Blogs Media Lab The Best Stories of 2014

As I do my job as editor of the Walker homepage and blogs, I find myself guided by the Walker’s mission. The entire thing is instructive and, frankly, liberating—the dedication to both artists and audiences; the focus on the collection, care, and contextualization of art works; and the “global, multidisciplinary, and diverse approach” we take […]

As I do my job as editor of the Walker homepage and blogs, I find myself guided by the Walker’s mission. The entire thing is instructive and, frankly, liberating—the dedication to both artists and audiences; the focus on the collection, care, and contextualization of art works; and the “global, multidisciplinary, and diverse approach” we take to contemporary art. But, in particular, I’ve been focusing on the last bit of late: “Walker programs examine the questions that shape and inspire us as individuals, cultures, and communities.” Looking back on the most popular stories and blog posts we’ve produced here at the Walker, I gauge our success or failure against that measure: are we engaging not just with what’s within our walls—which we must do well—but also with what’s out there, in the world we live in when we leave work, in the world(s) our artists and audiences live in? I hope so. To help with this mission, we’ve enlisted help, from our own staff and from an array of outside voices, the many guest artists, journalists, and writers who’ve been invited, and in many cases commissioned, to share their thinking here.

Together we produced more than 70 essays, slideshows, interviews, and news stories in 2014, with help from contributors including: Ta-coumba Aiken, Kate Bernheimer & Laird Hunt, James Bridle, Nicole J. Caruth, Jeff Chang, Catherine Damman, Chris Fischbach, Kristina Fong, Shannon Gibney, Saidiya Hartman, Jeff Huebner, Julie Lasky, Martin Friedman, Joan Frosch, James Norton, Okwui Okpokwasili, Ana Tijoux, Susan Rosenberg, Joan Rothfuss, Dread Scott, and Ben Valentine, as well as the many Walker staffers who’ve shared their research and insights.

Below is a selection from our most popular articles of the past 12 months. (Click here to see the best of our blogs.) To keep up with all that we publish at in 2015, follow us on Twitter at @walkermag or subscribe to Walker Reader, our monthly editorial newsletter.


Kris Martin, Bee, 2009

Kris Martin, Bee, 2009

Laugh at Death: Kris Martin on Time, Absence, and Humor

“We’re all goldfish.” In this interview from April, Belgian artist Kris Martin discusses his favorite movie scene, the goldfish scene that opens Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, as well as his works that explore—and ridicule—death, from a cast gold bee to a 2D work in which the word “SOMEBODY” is written in human ashes (“We’re all somebody on paper.”) to For Whom … (2012), the silent swinging bell in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden that takes its name from John Donne’s famous for-whom-the-bell-tolls meditation.



Edward Hopper, Village Person

“Hopper was a poet of the abyss, a chronicler of discontinuity and disruption, who seemed to need a static environment from which he could take inventory of what was emotionally solid and measure the distance to the nearest patch of null.” In a photoessay illustrated by Duane Michals, Julie Lasky shared her experience visiting 1 Washington Square North, Edward Hopper’s home and studio for some five decades (now home to New York University’s School of Social Work). Of the setting, she noted: “Hopper admitted the southern light from his studio windows but ignored the pleasant scene, instead consulting the anomie behind his eyelids.”


Mickey Friedman in the Walker design studio, photo contact sheet, 1979

Mickey Friedman in the Walker design studio, photo contact sheet, 1979

Design for Explication not Veneration: Remembering Mickey Friedman

“In Mickey’s hands, a design show was never simply about a subject, but drew upon the principles and power of design itself to create a compelling experience. ” For Mildred “Mickey” Friedman, curating design was less about acquiring objects than letting such artifacts tell stories within the galleries, “not for veneration but explication,” wrote architecture and design curator Andrew Blauvelt of Friedman, who passed away Sept. 3. As Design Quarterly editor and design curator for nearly 23 years, she consistently “drew upon the power of design itself to create a compelling experience.” The wife of former Walker director Martin Friedman, she worked with Walker architect Edward Larrabee Barnes to create the building’s interiors, gave Frank Gehry a prescient solo show in 1986, and inspired a generation of designers.



