Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage, contemporary art specialisation Master thesis
The impact of technological shift on institutions’ preservation strategies
Research on Peter Struycken’s early works DISP, BLOCKS and SHFT-34
Student number: 12527866
Thesis supervisors: Ellen Jansen Sanneke Stigter
Second reader: Laura Kolkena
University of Amsterdam June 17, 2021
Summary ... 3
Samenvatting ... 4
Preface and acknowledgements ... 5
Introduction ... 6
1. Software-based art ... 8
1.1. History of software-based art ... 8
1.2. The place of computers in software-based art ... 11
1.3. Software-based art and authenticity ... 12
2. Peter Struycken – history and case studies ... 14
2.1. The artist - works and influences ... 14
2.2. Introduction to case studies ... 16
2.2.1. Case study 1: DISP (1977) ... 17
2.2.2. Case study 2: BLOCKS (1998) ... 18
2.2.3. Case study 3: SHFT-34 (1982 - 2007) ... 20
3. Conservation of software-based art ... 22
3.1. Historical evolution of preservation strategies ... 22
3.2. Standards and guidelines ... 23
3.3. Preservation strategies nowadays ... 24
3.4. Software-based art conservation challenges ... 25
3.4.1. Absence of standard guidelines for documentation of context ... 25
3.4.2. Absence of common practice and terminology ... 25
3.4.3. Lack of hindsight and obsolescence ... 26
4. Case studies – Preservation strategy analysis and risk assessment ... 28
4.1. DISP ... 28
4.1.1. Transformation Digital Art project – Preservation of DISP ... 28
4.1.2. Future of the work – risk assessment ... 29
4.2. BLOCKS ... 31
4.2.1. Transformation Digital Art project – Preservation of BLOCKS ... 31
4.2.2. Future of the work – risk assessment ... 31
4.3. SHFT-34 ... 33
4.3.1. Transformation Digital Art project – Preservation of SHFT-34 ... 33
4.3.2. Future of the work – risk assessment ... 34
4.4. Values attributed to the artworks ... 36
4.4.1. Assigning values to DISP, BLOCKS and SHFT-34 ... 37
4.5. Ethical considerations and preservation issues ... 38
Conclusion ... 40
Glossary ... 41
Bibliography ... 43
Appendix I – Values ... 47
Appendix II – Peter Struycken interview ... 50
Interview at Gorinchem ... 50
Email interview ... 61
Photograph cover: Peter Struycken, SHFT-34, 1982-2007 ©LIMA
SU M M A R Y
In a world where technologies evolve with a speed that is beyond our control, conservators are faced with the never-ending task of updating their knowledge. Preservation strategies for digital art, for which there is no real common consensus among professionals, are undoubtedly impacted by this rapid evolution. Although these topics are regularly discussed within the field, some elements are left out: How do younger generations perceive art? How is this perception impacted by technological developments and how should this influence the preservation of works and their exhibition? These points are even more interesting when dealing with digital art from the 1970s or 1980s. Early works by Peter Struycken, Dutch artist, and pioneer of computer-based art, are part of this category of works whose preservation as well as their display are challenged by obsolescence.
The artist is particularly known for his research into the relationship between colours. They evolve according to the context and influence in different ways their perception by the human eye.
This thesis is a continuation of the work carried out by Nina Van Doren and the entire team at LIMA that participated in the Transformation Digital Art project from 2014 to 2016. During this project, three works from Peter Struycken presenting their own challenges have been the subject of a study to determine the most suitable preservation strategy for them: DISP (1977), SHFT-34 (1982-2007) and BLOCKS (1998). Each program has a different history, and problems that need to be addressed.
The interest in these three works is based on their technological diversity as well as their aesthetic connection. The aim of the Transformation Digital Art project was also to compare the different influences and consequences of three preservation strategies applied to these artworks: emulation, migration and reinterpretation.
This thesis will bring a contemporary look, 5 years after the end of this innovative project, on the preservation strategies chosen at that time. The diagnosis will focus on the analysis of the influence of technological shifts on the preservation strategies for software-based art. Exchanges with Peter Struycken as well as various artists, conservators and computer scientists allowed us to gather the information necessary to establish a risk assessment for each work, but also to propose a new approach for their preservation.
SA M E N V A T T I N G
In een wereld waarin de technologie met een oncontroleerbare snelheid evolueert, staan restauratoren voor de niet aflatende taak hun kennis op peil te houden. Conserveringsstrategieën voor digitale kunst, waarvoor geen echte gemeenschappelijke consensus bestaat onder professionals, worden ongetwijfeld beïnvloed door deze snelle evolutie. Hoewel deze onderwerpen regelmatig binnen het vakgebied worden besproken, blijven sommige elementen buiten beschouwing: Hoe kijken jongere generaties tegen kunst aan? Hoe wordt deze perceptie beïnvloed door de technologische ontwikkelingen en hoe moet dit de bewaring van werken en de tentoonstelling ervan beïnvloeden? Deze punten zijn nog interessanter wanneer het gaat over digitale kunst uit de jaren 1970 of 1980. De vroege werken van Peter Struycken, Nederlands kunstenaar en pionier op het gebied van computergebaseerde kunst, maken deel uit van deze categorie werken waarvan zowel de conservering als het tentoonstellen op de proef worden gesteld door veroudering. De kunstenaar is vooral bekend om zijn onderzoek naar de relatie tussen kleuren. Ze evolueren naargelang de context en beïnvloeden op verschillende manieren hun perceptie door het menselijk oog.
Deze thesis is een voortzetting van het werk van Nina Van Doren en het hele team van LIMA dat deelnam aan het project Transformation Digital Art van 2014 tot 2016. Tijdens dit project zijn drie werken van Peter Struycken, die hun eigen uitdagingen presenteren, het onderwerp geweest van een studie om de meest geschikte conserveringsstrategie voor hen te bepalen: DISP (1977), SHFT- 34 (1982-2007) en BLOCKS (1998). Elk programma heeft een andere geschiedenis en problemen die moeten worden aangepakt. De belangstelling voor deze drie werken is zowel gebaseerd op hun technologische diversiteit als op hun esthetische samenhang. Het doel van het project Transformatie Digitale Kunst was ook om de verschillende invloeden en gevolgen te vergelijken van drie conserveringsstrategieën toegepast op deze kunstwerken: emulatie, migratie en herinterpretatie.
Deze thesis zal, 5 jaar na het einde van dit vernieuwende project, een hedendaagse blik werpen op de toen gekozen bewaarstrategieën. De diagnose zal zich toespitsen op de analyse van de invloed van technologische verschuivingen op de bewaarstrategieën voor software-gebaseerde kunst.
