DISP (1976-1977) - Peter Struycken

This case study is part of the collaborative researchprogram Transformatie Digitale Kunst (2014-2015). The researchprogram is concerned with the long-term preservation, presentation and distribution of software based artworks. DISP was brought in as a case-study artwork by LIMA.

Discription and Context of the artwork
DISP is one of the very first programs written by Peter Struycken. The program was developed between 1976 and 1977 at the Technical University (TU) in Delft. The artist wrote a succession of programs in his early experimentation with a colour display monitor: DISP, VLOEI, GRID-3, SQUARE, WAVES and LINE1. At the time, the programs were video recorded while operating and enclosed with a voice-over from Peter Struycken himself. With the original source-code missing, the videoregistration is the only documentation left.

Peter Struycken's objective and rational approach to art led to an exploration of subjecting colour to mathematic principles. The computer allowed Struycken to calculate and arrange colours in space and time much easier, extensive and accurate than manual calculations would allow. DISP is one of the programs in which the artist explored how colours relate to each other. The voice-over on the videoregistration narrates contextual information that is helpful in understanding what the program does. The program functioned on an 8 bits system of colour precision, enabling 256 different colours. With an interval of two seconds a new colour appears on screen. Essentially, the idea is to determine the quality of change, which can be big or small, sudden or gradual. The difference between colours is arguably more important than the colours themselves.

In time of production (1970s), it took a lot of determination to access a computer, let alone create a functioning program. Researchers at the 'Graphics Group' at the TU Delft, managed to connect a colour monitor to a computer (a PDP/11) and write the necessary software so that the monitor would display what the computer program generated. This inventive and revolutionary work had a big impact on the further development of Struycken's digital artworks. 

Preservation research 
The original program does not exist anymore. The only documentation left (the videoregistration) is therefor the departure point in establishing a preservation strategy. LIMA has preserved the video registration safe and sufficiently in her e-depot. However, the original program worked real-time generative and reconstruction requires great deal of intervention. The 256 colour-pallet is accessible through a colour- lookup table and the operative speed can be read from the registration. Reprogramming DISP is in theory a possible preservation strategy. This approach is comparable to reinterpretations of documented performance art or music scores. As long as the same essential score is performed within appropriate parameters, the work itself will be recognizable and will retain its integrity. However, the voice-over of the artist in the video-registration is equally interesting. It tells a lot about Struycken's artistic practice and helps to understand these early works better. It is therefor desired to reinterpret or reconstruct this work now, 40 years later, based on both elements. An educational app or video could allow today's viewer to understand the technical limitations of the time this work was made in, and get acquainted with Peter Struycken's early explorations with monitors, programming and additive colour systems. Because DISP marks the beginning of computer generated art it allows for an interesting comparative analysis with more contemporary works that take digital colour systems as a subject, such as Rafael Rozendaal's Color Flip (2008), and Falling Falling (2011).

Software-based artworks challenge us to rethink preservation strategies. These artworks need to be performed as much as viewed and preserving them means preserving the behaviors of the artwork as much as the original artifacts.