Home - 2.1 Conservation strategies 2.1.1 Emulation

2.1 Conservation strategies

2.1.1 Emulation


The glossary contained in Permanence Through Change: The Variable Media Approach (2003) states: “To emulate a work is to devise a way of imitating the original look of the piece by completely different means. The term emulation can be applied generally to any refabrication or substitution of an artwork’s components, but it also has a specific meaning in the context of digital media.” [1]


Beyond the arts sector, emulation is used widely in the desktop computing field. Often, when a software application has become obsolete and the user wishes to continue to run it (as is) on a late-model computer that is incompatible with the program, an emulator can be used. The emulator enables the new computer to mimic an older one in order to run the obsolete software. It is also possible, for example, to emulate older musical material by using software; in this particular case, the material can be controlled using a computer interface. The user thus experiences the instrument in a way similar to the original.


Emulation was chosen to restore UNEX Sign No. 2 by Jenny Holzer. The electromagnetic UNEX sign was changed to an LED [2] Daktronics sign, and the effect sought was to imitate the display properties of the old sign using completely different technology. While the dimensions of the old and new signs are similar, the authenticity of the work has been compromised through this emulation, as it is no longer possible for the spectator to position the material historically. However, emulation has maintained the artwork’s integrity, allowing the spectator to experience the work in much the way it was originally intended. In most cases, emulation interferes with a work’s authenticity but preserves its integrity.



[1] Alain Depocas, Jon Ippolito and Caitlin Jones, “Variable Media Glossary” (2003), https://www.variablemedia.net/pdf/Glossary_ENG.pdf.

[2] LED: light emitting diode.