Uitwisselingen met Peter Struycken en verschillende kunstenaars, conservatoren en informatici hebben ons toegelaten de nodige informatie te verzamelen om voor elk werk een risico-evaluatie op te stellen, maar ook om een nieuwe aanpak voor de bewaring ervan voor te stellen.
PR E F A C E A N D A C K N O W L E D G E M E N T S
The thesis you are about to read follows and concludes two years of master studies at the University of Amsterdam (UvA), contemporary art specialisation. The second year of the master's degree was more dedicated to digital art, the understanding of the machines that surround us, the functioning of screens, projectors, exhibition material... I feel a huge gratitude to have been able, for this thesis, to continue in this way and to deepen my understanding of software-based art, particularly through the challenges it presents. Understanding, analysing, exchanging with artists and professionals, so many things that made this work an incredibly positive project.
It has been possible thanks to people that I would like to thank warmly.
Ellen Jansen, my supervisor, for her supervision and follow-up throughout the elaboration of this work, from the setting up to the writing
Sanneke Stigter, teacher at UvA, for her availability, her help and her advices
Peter Struycken, artist, for his time, his enthusiasm and the unlimited sharing of his knowledge Nina Van Doren, for helping me with my research, providing me with a large amount of data and information concerning the artworks
Zalán Szakács, for his time, his enthusiasm and his fresh look at the preservation of digital art Gaby Wijers, director at LIMA, for answering my questions about the works, the Transformation Digital Art project and for giving me her time
Finally, I would like to thank my family and Simon for their support, Floor for her affection and help, and my friends and colleagues for the moments we shared.
IN T R O D U C T I O N
In 2016, Nina Van Doren, then student at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, wrote her Master thesis: Documenting Digital Art Defining and Documenting Significant Properties of Digital Artworks by Peter Struycken, Dutch artist and pioneer in computer-based art.1 She worked more specifically on two artworks by the artist: Computerkunst (1976 - 1977) and SHFT-34 (1982 - 2007). She selected these two works as a basis for demonstrating the concept of work-logic described by Dr. Tabea Lurk, art historian and media theorist who teaches digital preservation at the Hochschule der Künste Bern. Every digital artwork is entirely dependent on electrical devices and when the original medium becomes obsolete, there is a sometimes-irreversible risk of loss. The work-logic concept is a method for capturing and documenting all significant properties of digital artworks for future reference and preservation strategies.2 Nina’s work stems from a larger project in which she took part as a main researcher: Transformation Digital Art (TDA), preservation of born-digital art (2014- 2016).3
This project focused on three of Struycken's software-based artworks: DISP (1977), BLOCKS (1998), and SHFT-34 (1982 – 2007) and aimed to identify the influence and consequences of aesthetic and technical changes on the works.4 To do so, the three programs were analysed, documented and a preservation strategy was chosen for each of them: reinterpretation for DISP, migration for BLOCKS and emulation for SHFT-34.
This thesis is a continuation of the work carried out by Nina Van Doren and the entire team that participated in the TDA project from 2014 to 2016. It will bring a contemporary look, 5 years after the end of this innovative project, on the preservation strategies chosen at that time. The diagnosis will be driven by one question: how does the technological shift influences museum’s preservation strategies for software-based artworks?
Software-based art is considered as a sub-branch of time-based media art. Although no real consensus has been found to describe this category and art form, it can be agreed that a time-based media artwork is “dependent on technology and has a durational dimension”.5 This inseparable link to technology is at the origin of many debates on past and contemporary preservation strategies and their necessary evolution to cope with obsolescence. Indeed, the equipment used for these works becomes obsolete and, in some case, the operating systems* develop and evolve, as does the software*.6 This reflection will guide the construction of this thesis. A first part will be dedicated to the definition and history of digital art, the place of Peter Struycken in this evolution and the focus on the preservation strategies used today by museums for the conservation of software- based art. In this part we will see the difficulties that conservators face, the challenges that the uniqueness of each artwork brings. The second part will focus on the three early programs written
1 Nina Van Doren, "Documenting Digital Art Defining and Documenting Significant Properties of Digital Artworks by Peter Struycken" (Vrije Universiteit, 2016).
2 Jürgen Enge and Tabea Lurk, "Operational Practices for a Digital Preservation and Restoration Protocol," in Preserving and Exhibiting Media Art. Challenges and Perspectives, ed. J. Noordegraaf & V. Hediger
(Amsterdam: University Press, 2013).
3 Gaby Wijers et al., Project Transformation Digital Art. Preservation of Born-Digital Art., ed. Prins Bernard Cultuurfonds Mondriaan Fonds, Kröller-Müller Museum, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, LIMA and SBMK (Amsterdam2016).
5 Tate, "Art Term. Time-Based Media.," https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/t/time-based-media.
[accessed May 8, 2021]
6 Terms marked with an asterisk are defined in a glossary, p.46
by Peter Struycken, the conservation strategies applied to them during the Transformation Digital Art project, and a risk assessment for each artwork.
This work was gradually built up from two elements. The first was an in-depth study of the available literature, concerning ethics in the preservation of time-based media artworks or documentation methods and strategies applied to other works, in different contexts. Through the study of conservation choices made in the field of time-based media art, it is possible to see that strategies are evolving and trying to adapt to the ever-changing environment. Preservation seems difficult mainly because of the lack of critical review from the conservation community and museum's conservator have very few guidelines.7 Therefore, the second essential element in the development of this thesis were the interviews conducted with conservators, artists (among them Peter Struycken) or computer scientists. They allowed to broaden the knowledge of the subject and to obtain different points of view on the works, their preservation and their future.
7 Joanna Philips, "Approaching the Challenge: Caring for Software-Based Art in Museum Collections," in TechFocus III: Caring for Software-based Art, ed. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York 2015).
1 . SO F T W A R E
-B A S E D A R T
Interactive art, digital art, software-based art, generative art, virtual reality - all terms designating a varied set of creative categories using the specificities of computer language. The emergence of media art has been abrupt, surprising for some, an opportunity for others. But above all, this art form is a logical appearance in a booming technological context, a legitimate child of art history.
Amid this cultural turmoil, it is not easy to locate a starting point. However, to be able to define the term of interest here, software-based art, it is important to understand its origin and to dissociate it from the many terms that can be used to describe it.
1.1. History of software-based art
In 1958, William Higinbotham, American physicist and researcher, invented a game on an oscilloscope: Tennis for Two, an ancestral version of the famous game Pong. At the same time, Higinbotham was working on a computer of second generation (computers from 1947 to 1962).
