CF: I've read a few articles about your work restoring the Thing, but can
you give me a brief summary of how the project came about and what you
worked on specifically?
I think that I describe this here:
BFR: Essentially - I wanted to recover and collect whatever was left of The
Thing BBS. It seemed problematic that no one could (at the time) access any
visual evidence of the look and feel of the board. I got to know Wolfgang
and after many conversations he loaned whatever computers and floppy disks
he had left. I imaged all of these and realized that the machine that
actually hosted the board was gone. The many "backups" of the board were
screen dumps of specific sessions recorded by either Wolfgang or Blackhawk
(who donated a compact disc containing many many screen dumps). Wolfgang
later found a binder full of 35mm slides that included many photographs of
the board itself. I found a copy of TBBS (the BBS system that W used) and
read the manuals front to back. One of the screen dumps included a partially
damaged record of the ANSI art of the logon screen - a big "THE THING" with
the two phone numbers. I found out that the screen dumps had been saved as
Word Perfect files, so using an emulator I used Word Perfect 5.1 to migrate
the files to extended ASCII - an encoding that would keep the proper
characters intact. There were still some subtle errors in the layout, but by
using the 35mm slides as evidence I was able to restore it to its original
state. By learning how TBBS worked I was able to effectively reproduce an
authentic display of The Thing's logon screen. What was exhibited in the NYC
1993 show was this running in an emulation, displayed on a CRT display that
was of the period. I have been continuing the restoration of the entire BBS
independently since leaving Rhizome.
CF: What experience did you have of the Thing or other discussion lists
before working on this project?
CF: Quite a few people have been talking about how other lists might be
revived (like The Syndicate and 7-11), any advice or what were the most
complicated parts of trying to show what the Thing would have looked like?
BFR: That is impossible to advise on without knowing what their original
forms were, and what materials are extant.
CF: You've moved to MOMA, what are your day to day tasks and on-going
BFR: I spend around 80% of my time at MoMA managing the development of the
Digital Repository for Museum Collections - which will essentially by the
first repository system that is built for supporting the conservation and
care of digital and born-digital works of art in the museum setting. We are
just about to begin an intensive several months of building, and will have
an early release candidate out around May or June. The DRMC is built on a
free and open-source framework, so this is something that we look forward to
sharing with other collecting bodies in need of such systems. I am also in
the midst of a case study on emulation, where we are apply rigorous evidence
gathering and objective, qualitative analysis to assessing the fidelity of
emulations of software based works of art and design objects. We are
thinking hard about how we can not simply identify the significant
properties of a given work, but how we can effectively document and gather
evidence of these properties for evaluating the success of our conservation
efforts. This is of course being applied heavily to the video games that are
being collected. I spend the remaining 20% of my time on this case study,
and assisting with the video game acquisitions.
CF: Do you see your work as more curatorial or art historical or a direct
mixture of both? Or something else? Is it a unique role borne of digital
technology and rapid archival decay?
BFR: Any conservator worth their paycheck is an art historian in some
CF: Are there any artworks or archives your itching to work on? Anything
that's already been lost you'd love to revive?
BFR: There are a few complex born-digital works in the collections at MoMA
that I'm very much looking forward to working on in the future.