Michelle: [...] I will start out by acknowledging that I'm coming to you, and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria does everything that it does, on the lands of the Lkwungen People, today known as the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations. This project really emerges from the work that we're trying to do at the gallery, to take that acknowledgement a step further, beyond lip service, and really think about all of the activities that we do through a lens that moves the institute towards a real grappling with its colonial past, so that we can do better moving forward. Today we’re going to have presentations by four members of the advisory council. I think today we’re hearing from Mark, Rodney, Gabrielle, and Noya. And then we're going to dive into part two, which is a group discussion. The objective of which is to formulate questions and start thinking about the speculative ideas that we can pose around the gallery's collection. And Marina did a lot of good work in her listening to the conversation in the first meeting and has put together a document outlining the questions that came up in that first meeting, so we can also use that as a touchstone during the discussion, in Q and A. Before we dive in though, because we have two participants who weren't here in the first meeting, I think Roy and Stephen hopefully had a chance to watch the recording of the first meeting, so you probably know who all of us are, but I wondered if you would do us the kindness of telling us all about your fabulous selves. And maybe we'll start with Roy — with Dr. Eagleson, perhaps I should be more formal.
Dr. Roy Eagleson: No, perhaps not. Call me Roy. I’m a software engineering professor, I teach human computer interface design, but that's just my day job. My background, and in fact the way that I met Deb is we were both working in research areas of cognitive science and thinking about the ways in which human perception and cognition and action interact. I had a little bit more of a computational approach to the modelling, Deb is really a great empiricist, but we still talk to each other. So with that as my background, the ideas of how we might make use of technology in order to make the collection more accessible from a perspective of paying attention to how online media can be... It’s never going to be the same, but we want to try to optimize the way in which people perceive the gallery, the way in which they think about the gallery, the way things are curated, the way things are put forward, and the way in which we might navigate the collection. So that touches a bit on perception, action, and cognition. The research that I do typically maps into simulators for training and in fact it's usually biomedical imagery that I make use of, but this plays out in the domain of virtual and augmented reality. So those are the kinds of capacities that I have through my students and I think that might be something that we might want to consider, as possible modalities for sharing your gallery.
Michelle: Fantastic thank you, and our colleague Stephen.
Stephen: Good morning everybody, I don't know how to follow that up, that all sounds very impressive — and my affirm of the sublime to the ridiculous perhaps. My job here at the art gallery is managing the exhibits in the collections department. So my interaction with our database is from the backdoor approach to it, which is my supervision of the registrar and oversight of our IT contractor who helps us manage the database along with our other IT functions in the gallery. I've been in the museum business for a long time, but my knowledge of our database and our IT infrastructure is not in any way technical in its background, I’m overseeing the people who look after that for us. So I just want to have that proviso out there, but I'm happy to be here and happy to give whatever advice I can to help the process along.
Michelle: Thank you.
Gabrielle: [...] (video 10:49) Thank you of course as always for the opportunity, there's nothing academics like more than to talk about their own work, perhaps surpassed only by designers talking about their own work — what I wanted to do was give you just a real quick overview of my approach to architectural and urban history and the kinds of projects that I have been involved with, which I think are relevant to the goals of the Digital Potentials Advisory committee. So I have, when I stopped to think about it, realized that I have, for roughly two decades of working as an architectural historian, very much been interested in what I call an “aggregated approach” to the history of the built environment. And I just want to introduce you to that through three different projects that I have been involved in. The first one, is the New York City Tax Photographs. When I began working on these — it's a collection of over 700,000 photographs that were produced by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930’s and 1940’s, — a few years ago this collection was digitized, but when I first started working on it, it was on microfilm. So trying to grapple with the complexity of 700,000 photographs of 700,000 buildings, but while going through roll after roll of microfilm. So what I became really interested in was thinking about the collection as a whole and what we could learn about the transformation of the urban environment by thinking about the entirety of this collection. And this is just a sampling of some of those images that show you the kinds of buildings that were captured in what was then very much a changing city. The 19th century city was still very much in evidence, as were the 20th century infills including famous art deco skyscrapers, townhouses, gas stations, etc. So my interest here was both in thinking about the individual images and what they told us about the about buildings and the building-scape, but also trying to understand how we had a portrait, if you will, of the city as a whole captured at this very dynamic moment in the history of New York City in the first half of the 20th century. The project that became my first book was also a new deal era project, dealing with the modernization of commercial storefronts during the Great Depression. This too was a project in which the aggregation of individual buildings was far more significant than the significance of each modernized storefront over the course of this program, which ran from about 1934 until material restrictions at the beginning of WWII. Enough money was spent through federally-backed loans and cash payments to have — in total it was about 5 billion US dollars — enough to have renovated every street-level storefront in the United States at the time. So roughly 1.5 million establishments, not that all of them did modernize, but that gives you a sense of the scope of the project. And one's access to this was very much through an archive of print journals and commercial catalogues as much as it was evidence in the street. The vast majority of these were work-a-day buildings whose presence on main streets in the United States, whose continued presence, tracked entirely to the economic depression of that commercial corridor. Places that had remained economically vital, the chances were that these storefronts were taken down. So one had to look at their significance through what remained of the archive of the built environment, but again, their significance had to do with their aggregation rather than the architectural interest or the economic value of any one typical storefront. Most of these were the manifestation of no more than two thousand US dollars, in terms of material outlay, construction, architecture, design, etc. I continued my investigations of the everyday landscape and everyday urbanism, also thinking about the significance of numbers when I began working on the photographic archive of John Margolies, who died several years ago but was best known as a photographer of commercial vernacular architecture in the 1970s. When he died he left an archive of roughly 15,000 images, again not quite the same as 700,000, but still, the kind of collection whose significance has to do with its numbers more than with each individual object. So again, it's always about thinking about how we understand patterns of transformation, because we have so many examples of them. And in this case, it was both the actual images capturing these ephemeral buildings as well as the way in which his photographic project reflected a transformation, in terms of our ideas and attitudes both inside architectural discourse and outside, in terms of the value of preserving these kinds of examples of the commercial vernacular. These three projects provided the foundation for what has been, I realize now, a decade-long investigation into what I can call building data, data about buildings, that have emerged with my own growing interest in digital humanities. It's something I’ve explored both historiographically in some articles, as