These computers, although smaller than the first-generation computers, were large and not every institution (let alone private individuals) had the money nor space to own one. Plus, these computing hardware* were using punch cards as input and output of data and information, which required knowledge and skills from the users to be able to work with it.8 In this situation, one can imagine that it was not easy to deviate from the initial functions of computers (mainly used for research support). People "playing" with these functions were researchers and computer scientists more than artists. In 1960, the DEC PDP-1 is introduced to the world. This minicomputer includes a cathode ray tube graphic display, paper tape input/output and requires only one operator. The first computerized video game, SpaceWar!, was created on this computer by hackers at MIT.9 Thus, the first digital images on a computer appeared before the wide eyes of computer scientists and to the almost general indifference of the art world.10 And yet, a process was underway.
From that time on, computers have continued to evolve to become more accessible, easier to use, less expensive. In short, to reach a wider public. The way in which art was viewed changed: artists became researchers, workers. The intuitive creative processes that had been seen with Dadaism or Surrealism became rational and structured experiments based on a pre-established programme.11 1962 saw the birth of the Fluxus art movement. Founded by Lithuanian/American artist George Maciunas, this movement opened up the definitions of what art could be.12 The 1960s thus saw a gigantic release of creative energy and potential in human culture, spreading new radical and experimental forms of art. Nam June Paik, considered the father of video art, had an important role to play in the Fluxus movement. In 1963, he exhibited the results of his first experiments in programming electronic paintings at the Parnass Gallery under the direction of Maciunas, of whom he became a close friend (see Figure 1, p.9).13 Thirteen television sets placed on the floor, their
8 Zakari Ishaq, "History of Computer and Its Generations," in BSc. Computer Science, ed. Umaru Musa Yar’adua University Department of Mathematics and Computer, Katsina State, Nigeria. (2019).
9 CHM, "Timeline of Computer History," https://www.computerhistory.org/timeline/1960/. [accessed March 20, 2021]
10 Marie-Laure Desjardins, "L’art Numérique – Un Enfant Légitime De L’histoire De L’art,"
[accessed March 20, 2021]
11 Darko Fritz, "La Notion De « Programme » Dans L’art Des Années 1960 – Art Concret, Art Par Ordinateur Et Art Conceptuel," in Art ++, ed. David-Olivier Lartigaud, Script (Paris: 2011).
12 Tate, "Art Term - Fluxus," https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/f/fluxus. [accessed March 21, 2021]
13 Media Art Net, "Nam June Paik. «Exposition of Music – Electronic Television»,"
http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/exposition-of-music/video/1/. [accessed March 20, 2021]
images scattered with scratches and stripes, deregulated by frequency generators.14 Fluxus is rapidly gaining a following in different countries. In Mexico, the magazine El Corno Emplumado/The Plumed Horn published by Margaret Randall – U.S. poet – helped creating a network and engaged dialogue with Fluxus artists.15 Computer-related art was no longer exclusively "reserved" for researchers and workers, but directly affected artists around the world. Art was progressively meeting technologies.
Figure 1 Nam June Paik, «Exposition of Music – Electronic Television», 1963 Participation TV ©Manfred Montwé
The notion of "program" appeared in the 1960s and with it, the notion of programmed art. In his book Opera Aperta, Umberto Eco – Italian philosopher - describes that "it is possible to program, with the linear purity of a mathematical program, fields of events, in which random processes can occur. [...] We can therefore speak of programmed art".16 Here we see the beginnings of what we can nowadays call "software-based art". The terms differ only in their historical context. Eco was interested in the art world and its evolution, focusing on the possibility of rationally constructing a specific situation for the observer. In 1969, a computer art competition took place during the Nove Tendencije exhibition in Zagreb, Croatia/Yugoslavia. He was then a jury member. From 1961 to 1973, five international exhibitions were organized with the same title, Nove Tendencije, welcoming computer-generated works by more than 100 artists or interdisciplinary groups, as well as other NT
14 Béatrice Salmon, "Nam June Paik," https://www.cnap.fr/nam-june-paik. [accessed March 21, 2021]
15 Gabriela Aceves-Sepulveda, "“Feminizing the Archives of Digital Art: Women Pioneers from Latin America” in Proceedings of the 23th International Symposium on Electronic Arts, Isea 2017 Manizales and 16th Fest...", ed. Simon Fraser University School of Interactive Arts and Technology (Surrey, B.C.
16 Umberto Eco, Opera Aperta. Forma E Indeterminazione Nelle Poetiche Contemporanee., ed. Bompiani, Saggi Tascabili (Milano1997).
productions related to 'visual research' and using analogue media (see Figure 2).17 At the same time, the American magazine Computers and Automation began holding regular competitions for computer-based art with a focus on the creation of programs drawing mathematical formulas like fractal.18 It is difficult to list in just one chapter everything that has led to the digital art we know today. Every art historian will tell a new story, including elements from all over the world. The main point here is to realise how quickly computers have become a major part of our lives, and at the same time of artistic productions. As a consequence of this spread, these artistic productions have gradually found their way into museums.
Figure 2 Nove tendencije, exhibition view at the Gallery of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, 1961. On the left wall and floor, two works by Paul Talman to be manipulated by hand; on the right, Julio Le Parc, GRAV, Probability of black being equal to white No. 4, movable elements of the artwork react to airflow, 1961 ©monoskop
Before going into the preservation of digital art in museums, let’s first go back to the emergence of this art form. In 2011, the artist François Morellet describes the emergence of "programmed art"
in the 70’s as being a public need. A public “that wants to take part in the 'creation' of the works, who want to demystify art and wants to understand it a little better.”19 The audience's experience of this new, increasingly well-known and developed art form plays a central role. Artists are interested in an innovative way of capturing the eye of the viewer, pique his curiosity with original creative productions. These same desires can be found today, especially through social networks and the influence they have had on the perception of art by the younger generation. But we will come back to this point later.
17 Monoskop, "New Tendencies," https://monoskop.org/New_Tendencies. [accessed March 24, 2021]
18 Edmund C. Berkeley, "The Bitsavers.Org Documents Library: Computers and Automation Journal,"
https://archive.org/details/bitsavers_computersAndAutomation?sort=-date. [accessed March 24, 2021]
19 François Morellet, Mais Comment Taire Mes Commentaires, ed. École nationale supérieure des beaux- arts (Paris2011).
The early 1970s saw the birth of great technical and technological advances: the computer language C (1972), the creation of the arcade game Pong by Al Alcorn (1972) or the first Personal Computer (PC) by a small company called MITS (the Altaire, 1974).20 Coding is no longer just for researchers.