Beyoncé the Readymade: A Conversation around Ralph Lemon’s Scaffold Room

“A machine, a high-powered Porsche, hip-hop technology. She consumes everything around her.” In Ralph Lemon’s Scaffold Room (commissioned by the Walker and premiered in October), Beyoncé is discussed as an overwhelming force of capital that takes over our senses. With Lemon’s work as a jumping-off point, performer Okwui Okpokwasili met with author and Columbia scholar Saidiya Hartman to discuss the iconography and cultural consumption of black women’s bodies.



Choreographing Experiences in Space: Olga Viso Interviews Jim Hodges

“I’m interested in theatrical moments and choreographing experiences in space. I think as a drawer and make as a sculptor.” In an interview with Walker director Olga Viso (who curated Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take), Jim Hodges discussed his art practice, life, and influences, touching on themes from love and loss to politics, spirituality, and mortality.




La Cultura de la Basura: Ana Tijoux on Misogyny and Pop Music

“Where are the videos showing a woman in her role as sister—or protector, or economic head of family, or devoted daughter, or grandmother dignified in her old age?” In her Walker Artist Op-Ed, our ongoing series of opinion pieces by global artists, Chilean hip-hop MC and activist Ana Tijoux looks at la violencia del cuerpo en la musica: the objectification of female pop stars, which she likens to “visual punches: it’s about snatching away the very beauty of women.”



The Siege on Citizenship: James Bridle on “The Right to Have Rights”

“The cloud renders geography irrelevant—until you realize that everything that matters, everything that means you don’t die, is based not only on which passport you possess, but on a complex web of definitions of what constitutes that passport.” Launching our series of Artist Op-Eds, UK-based artist and writer James Bridle shared the case of Mohamed Sakr, a man deprived of his UK citizenship and later killed by a US drone, to show how such definitions are under attack.



“Hands up, don’t shoot!” Demonstrators protest the killing of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 12, 2014. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

“Hands up, don’t shoot!” Demonstrators protest the killing of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 12, 2014.
Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

“Illegitimate”: Dread Scott on the Killing of Michael Brown

“If you’re the head of an empire and see that an unarmed youth is gunned down by the police and your advice is for people to be calm, your rule is illegitimate.” In an urgent essay in August, artist Dread Scott used our Artist Op-Ed platform to address the killing of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri police and the crackdown on dissent that followed. Mixing anger and disbelief, he saluted protesters in Ferguson while decrying those who aim to control them through force. “If a Black boy can’t walk down the streets of his town without fear of being executed by the police,” he wrote, “what rights do we have?”



Making the “Best Cat Video on the Internet”

“I’m a proud crazy cat video lady… trapped in a man’s body.” What does it take to make a cat video that becomes a viral sensation? Kristina Fong interviewed Will Braden, whose video Henri 2: Paw de Deux was voted “best cat video on the Internet” at the first ever Internet Cat Video Festival. Now #catvidfest curator, Braden shares his thoughts on the cat video phenomenon, as well as tips on making a videos that’ll be like catnip online.




A Timeline of Design History:
Andrew Blauvelt Highlights the Best of Five Decades of Design Quarterly

For nearly fifty years, the Walker’s Design Quarterly chronicled the changing terrains of architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, and product and graphic design. Featuring provocative thinkers—including Muriel Cooper, Martin Filler, and Armin Hofmann-—DQ charted design’s history, from a form-follows-function modernism of the ’40s to the affectations of postmodernism in the ’80s and ’90s. The Best Blog Posts of 2014

It might be an understatement to say it’s been a busy year for the Walker blogs: our nine main blogs published 317 posts, racking up more than 525,000 pageviews. Here’s a selection from our most popular posts. (See a selection of our most popular articles here.) 10.   Valentine’s Message: “I’m Your Man! Love, Sufjan” […]

It might be an understatement to say it’s been a busy year for the Walker blogs: our nine main blogs published 317 posts, racking up more than 525,000 pageviews. Here’s a selection from our most popular posts. (See a selection of our most popular articles here.)