well as in my capacity as the founding editor of SAH Archipedia, which is now an open access peer-reviewed publication on the history of the built environment. The caveat there is that its foundation content was all based on print volumes called, “The Buildings of the United States”. So while now the content is entirely US we are expanding and hope to grow it into a global publication in the years ahead. Right now it is an open access platform with a back-end content management system that is built on Drupal that allows us to more easily make editorial changes, peer review, etc. We've got about 22,000 individual micro essays about specific buildings and sites, along with about five thousand thematic essays. So this is ongoing editorial work that I do as a founding editor. I was involved very much in imagining the nature of this publication. I forgot I had linked this, so that you could actually see what the interface looks like as a whole. That's just our landing page with changing content as it’s published. So my interest was both as a historian of the built environment, and I am in fact a contributing author, but also as a digital humanist thinking about how do we develop this, what are the implications for the production of history, for discoverability, etc. Over the course of the decade, we’ve really watched this project evolve, with trial and error, we made lots of mistakes in terms of metadata collection, in terms of controlled vocabularies, etc. So it's still very much a learning curve. And then just to give you a slightly better sense of the publication as it relates to the next project, and final project I want to show you, I'm just giving you a typical search. This happens to be buildings in Los Angeles. So you can see it's a very straightforward interface with just a little thumbnail image that allows you to zoom-in on any particular building entry. Those that were born digital content are longer entries, they have better metadata, and they have a full set of references. But I'm showing you Los Angeles buildings because my current digital project, in addition to ongoing work with SAH Archipedia, is directly related to the vast artistic output of Ed Ruscha. So most of you are probably familiar with his 1966 artist book, “Every Building on the Sunset Strip” that is regarded as one of the critical books of American pop art, in which he rigged up a camera on the back of a flatbed truck and drove up one side of the Sunset Strip and then the other side of the Sunset Strip, taking photographs of every building which he then presented in the fashion that you see here — this long accordion fold. It was a complex commentary on everyday architecture on changing notions of monumentality, etc, but what most people don't realize is that after 1966 Ruscha kept shooting, and is still in fact with a team shooting today. So it's not just Los Angeles in the 1960s, and this slide shows you their original rig in the flatbed of a super sweet little Datsun pickup, it's not just a record of Los Angeles in the 1960s, but it is a record of Los Angeles right up into the 21st century, and important caveat, it is a record of white-west-side Los Angeles from the 1960s to the present. The selection of the streets that he chose to document is itself fully charged both politically and socioeconomically related to Ruscha's position as leading in the vanguard of the white-pop-art movement in the 1960s. But a couple of years ago the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, which acquired the Ruscha archive, began digitizing this collection, and as part of their digitization effort they recruited a group of project researchers to figure out what they were to do. What was the historical significance? What was the contemporary significance of this? I'm just showing you a handful of slides that help us think through my own approaches to this archive of over a million images, a portion of which are being digitized by the Getty. It's easy to think of it as a kind of Google street view, avant la lettre, because of the way that he captured buildings that generally we would not necessarily have a historical record of. These just happen to be two of my favourite ones, because they appeared in “Every Building on the Sunset Strip”. It's astonishing the degree to which liquor stores are tenacious, and Liquor Locker is still there having been there in the 1960s. Mid-century buildings not so much. The Lytton Savings Bank that was designed by a respected, but middle of the road mid-century modernist architect, is actually about to be torn down and replaced by a Frank Gehry high-rise. I couldn't ask for a better example of the way in which low-rise Los Angeles of the middle of the 1960s — this is basically a mini-mart situation with a bank close to the highway and then ample parking in the front — is becoming increasingly urbanized according to conventional notions. So it is becoming more high-rise and denser as the replacement of this building makes clear. This is just an image of how they’ve been digitizing all of these negatives. I like the steampunk aspect of this. There was a very crude prototype viewer that allowed us to slide chronologically or to slide building by building. This was so creaky that it wasn't all that useful, and instead I've been working with a data scientist at Yale in order to develop what I'm calling a morphology and typology for reading the streets of Los Angeles. These are just examples that are meant to give you an overview of the approach, which is informed both by the oldest canonical attempts to classify built form, as in Banister Fletcher’s, “A History of Architecture” in which you can see he’s looking at all of these Wren city churches and attempting to isolate the differences, right on through to the work of Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi who in fact used Ruscha's example as a way of looking at the legibility of built form in an auto oriented landscape. So my work is, one could say, building on Ruscha influencing Venturi Scott Brown. And these are examples of their Ruscha-elevations learning from Las Vegas, which really was an attempt for them to map the urban field conditioned by the automobile, which I should also mention is precisely the subject of my second book, “American Autopia”, so all of these things are coming together. But just to conclude with literally the current project that I'm working on with Damon Crockett of the Yale Lens Media Lab as a project we began last summer in which we took what was the most pristine collection of Ruscha photographs of Sunset Boulevard and we began to compile them. Initially what we were doing — and the black spots indicate blanks in the negatives — eventually was just to think about object recognition. We thought that might be a useful way of beginning to think about stasis and change in the commercial landscape, but in fact now what we're doing is moving to what I like to call — and I think I have it in another image, or maybe not — the “sky-oh-meter”. We’re moving away from the recognition of individual objects looking towards various kinds of pattern recognition, including what we're calling the “sky-oh-meter” looking at changing percentages of blank sky, if you will, in these images which indicates to us through my morphological approach, which will help us to begin to indicate the way in which the built landscape is changing from street orientation, sidewalk orientation, to pulling back to allow for parking to increasing high-rises. This is just a historical example of my morphological approach, which is influenced by the historian Richard Longstreth who began to look at 19th century main streets as a way of sorting through the transformation of the built environment. He was interested in the changes of individual buildings and individual form, but he was much more interested in how these aggregate into understanding the condition of something we can call “main-street” as an urban morphology. Longstreth continued this investigation by studying commercial space in Los Angeles. So these are the critical historical touch points for me, and I am attempting, working with Damon, to pull this into an analysis of stasis and change in the built environment of this admittedly select portion of Los Angeles from the 1960's up to the present. These are just examples that show you that stasis and change that we're already beginning to see by comparing say views from the 70's to views from the early aughts, in which again anecdotally we see that Los Angeles’s commercial boulevards are beginning to densify along with what we might describe as typical North American patterns. So we’re attempting to put together a composite portrait of urban aesthetics utilizing machine learning and pattern recognition. So that's what I just wanted to give you a sense of, who I am as a scholar and a researcher, and a little bit of the background of what I’m hopefully bringing to the conversation here. Thank you.
