Sharon McMeekin

Sharon McMeekin

Last updated on 12 October 2018

Following on from Sabine Himmelsbach’s excellent introduction to digital art conservation at the key note, the theme was continued with the morning’s first session.

Towards a Risk Model for Emulation-based Preservation Strategies: A Case Study from the Software-based Art Domain

The first session was presented by Klaus Rechert from the University of Freiburg in Germany.

The British Library has worked with Freiburg and the Emulation as a Service product, so it was interesting to have the opportunity to hear more about the workings and developments of emulation from their point of view. After a brief history of emulation, Klaus confirmed that despite great progress, emulation and virtualisation aren't quite there yet.

Of the major issues to resolve, the scalability is now mostly solved but sustainability and the long-term plans are not yet in place.

He went on to discuss a case study of software-based artworks with the goal of the project to highlight preservation risks of the emulation strategy. The computer system is the part that changes and that is where the emulation comes in.

External dependencies include artefact description & configuration, software environment & configuration and hardware environment. The key preservation risk is when the hardware or equivalent becomes obsolete which it where the emulation strategy is focussed. Acquisition and preparation is an analysis of what is available. You need to determine the environment and factors. If you don't have the environment, build one!

It also important to identify dependencies and whilst the dependent software may not change, the licensing does!

What the setup looks like!

There are three technical layers to maintain with risks for each, but hardware needs the most attention.

He then went to talk about which significant properties will require more attention in future and that a more conceptual approach is needed by the art community.

A Case Study on Emulation-based Preservation in the Museum: Flusser Hypertext

The second paper was given by Philipp Togel from the Berlin University of the Arts.

This paper discussed making two digital works by Flusser available for an exhibition. The concepts behind them were philosophising with rather than on the technology. It was a HyperCard based document which when run from its original hard drive didn't even survive the first night, so emulation was clearly indicated as a solution.

Further problems developed with the emulated Mac environment not booting and audio problems which had to be identified by examining specific programs items in the environment and the coding itself.

They ran the Basilisk II emulator from a USB stick via the EMIL emulation service which will always return to a safe state. This was especially useful as users of the exhibition had full access to the system and could delete items or shutdown the system. The print function could also be clicked but didn't go anywhere but did build up a backup of print jobs! Lessons were learned for the next exhibition that occurs.

Having gone through similar decision tree approaches for our legacy disk-based material albeit arguably of a less complex nature, it was interesting to have a window into the methodologies of other institutions and I was happy to see many parallels with the Flashback project we are currently working on.

Exhibiting Digital Art via Emulation - Boot-to-Emulator with the EMiL Kiosk System

This enjoyable (but too short) paper by Dragan Espenschied from Rhizome in the United States went on to win the best paper which was extremely well deserved.

Focusing on net art he discussed the complex and volatile environments in which the items operate. Moving from art created on the machines of the early 1990s ...

to sculpture projects created from legacy hardware in the later 90s he presented several more recent works including an artist who'd hacked himself into various online art exhibits and a recorded a film of a digital work which whilst preserved in a lossless format, lost the interactive (clickable) experience which is as important as simply viewing the artwork.

He also discussed another early work mentioned in the keynote called My Boyfriend Came Back from the War where they ensured a ball mouse was added for a more realistic experience of those times. As with the paper before EMIL emulation service had been used with a Windows 98 environment again running from a USB stick (set up below).



Project "The Digital City Revives": A Case Study of Web Archaeology

Another very exciting and inspiring talk by Tjarda de Haan from Amsterdam Museum, Netherlands.

My team at the BL recently discussed this project with regard to the DPC awards so I was very much looking forward to finding out more and wasn't disappointed with the scope of the project.

The project looks to rebuild, and safeguard born digital cultural heritage from a site which closed down in 2001. It was the first public domain virtual city, was free, and ran from 1994 until its close. It began as a bulletin board before later versions became clickable and then more structured enhanced with email and home pages for each person (or as they were known a "house"). This wasn't simply a program though; different scripts and applications came together which therefore make it very difficult to recreate.

This was not web archiving but web archaeology.

The project progressed through a combination of crowdsourcing, searches for hardware and software remnants sometimes discovering or retrieving items which had been thrown away (such as two public terminals from 1994). They also managed to retrieve some old code which allowed the creation of graphic avatars (this was before the days of profile pictures). You can now visit the museum and create your own avatar!

The next level of work to be taken is moving the raw data they now have to an e-deposit area and decisions on how to present, reconstruct and preserve in more detail.

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