Valentine’s Message: “I’m Your Man! Love, Sufjan”

“You’re making a mistake with this boy Ryan.” Consider it a perfect storm: Walker book specialist Ryan Brink was picking out a Valentine’s Day card for his girlfriend Claire just as Sufjan Stevens, at the Walker to perform with his supergroup Sisyphus, stopped by the Walker Shop. Long story short: Brink scored big points for the card he bought, signed with a personalized message for Claire by Stevens himself.



Fighting Words: A Public Debate on the Relationship Between Social Practice and Art Institutions

“Does social practice belong in art museums?” Portland-based artist Ariana Jacob shares some of the arguments from a debate on social practice during last summer’s rousing Assembly: A Social Practice Get-together that took place at the Portland Art Museum. Published in early December, it’s already become one of the year’s most-read posts.



Freezing Man: Putting a Temporary Autonomous Zone on Ice

“Inevitably, upon explaining the idea of the Art Shanty Projects to someone unfamiliar with them, a comparison to Burning Man will be made.” Artist Eric William Carroll visited this distinctly Minnesota event, which brings artist-made icefishing-style shacks to a frozen Twin Cities–area lake every two years, finding comparisons to the Black Rock City extravaganza lacking. “If community is to be understood as the central focus of Burning Man, Art, I would argue, is the focus of the shanties.”



Living with Pottery: Warren MacKenzie at 90

“MacKenzie challenged the idea that sophisticated art cannot be an everyday object.” Marking Warren MacKenzie’s 90th birthday in February, Alex Lauer dug into the Walker archives, finding photos, clippings, and an issue of Design Quarterly dedicated to the career—including a 1961 Walker solo exhibition—of the legendary Minnesota potter.



Defining a Vagenre: Categories of Nudity in Feminist Performance

“There are many different vagenres in contemporary performance and dance. It is not just one big category of vaginas on stage.” Despite the punny neologism, performing arts curator Michèle Steinwald offers a serious consideration of nudity in feminist performance, suggesting five levels, from “Performance with ‘frontal’ nudity, completely naked or just bottomless” to “Orgasm as educational tool.”



All Possible Futures: Experimental Jetset on Speculative Graphic Design

“Nowadays, it might indeed be speculative projects that can give designers some sort of breathing space in an economic and political environment that is becoming increasingly tight and hostile.” While some graphic designers divide their work between “for fun” and “for profit” or “self-initiated” versus “client-driven,” Experimental Jetset avoids such compartmentalization. In this excerpt from Jon Sueda’s book All Possible Futures, members of the Amsterdam-based design studio state, discuss this idea, as well as the term “speculative design”: “We regard all our projects as self-initiated, whether they involve clients or not. The moment we make a choice to involve ourselves in a project, we are, in fact, initiating it. That makes everything that we do self-initiated.”



Muriel Cooper: Turning Time into Space

“Her enthusiasm for shaking things up was matched by her eagerness for working with emerging technologies, a precursor to our increasingly seamless relationship with information and tech. All while barefoot.” The keeper of MIT’s graphic identity for more than four decades and an innovator in computer interface design, Muriel Cooper (1925–1994) was the subject of the exhibition Messages and Means: Muriel Cooper at MIT in 2014. Here Walker designer Dante Carlos interviews its curators, Robert Wiesenberger and David Reinfurt.


Dessa. Photo: Hannah Hofmann

Exclusive Video: Dessa’s “Fighting Fish” as Remixed by The Hood Internet

“To hear my lyrics delivered in a man’s voice was brain-scrambling. ” For a woman in the male-dominated world of hip hop, poet, Doomtree MC, and rapper Dessa says it was “brain-scrambling” yet gratifying to hear herself as a man—or, rather, to hear her voice slowed to sound like that of a male rapper. That’s what The Hood Internet—one of eight producers asked to remix vocals from her album Parts of Speech—did with “Fighting Fish.” In September, Dessa gave the Walker an exclusive first look at the track’s new video.