Michelle: Thank you. I am constantly amazed at Emily's curation of this group. It’s funny because this morning just before the meetings started I had an email from our director saying, “Can you send me the names of the firms that you're working with on this digital strategy fund?” And I had to email him back and say, “We're not working with firms, we’re working with individuals, who are thinkers.” It's just fascinating to me how, even though I read up on what everybody did before we started talking to you, just the depth of connection to what we're hoping to do. I mean there was so much in your presentation, but something that really strikes me is this idea of the aggregate importance of a collection. And thinking about Deb's question at the last meeting about how what's going on in the world changes a project like this. I think that one of the most systemic problems with art museums is the obsession with the individual object and the so-called value of the individual object. A space like the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria becomes a regional museum with a less valuable collection than a museum in Toronto or New York or Chicago, but looking at what we have in aggregate, the stories embodied in that collection are so much more significant than the individual works. So I'm excited and that was just the first presentation, so lots more excitement to come. Who is going to go next?
Rodney: Can I just quickly ask — the use of the word “aggregation” and “aggregate” in the context that Gabrielle was using it, I'm not entirely familiar…
Gabrielle: Yeah I mean, it's certainly in historiographic terms, it's basically taking it literally. What happens when you take individual things that may not have as much meaning individually or may not be regarded as significant, in terms of the conventions of say art or architecture or even history, but when you take all of those things and bring them together you realize that they represent a tremendous, fill-in-the-blank. So to use the storefronts as an example, the conventional narratives about a free market building during the Great Depression where after 1929 building stops and the only building projects that continue are either the ones that were huge — I guess we would today call them, “Too big to fail” — or the ones that were directly supported by the federal government, but that was only because our conventional way of looking at change in the built environment was by visibly large projects that we could recognize as, “Oh, that was done by architect Joe Blow and funded by the Rockefeller’s or funded by the federal government.” But in fact, when you looked lower, below the radar screen, you found, “Oh, this is interesting” — this storefront, this storefront, this storefront — small and seemingly insignificant building projects that once you aggregated them and studied them as a group you realized they were extremely important. So all of this storefront modernization work, as I said, amounted to five billion dollars, which was not insignificant in the 1930’s. Yeah, does that answer the question?
Rodney: Yes it does.
Michelle: Do we have a volunteer to go next? Rodney, thank you.
Rodney: (video 33:13) Sure. I was about to say, I thought you were talking about Gestalt, Gabrielle. Okay, I guess I’m going to talk about what informs my art practice, which is also my life, and just start by saying that my name is Klehwetua, I am Hupačasath, and I am speaking to you from our traditional lands, which we have occupied we say, “ʔiikmuut” since time immemorial. The old people like to say, “Since the time that the one who made us put us here on the land.” We do not believe that we came across the land bridge, although I don't doubt that some people did. So I come from a long line of storytellers and historians. This photo is of my grandfather, he would be on your right, obviously, and this was taken in circa 1920, here in the suumaʔas, now known as Port Alberni. This was an early act of reconciliation and I think it was quite a visionary act. The man on my grandfather's side, who would be on your left, was the mayor of Port Alberni, and what you see in the back of the truck are my grandfather's dancers. They belong to an ancient dance society that's thousands of years old, we call it, “ƛuqwaana”. ƛuqwaana were not only a dance society but they were oral historians, they were the keepers of the law, his advisors, they were the managers of this hahuułi, which is his traditional lands. So they were experts in forestry, fisheries, medicines, architecture, and art. So this was his circle, this was his cabinet basically, if I could use that word, and he was the figurehead as the hereditary chief. Just to clarify, many nations today have people they call chiefs who are basically their chief executive officers, so this is the hereditary lineage that goes back to the beginning of time. And just quickly, what's happening here, this is the Canada Day — or Dominion Day as it was called back then — parade, and the City of Port Alberni had a Canada Day parade or Dominion Day parade and they called it, “The Sons of the Valley.” My grandfather heard about this and they hadn't been invited to participate officially and he said, “Well, wait a minute, we are the sons of the valley and the daughters of the valley.” So this was basically their parade float and he put together his hin kiits dancers and they came forward and said, “We are the sons of the valley.” And so this is the mayor standing, and around this picture there's a huge crowd and he's explaining to everyone how my grandfather is correct that they are the original peoples of the valley and that they are invited guests there. But also what you're seeing here is the regalia that you see these dancers wearing — that's his intellectual property. Those were in his care and with that regalia there were songs and dances that belonged to it. So this is part of the oral history and the visual history of our people, because at that time all of these circles of people and possibly common people, “musčim” as we call them, when you saw this regalia you would say, "That belongs to Dan Watts, And they heard the song and would be like, “Oh, that belongs to this chief or that belongs to that family.” From that knowledge you could go through to all the family relationships of who had the rights to use those songs and dances, maybe nobody did maybe they were shared collectively or maybe they belong to the entire nation, but this was part of the identity and the record keeping that existed, because we didn't have a written language. We had a visual language and we had an oral history and an oral record keeping. So I always found that very interesting when I worked with the fluent speakers, who are now all gone. They tended to be suspicious of technology and the establishment of museums and the government, because we hadn't been, and even currently haven't been, treated very well. So, yeah. You can move it. These are some of the sensibilities that I'm trying to integrate into our discussions. This is my Chief, the late Jesse Hamilton, she took over from my grandfather, her brother, my Uncle Adam, passed away suddenly. They both died very young and very unfortunately, because I never knew either one of them, but she took over. And interestingly, the patriarchy was very resistant to a woman being in that position, we call it a seat, but she always said, “Well the one sitting in the seat is the chief. You can call me ‘hakuum’”, which is what we call the queen and hawił is the chief, we didn’t say king. But this object behind her is actually a section of a dance curtain or dance screen. Historically it would have been painted on cedar planks and put inside one of the Big Houses. We call them “Big Houses” here, you might be more familiar with the term, “Longhouse”, but it was a large cedar house where they gathered. This is painted on canvas and this is just one section. So the sea serpents that you see there — sea serpents are supernatural, they're not mythological, we believe that they exist in the supernatural, and I've seen one once in my life — this is her property, it is also my property, it’s our intellectual property. And these images, as you see them, no one has the right to use them. They would have to either belong immediately to my family or have permission to use them, which would likely not be granted. But I painted this curtain with Jerry Whitehead. We recreated the dance curtain which was lost that belonged to my grandmother, so it came back to us through my grandmother's side. So it comes around to this. This is Brian, he's one of our members of the Hupačasath First Nation and this is us doing our dip net fishery for sockeye salmon, which is going on right now. This is a river in our traditional territory and this is one way that we fish, this is how I prefer to fish. Brian is much more adventurous than many of our fishers, but this is what Aboriginal Title of the Lands means to me in some respects. When we say “Aboriginal Title” we're talking about the stewardship of the land, which was historically managed by our Chiefs, and there was usually more than one Chief in any given nation, but this is an activation, this is an act of taking ownership of the land. This is us saying, “We're here, and we are still here, and we still have ways that we've done things since the beginning of time.” So this is the idea that you use it or you lose it. I always maintain that we have to be very present on our land, our art should be present, our songs and dances should be present, our language, and everything that we have needs to be present, because the elders used to say, "You keep doing your work, because people constantly need to be reminded that we are still here.” So this is an action and this is us exercising our Aboriginal Title, and for better or for worse people like it or they don’t like it — I’m talking about outside of our nation. So, I just want to show you this. This belonged to my grandmother, it comes to me through my grandmother. This is my personal hand drum that I use. I am the caretaker of songs for my family. This is the two-headed serpent and it is my grandmother's property, it is also my property. So when you see this symbol — which I have given my immediate family permission to use this symbol, because it belongs to our family — only myself and my family have the rights to display this image as you see it here. So yes, this is my intellectual property. And the last thing I want to show you…
Emily: Last one?
