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:
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.
I am trying to find the irony in writing recently about computer forensics and thinking about the archive in the digital age — and then being the one whose hard drive gets in such a shape it does not boot, and all my analytical eye for computer forensics and media archaeology turns to hours of panicking.
After extensive, non-analytical and very affective panicking, lots of traveling around Berlin for cure and a new Mac, I was able to restore most of my files, with something lost still.
One cannot hence help thinking the words of Matt Kirschenbaum (thanks to Shintaro Miyazaki for reminding me of the quote):
“Thus the cold truth of modern data storage: given sufficient resources — that is, elite technological and financial backing — data can be recovered from media even under the most extraordinary conditions.”
Information is rarely lost, as it is, after all, material and physical. The spinning hard drive tells usually a lot more than our ways of accessing files tell us, and it is on this physical level that the ephemeral has a materiality – even if fleeting, and very time-dependent (both in terms of its durability as well as its operationality as dynamic, in movement).