“Sometimes sparking a dialogue can be a good thing, as long as the end of it is obedience to God.” Walker design director Emmet Byrne’s research into unexpected self-publishing three years ago put him in touch with Steve Drain, a member of the notoriously anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church. With news of the church founder’s death, he dug out the interview, which sprang from one question: “Is there anything to be learned about design from someone whose values are so radically different from my own?”



Radiant Discord: Lance Wyman on the ’68 Olympic Design and the Tlatelolco Massacre

“It’s fascinating the way a piece of design can accrete meaning over time, as new contexts are revealed, personal stories come to light, and history slowly reifies our perceptions of an era.” Interviewing the designer of the iconic identity for the 1968 Mexico City Summer Games (and 2014 Insights lecture series participant) design director Emmet Byrne looks at the ideas behind Wyman’s Olympic design and the ways the events on the streets affected its meaning: ten days before the games began the government violently suppressed a student protest in Plaza de las Tres Culturas in what is now known as the Tlatelolco Massacre.

Catalyzing Conversation and Transcending Technology at INST-INT

INST-INT—an international conference of acclaimed creators exploring the intersection of art, technology, and interaction—returned to the Walker for its second year over the weekend. Organized by the same folks responsible for the Eyeo Festival, the September 25 through 27 gathering focused on installation art, interaction, responsive environments, smart objects, public art, and the challenge of creating engaging experiences.  A series […]

Obscura Digital project illUmiNations: Protecting Our Planet, presented by the United Nations Department of Public Information in partnership with the Oceanic Preservation Society and Insurgent Media, New York, 2014

INST-INT—an international conference of acclaimed creators exploring the intersection of art, technology, and interaction—returned to the Walker for its second year over the weekend. Organized by the same folks responsible for the Eyeo Festival, the September 25 through 27 gathering focused on installation art, interaction, responsive environments, smart objects, public art, and the challenge of creating engaging experiences.  A series of amazingly inspirational presentations covered a wide range of topics, from machines conveying sociopolitical messages to public sculptures made with advanced material studies to the use of technology as an extension of the body. The most interesting were those projects that not only made use of technology in creative ways, but also used it to catalyze conversations about social or political issues and examine ideas beyond the technology itself.

Social and Political Interaction

For example, Japanese artist Sputkino presented her Menstruation Machine,  a wearable device fitted with a blood dispensing mechanism and electrodes simulating the lower abdomen that simulates the pain and bleeding of a five-day menstruation process. Sputkino also presented The Moonwalk Machine, a work that reimagines NASA’s Mars Rover to leave female traces on the surface of Mars through the use of new wheel tracks outfitted with high heels. I could not help to draw parallels between these works and a project by Megumi Igarashi (aka Rokudenashi-ko) in which she distributed electronic data that could be used to replicate models of her genitalia using a 3D printer, a project that landed her in jail on charges of obscenity. These projects are inspiring as a form of social activism in the face of the shifting role of women in Japan.

Dan Goods, a visual strategist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, gave the most inspired talk of the weekend, focused on the “million things that could mess up your visionary project.” Dan talked about how bad wires, Congress, holes in the ionosphere, the Vatican, and other unforeseen circumstances can threaten to derail your project, and he discussed ways to plan for disaster. About his work, he said, “I am passionate about creating moments in peoples lives where they can interact with something beautiful, meaningful, and/or possibly profound,” and expanded on this by saying he wants to, “create experiences where people have a moment of awe about the universe.” This passion really became evident during his presentation on the HI JUNO project, where more than 1,400 ham radio operators collaborated to transmit “HI JUNO” in Morse code, in unison, as the spacecraft made its slingshot pass around earth. The work made it clear that some of the best projects are those that give many people a chance to consider the unknown and to imagine the space beyond our physical world. Goods closed his talk by demonstrating a Muon detector and described how these invisible particles are bits of exploded stars that are moving through all matter on earth, equating our bodies with space matter and recalling the temporality of life.