Rodney: Yeah. So this is actually what I was trying to bring — ideas that I'm trying to bring to this project — this idea that there's a suspicion of technology or suspicion of institutions and galleries. This is the princess, this is hakuumʔi, thee princess, and she faces the river, the Somass River. Myself and Cecil Dawson carved this. She stands about twenty feet tall and she is carved from a western red cedar that was probably about 500 years old when we took it down, but this is a territorial marker. She is welcoming travellers on the river and behind her is her partner, we call him “nuučiʔi” and he's the mountain and he’s greeting people who are traveling on land. This is an action, as I was saying, this is to remind people that the Hupačasath people are here, we rose these images, these carvings, publicly, and we initiated it, and we activated it. We gave these objects a real life to say that, "They are alive, they're living things, and we're activating them into the world.” What we had hoped is that everyone would take ownership of these and they would share them with us. It does belong to the Chiefs of Hupačasath and to the people, but the idea was that we were sharing our wealth. It's the idea that wealth is shown by what you give not by what you accumulate. So we gave these to the world and said, "These are for everybody and we want everybody to come as friends. Come in friendship and in peace.” So there's this idea that we wanted people to take ownership, to adopt them if you will, and to participate in this action. So I think it's “transformation”, as I heard somebody say that word today, and this is actually Transformation Park, as we call it informally. We had a society then called the Transformation Society that built this park. We raised our own money and they built this park on the waterfront and a boardwalk and they raised the money for these carvings. So I guess it’s kind of an interface, I think I like that word — I’m just making note of things that were said — and this idea of monumentality. These are monumental carvings. I like to think of myself as a monumental minimalist, if there's such a thing. I also heard someone say something about object recognition, so I think that's an interesting parallel to the visual language that we have here, and recognizing artwork that belongs to families and to individuals, and pattern recognition. The last thing I want to talk about is this idea that many of our ideas as First Nations people have been co-opted and sort of over analyzed, and in broad terms, I don’t know if anybody's ever read Baudrillard’s “The Perfect Crime”, but he talks about — you’ll almost never hear me use the word “culture” this is just something I like to be aware of and you can take it for what it's worth — Baudrillard believed, and so do I, that society at large has co-opted this idea of culture. They have built or they have created a veil or a screen, and I see what that veil is, it’s the idea of what culture is. So instead of saying we have language, we have tradition, we have our own laws, we have our own oral history, we have songs and dances, now we say “culture”. Like, “I'm engaged with my culture." I like to say, "Well, what do you mean by that?” Then we say language and culture, and it's this idea that we don't know what that means anymore, because we've adopted this word “culture” which doesn't exist in my language nor does the word “art”. So it's this idea that we have to really talk about what it is that we mean, rather than just using convenient words that make it easy for us to talk. So what I'm thinking about bringing to this project is this idea that somehow First Nations People need to be not suspicious of what it is, because it is an institution, it is a museum and a gallery, there has to be a way that they can engage with it and adopt it and accept it as their own. So whether we have some kind of initiation or activation, to somehow have people engage with the project so they can adopt it as their own. That's what the princess was about, and she still stands there today if you're ever coming to Port Alberni. So those are just some ideas that I wanted to bring forward. That's really the Reader's Digest version of what my art practice is. I come from a very old family who's lived on this land for a very long time so this is basically just a quick overview and I'm obviously always happy to answer your questions, even one-on-one. So I'll leave it there.
Michelle: Thank you Rodney. Does anybody have any questions for Rod? I forgot to ask that with Gabrielle, but luckily Rodney never holds back when he has questions. Just one one brief comment from me — what comes to my mind is that I don't even think we’ve even started to consider what a responsible relationship with Indigenous communities and artists means when it comes to the museum collection. We talk about collecting more work or repatriating objects that we shouldn’t have, but what I'm taking away from Rod's commentary is just the very act of amassing and obsessing over visual objects needs to be exploded in a way that we haven’t thought about yet. We're going to move on to speaker number three — Noya or Mark, do we have a volunteer?
Mark: I’m happy to go.
Michelle: Great, thank you.
