Seeing Double: Emulation In Theory And Practice



Exhibition Tests Promising New Technique for Preserving Digital Art

NEW YORK, NY—March 3, 2004—From fluorescent lights to candy spills, latex curtains to Web sites, performance art to site-specific installation, the presentation and preservation of ephemeral artworks is a challenge facing many contemporary art museums. Nowhere is this issue more pressing than in the realm of electronic art. Both hardware and software become obsolete at a dizzying pace, making these works quickly susceptible to irreparable loss, if preservation is not made a priority. Conservators have explored both traditional and experimental strategies for dealing with digital works and others of an ephemeral nature. Among these strategies has emerged a promising way to replicate obsolete or unavailable materials: emulation. Seeing Double, featuring a series of original art installations paired with their emulated versions, will offer a unique opportunity for both preservation experts and the public to compare both versions directly and put emulation to the test. The exhibition will remain on display in the Thannhauser 3 Gallery through May 16.

The exhibition is organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in partnership with The Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology.

This exhibition is generously supported by The Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology.

To emulate a work is to devise a way of imitating the original look and feel of the piece by completely different means. The term emulation can be applied generally to any refabrication of an artwork's components, but also has a specific meaning in the context of digital media. In the broad sense emulation uses new materials and techniques to resurrect older art forms. It represents a potential strategy for preserving non-digital works in the Guggenheim's collection, such as early holographic or slide installations, film and video, and other variable media installations. Emulation attempts to capture not only the integrity of the physical materials, but also the artist's intent. In a more specifically digital context, emulation offers an advantage over other types of preservation. 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 artist, to remain untouched. Artworks such as Mary Flanagan's [phage] (2002) and jodi's JET SET WILLY Variations (2002) can benefit greatly from this type of hardware emulation.

Other works in the show, however, demonstrate why emulation may not always be an appropriate strategy. Such is the case for Nam June Paik's TV Crown (1965) and John F. Simon, Jr.'s Color Panel (1998), for the meaning and intent behind these works are tied intrinsically to the hardware. Similarly, contemporary artist Cory Arcangel has deliberately chosen out-of-date equipment as a conscious aesthetic and functional choice, analogous to a painter's choice of a restricted color palette. Even though game emulators and other programmers have accomplished the digital emulation of such antiquated machines, emulation may not be an appropriate strategy for conservation when the artist's intent is bound to a particular piece of obsolete equipment.

Grahame Weinbren and Roberta Friedman's Erl King (1982–85), one of the first interactive video installations, presents an especially daunting test of emulation due to its range of components. Custom-written computer code, obsolete equipment, custom-fabricated hardware, archaic video formats, variable installation configurations, and a high level of interactivity all combine to make a single preservation solution difficult. Seeing Double will pair the 1985 version of Erl King with a re-creation using hardware from 2004 that nevertheless preserves the code in its original form.

The research for and organization of the exhibition Seeing Double are a project of the Variable Media Network, a consortium of cultural heritage organizations dedicated to inventing and sharing approaches to preserving new media art. The Variable Media Network was founded in March 2002, when the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology formed a special partnership to lay the groundwork for such a consortium. Goals of the Network include: sharing the partners' accumulated expertise on variable media issues; designing and building, in open source fashion, a database for documenting artists' intent as to how their works can vary with time; creating open standards for sharing such data among different kinds of cultural institutions; and designing test cases—such as those presented in this exhibition—to demonstrate various strategies for preserving ephemeral artworks.

The Seeing Double Web site, created in partnership with the Daniel Langlois Foundation, features in-depth case studies with images of the works and interviews with the artists. The site also offers general information about and resources for the Variable Media Network, including up-to-date information about the variable media database under joint development by members of the Variable Media Network, and a downloadable version of the Guggenheim-Langlois publication Permanence Through Change described below. The URL for the site is

The exhibition Seeing Double was curated by Carol Stringari, Senior Conservator, Contemporary Art; Caitlin Jones, Project Research Assistant, Variable Media Network; and Jon Ippolito, Associate Curator of Media Arts.

Emulation Symposium and Related Publication
To appraise the success of emulation in its case studies, the museum will solicit feedback from preservation experts, the original artists, and the lay public in comparing emulated and original renditions. This feedback will be aired in "Echoes of Art: Emulation As a Preservation Strategy," a public symposium held in the Guggenheim's Peter B. Lewis Theater on May 8. The program is intended to prompt a discussion of the role emulation might play in keeping digital culture alive for future generations. A follow-up to the Guggenheim's acclaimed symposium "Preserving the Immaterial" in March of 2001, "Echoes of Art" will examine the lessons learned in Seeing Double's case studies and probe the role that emulation and technological nostalgia have played in contemporary art, currently play in computer gaming and youth culture, and will play in future preservation efforts. Participants will include artists Mary Flanagan, Roberta Friedman, jodi, John F. Simon, Jr., and Grahame Weinbren; and preservation specialists Tilman Baumgärtel, Jean Gagnon, Francis Hwang, Caitlin Jones, Christiane Paul, Jeff Rothenberg, Jill Sterrett, and Carol Stringari.

The Variable Media Network has produced a publication detailing the challenges of preserving new media art and outlining a comprehensive strategy for tackling them. Permanence Through Change: The Variable Media Approach includes essays by Alain Depocas, Steve Dietz, John G. Hanhardt, Jon Gartenberg, Jon Ippolito, Caitlin Jones, Tiffany Ludwig, Thomas Mulready, Richard Rinehart, Jeff Rothenberg, Nancy Spector, Bruce Sterling, Carol Stringari, and Alena Williams. This book is available through the Daniel Langlois Foundation or as a free download from

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March 3, 2004

Betsy Ennis / Jennifer Russo
Guggenheim Public Affairs
Tel: 212-423-3840

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