Overcoming Your Control Issues: Arduinos as an emulation strategy

Sasha Dobbs and Martina Haidvogl
The Electronic Media Review, Volume Five: 2017-2018


Arduinos are low-cost, open-source and easy-to-use microcontrollers, supported by a large community. As a flexible and programmable platform, they can take input, monitor processes, create output, and connect to a number of external devices and custom electronic circuits using various protocols. Their design is tailored towards a non-technical audience, which makes them accessible tools for both advanced technicians and anyone less familiar with electronics. Originally created for artists and designers, they are found in numerous contemporary art installations. By describing two case studies, this paper explores their application as part of a conservation treatment: Bruce Nauman’s Life Death/Knows Doesn’t Know, 1983, a neon lights installation whose sequencer stopped working; and Anthony McCall’s Slit Scan, 1972, a high-speed slide projection that ran too fast with available slide projectors. While there were rather straightforward technical problems to solve, diving into each case study—together with curators and the artist or their representatives—revealed a more complex set of issues. Using Arduinos allowed for a quick change of settings and their comparison brought new facets of the works to light. With contemporary devices like these various hardware emulations are possible. Arduinos in particular have the potential to replace legacy controllers used in sequenced media artworks that have since become obsolete or difficult to source. By introducing Arduinos to a wider audience other possible applications for conservation may be revealed, leading to further research on this innovative device.

Sasha Dobbs
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Exhibitions Technical Assistant
San Francisco Bay Area

Martina Haidvogl
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Associate Media Conservator
San Francisco, CA