Mark: (video 53:23) A couple of disclaimers — I think that's important at the beginning of any biographical piece. I never rehearse these, so everyone’s different. I've called together things that are a slice of my work. I do a tremendous amount of different things, but I wanted to try to keep it on topic here, and the first part that I want to show you is an exercise I do at the beginning of every new school year, which is I put together a slideshow, no text just images, sometimes there's some structure to it sometimes there's not, just as a way of introducing myself or reintroducing myself every year. This is from last year, so it's actually surprisingly dated I discovered this morning when I was taking a look at it again. So I’ll share over here. Hopefully you're able to see that. All right. So one of the things about me is I feel placeless, and part of that is I've lived in a lot of different places, at least along the east coast of the US. One of the things that I don’t acknowledge frequently is that most of my life, for my growing up years, I grew up in the deep south, I grew up in Mississippi and I've buried that for pretty much my entire adult life, it seems like. Then about two years ago, maybe three years ago, I started trying to figure out what does that mean, having my formative years from being five to fifteen, growing up in a place and not really talking about it? I did a bunch of work. We did a lot of traveling to places we had lived, trying to make sense of them. This isn't the presentation — let’s see where it leads itself — but an acknowledgement that I did live in Mississippi for about ten years and that it actually did have a pretty profound effect at least on how I tell stories — we’ll call it that way. I claim that I'm from New York, I think the largest part of my life I did live in New York City, that was after grad school and before my time in Baltimore, which is now scarily getting up to almost the longest place I've ever lived, but if people ask me now I say, “Yep, I'm from New York City, I lived in Astoria, Queens," and that’s I think really where my design sensibilities started to formulate themselves. They say you're either ocean or mountain, I’m ocean very, very much ocean. I seek it out, it’s where I go to get clear, to get my head right, it’s where I was last week to try to make sense of a lot of things that are falling in my lap. And before visiting or becoming affiliated with DesignInquiry, Maine’s always been a part of my life. It's another one of those places where the topology, the geology, the tides specifically, have always resonated with me. They've always just felt like a place that I could think and be present and expand. So one of the things that I've been working on, in the last it's probably been about five years here, is this idea of indexing — looking at very large quantities of objects and figuring out what connects them and what's the process of how that goes. One of the things that I do with these projects is that the process of creating an interface is part of the process of discovery and actually doing the knowledge making within it. So we start from nothing we sort of make it an interface and then we start testing it and we work with it further. So I work best from a blank slate and the index of DesignInquiry is certainly one of those projects that is both a taxonomy, a folksonomy, an index within itself, and a lot of my projects are never finished. This one is slated to go to 20,000 objects, we're not even close to that, but it could accommodate forever basically. Another thing that I find meaningful is myth, and for that matter fictions. So storytelling, either through image, through writing, through design, through sequence, anything that helps me understand the world in an ephemeral way, whether it be monsters or whether it be something abstract is meaningful to me. I seek those out and use those as a weight to the very objective information that I work with too. I love things that don't make any sense at all. This is “Uber Organ” it was composed of plastic tubing and had a fan and basically a large player piano roll and made very guttural noises at certain times during the day. I like those objects that really set a place, they set an experience and they sort of take you out of a reality and allow you to explore for a while. My personal design sensibilities are generally rooted in humour. I love things that are clear, but taken in the right context can mean something else or play off of some other object that is nearby. I like how those can be translated to different contexts, similar symbols, but be used for a totally different purpose. And that goes hand in hand with my partner. Most of the work that I do is done in a partnership, with my wife now, who sits on the other side of the table, who was there earlier, but has since moved. And again everything with me — because I think of this placelessness from where I'm from, makes the places that I go quite important. We were married in Minnesota, we took our honeymoon very cheaply on Block Island. It was such a cheap honeymoon that we had a ten, I think it was a ten, percent-off coupon off of everything at a certain restaurant, and they had dollar drafts, so we drank a lot of 90 cent beers, and that really kept me grounded during that time. I'm also a sailor and I sailed to Block Island when I lived in Connecticut many, many times and so there's a confluence of a lot of things coming together there. The work that we make is directly related to what we're interested in. We'll take on any project frankly for almost any budget if we think that there's a potential within it. This is some work we did, we did not actually do the identity for Ringling College, but we were commissioned to do the little graphic on the left, a series based on an algorithmic formula. So a series of ways of interpreting that algorithm so that they could have an infinite number of contexts and different ways of composing what those little aggregations are behind and in front of the frame. I also like — again, place is a huge part of what I work with — and another thing that I really enjoy are specific maps that have traces of specificity taken out of them. I really like white lines, topography, and markers on them that don’t necessarily tell you exactly where you are. One of my favourite old memories was once when I was at a hotel and I said, “Where can we go and have dinner?” And they handed me a map and it had a line that said highway 45 there's a dot on it that just said, “Bert’s” and she said, “Well, go to Bert’s.” And so, I've kept that around with me. I also like to take these maps and then flesh them out with taxonomies looking at ways of adding other supplemental information to them. So that it is the aggregate — to borrow Gabrielle's term from earlier — that produces the narrative or the story behind what’s going on there. I like categorization, I like really broad categorization, absurd categorization. I've used the word taxonomy. I use taxonomies quite a bit as a technical term in the web development work that I do. This is part of a very rudimentary beginning of a taxonomy of place, but I do like this as just a way of seeing how my work has evolved into something that is not precious now, that it is constructed — you see the tape, you see the edges on it, as opposed to where I previously began my career. I'm a basket maker, I don't know, it's something new. I took a sabbatical two years ago and almost out of, like a lot of the work you'll hear me say, I did on a dare. This one was like, well what is a craft that gets maligned because children do it, but there is a much larger history behind it, and that they tell stories and that in this case here it's a really complex formal modulation from square, actually from flat read to square to a circle, this twist that could be done. I really was craving tactility in my work so being able to touch something, and that the amount of tension in something is communicated through your fingers and that also helps you identify how well or how poorly you’ve actually put something in place. Over a long trip two years ago geology became something I was finding that I was exploring over and over in my photographic work, and after taking lots