Artists such as Peter Struycken touch upon computer practices, making it possible to write independent programs and thus create digital works. In 1977, everything is accelerating. Apple Computer presents the Apple II, one of the world's first mass-produced and successful microcomputers. Some of the features popular with artists, such as the display of colour graphics, were already available on earlier computers such as the PDP-11. But this "new generation"
computer was so successful with the public that it was able to expand worldwide. Since then, artists have become increasingly inventive and innovative, evolving in parallel with the technologies created. This new form of art was (and still is today) as depending on technology as involving it.
1.2. The place of computers in software -based art
Now, how exactly can we define the term software-based art? The answer is already in the question: “software-based”. Software is a set of instructions that will allow hardware (physical part of a computer) to work. It executes and directs processes. Software serves to control, integrate, manage hardware based on instructions and data.
So first, a computer programmer (or anyone that knows how to write in a programming language) will write a computer program. This computer program will consist on a collection of instructions, written in a human-readable form of source-code* (see Python, Ruby and Blockly images on Figure 3) Every computer goes through the same 4 steps: input – stores – process – output. Once the computer program is put into the computer, it will be either translated by a compiler into a binary information (see Binary on Figure 3) or directly executed by an interpreter. Basically, the information is converted from a human-readable form to a computer-readable form (binary signal).
Figure 3 Human-readable instruction (python, ruby and blockly) versus information readable by the computer (binary information9 ©KhanAcademy, 2018
This information are then stored in the memory, mandatory before the central process unit (CPU) can process the information. The CPU requests step-by- step instructions from the memory, runs these instructions and stores the results in the memory (see Figure 4). The result is then sent in binary signal to the output device concerned. For example, the screen is
20 CHM, "Timeline of Computer History".
Figure 4 Input – stores (memory) – process (CPU) – output ©KhanAcademy, 2018
one output device. It will convert the binary signal sent to him by the memory into tiny lights. 21 Finally, all these steps are not visible for the human eye. Users are interacting with the different hardware through an operating system. The most common operating systems are Windows and MacOS.
One might think that the detailed understanding of how a computer works is too much for a conservator to handle, but it is just the opposite. To know what we are preserving, it is important to understand every step, every element involved. The diverse possibilities and varying complexities that are achievable, demonstrates the versatility of a simple program. The source-code becomes the artistic medium, the language of expression that the artist chooses.22 From what we’ve previously seen, we could imagine a computer program in a simplified way: a series of 0 and 1, or bits (binary digits). Then, a digital artwork could be understood as a bitstream*: a specific sequence of bits, interpreted by a computer and outputted to the destined hardware. But software-based art is more than that. The computer program is the brain of the creation, a direct extension of the artist's brain. A brain without a body is of little use/function. The work needs a technological environment to function: the media; playback system; display equipment and possibly an exhibition space and all the elements that it includes. In contrast to a classical work (sculpture/painting), software-based art requires a source of energy, the "heart", as well as the assurance that all body parts are connected to perfection by a nervous system (cables and connectors) that must match.
The artwork, especially software-based audio-visual works, are entirely dependent on technical devices without which the viewer cannot fully experience the work.23 These "technology-based"
works are therefore more subject to gradual disappearance than their more "classical" cousins in exhibition spaces. Their primary carrier is constantly subject to the phenomenon of obsolescence (as the disappearance of an operating system or simply the cessation of production of a component necessary for the operation of a computer), which will be discussed later in this thesis.
1.3. Software-based art and authenticity
Defining the status of this type of work is even more complex than the notion of time is associated with it. The value of authenticity is often put forward as the benchmark when defining the status of a work. In the case of digital works, where the body of the work are the software and the hardware, integrity becomes the principal value. Hanna Barbara Hölling defines the conceptual integrity as “work’s relationship to the process or technology employed, and the social and cultural setting in which the work was created”.24 The environment of the work is inseparable from its characterisation. The values attributed to a work, which will be the basis for future decisions taken in its regard, must consider many aspects. Aesthetics, which can be characterised by the sound, the appearance of the image, the aesthetics of a screen or the exhibition space (and many more…), but also the history of the work. The behaviour of a software-based artwork is not permanent, but rather ephemeral. Therefore, the emotion conveyed must be in keeping with the work, the artist, and the audience. But then, how to communicate emotions “from the past” accurately? How to remain faithful to the artist's intentions despite the technological changes that the work is undoubtedly facing?
21 Khan Academy, "Hardware and Software," in How Computers Work (2018).
22 Philips, "Approaching the Challenge: Caring for Software-Based Art in Museum Collections." (2015).
23 Alexandre Michaan, "Introduction : Les Œuvres Numériques Face À L’obsolescence Technologique,"
24 Hanna Barbara Hölling, "Versions, Variations, and Variability: Ethical Considerations and Conservation Options for Computer-Based Art.," in The Electronic Media Review, ed. American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (Washington DC: Electronic Med ia Group (EMG), 2013).
There has always been a strong desire among conservators to stay close to the original work. This need, this desire to adhere to a generalized ethic is all the stronger because it has never been so easy to create copies.25 This is particularly the case for digital works. The works face the risk of being reproduced outright, or even shared online. In the opposite camp, museums take a thousand and one precautions when it comes to creating a replica, migrating a work, or emulating it. There is a mixed view on this. On one hand, copies should not always be viewed with such a negative eye. If there is a copy, it is because there is an interest. The more a work is copied, the more it is seen. This participates to the history of the work, continually re-written biography. On the other hand, the public will look for the aura of the work, its essence, which they will often only find through
"authenticity". And so, should we be more faithful to the authenticity of the work, its integrity, to the artist's intention? What is the ultimate goal of the conservator?
To preserve to pass on to future generations. These same generations whose perception of the works evolves. A teenager today, who will have grown up with technology and immersed in the internet, will not have the same vision of a digital work as a 60-year-old person. People's backgrounds and lives influence their vision of things.26 This aspect is too little considered in modern preservation methods. Yet museums attract audiences of all ages, especially contemporary art museums. Each person comes with a different knowledge of the artists presented and their works.
This knowledge will also influence their perception. Again, a person from the baby boomer generation in the Netherlands will probably know an artist like Peter Struycken, whereas a person of Generation X will discover him entirely at an exhibition. Of course, the reverse can be completely possible. Who exactly is Peter Struycken?
25 Bruno Latour and Adam Lowe, "The Migration of the Aura or How to Explore the Original through Its Fac Similes," in Switching Codes, ed. Thomas Bartscherer (University of Chicago Press, 2010).