Considering the recent People’s Climate March, I was also extremely inspired by the Obscura Digital project illUmiNations: Protecting Our Planet, organized in partnership with the Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS) as a lead-up to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Summit. For this project, many organizations collaborated to create a 30-story architectural projection, which lit up the United Nations Headquarters in New York with images of extinct species and a call to make climate action a reality in every society across the globe. As a prelude to the People’s Climate March, which filled the streets of New York with more than 300,000 people who marched to protest international inaction on climate change, the intent of this project was to inspire citizens to take climate action. This theme of social or political action was evident in many of the projects in various forms. This opened up some larger conversations about the role of art in society, need for many different forms of interaction, and the power of participation in public space.

Architecture, Materiality, and Virtualization

The relationship between built form, public space, and our connection an imagined world were important aspects of many of the projects presented by showing how they pushed material limits, reclaimed public space, or questioned our relationship to digital technology. Jen Lewin’s presentation titled Please Touch the Art detailed her large interactive art installations created to activate and connect community. One question she is interested in is, “How can interactive sculpture be used to transform and change public experience?” Looking at projects like The Pool and her Light and Sound Harps, it becomes clear how she has found a way to bring together her interests in painting, light, architecture, and dance. Using specialized rotational molding of plastic and other fabrication techniques her studio creates interactive public art that has withstood the abuse of more than 4,000 people in one day—an effort that requires significant material research.

Janet Echelman Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks, Vancouver, Canada, 2014

This need to explore and examine the materality of physical form was no more evident than in the work of Janet Echelman, who discussed her largest most interactive sculpture, Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks. In collaboration with artist Aaron Koblin, creative director of the Data Arts Team in Google’s Creative Lab, Studio Echelman developed a massive suspended sculpture of net and mesh for the TED conference’s 30th anniversary in Vancouver. Pushing material boundaries, this project was made possible through the development of custom 3D modeling software that allowed Echelman to simulate environmental conditions and complex geometries. Using Honeywell Spectra fiber, a lightweight, durable material 15 times stronger than steel, this work spans 745 feet between Fairmont Waterfront and the Vancouver Convention Center, and is equipped with an interactive lighting environment that allows visitors to use their phones to interact with the work.

Klaus Obermaier and Ars Electronica Futurelab, Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) by Igor Stravinsky, 2006

Taking a different approach to interaction, Klaus Obermaier discussed his staging of Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) in his talk titled Interactive Installations vs. Interactive Performing Arts. Recontextualized for contemporary society, this 1913 ballet and orchestral concert work is transformed by Obermaier into a live 3D projection performance, in which the dancer and the orchestra contribute to the form of the work through real time interaction, generating the viewer experience. Amazingly, this work premiered in 2006, when things like Kinect motion tracking did not even exist. Of course, this work is not just about technology, and that’s what makes it so interesting. “The issue of the day is the authenticity of experience in the light of the ongoing virtualization of our habitats,” Obermaier said. “It is the dissolution of our sensuous perception, of the space-time continuum, the fading dividing line between real and virtual, fact and fake, that takes us to the limits of our existence.” Indeed, we find this struggle in our own lives, all to often consumed with social media and digital culture. By reinterpreting a controversial historic work through the lens of technology, Obermaier asks powerful questions about the effects of technology on humanity and significance of being in relationship to the digital world.

Clearly, many themes emerged during the conference, but the real value was in connecting with such inspiring people. As a rich open-source community, almost every person at this gathering was willing to not just share their greatest ideas, but also give you the building blocks of their projects to use and modify as your own. It was an amazing opportunity that offered a chance to see the most cutting-edge interactive, experience-driven, technological work from artists who traveled the globe to have conversations about the direction of new media, find new ways of collaborating, and to develop methods for making work. Thanks to all the people at INST-INT for another fabulous gathering of minds. I was honored to participate. Be sure keep a lookout for the talks to be posted online, and don’t miss it next year.

See Change 2014: Creative Inspiration

See Change 2014 conference at the University of Minnesota (in its fifth year) brings together another diverse set of creative perspectives on design and the undercurrent of change driven by design. This year was no different. In the five years I have attended See Change, it has consistently given me inspiration and a view into […]

See Change 2014 conference at the University of Minnesota (in its fifth year) brings together another diverse set of creative perspectives on design and the undercurrent of change driven by design. This year was no different. In the five years I have attended See Change, it has consistently given me inspiration and a view into a world of design which I am now entering late in my software development career. As an MFA student in interactive design, I consider attending See Change part of my curriculum. As an artist, I feel a connection with the creative drive of those who have made visual expression their line of gainful employment, sustaining, in a sense, both sides of their lives in one endeavor. All this appeals to my personal sense of holistic integration.