and lots of photos of various different parts of the United States and how they were topologically and geologically distinct, I tried to start thinking about, well, what are metaphors within this? I mean we have “sedimentary”, we have “metamorphic”, we have these loaded words here, but I was like, “What does that mean? Like, how does that translate to that place?” And so it began, a long inquiry. I’m only about ten percent through “Annals of the Former World” by John McPhee, who does speak very well about metaphors of explanation and aggregation within, particularly, this place here. Some things to know about me that most people don't know, I am scared to death of heights. This was in Seattle last year and it took everything I could do to go on the glass floor and look down. I'm also conversely claustrophobic. I don't know why, but I ended up two years ago in four different caverns, so being underground in a place that did not have an emergency exit was extraordinarily anxiety inducing, but in one year I managed to do both of those. I believe, at this point, deeply in the metaphysical, the things that we can’t explain. I've gotten, at this point in my life, tired of trying to explain things and trying to put a nice box around them, so I have given myself lots of room in my work and with my students and with clients, to let things go unsaid, let them be misunderstood, or allow multiple interpretations to them. And I do believe in the extraterrestrials at this point here, maybe not in its own form in the spiritualness of place, but I do believe in something else out there which may not be ghosts, it may be again extraterrestrials or some other type of object or thing that we don’t even recognize. And instead of being afraid of them they actually make me feel more comfortable. I don't have to, again, explain certain things away or into existence, they do allow for better narrative and better storytelling. I'm going to switch to a different screen. I thought I'd show you a little bit about my work, and I'll start with one of the very early pieces. This is a website I did in 2001, it was for a company called A1 Security Manufacturing Corporation. They found me through a joint connection — I used to be an architect and before that, during that time, I was working for an interior design firm and yada yada yada, it came to this. A1 designed these incredible tools for cutting locks or picking locks and they had this unusual naming strategy, here’s the “Pack-A-Punch” or the “Mean-Green-Machine”, which was really strange and it was even more strange that they would find these two people in Queens to do it when they were in Richmond. I bring this one up because in those days we really only had a handful of typefaces, maybe three that we could use, this one was used a lot more. What we did was we meticulously looked through and designed every single screen, they were pixel perfect at that point, there was no way for them to change in size. They were designed very small at that point, but there was a rigidity to it and there was this really specific communication objective out of them, it was meant to be purely objective as a website, and I've done lots of that work, but a couple of years ago it pivoted for me. I started thinking of interface particularly as something expansive and also thinking of interfaces as something very small, not to generate a lot of interest from or knowledge from a large audience, but to take a small task or to really take an audience of one — this one is just for me — and be able to build something very quickly. These things come together in under a week typically, they're fully content managed, I do all the programming, all that work, so I'm able to very quickly prototype ideas. I don't sketch anymore, actually I sketch through code, and so this was one of the early projects a few years ago that I did. It’s called “Commonplacing”, it's a practice that has been around with religion for a very long time, but was documented by Nicholson Baker as more or less pulling quotes out of books, things that you want to remember, then you keep a journal and in that journal you notate and write out all of these different passages that you've put together. This one takes a convenient form and looks sort of shelf-like. As we click on an individual one — I’m not logged in now — but it's a very easy system to go ahead and go through and put information in or take these quotes out to commonplace them. It does have its own taxonomy, that's a free taxonomy within here, so you can go ahead and put any book that you want within there. I've put John McPhee in here. Really it's playing with things that I like, I like symbols that are recognizable, like ruled paper, I like highlighting in a different way or thinking about ways that you would use italics in a different way, which is really just calling attention to it. So this one sets some new directions for me. It's spatial, so it's using the architecture of the screen and looking at, left and right and again it's really looking at an audience of very few people on a test that's really only specific to a very few people here. The other thing that I do, with my partner, we author textbooks about design. Specifically we've done two editions of a book called, “Typographic Design: Form and Communication”. Our niche has been these old textbooks that were created by colleagues of ours, or mentors we'll call them, from the 1980's that became ubiquitous, everyone owns these, but then in the last five to ten years they've fallen out of favour, because they were not updated in ways that really made them relevant. So we have been hired to do a couple of books now, by Wiley, and as a part of this one of the things that I've taken away is that design is really a way of framing a problem. We build these little tools, we’ll call them, which have their own interfaces to be able to reorganize. I can move things around on here, I can reset what the actual order of each of the chapters are, and in this type of book it can be really important what sequence you go through within that. Within each one of these we may have notes that were colour-coded — so this is my wife, this is me, and this is a joint one that we put together. We also use it as a way of collecting. What are things that aren't in the book? Or what are things that need to be taken away? And with these then they allow us to track a work process or a workflow through them. This one was contracted, they agreed to publish the work that was submitted and since it was in the book it was actually permission granted within that. So these books and this way of understanding of using design as a means of inquiry has been a part of my work for probably the last decade, it’s been very significant within that time. That brings me to the latest book which is, I think, quite related to what we're working on here. My partner and I have been contracted to and we've signed and have begun work on revising or creating a new revision of “Meggs' History of Graphic Design”. If you're not a graphic designer it’s probably not known to you, but if you are it was one of the first comprehensive attempts at forming a history of graphic design looking all the way back from chapter one here, which is prehistory and cave paintings, all the way up to much more international much more modern pieces of design over twenty four chapters. The problem is again it has not been substantially updated and it also, at this point, is a very Eurocentric presentation and understanding of what graphic design is. So we've built a tool with this one, this is just the very beginning of it. It was a way for us to be able to look at just the visual part of this book, just the figures that are in there, and go through and see what patterns emerge, and what things maybe are over noted, what are missing within this here. So a very visual inquiry of what we’re working with here. We are going to be taking time out of this, it will now not be a timeline, so it won’t be chronological it will be thematic. We have conferred, similar to this, an advisory group for content and writing as a part of this. We’ll be looking at places and we’ll be looking at ethnicity and background and diverse voices, and what's missing more than what's in