images and text snippets fly past the screen.

jodi, JET SET WILLY Variations
2002, interactive BASIC software code, ZX Spectrum computer, and audiocassette player. Courtesy of the artists
2002, interactive BASIC software code, ZX Spectrum emulator, and Windows XP. Courtesy of the artists
2004, video recording of 10 Programs Written in BASIC © 1984. Courtesy of the artists

jodi / JET SET WILLY Variations from


The artist duo jodi based their JET SET WILLY Variations on a game from the 1980s created for the now obsolete ZX Spectrum computer. One version in this gallery displays the JET SET WILLY Variations on this antiquated equipment.
Because the only keys required to play the game are the left arrow, right arrow, and space bar, the keyboard mismatch that impeded the artists from using the emulator to reprogram the game does not impede viewers from using the emulator to play it. The emulated game is seen here on a contemporary computer running Windows XP.

Robert Morris and Carolee Schneemann performing Site at Stage 73, Surplus Dance Theater, New York, 1964.

1964, live performance with Robert Morris and Carolee Schneemann
1993, restaged and filmed with Andrew Ludke and Sarah Tomlinson, directed by Babette Mangolte. 16-mm film transferred to video.

  Robert Morris and Carolee Schneemann performing Site at Stage 73/ Surplus Dance Theater/ New York/ 1964 / Photo by Peter Moore from

Morris was an active participant in the Judson Dance Theater, whose members explored the artistic potential of task-oriented movements. He choreographed and performed Site onstage in front of a live audience with artist Carolee Schneemann.
Morris's restaging of Site three decades later aimed to emulate as closely as possible the look, age, and movements of the original dancers. Although it functions at a level removed from the live restaging, the film (transferred to video) represents a version of the work that can be stored and migrated rather than emulated.
The impetus for making a film version of Site, a performance from 1964, originally came from Rosalind Krauss, who curated my 1994 Guggenheim retrospective. She thought it would be an interesting idea to have these performances shown along with other works from the same period.

Nam June Paik, TV Crown, 1965 (1988)

1965, altered RCA television
1989, altered Samsung television with signal amplifiers.

TV Crown/ 1965 (1988) / Photo by David Heald. from


Paik first experimented with rewiring television sets in 1963 for his seminal exhibition Exposition of Music-- Electronic Television at Galerie Parnass in Wuppertal, Germany. In 1965 Paik created another manipulated television, TV Crown, by adding a second electromagnetic 'yoke' and feeding audio signals into both yokes to modulate the electron beam, thereby painting the screen with mesmerizing geometric oscillations.
To re-create TV Crown for Paik's 2000 Guggenheim retrospective, the artist's long-time collaborator Jung Sung Lee performed the same manipulation with a contemporary television set to produce a result comparable to the original. This re-creation is more a migration to new hardware than an emulation of old hardware; however, if flat screens replace cathode-ray tubes in the future, the day will come when an off-the shelf TV set will no longer permit such manipulation. At that point, storing or custom-fabricating cathode-ray tubes ('hardware-for-hardware' emulation) would be the only option to preserve the work.

John F. Simon, Jr. , Color Panel

Color Panel v1.0, 1999. C code, altered Apple PowerBook 280c laptop, and acrylic. Edition 1/2.
Color Panel v1.0, 1999. C code, altered Apple PowerBook 280c laptop, and acrylic.
Color Panel v1.0.1, 2004. C code, altered Apple PowerBook G3 laptop, and acrylic.

John F. Simon Jr.
Color Panel v1.0.1 2004 /
Color Panel v1.0 1999 /
Courtesy of the artist and Sandra Gering Gallery from


Simon created the original Color Panel v1.0 by stripping the casing off a 1994 Apple PowerBook 280c and embedding the screen in a white acrylic frame. His custom software, based on five interrelated cycles of moving blocks of color, runs on the PowerBook hard drive, which is embedded into the back of the frame. Since the program has entirely random elements, Simon and the variable media team decided to install another Color Panel v1.0 from the original edition to serve as a control for the experiment, so that viewers could distinguish discrepancies in color and imagery introduced by the new hardware from discrepancies already inherent in different sculptures from the original edition.
For this exhibition Simon created Color Panel v1.0.1, an experimental version to test the possibility of running his custom software on newer hardware, in this case a 1998 Apple PowerBook G3. The original code ran too fast on the newer processor, however, so Simon introduced 'waitstates' --commands to slow down the code--to reproduce the pacing of the original program more accurately. Technically, this alteration makes the recreation a migration rather than emulation, although most of the code is untouched in this preservation strategy.

Grahame Weinbren and Roberta Friedman, The Erl King

1982-85, PASCAL code, SMC-70 computer, storage cp/m operating system, custom-built video switcher, three laser disc players, Carroll touch screen, one CRT viewing monitor, one CRT touch-screen monitor, and three laser discs.
2004, JAVA code, PASCAL code, Sony Desktop computer (specs to come), Linux operating system, viewing monitor, touch-screen monitor, and Elo touch screen. Courtesy of the artist, promised gift to Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Grahame Weinbren/ The Erl King from

Specific features of the Sony SMC-70 computer contributed to what artists like Weinbren and Friedman could achieve in the emerging medium of interactive cinema. The computer takes input from the infrared bezel touch screen and signals the laser disc players to find and play video and audio segments. The RGB overlay system enables text and simple graphics to appear on the input screen but not the public viewing screen.
The artists worked together with the Guggenheim's variable media team and consultant Jeff Rothenberg to digitize the video and audio, and software engineer Isaac Dimitrovsky programmed a new interpreter for the original PASCAL code. When the PASCAL code sends a command to load audio, video, text, or graphics files from their original storage devices, the interpreter emulates the function of the video switcher, the graphics cache, and the laser disc players to ensure that video and sound clips play at the right times.
Detailed final report, Erl-King project. Isaac Dimitrovsky, April 1, 2004:

Variable Media Questionnaire and Database
With Caitlin Jones, Jon Ippolito and Vivian van Saaze we discussed the Variable Media Questionnaire and database. The variable media questionnaire is an interactive form linked to a database and designed to assist artists and museum staff in writing variable media guidelines. The questionnaire is intended to spur questions that must be answered in order to capture artists' desires about how to translate their work into new mediums once the work's original medium has expired. It seems to be an extremely useful guideline. The related database to store and share the information could be a useful tool. We will start to register some case studies in the VMD later this year. Eight case studies are now described in the database. Beside conservation strategies, behaviour (contained, installed, performed, interactive, reproduce, duplicated, encoded, networked), past and future state are registered. Questionnaire, database, project and publication (permanence trough chance) can be found at: