Media Preservation between the Analog and Digital

Gregory Zinman, Georgia Institute of Technology

“Media Preservation between the Analog and Digital” is a project that centers on the development of a digital recreation of pioneering video artist Dara Birnbaum’s now-lost Rio VideoWall (1989), the first multi-screen artwork to be installed in a public setting in the United States. In its original instantiation, in downtown Atlanta, the work employed twenty-five identical 27” CRT monitors, stacked in a five-by-five grid, powered by eight LaserDisc players and proprietary computer code written specifically for the piece. Today, however, only a portion of the code remains; neither the CRT monitors, nor LaserDisc players, nor original computers, are in production, and to recreate the artwork—even in a lab setting—would involve a significant reimagining of the original piece. But there are additional considerations that extend beyond hardware and software: the VideoWall was installed in the Rio Shopping Complex, a mall in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, a historically African American neighborhood. The artist was attuned to this, and designed the artwork to combine scenes of the natural landscape that had been displaced by the mall with an unedited live-stream of CNN, an Atlanta-based company, all filtered through the moving silhouettes of mall patrons in real time. Neither the nature footage nor the CNN live-stream—let alone the mall patrons—presently exist (the mall was torn down in 2000), so a recreation of the artwork would need to identify footage that captures the spirit, if not the reality, of the piece. To do so would therefore involve an analysis of the themes engaged by the original artwork: the legacy of segregation, the 24-hour media cycle, surveillance culture, the relationship between art and commerce, and the Anthropocene. This paper will provide a brief overview of the project, with an emphasis on the conceptual challenges it engages, describe the recovery work underway, and describe the current work and next steps toward the VideoWall’s ultimate recreation.