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WISSEN - ZKM research program




Yuppie Ghetto With Watchdog (1989-90), White Devil (1992-1993) and Border Patrol (1994-95) by Paul Garrin and David Rokeby.

The first two are groundbreaking interactive laserdisc video artworks and the third is using a macintosh video tracking system.


In 2017, ZKM initiated a general assessment of its collection to target early-acquired artworks without documentation. Since ZKM did not established conservation and management policies at the moment of acquisition, the crates of these artworks have remained in the depot for 10 years without being exhibited or restored. The need for digital art conservation was not even understood. Think about it, it was new technologies, the edge of the innovation. Nobody could imagine it could become obsolete, that it could fail or even disappear with time. At that time, there were no such things then backup, archival copies, dedicated computers, documentation strategies etc. This artworks’ software were stored on computers, put into storage and that’s all.

 The sixteen crates of these 3 artworks have been opened in March 2018. A first inventory of the material has been made and the computers have been inspected. All Macintosh hard drives were obviously badly damaged by this long storage, computers’ CMOS batteries leaked acid on the CPU of the Amiga computers, data were lost... According to our first assessment, a full reconstruction of the artworks was necessary. The lack of documentation was dramatic: sixteen crates of equipment without any wiring diagram or behavior documentation.

The easiest and fastest way to understand the work is to set up the original and get it working. Of course, we could have reconstruct these artworks with the help of Paul Garrin as well as new technologies to do the same behavior in a hand-size computer. And I am not saying that to solve the transition to contemporary media, we may, in some cases, need to emulate the behavior of the legacy hardware. But even though Paul Garrin sent us clips where we can see the quirky behavior of the laserdisk playback, we couldn’t reconstruct from scratch if we didn’t experience the artwork first. So we decided to do a media archaeological reconstruction of the 3 artworks.


We just finished a 1-year research project with Paul Garrin without whom a reconstruction wouldn’t have been possible. The reconstruction, step by step, of the artwork was precisely documented and the final reconstruction considered as an archive allowing the restorers and technicians to understand the work and undertake restoration. Without this reconstruction, some paramount information would have been lost.


Afterward, we realized that the transition to contemporary media would have been at risk to lose the character of this unprecedented system. Indeed, these three artworks are retrospectively paramount for the history of interactive video art: David Rokeby, the engineer who worked with Paul Garrin, created and designed custom-made software and hardware to bend the technology to do what the industrial world wouldn’t offer at that time. The technology didn’t exist so they created it. How artists envisioned future technologies is what we intent to explore with this case study. Matthieu Vlaminck will give you some insights on this project.

Transcript of our presentation at Technological Arts Preservation - Sabancı University Sakıp Sabancı Museum (SSM), Istambul, Dec 13, 2019. Video

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