here. So this is an interesting starting point because maybe a third to a quarter of what you see here won't be here anymore, we will be reducing it. It's seven hundred pages, it's an enormous book. It's about a three and a half year project. We’ll do the design of it also which will be a very large undertaking, but again just how I make sense of the world has become more of these process-based kinds of making pieces here. Here’s the index of DesignInquiry, a project that we've not wrapped up and it'll never be wrapped up, this is an alternate layout of the beginning of that project. It’s another one looking at how we can present variety. So it's not just this one monolithic view of what a collection is, but ways of bubbling up things. Now this we traditionally will do either through tagging or we'll do it through randomization, I'm interested in looking at other methods of how that goes, but again the interface becomes a way of not only presenting, but understanding. A couple more here for you. Another one, again a lot of the work that we've done through DesignInquiry, has allowed us to really push very hard away from the objective reality that we tend to work with or the sales version of Design that we work with. This is for an archive of an inquiry that we attended two years ago — the first time I'd ever been a part of the group. The experience was chaotic, impulsive, and nonlinear, and so our archives became that. I think this was the first time that we really looked at space and architecture, if we'll call it that, but how we’re utilizing screens and what those zones are as a way of giving us some variety within them, but also there is a structure behind this. There are different types for each one of these different panels that we have here, and looking at, again, that combined form, you can go through and you can pick a tag to go through it, there are multiple pathways through this every time it is refreshed — which might take a moment here as it rebuilds itself. Sometimes it will leave a few of the panels out and sometimes it won’t. It handles motion, it handles a very wide array of media within it. It allows you to go through and get narrative, other further information, or images that are related within that. It does allow you to go through and have a presentation of how tags come through. Some of them have more than others. Here we can go to bingo. So another way of looking at what would traditionally be thought of as a linear archive. But we're deliberately looking at blending them together, so various different lenses of how you could categorize, understand, or visualize. We’re very deliberately mixing those together. So this gets me to two of the latest pieces that I'm working on, one’s for DesignInquiry, one's for another project. This is another one that will never be finished and it's always incomplete. This is an attempt, we’ll call it, which hopefully will be up fairly soon here, at finding a way of creating a portal through an organization that is largely ephemeral and hard to understand, which would be DesignInquiry. It is at this point a statically coded site, so it was built, again by me, to be something that just embodies the form of looseness and multilayers of information within here. I'm also very much into these tropes of interactivity. So using things that will allow you to focus down here — see all of the participants that have ever been a part of that — allowing navigation to be the motion piece that's not settled on the top, allowing for surprise where various parts are able to come up, allowing for that serendipity of moving through and getting some information that you haven’t seen before, various different types of objects are able to be seen or presented in more of their native form. So we can get a book that allows itself to be read online. And always, we allow for a second layer or a more direct site map layer we would say for those folks that really want to find things immediately and don't want to explore. We also like to bury little pieces in here to encourage those that are curious, and we like to just see who will actually discover these kinds of movements, where it would allow you to reshuffle the entire screen as you want. We’re also beginning to pull in external communication tools. This is Discord which allows for a group chat that can be accessed by anybody, so really seeing this as a collective experience in a collective interface. The final piece I'll show you, one I just finished up last week, it was a prompt again, through Design Inquiry, for the Rewrite group. The prompt was around erasure, and taking something that was already there and removing something to create a new narrative. I had a hard time with this one, I just wasn't sure how... I couldn't make a ransom note out of it, I couldn’t just make whatever message I wanted out of it. So I danced around with a lot of different ideas and I was looking at this idea of redaction and on-screen redaction, which is absurd because you could just view the code and see everything within that's been redacted. So I wanted to see what I could do with something that was really misinterpreted, but overly interpreted and so I just googled downloadable text-based Bible and I found many different unformatted versions of the Bible. I don't remember specifically what this one was, and I didn't want it necessarily to be weighted in religion, but looking at sacred texts and looking at the weight that is within there. I wrote a little script that removed all the words, removed all the spaces, and removed all the line breaks within the Bible. This page is extraordinarily long. I was modelling the typeset on this off of Bradbury Thompson who did the Washburn College Bible, which is a fairly famous typographic piece here. It's meant to feel like it has impact, but not really know what it is. What I took away from this, and it's a lot of how I work with collections and with how I design, is cadence and rhythm — punctuation is that, it’s sort of short pause, long pause, stop, and reset. I've always been fascinated with it and a lot of people are, but in this case removing the words and really looking at it almost as its own code turned up something I didn't really expect within that, and also gave me some nifty statistics. In this version of the Bible they're 179,869 pieces of punctuation, there are sixty thousand two hundred plus commas in there, which is the most utilized piece of punctuation in there, the least utilized is an N bracket which there were only 17 in there. Oddly enough when we get down here I see the question marks most, but they are only 3,100 out of this entire article here. And so it's that act of translation which may be reduction, repurposing, or completely reframing that I'm very interested in, in how we approach looking at technology and in archiving. And that will do it for me.
Michelle: Thank you so much. Does anybody have any questions for Mark? Gabrielle, did you want to ask something?
Gabrielle: No I was just indicating my mind blown.
Rodney: I have a question.
Mark: Of course.
Rodney: Did you find Bert’s, and did you eat there?
Mark: You know I don’t think we did.
Rodney: It was not a good map?
Mark: No it was… we found it, but I think, it didn't have good energy, we'll put it that way. You get that sense when you pull up to a place, like, can I go in? And that was not one of them.
Michelle: Yeah, I think my mind is quite blown too. The thing that just occurs to me listening to Mark speak is that you are the perfect interface of the user that we imagine, but you also come to this with all of the technological know-how, so that was really fantastic, thank you. And I should flag now that at the last meeting Mark said that ten minutes was not enough for a presentation, and I concur, but I think it's good that everybody took the time that they needed. We're not going to have a lot of time for conversation today, but the way we are scheduled we'll have one fewer presentation at the third meeting and then the fourth meeting is all discussion. And I know that Emily and Marina have been strategizing about how we can keep the conversation going in between meetings, so maybe we can chat about that a little bit at the tail end of today. So let's move on to Noya.
