Digitally created visuals are so ubiquitous today, from commercial applications to advertising to contemporary art, that it is hard to remember a time when it was a rudimentary technology used only be a few specialists. Commodore’s “Amiga 1000” changed this, bringing image creation programs into the home, allowing anyone to create original and edited computer images for the first time. To promote the public launch of their groundbreaking model, Commodore asked Andy Warhol to create an image using the software, demonstrating the accessibility of the program, and the possibilities in the hands of a pioneering visual artist. Seen in the following clip of Warhol “painting” Blondie singer Debbie Harry in 1985, it was assumed that Warhol only used the program once, his digital experiment being forgotten.
It may have stayed that way had it not been for the curiosity and effort of another pioneering artist, Cory Arcangel. Well-known for his early hacked video games and glitched aesthetic that came to be known as Net Art (or Post-Conceptualism), Arcangel was curious if the Prince of Pop Art created any other works on the early digital format. This search led to conversations with curators at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, who owned most of the equipment (discs, hard drives and floppies) that might contain these experiments. Connecting Arcangel to the nearby Carnegie Melon University’s computing club, who have experience in recovery and “retrocomputing”, the combined effort to recover Warhol’s files took three years.
In a more tech-savvy description of the difficult process at Wired.com, Liz Stinson notes, “Because of the disks’ age and fragility, extracting data posed a serious risk. The archiving and viewing process could irreversibly damage the content, but letting the disks slowly degrade was an even worse option.”
The team was eventually able to recover eighteen images (some of which are shown above), among the first digitally made images by an already famous visual artist. Describing the astoundingly original files, Arcangel said, “What’s amazing is that by looking at these images, we can see how quickly Warhol seemed to intuit the essence of what it meant to express oneself, in what then was a brand-new medium: the digital.”
A documentary about the recovery, Trapped: Andy Warhol’s Amiga Experiments, will premiere May 10th at Carnegie Mellon (and will then be viewable at http://nowseethis.org/.), after which many more of the images will probably be released to the public for the first time ever. (via wired)