26 Adam James Butcher, "How Social Media Habits Are Revolutionising the Way Art Is Experienced,"
https://www.huffpost.com/entry/how-social-media-habits-a_b_9660394. [accessed April 10, 2021]
2 . PE T E R
ST R U Y C K E N
–H I S T O R Y A N D C A S E S T U D I E S
Peter Struycken is at the heart of this thesis with his three works DISP, BLOCKS and SHFT-34. The next chapter will introduce the artist, his work, experiences and influences and then focus on the three case studies.
2.1. The artist - works and influences
“The colour is not what you call stable. It is unstable. It is forever changing in character and expression.” 27
Peter Struycken, 2013 Almost 50 years after creating his first computer works, Peter Struycken is still passionate about the visual impact and changing potential of colour. In his work, he seeks to organise and modify colours in such a way as to create forms out of the ineffable, ever-changing splendour of colour.28 Let's go back to understand the career of the so-called "pioneer of computer-based art" in the Netherlands.
Peter Struycken (b. 1939, The Hague) entered the Royal Academy of Art in the Hague in 1957. At the same time, the Fluxus movement was gaining in importance alongside the arrival of conceptual art. The influence of these two movements can be felt in the artist's work, which uses abstract geometric forms and plays mainly with colours relationships. Surprisingly, Peter Struycken was trained a visual artist with his original discipline being Concrete Art, an artistic movement which from the outset set itself up against abstract art but with a strong emphasis on geometrical abstraction. In 1966, he was awarded the Sikkens Prize for his theoretical and visual research on the relationship between forms, colours and the laws that govern them (see Figure 6).29
27 KNAW, "Peter Struycken," https://vimeo.com/50055985. [accessed April 6, 2021]
28 Peter Struycken, interview by Marie Ducimetière, May 12, 2021, Gorinchem.
29 Sikkens Foundation, "Sikkens Prize Winners. Peter Struycken.,"
https://www.sikkensprize.org/en/winner/peter-struycken-2/. [accessed April 6, 2021]
Figure 5 Wetmatige Beweging (Systematic Movement), 1966 ©MutualArt
Figure 6 Presentation of the Sikkens Prize to Peter Struycken (on the left) for his theoretical and visual research, 1966
Struycken first explored artistically through non-digital media. In the beginning, his research was mainly done through painting. In the 1960s his art was already focusing on the relationship between colours, forms, and space. (see Figure 5). As he says himself, “when we realize that the only thing our eyes register is light which the brain converts into an impression of colour, it is not too hard to imagine everyday reality as a space filled with colours”.30 The artist plays with the visual effect, sometimes disturbing, created by the arrangement of geometric lines on the canvas. Each viewer will look at the works differently, will perceive different colours. But it is important to understand that colour perception is not the essential element behind Struycken's art. The artist focuses on the relation between colours and how this relation changes depending on the forms (lines, cubes, dots etc.) and the way they are presented to us. “Perceived form is always the consequence of a difference in colour. In fact, we cannot see something that has no colour”.31 This aesthetic aspect will be found in his art throughout his career.
It was not until 1968 that Struycken began to work with computers. His first approach to digital art was through music. He took part in electronic music courses at the Instituut voor Sonologie – Rijksuniversiteit in Utrecht. His apprenticeship at the institute opened a new field of possibilities in terms of creation. In addition to electronical music, Struycken became acquainted with the computer language ALGOL, which led him to create his first computer drawing in 1969. He became a member of a working group for computers and verbal, visual and sonic research in Utrecht, plunging him completely into an electronic universe.
Computers offered new possibilities that were then unattainable by the simple human brain. The creative process, always
initiated by the human hand, may involve a new random parameter. The computer has the capacity to produce an incalculable number of visual geometric arrangements, continuously changing colours, and shapes. This aspect is of particular interest to Peter Struycken, who between 1969 and 1970 created a series of eight paintings based on this principle. These handmade works are based on computer-generated visual compositions (see Figure 7) and defines the first steps of the artist in the computer- based art world.
This encounter with programming marked a change in Peter Struycken's career. From then on, his creative method was based almost entirely on computer-generated works, making him the pioneer of this art form in the Netherlands. The change was not only in the method of production, but also
30 Peter Struycken, Kleur, Ruimte En Verandering. Colour, Space and Change., ed. Verfindustrie Jac Eyck bv (Maastricht: Sikkens Service-Centrum, 1987).
Figure 5 Peter Struycken, Computerstrukturen 1, 1A, 2A, 3A and 4.
These lithographs are smaller versions of a series of enamel on Perspex
© Darko Fritz
in the result. From 'simple paintings', his art expanded to new media: film, video, sculptures, graphics or audio-visual light-objects.32
Struycken’s computer-generated permanent public art works (such as his design of the floor and ceiling walls for World’s Fair in Osaka 1970) made it possible to familiarise the public with works of a new kind. Considered the only digital artist until the mid-1970s, Struycken was able to create many high-budget public art works and thus develop in this field without strong competition.33 During these years, he also developed a computer program called ASTRA. In an interview from 2015 conducted by Nina Van Doren for her thesis, Struycken remarks that since 1968/1969 until today, he has always made works for which a computer was needed.34
2.2. Introduction to case studies
In 1976, he experiments with dynamic programming*, also called “real-time* dynamics”. This programming method generates a sequential decision process, where each decision is made in stages. Each step will influence future possibilities in the computer program.35 Several parameters can be pre-determined, such as time or the set of decisions possibly generated. A simple and efficient algorithm written by Struycken and Floris van Manen, a software expert, in one afternoon made it possible to generate animated images, calculated one by one on a display, of which we only have traces today through a video.36 Unfortunately, the code of the computer programs has been lost and the only proof of their existence lies in the video documentation made by the artist in 1977.
The video shows six programs, first evidence of Dutch software-based art: Waves, Disp, Vloei, Square, Grid 3, Lijn 1. The video showing the programs is in the collection of Museum Boijmans van Beuningen. LIMA owns the rights for the film made by Struycken in 1977 and it is possible to view the film on demand.
Figure 6 WAVES, DISP, VLOEI, SQUARE, GRID 3 and LIJN 1 (from left to right, top to bottom). Screenshot from:
Digital art: who cares? A documentary on born-digital art. ©Maarten Tromp (director) and Rinske Hordijk (producer). <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kf1umv-5JfA>. Duration video: 13’49”. Screenshot: 05:22.
32 Darko Fritz, "Mapping the Beginnings of Computer-Generated Art in the Netherlands," Netherlands Foundation for Visual arts, Design and architecture - Fonds BKVB (2011).