Conference presentations ranged from how we work and interact as individuals to creativity theory. Along this spectrum Aby Wolf lead us through singing exercises, Paul Trani looked at the 3D printing revolution, and two inspiring photographers showing their great work and telling wonderful stories. If any theme stands out among this diversity, it is this: how to find inspiration in your creative work. On that topic, photographer Douglas Kirkland responds, “keep many irons in the fire,” and his vast body of work expresses this passion and sustained inspiration. Annie Griffiths, after recounting her story of engaging in a photographic subject one hurried morning, when she forgot to wear pants, advocates, “find a passion that makes you forget to put your pants on.”

For the finale, genial professor Barry Kudrowitz compared close links between creativity a type of humor based on incongruity, making non-obvious connections (as opposed to slapstick or cathartic types of humor). Making non-obvious associations, Kudrowitz posits, means getting past the obvious ones, which itself seems obvious. But what studies have shown might not be so obvious: it is the simple correlation between the number of ideas and having good ones. This happens because the good ideas are usually found at the tail of the chart—he’s also an engineer, so there were charts! Getting past the usual and obvious means getting past the first ten or so ideas.

If it is possible to summarize See Change 2014 with an agglomeration of quotes (lacking attribution—sorry), here is what that could be: scale is the enemy of doing good work, print is still important, collaboration is a key ingredient, suspend judgment, the quiet power of space, stay open, know your inspiration, just the right amount of wrong, find the creative hook and make bold statements, be comfortable being uncomfortable, silly ideas can be stepping stones, Tigers and Bears (hey, you had to be there!)

Digital Karma: Cory Arcangel on the Recovery of Warhol’s Digital Works

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Artist Cory Arcangel (right) with CMU Computer Club member Keith Bare. Still from Trapped: Andy Warhol’s Amiga Experiments, Part 2 of The Invisible Photograph; © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

It’s not every day that new works are discovered by one of the most famous artists of all time. Perhaps that’s why the recent recovery of Andy Warhol’s early digital experiments on an Amiga 1000 has been one of the most important art stories of the year. In addition to adding an important new twist to Warhol’s canon, the story of their recovery has become a catalyst to a growing conversation, both about digital conservation and also the nature (and value) of images in a media-saturated world.

It’s incredibly fitting that the driving force behind the recovery was artist Cory Arcangel. One of the first artists to take strategies from conceptual and performance art and apply them to hacking and the digital world, Arcangel’s work has always existed in realms which, by their nature, are constantly facing obsolescence and the need for documentation. In a series of interviews by phone and email, Arcangel discussed—with excitement bordering on total giddiness—ideas of digital conservation, cultural karma, and our disappearing culture.

Nathaniel Smith: Can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment?

Cory Arcangel: I have an opening of my new merch/lifestyle line, Arcangel Surfware on May 17, a pop-up shop titled You Only Live Once. Under the Arcangel Surfware brand, I’m making linens, tees, hoodies, iPhone covers, and a bunch of other stuff. It’s “everything you need to chill in bed all day and surf the internet.” LOL. The pop-up will be half exhibition, half shop. I’m collaborating on the brand and pop-up with the same company that did the Kanye pop-ups, Bravado, so I’m pretty pumped. It’s been a lot of work though, because I’m showing all these new open-edition things, but also showing a ton of new fine art(ish) things. It’s gonna be 40-plus objects—all in a Holiday Inn conference room.

Smith: A funny place to follow up your last show in New York, which was at the Whitney [laughs]! Busy times, especially considering the debut screening of the documentary Trapped: Andy Warhol’s Amiga Experiments just happened. One of the main things I wanted to speak with you about is the recovery of works Warhol made in 1985 on his Amiga 1000.

