Digital Media Art in the Upper Rhine Valley.
Conservation – Restoration – Sustainability
Herbert W. Franke

Herbert W. Franke

FrankeDoku MG 9221

This case study consists of five partially interactive artistic computer programs by Herbert W. Franke, a pioneer of computer art. The works were conceived and programmed between 1984 and 1992. Their inclusion in Digital Art Works. The Challenges of Conservationmarks their first exhibition in a museum setting. 

In the interactive work ORCHID, created by Franke with a DEC Professional 350 microcomputer, rectangular colored surfaces gradually form in the lower half of the screen, layering and forming into rows. Using the keyboard, it is possible to move the graphic in its entirety up or down the screen. 

The work TROPIC was also written the DEC Professional 350. In this case, it is not possible for the observer to change the parameters using the keyboard, rather he or she can only watch as flat, variably-sized, colored triangles gradually form on screen. The triangles gather like leaves on an invisible vertical, overlap and come to resemble a kind of tropical palm tree. The color of the background and the color of the “leaves” change with the rhythm of the “growth”.

WALDWOHN is another interactive program written on the DEC Professional 350 microcomputer. On a black background, a series of triangles are gradually drawn, each triangle is self-contained and consists of three lines, situated at various positions on the screen. The drawing is reminiscent of a highly abstract forest of small trees, which perhaps explains the title. The triangles move slowly upwards and gradually disappear from the observer’s field of vision. Using the keyboard, the user can change the colors, form and size of each successive triangle.

Two further works by Herbert W. Franke, created using a 386 personal computer, are animations which cannot be manipulated by the observer. 

ABROLL3 shows forms created by overlapping graphic rotations drawn with thin light lines on a black background. As soon as a figure is complete, a random selection of the surfaces created by the intersecting lines is colored in. Then a new rotation cycle begins, where the same figure, with some small differences, is drawn on top of the one already present. Again, some surfaces are colored in at random until a new drawing cycle begins. 

In RAHMEN4 a cellular design reminiscent of a mosaic is drawn on a black background. The individual cells are differently colored, but form a symmetrical image. Beginning from top left, the colors of the cells are altered, cell by cell and line by line, until a new symmetrical pattern has been created. 

Alongside Frieder Nake, Georg Nees and Max Bense, Herbert W. Franke is one of the pioneers of computer art in the German-speaking world. One of the founders of the Ars Electronica festival in Linz, he was educated in both the sciences and humanities. After having experimented with electronic images from the mid-1950s on, he created his first computer graphics in 1967. He is still active as a writer, researcher and artist. 

Conservation measures

The five works here that form the case study for the digital art conservation project were discovered on antiquated desktop computers which Franke gave to the ZKM in 2007. The donation came with the requirement that the data stored on the computers should be retrieved and analyzed. This was carried out within the framework of the current research project. 

Only two of the computers mentioned (DEC Professional 350, 386 Personal Computer) had hard-drives. When the data on these machines was downloaded, backed up and analyzed, it was found to contain various versions of the programs of the artworks, along with office correspondence and other documents. For the data download, 5.25” diskettes were used – also known as floppy disks – along with the computer’s integrated double disk drive (RX50). 

After the successful data preservation measures, Herbert W. Franke was consulted to assess the discovered data. The artist selected a small number of programs which he regarded as appropriate for museum presentation. After the selection, the programs had to be prepared for presentation with a maximum degree of authenticity. For the presentation of the BASIC-11 programs (ORCHID, TROPIC, WALDWOHN), a software emulator was used – a computer program which can imitate the functionality of an obsolete operating system on a more modern one.

Franke MG 4840

Franke MG 9281

Photos: ONUK

The project is supported by:
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