34 Van Doren, "Documenting Digital Art Defining and Documenting Significant Properties of Digital Artworks by Peter Struycken."
35 Dimitri P. Bertsekas, Dynamic Programming and Optimal Control, ed. Belmont Athena Scientific, vol. I (Massachusetts2000).
36 Struycken, "Interview with Peter Struycken."
2.2.1. Case study 1: DISP (1977)
Our interest lies in the second work visible on Figure 6, p.16 : DISP. Developed at the Graphics Group of the Technical University (TU) in Delft, the deterministic dynamic program for DISP generates different colour every 4 seconds, gradually sliding in from the bottom.37 For the first time with DISP, Struycken was working with a colour TV. With this program, the artist subsequently investigates what happens when the colours are no longer shown next to each other but individually, following each other in the order of the series (see Figure 7). Indeed, when watching DISP, you could see the colour changing, but don’t really see the relation in time. That was, according to him, very curious to experience.38 He wanted to do better justice to the colour nuances of television.39 However, according to the artist, the correlation between the colours was still too prescriptive. He wanted to compare more distant shades.40 With the DISP program, Struycken noted that you soon forget previous colours in the series. Whereas he likes to see the connection between colours and the colour references.
Figure 7 DISP. Screenshot from: Computerkunst: waves, disp, vloei, square, grid 3, lijn 1. Peter Struycken (director/producer), 1977. Duration video: 26'00". Screenshot: from 6'04 to 6'24. ©LIMA
The program for DISP is at the origin of other of Struycken’s work such as VLOEI, GRID, GRID 3 (1977), GOLVEN or SQUARE. In 1976, before the advent of PCs and graphics software, the limited access to computer made it difficult to create a functioning program. Struycken had access once a week to a colour monitor connected to a PDP-11 computer set up by the Graphics Group to work.
A specific program had to be written to allow the monitor to display the computer program written by Struycken.41
37 The “Graphics Group” of the technical University of Delft does not exist anymore. This group was supported by students and faculty staff members.
38 Struycken, "Interview with Peter Struycken."
39 Nina Van Doren and Sandra Fauconnier, "Peter Struycken. Waves, Disp, Vloei, Square, Grid 3 En Lijn 1.
1976 En 1977. Documentatie 2016.," in Transformatie Digitale Kunst, ed. SBMK / LIMA (Amsterdam2016).
40 Van Doren, "Documenting Digital Art Defining and Documenting Significant Properties of Digital Artworks by Peter Struycken."
41 Wijers et al., Project Transformation Digital Art. Preservation of Born-Digital Art.
The PDP-11/4542 is a 16-bit minicomputer with a KB11-A CPU, described at the time as a “powerful computational tool for high-speed real-time applications and for large multi-user, multi-task applications requiring up to 124K words of addressable memory space”.43 The same computer created the Death Star CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) from the Star Wars films in 1977. First produced in 1970 by Digital Equipment Corporation, its production was discontinued in 1997 after the system-software had been sold to Mentec Inc. PDP-11 was still controlled by punch tapes.44 The graphic possibilities of a computer is determined by its GPU (graphics processing unit), in that case a 8-bit video card allowing a display of 256 colours in total. The researcher at TU Delft’s Graphic Group connected the colour screen (aspect ratio 4:3) to the computer by creating a custom-made software and GPU.
DISP was one of the three works chosen for the Transformation Digital Art project. We will now look at the other two: BLOCKS and SHFT-34.
2.2.2. Case study 2: BLOCKS (1998)
When you type "BLOCKS - Peter Struycken" into google image, sculptures appear. Monochrome blocks, partly sinking into the ground (see Figure 8). These sculptures are the creative result of the BLOCKS program written in 1976 by the artist. Like DISP, the program has been lost. However, the same title with a numerical suffix was used for other programs such as BLOCKS 2, BLOCKS 3 and BLOCKS 4, sculptures created on the basis of the same kind of programme as BLOCKS, that also explored the notions of gravity and relationships between colours.
Figure 8 BLOCKS 3, 1976. Location: ©Kröller Müller Museum [left] and BLOCKS, 1983. Location: ©Roundabout Bijsterhuizen, Nijmegen, Gelderland [right]
The first version of BLOCKS was written in 1976. The program was generating cubes and parallelepipeds changing in size, colour and position on the screen. It is important to note this detail of the screen, because in the 1970s it was not possible to perceive these works through any other medium than a screen or projection. Nowadays, with virtual reality, the field of possibilities is
42 PDP stands for Programmable Data Processor; before the 11/45, 4 versions of the PDP had been produced. This computer was acquired by the TU in 1973.
43 Digital Equipment Corporation, Pdp11/45. Processor Handbook., ed. Digital Equipment Corporation (1973).
44 Brian Goad and Matt Farrell, "Programming the Pdp11, Part 1 of 4,"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XV-7J5y1TQc [accessed April 26, 2021]
widening. In 1998, the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag45 commissioned Peter Struycken and Daniel Dekkers, software scientist and Struycken’s adopted son, to revisit the work as a site-specific artwork. The idea was to exhibit BLOCKS in the Gallery of Honour, in the heart of the museum, after the renovations that took place in 1998.46
The program was shown on a projection screen that was hiding a highly advanced construction at the time: a beamer was projecting onto a mirror to lit up the screen from behind (see Figure 9). The lamp of the beamer had to be changed every year to ensure high brightness projection and keep the image projection on an acceptable level. Indeed, the museum is a so-called "daylight museum".
Natural light would hit the screen, making the colours on the screen blander. Here again, colour was of great importance in the work. Struycken made sure to reproduce a colour palette similar to that visible in the architecture of the museum. This was reflected in pale green and blue tones, like those of the tiles around the screen for example.
Figure 9 BLOCKS. Screenshot from: Digital Art: Who cares? ©ARTtube, 2016. Duration video: 13'48".
Screenshot: 6'52”. ©Kunstmuseum Den Haag
According to Doede Hardeman, Head of Collections at Kunstmuseum Den Haag, the projection was still functioning in the gallery when he started to work there in 2007. BLOCKS was removed around 2010, when it was dismantled during the museum’s renovation.47
Peter Struycken is not in favour of changing or improving the content of a work.48 BLOCKS being a site-specific artwork, the issues raised by its conservation are different than the one encountered for DISP. As we will see later in this thesis, the questions raised during the Transformation Digital Art project focused on the possible reinterpretation of the work on the basis of the available documentation.