Arcangel: Yeah, definitely. It’s been a wild few weeks with all the attention, but fun, of course. What I liked about it was the Kryoflux, the USB-attached drive controller used in the effort to make low level virtual copies of the disks, has gotten so much attention. Also, I’m glad a lot of the coverage really forced a discussion about digital preservation which I think is important and will become more and more important as more of culture gets virtually “lost” due to obsolescence.


The Kryoflux, used to interface a modern PC to the Amiga floppy drive. Still from Trapped: Andy Warhol’s Amiga Experiments, Part 2 of The Invisible Photograph; © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Smith: This kind of conservation is obviously an interest of yours. I immediately recall your Creative Capital Grant to publish the computer source code for your entire body of work…

Arcangel: That’s right! The first four issues of that series are actually finally finished. After eight years! They can be bought at my pop-up store for $19.95 after May 17. They are part of the Arcangel Surfware brand. LOL. They are printed on 300-year archival inks and papers, so yeah, they definitely are an intervention into the “conservation” of my own work. These product shout-outs are striking me as very Warholian. Very on topic. Ha.

Smith: What is it about conservation that is important to you, particularly in a fluid format like web or digital files?

Arcangel: It’s all—and by all, I mean culture—gonna disappear! As long as it is all in the cloud, or something like it, that is. So conservation is essential. Both with stuff that people think is important and stuff they don’t. So, that’s my main angle. Also, of course, I like mucking on old computers. Can’t seem to get away from that. Funny, though, what were new computers in 2000 when I started making fine art(ish) are now really old computers. So there is always lots to work with, even my own work, at this point.

Smith: Do you remember the first time you saw the YouTube clip of Warhol painting Debbie Harry, or the time that you began to wonder if he had worked on other digital works?

Arcangel: I don’t remember the first time I saw the YouTube video, although I’ve seen it several times over the years. Jason Kottke tweeted me, though, and asked if I saw it on his blog for the first time, which is possible. But, I have read Warhol’s diaries, and there is lots of stuff in there about technology. It always had me wondering.

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Andy Warhol (and Debbie Harry) working on the Amiga 1000. Still from Trapped: Andy Warhol’s Amiga Experiments, Part 2 of The Invisible Photograph; © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Smith: When you contacted the Warhol Museum about the Amiga equipment, were you aware of the previous two searches?

Arcangel: I was not aware of them. I was aware of all the tech stuff Warhol did, though: recordings, early video, etc. I had been to Pittsburgh so many times over the years—the city has played a big part in my art life—so I knew if I ever went back, I would try to ping the Warhol Museum about his old video tapes and Amiga disks… just out of curiosity.

So, Tina Kukielski, the curator of my 2012 show at the Carnegie Museum, and I set up a meeting at the Warhol Museum when I visited in 2011. For that meeting, I had brought with me—prolly like a nerd—all of these clippings and random articles I had collected about Andy Warhol and the various tech stuff he did. Anyway, in regards to the Amiga stuff, I asked head Warhol archivist Matt Warbican three questions: Did Warhol actually have an Amiga? Do you have any of that stuff? Did he have any floppy disks? It was “yes” to all three!

After that we approached Golan Levin at the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, which is an organization that pairs artists outside Carnegie Mellon to resources inside Carnegie Mellon, and that’s how we got hooked up with the legendary and totally amazing Carnegie Mellon Computer Club.

Smith: When you saw all the equipment, what were your expectations? I mean, did you actually expect to find anything in particular?

Arcangel: Initially we didn’t think anything was on the disks; they all looked like commercial software disks. So, yeah, for a few years, the project moved ahead without any expectations, which was fine by me, and I was just interested in the gesture of such a project, not the outcome.

Smith: This may sound strange because it seems so immediately obvious, but: what do you see as the value of the recovered images?

Arcangel: What is their value? [pauses] I don’t know if anyone has asked me that before. Do you mean, like, the cultural karma?

Smith: Do they have value as actual images, in a way a painting does, or are they given value through the story of their rediscovery?

