The Warhol Forensics

The news about the (re)discovered Andy Warhol-images, excavated by digital forensics means, has been making rounds in news and social media. In short, a team of experts – including Cory Arcangel – discovered Warhol’s Amiga-paintings from 1985 floppy discs. As described in the news story: “

“Warhol’s Amiga experiments were the products of a commission by Commodore International to demonstrate the graphic arts capabilities of the Amiga 1000 personal computer. Created by Warhol on prototype Amiga hardware in his unmistakable visual style, the recovered images reveal an early exploration of the visual potential of software imaging tools, and show new ways in which the preeminent American artist of the 20th century was years ahead of his time.” The images are related to the famous Debbie Harry-image Warhol painted on Amiga.

The case is an interesting variation on themes of media art history as well as digital forensics. As Julian Oliver coined it in a tweet:

Screen Shot 2014-04-25 at 11.13.28 PM

The media archaeological enters with a realisation of the importance of such methods for the cultural heritage of born-digital content, but there’s more. The non-narrative focus of such methodologies is a different way of accessing what could be thought of as media archaeology of software culture and graphics. The technological tools carry an epistemological, even ontological weight: we see things differently; we are able to access a world previously unseen, also in historical contexts.

But there is  a pull towards traditional historical discourses. The project demonstrates a technical understanding of cultural heritage and contemporary software culture but rhetorically frames it as just another part of the art historical/archaeological mythology of rediscovering long lost masterpieces of a Genius. This side still needs some updating so that the technical episteme of the excavation, detailed here [PDF] can become fully realised. Techniques of reverse engineering as well as insights into image formats as ways to understand the technical image need to be matched up with discourse that is able to demonstrate something more than traditional art history by new means. It needs to be able to show what is already at stake in these methods: a historical mapping of the anonymous forces of history, to use words from S. Giedion.

Scholars such as Matt Kirschenbaum have already demonstrated the significant stakes of digital forensics as part of a radical mindset to historical scholarship, heritage and media theory and we need to be able to build on such work that is theoretically rich.

 

 

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  1. April 27, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    Fascinating! Forgive my ignorance, I am still not sure what you would say IS at stake in these methods in terms of meaning? How would you compare Amiga experiments with say, screenprints? Or are you referring only to the methods of excavation?

  2. April 27, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    I was referring to the forensics approach – that such things, images, that are entirely embedded in the technical specifics just like text, images, sounds are in software culture, they do not open to the pure eye necessarily. They are in enabled in the web of software and hardware affordances which cater , for instance, image to us — and and also in the cultural heritage context. So my point was not about Warhol’s images with Amiga per se. I don’t know if there is anything interesting about them, and will leave to others. ;)

  3. April 27, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    Ever so slightly related, consider how the German media philosopher Sybille Krämer sums up a shift from the notion of aesthetics in art discourse and phenomenology to escaping the human senses: “Because with digital technology everything that can be switched is essentially invisible to the human senses, nothing that is significant can even be perceived. Phenomenology, therefore, no longer exists (and therefore neither does art, when taken to be ‘aesthesis’). Every type of phenomenology loses its foundation.”

    This has implications how we need to think artistic practice, aesthetics but also the art historical angle.

    • April 27, 2014 at 4:12 pm

      I see. So we move (appropriately) to an object-oriented worldview? OR does digital = a new kind of essence? I find myself wondering about the implications for authentication/forgery. Could we detect a real Warhol Amiga piece from a fake, when the visual clues disappear? Is the work as much of a Warhol, or co-authored by the developers? So many questions!

  4. April 27, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    I don’t think it is an object-oriented worldview except in cases of, for example, object oriented programming. Digital is not an essence but a form of encoding etc, but the different technical forms of cultural techniques necessitate new ways of thinking about cultural artifacts too. In short, a historian of the digital cannot merely think that reading texts or watching images is necessarily a sufficient source basis. As for real or fake Warhol – perhaps such questions supporting the traditional and a bit boring art historical discourse become less important.

    • April 27, 2014 at 4:51 pm

      You are right for sure about new ways of thinking being needed. Maybe I struggle to keep up with some of them. I can’t help but think that significance is mostly to do with perception. Maybe I am more old-fashioned than I like to imagine! :)

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