45 Its original name, used until 1998, was Haags Gemeentemuseum. The name Gemeentemuseum Den Haag (The Hague Municipal Museum) was used until September 2019. It is now called Kunstmuseum Den Haag.
46 Maarten Tromp "Digital Art - Who Cares?," (Amsterdam: LIMA and SBMK, 2016).
47 LIMA, "Blocks (1998) - Peter Struycken," https://www.li-ma.nl/lima/nl/article/blocks-1998-peter- struycken. [accessed April 26, 2021]
48 Information gathered from the artist himself through an email on the 15.04.2021.
2.2.3. Case study 3: SHFT-34 (1982 - 2007)
Finally, the third work dealt with in this thesis is SHFT-34 version 7/30 from 2007.
The original work, a real-time dynamic computer work, was programmed in 1982 for a permanent placing in a coffee-corner of the Groninger Museum. At that time, acquiring a computer was too costly for the museum.49 A custom-build machine to run the software was made by Guus van der Wal, student at the Technical University in Delft and Dirk Groot, researcher at the same university.
Unfortunately, after a reorganisation within the museum, the machine had gone missing. The program SHFT-34 was found 10 years later, on the computer of a technical staff member of the museum that had already retired by that time. Unfortunately, no visual documentation from the original appearance of the program remains.
The program is a stand-alone image generator, producing continuously changing coloured shapes and waves on the screen (see Figure 12).51 The original 1982 programme was limited in what it could do, especially in terms of speed but also in the colour choice. The new 2007 version overcame some of these restrictions and improved the programme. For example, it is now possible for the viewer to navigate the colour space with a mouse and change the view modes via a menu (either “walking” through the image or display 16 small frames on the screen showing different parts of the image simultaneously, see Figure 11, p.21). However, the reprogramming remains faithful to the colour restrictions: only 256 colours could be generated in the 1980s and only 256 colours can be generated with the 2007 program.
After the reprogramming of the work in 2007, the final material was duplicated, and thirty final versions were produced. These versions of the work are stored on both a CD-Rom and SD-card, provided with a booklet. The Kröller Müller Museum acquired SHFT-34 version 7/30 (2007).52 Another version of the artwork is present in the Gallery Andriesse Eyck in Amsterdam, a gallery that is representing Struycken’s artworks. A third version is in possession of the Rabo Kunstcollectie.
49 Van Doren, "Documenting Digital Art Defining and Documenting Significant Properties of Digital Artworks by Peter Struycken."
50 Information collected by Nina Van Doren in 2015 in an email from Peter Struycken about SHFT-34. See:
51 Peter Struycken, interview by Elbrig De Groot and Ijsbrand Hummelen, 30 September, 2003.
52 Tromp "Digital Art - Who Cares?." From 8’56” to 10’58”.
Figure 10 Separation into 16 squares of the image generated by the SHFT-34 program ©LIMA, 2021
This acquisition included a book numbered containing stills of the program, instructions on how to use it, the artist’s and programmer’s signatures and one SD-card and one CD-ROM on the back of the cover.
Figure 11 Home page visible on the screen when opening the program for SHFT-34 version 7/30 (left picture);
menu accessible in the new version of the program (right picture) ©ARTtube, 2016
The instructions state that the artwork is only complete when the owner is in the possession of the book plus both carriers. The type of computer or monitor on which the program should be presented is not specified by the artist. The notion of uniqueness and original works did not emerge in the digital age. However, if so much energy is devoted today to the search for unique works and limited editions, it is particularly due to the fact that the creation of copies has never been so easy to achieve.53 This is discussed further in chapter 3.4. Software-based art conservation challenges.
This is one of the many challenges that museums face when it comes to preserving digital artworks.
As each work is unique, it is important to have a diverse and up-to-date knowledge of existing strategies to adjust conservation decisions.
53 Latour and Lowe, "The Migration of the Aura or How to Explore the Original through Its Fac Similes."
3 . CO N S E R V A T I O N O F S O F T W A R E
-B A S E D A R T
3.1. Historical evolution of preservation strategies
It is important to understand where we come from and how the sector has evolved to grasp the problems and possible improvements for modern preservation strategies. The conservator’s role has changed dramatically over the last decades, in parallel with the evolution of artistic productions. In the software-based art conservation field, everything is to moving fast, and conservators are often under pressure to make heavy decisions quickly.
Traditional methods of conservation mainly focused on material objects, aesthetics, original condition and reversibility. According to the AIC Code of Ethics from 1994, any treatment or intervention should be identifiable and reversible; conservators should introduce the least possible change to original materials; and an emphasis should be placed on complete and accurate documentation of the measures taken.54 These are part of what Salvador Muñoz Viñas, professor at the Heritage Conservation Institute department at the Polytechnic University of Valencia, refers to as "classical theories of conservation" and exclude concepts like immateriality, artist's intention or obsolescence.55 However, digital artworks cannot be separated from their context of creation.
They evolve, use new tools and technologies, attract a different audience and preservation strategies must adapt to these changes.56
In the early 1940s, Georg Rueter, a Dutch painter, draughtsman and graphic designer, wrote a letter to certain artists to raise awareness that the relationship between the artist's intention, his work and its preservation could not be ignored. This letter contained a questionnaire with specific requests concerning the working methods, materials and techniques used by the artists. It would be several decades before similar questionnaires appeared in museums.57 Until the 1960s, very few initiatives were undertaken to collect this type of information about contemporary artworks. At that time, documentation about artists and their intent was not the focus of curatorial interest.
Conservators were still working almost exclusively on the basis of the Athens Charter (1931) and Venice Charters (1964).58 These two charters, written 33 years apart, emphasise the awareness of the need to save and safeguard a common heritage, a living testimony of age-old traditions and insist on the notion of world citizenship and the responsibility of the international community towards future generations for the proper transmission of heritage. However, they remain very universal and set out general principles, particularly intended for historical monuments. This provides an interesting ethical basis but cannot be directly applied to contemporary heritage, especially not to digital art. What are the references to which software-based conservators can turn to today? What challenge do they face today?
54 Dan Kushel, Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice, ed. American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (1994).
55 Salvador Muñoz Viñas, Contemporary Theory of Conservation, ed. Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann (Great Britain: Elsevier Ltd., 2005).
56 Sarah Cook, "Murky Categorization and Bearing Witness: The Varied Processes of the Historicization of New Media Art," in New Collecting: Exhibiting and Audiences after New Media Art, ed. Beryl Graham (England: Ashgate Publishing Limitied, 2014).