Arcangel: I would say three things about their value. One, it’s cool to show that he was fluid and super sick in a medium which most didn’t know he worked on. Two, they raise people’s awareness about the digital conversation. And three, they are valuable because people can learn about clubs like the CMU Computer Club, which was incredible to work with. There is nothing cooler than a retro-computing hacking club in my mind! Especially at a place like Carnegie Mellon.


Arcangel (right) with Matt Wrbican, chief archivist at the Andy Warhol Museum. Still from Trapped: Andy Warhol’s Amiga Experiments, Part 2 of The Invisible Photograph; © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Smith: You mentioned over the phone that Warhol was not the first major fine artist using a computer to make work and that in his diary he mentions that young people, artists like Jean Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, were using computers. What was different about the equipment that Warhol was using, both from an art historical perspective and from a tech-history view?

Arcangel: At the time Haring and Basquiat were probably using Macs, thus working on black and white. So, Warhol had a jump on them, because he got his Amiga so early and it was in color. His Amiga was so early, in fact, it had stickers on it which said the FCC hadn’t approved it for sale yet.

Art historically, I’m not exactly sure, but, you know, computer arts go back quite some time, but that said, Warhol was definitely on the earlier end of things. Also, just from an art perspective, it’s worth pointing out, he was pretty sick with the paint bucket tool, so he definitely saw 30 years ahead on that one. I’m still trying to catch up.

Smith: Can you take me through the technical details of rendering an image from the Amiga 1000 to be viewable on a modern computer, but also perhaps the philosophical differences of altering an image to modernize it? What changes in this transformation?

Arcangel: Well, as you know, with digital born material, this is no “is.” Every manifestation of the work is a real-time expression of code. Even an image on your cell phone is code executing. So, it’s not helpful to think in terms of original or master. It’s more helpful to think of this real-time expression of code being like a live music performance. After all, instruments are technology designed to execute code—aka notes and silence. So the same way a band tours playing the same song every night, an image will appear in different contexts, on cell phones, browsers, newspapers—each performance slightly different, none “realer” than the others.

For the Warhol project, the Amiga images were rendered for modern computers. The files themselves can’t be shown as-is because of their obsolete format, but even with this out of the way, another snag is they were made on the Amiga, which had non-square pixels, meaning, they look squished on modern computers. So they had to be “rendered,” aka stretched for modern machines which have square pixels. Not to mention CRT monitors and LCD are not similar.

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CMU Computer Club member Keith Bare, and the first recovered Warhol image. Still from Trapped: Andy Warhol’s Amiga Experiments, Part 2 of The Invisible Photograph; © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Smith: Your work has always blended the two aspects of this recovery project, basically breaking down any separation between the art world and the digital hacker world. Can you tell me a bit how these overlap so cleanly sometimes—or about your term “ghosting”?

Arcangel: Well, in the project my role was as a translator. I was able to both speak the language of the Warhol Museum and CMU Computer Club. Or, maybe “glue” is another way to put it. Also, I’m lucky to be an artist. Artists have the ability to “ghost,” or float through walls and different disciplines, in a way most other professions are not allowed. In this case, the Warhol Museum was generous to let me and the club in for a visit/project. They were incredibly welcoming! Shout out to them!

Smith: An important aspect of the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry’s summary is the possibility of further exploration of Warhol’s equipment. How involved might you be in such an effort? What is most exciting to you about these continued explorations?

Arcangel: Oh man, this project that has taken three years. So, I just haven’t thought about what happens next. I need a break first!

Smith: Before you go, are there any last things you would like to say about the project?

Arcangel: This project was really the combined effort of four groups: the Andy Warhol Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the CMU STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, and of course, the awesome CMU Computer Club. It was really just a crazy coincidence that Warhol’s Amiga stuff was only miles away from one of the best retro-computing clubs in the world. And again, one last thing I wanted to say is that the CMU Computer Club, they were, amazing.

Smith: Since we talked on the phone the first time and this wasn’t possible, this time could you sign off with some of your signature emoticons?

Arcangel: Had no idea they were my signature. :/

The documentary Trapped: Andy Warhol’s Amiga Experiments can be viewed for free at, Hillman Photography Initiative at Carnegie Museum of Art as Part II of their Invisible Photograph series.

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