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Andy Warhol: Experiments With New Media

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Following the recent news on Andy Warhol's newly discovered Amiga experiments last month, Eric Shiner, the director of The Andy Warhol Museum said

Warhol saw no limits to his art practice. These computer generated images underscore his spirit of experimentation and his willingness to embrace new media - qualities which, in many ways, defined his practice from the early 1960s onwards.

To garner a better understanding about Andy Warhol and his use of technology we reached out to Matt Wrbican, chief archivist at The Andy Warhol Museum to get insights on Andy Warhol's experimentation with new media.

Lilia Ziamou: What emerging technologies of his era did Andy Warhol use?

Matt Wrbican: While not an "emerging" technology per se, Warhol was fascinated with motion pictures at an early age. He acquired cameras and projectors as early as age 8 and a room in the basement of the family home was converted into a darkroom for his use. While in college, he was exposed to state-of-art technologies and techniques of that era, such as photograms (the use of light blockers with photographic enlargers and processors). His 1947 Christmas card held by the museum was made by this process. The Warhol has receipts from the 1950s for Warhol's purchase of an audio tape deck, although there is no evidence whether he used it or how. At that time, his mother used it to record herself reading stories. There are also receipts for the purchase of television sets as early as 1954. Warhol was hired by a New York City television station to create weather graphics in the mid-50s, but none of the art survived. He was hired by CBS to make title cards for drama shows, e.g. Studio One and The Secret Storm, which the museum has a photograph of one of these in its collection. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Warhol began using Polaroid cameras. By the middle of that decade he was producing home video, being selected to test early versions of Norelco portable video recorders. Although that equipment had to be returned, Warhol acquired his own Sony Portapack in 1970s, and numerous reels produced using that technology are in the collection. In the late-1970s, he used the short-lived Polavision movie system, which was meant to compete with video.

Lilia Ziamou: How did Warhol become aware of emerging technologies and what motivated the use of these technologies?

Matt Wrbican: Through all of the involvement mentioned above, it is clear Warhol was always looking for ways to make production of his work easier. He also always wanted to be seen as being contemporary. Through technology, the two coincided. His Exploding Plastic Inevitable became an apex moment in embracing and using technology, with its combining of film, slides, light and sounds in a total multi-media and multi-sensory experience.

Lilia Ziamou: How did innovations in the field of photography contribute to the development of his work?

Matt Wrbican: As seen by his early use in the 1970s of the Minox camera, a tiny 35mm device that was one of the first "pocket cameras," Warhol loved the portability that was possible without the need to lug around heavy equipment. With this, and other point-and-shoot cameras followed, he shot thousands of images, often at nightclubs and with celebrity friends, who granted him access that they would not allow for the paparazzi. I have no doubt that if Warhol was alive today he would have his own line of smart phones.

Lilia Ziamou: How did innovations in personal computing contribute to the development of his work?

Matt Wrbican: After his early experimenting with Amiga, Warhol really lost interest in using computers, primarily out of frustration with their limitations at the time, e.g. poor resolution and limited color. However, twenty years earlier, Warhol was a member of a group that went by the acronym EAT (Experiments in Art & Technology); they combined fields of art and engineering sciences. Warhol's Silver Clouds was a product of that involvement.

Lilia Ziamou: Can you briefly describe the Time Capsules? What are some of the interesting findings that provide us insights into Andy Warhol's thinking about emerging technologies?

Matt Wrbican: Warhol was a collector of everything and did not like to let things go. He was a hoarder and packrat. Most of the Time Capsules contain paper, including very fragile thermofaxes of some of his mid-1960s images such as Flowers, and the Watson Powell portrait. Other technology-related paper documents in the Time Capsules are brochures for then-state-of-the-art office equipment such as photocopiers, and also industry magazines that document the emerging cable-TV technology and long obsolete formats such as LaserDisc, which Warhol was greatly interested in as a way to distribute his film and video work. Some contained AA batteries, which are now corroded, but the museum is in the process of documenting and properly disposing them. A few Time Capsules contained 35mm negatives and contact sheets, but one in particular, #577, holds over 600 8x10 prints made from 35mm films, along with the negatives and contact sheets for these images.