57 IJsbrand Hummelen, "Conservation Strategies of Modern and Contemporary Art. Recent Developments in the Netherlands.," Cr Interdisciplinair tijdschrift voor Conservering en Restauratie 3 (2005).
58 The full names of both charters are: The Athens Charter for the Restoration of Historic Monuments, 1931 (Adopted at the First International Congress of Architects and Technicians of Historic Monuments); The Venice Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites, 1964 (Adopted by Committee for drafting the International Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments)
3.2. Standards and guidelines
Attention shifted away from the conservation of the material and physical elements of the works to the new, less conventional notions of variability and obsolescence. Numerous research projects were quickly set up, leading to publications, some of which are now used as references.
Among them, we can mention the highly recommended publication Modern Art. Who Cares? which presents the results of a project enquiring into present conditions for conserving modern and contemporary art by the Foundation for the Conservation of Modern Art (SBMK) and the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (ICN).59 This publication followed a symposium held in 1997 which brought together 550 professionals from several disciplines. One year after, the Variable Media initiative was developed by Jon Ippolito, artist, educator, new media scholar, and former curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, followed by the Inside Installation project (2004 – 2007), Matters in Media Art (launched in 2005) and the Contemporary Art: Who Cares?
(2010) symposium held in the Netherlands. In 2013, Bernhard Serexhe, professor of Art History and Media Studies at BILGI University, published his book Digital Art Conservation, preservation of digital art: theory and practice, which was an important and necessary update in the field.60 All these initiatives opened the discussion on the acquisition of contemporary art by museums, sharing experiences, guidelines of the care of modern and software-based art and their accessibility by the public.61
The development of a new expertise is an ever-evolving process. It has required to build on existing experience with conservation (classical conservation strategies) while providing technical knowledge to help with challenges ranging from CRT maintenance to digital data storage; from electronic hardware migration to deciphering obsolete media.62 One problem here is that the transmission of inaccurate theories restrains/constrains learners’ exploration. This is the theory of path dependence, applicable to the field of conservation: a decision that one is going to take will be dependent on the previous decision, itself dependent on the previous decision, and so on.63 Fortunately, the community working for the preservation of cultural heritage is growing, vocal and continuously working to set standards, particularly for digital art and its archiving. The Library of Congress came up with seven sustainability factors “for the purpose of preserving digital information as an authentic resource for future generations”.64 Evelyn Peters McLellan drew on these criteria in the final report of the InterPARES 2 Project in 2006.65 The criteria established are as follows: the quality, the openness, the adoption, the transparency, the durability, the
59 Ijsbrand Hummelen and Dionne Sillé, Modern Art: Who Cares ?, Stichting Behoud Moderne Kunst/
Instituut Collectie Nederland ed. (London: Archetype Publications Ltd, 2005).
60 Bernhard Serexhe, Preservation of Digital Art: Theory and Practice. The Project Digital Art Conservation.
(Wien: Ambra V, 2013).
61 Additionnal less-known references are the CCBA – Conservin Computer-Based Art ; Levels of Digital Preservation by NDSA ; Archical established standards such as the Dublin Core specification; PREMIS;
Archivematica ; Diagramme Digitalis.
62 Patrícia Falcão and Tom Ensom, "Conserving Digital Art," in Museums and Digital Culture, ed. T. Giannini
& J.P. Bowen (Springer Series on Cultural Computing, 2019).
63 M. Derex et al., "Causal Understanding Is Not Necessary for the Improvement of Culturally Evolving Technology," Nat Hum Behav 3, no. 5 (2019).
64 Sustainability of Digital Formats, "Sustainability Factors: Planning for Library of Congress Collections.,"
https://www.loc.gov/preservation/digital/formats/sustain/sustain.shtml. [accessed May 8, 2021]
65 Evelyn Peters McLellan, "General Study 11 Final Report: Selecting Digital File Formats for Long-Term Preservation," ed. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (2006).
functionality and the handling. To date, there is no format* that meets all these criteria. They should be used as a basis for reflection to compromise the choice of the archiving format.66 Most of the standards for the documentation of databases and metadata* come from archiving institutions and libraries.
However, software-based artworks often include a physical dimension that is not neglected. The major problem being obsolescence, the preservation of many media has been studied and allows a better understanding of the composition of a collection and its material evolution. Over the past decades, museums have perfected the practice of collecting analogue medias but nowadays, the artworks arrive in museum on hard drives or are even delivered digitally.67 The National Digital Stewardship Alliance offers the "Levels of Digital Preservation", one resource for institutions or digital preservation practitioners to build and evaluate their collections/digital material.68 The second version was released in 2019, making it a recent and updated reference.
3.3. Preservation strategies nowadays
There a few preservation strategies applied to software-based artworks. The most common ones are:
▪ Storage: while this strategy is widely applied to traditional art, it has limitations for digital art. It can be effective in the short term, applied to works in good condition. An institution will be able to accumulate a certain quantity of devices useful for the exhibition or reading of works (as is the case for CRT screens for example). However, this strategy is often ineffective on its own due to obsolescence. Devices will need to be checked, restored, refreshed (periodic transference of digital information).69
▪ Migration: “to migrate an artwork is not to imitate its appearance with a different medium, but to upgrade its medium to a contemporary standard, accepting any resulting changes in the look and feel of the work.”70
▪ Emulation: where migration will consist of a transfer of data from an obsolete environment to a suitable one, emulation allows the original data/software to be accessed and run in a modern environment.71 The obsolete platform will be simulated in a new environment.
▪ Reinterpretation: it consists of re-interpreting/re-staging the work at each update, creating a work that is different from the artist's but faithful to his intention. Re-interpretation demands more art historical and contextual information.72
66 Emanuel Lorrain, "A Short Guide to Choosing a Digital Format for Video Archiving Masters,"
[accessed May 12, 2021]
67 Ben Fino-Radin, "Stewarding Moma's Digital Collections," ed. PABC2015 (2015).
68 National Digital Stewardship Alliance, "Levels of Digital Preservation Version 2.0 Matrix," ed. NDSA (Washington, DC2019).
69 Lino García and Pilar Montero Vilar, "The Challenges of Digital Art Preservation," Conservation (2010).
70 Jon Ippolito, "Accommodating the Unpredictable: The Variable Media Questionnaire," in Permanence through Change: The Variable Media Approach, ed. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (2003).
71 Amelia Acker, "Emulation Practices in Place: Coordinating Software Preservation in Libraries, Archives, and Museums.," ed. Software Preservation Network (Austin: University of Texas, 2020).
72 Julia Noordegraaf et al., Preserving and Exhibiting Media Art, ed. Framing Film (Amsterdam University Press, 2013).