Noya: (video 1:28:49) All right, so I'll talk mainly about Lineage, which is a visual discovery engine that I built for museum collections in particular, but before that I want to talk a little bit about my background as it informs my work and my research. I'm a first generation immigrant, I was born in Jerusalem and grew up there, my native language is Hebrew, I’m a queer woman. I worked for the first half of my career as a journalist, as an arts and culture reporter, mainly in Israel and then I took a sharp left turn into the world of tech coming from my background in linguistics and working as a computational linguist building dialogue systems, which basically means artificial intelligence systems that allow humans to communicate with machines through natural language, which means just the regular language that we use rather than a coded language. In the last year or so I am also an adjunct professor at Columbia University in the Graduate School of Journalism where I teach data journalism and also data ethics, which is a topic near and dear to my heart. As I worked through corporate tech in the startup scene I found that the ethics that I thought were shared or common to a lot of people are not shared or common. So I think it's important to educate people about that more or bring that into our educational systems in the sense that every time that we teach someone or ask someone to build a system we should also give them the tools to think about the impact of that system. So in my research now, I tend to think about how to organize and access data or databases beyond hegemonic structures, beyond hierarchies, topologies, taxonomies, and in the art subdomain I'm thinking about categorizing or accessing and discovering beyond art history, art movements, time, and space, and really crossing all those things. I think of that work, or that research work, as the work of queer computing, and by that I mean thinking about our failures — our failures to organize the ephemeral sense of understanding that we have of categories and really thinking about reflecting on the illusions of order that we generate when we look at databases. So every order that we try to impose on the natural phenomena, that we see, comes from us and there's a way that we can as programmers or as designers — and design in the broader sense of the word — acknowledge that and reflect on that and have that reflection in our work and in the products that we make in the way that we make data accessible and discoverable.That really necessitates the data ethics component to come in and really think about the values in which we want to impart in our work that comes straight from the infrastructures and architectures that we build. Right now I'm working on a few projects that I want to mention, a couple that are relevant to this project. One of them is a mutual aid platform called Lean On, so it's a community platform that allows people to share resources, give and receive resources. For that project I'm working on a way to allow community posts to connect people together without requiring them to categorize or tag their needs at all. So thinking about clustering human activities together in ways that are functional and makes sense and yet don't require a hierarchy at all. This comes from both the need to make things easy for people and allow people of different accessibility levels and language levels to communicate with each other, but also from a data security perspective of not requiring people to give a lot of information. So this project came out of a group of people reacting to our current situation pandemic/protests in the US. So that's one project. Another project that's really language based is a research project led by LynNell Hancock who's a professor at the Journalism School, and Carol Bogert who's the director of the Marshall Project that investigates the media influence on mass incarceration. So really thinking about how the ways in which the language that was used to cover criminal justice impacted the policies and actions of the US government in mass incarceration in the 80s and 90s. So this is a project that thinks about how the way we describe things, particularly things like the Central Park Five case and other things, how the words that we use have real strong impact in the world and trying to think about that in a quantifiable way, so not just anecdotally, but thinking about large trends and showing that in a statistical way, and showing those things in a really undeniable manner. So those are more language based projects, now I want to show you my visual project, which is much lighter. All right. Can you see my shared screen? Great. So going back to these ideas of queer computing and unsupervised clustering, that would be the more technical term for that, I built this engine temporarily called, “Lineage”. This is an ironic title, or name, don't take it literally it’s not about actual lineage. So the essence of this project or the main motivation for this project was thinking about how digital collections are really untapped resources for museums. Art institutions in recent years have spent fortunes on digitizing their collections and making them available online, but then what do people do with that? It’s not enough to just put it on a website. Text search, which is the most common type of search that we have right now, is really forming a barrier to collection discovery. It assumes that you already know what you're looking for. So when you are encountered with the text bar, this search bar, you have to put something in it and that something assumes that you know what you're looking for. So the actions that you're doing are actions of search rather than actions of discovery or exploration, by the definition of the system of the possibilities that were made available. And that creates a situation that is more library-like — so you look, you search, you find, and you go. It’s a very close-ended situation compared to the organic discovery situation that happens when you walk through a museum collection or when you browse more freely. So the purpose of this project is to change the way that we actually look at art online. And the examples that you see throughout this presentation are actual matches that this engine generated. But as you'll see here in this example, we have these two images, on the left hand side we have a vase with tulips on the right hand side we have something pretty abstract. We as humans can make a connection between these two images so the idea is to really bring in a perspective shift in computer vision. The way that contemporary AI treats images right now is similar to text, so like Gabrielle said, thinking of things as objects. So you look at an image and you're like, “Okay, I have to reduce this to a semantic meaning, I have to say what is in the image, and that thing has to be an object.” But that's not how we look at visual art, it’s just a component, maybe, of how we look at things. We see things as a whole, we see layers of colours, of shapes, of patterns that generate meaning that is often beyond just depicting objects, and in abstract art there's no objects at all. And yet even the most sophisticated art collections online really ignore this simple fact, that one, visual art can be more than the objects depicted in it, and really importantly that this whole perspective on computer vision that thinks of things as objects come from surveillance. So the reason that we have these technologies to look at images and say, “Oh, here's what's in this image,” is because this is a profitable technology for surveillance, government surveillance, and policing. And a lot of people mentioned some form of the metaphysical, we can think of the epigenetics of algorithms. If we take an algorithm that was born in this sin of surveillance or policing and just bring it into other realms we carry some weight with it, we carry something with it, because I mean I think that technology is never separated from the people who created it, it cannot be separated from the people who created it, and by people I mean real embodied people not just the general notion of a company or a corporation. So, a little segue there. So just thinking of this visually the existing approach would look at this group of images and say, “Okay, we have people here, or things that resemble people, these are the objects that we see here, but on the right hand side, oh, we don't know what these things are.” Then the way that Lineage is built it would group the same objects in this manner, trying to group them together based on visual properties and generate connections that are not encoded in the metadata that's related to the image. So it's not encoded in the place where this was made, it's not encoded in the creator or the time, it really tries to think visually. The idea is to bring a little bit of a solution to the problem of engaging with art collections online, it allows the user to input an image from inside or outside the collection and provides this series of visually similar or adjacent images as a result and tries to help the user have an open-ended experience with the collection rather than this search-find-leave experience. And again, thinking about this idea of queer computing, about failures, about the ways in which we as people read, things might remind us of each other, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are from the same mind or have the same intention, but rather placing things next to each other in order to begin a conversation, start a dialogue, or just encourage someone who's interested in the collection to see more of it than what they thought they wanted. So in terms of how this works with museums, I like things to be practical so I avoided building a system that requires excessive amounts of human labor. A lot of AI systems require labeling and tagging, those are hugely problematic things not just because they're expensive and require a lot of human hours, but also because the most efficient way to do them is through what is called mechanical turk, which is basically underpaying people in poor communities, places where there aren’t a lot of other jobs and taking advantage of them to do your digital labor. So we were sold this concept that AI replaces human labor, but in fact AI requires an immense amount of human labor. Askewing this issue, this system does not require this type of work, but rather it tries to integrate with existing systems. A lot of museums have existing systems and existing archives and it is really built with non-technical institutions in mind. So realizing and acknowledging that a lot of museums don't have huge IT departments and don’t have enough resources to implement this type of technology, so building something that is easy to use, easy to maintain, and doesn't require a lot of expertise. I am currently prototyping this project with the RISD Museum in Providence and this is the wireframe for what it will look like on their website. This is their collection page as it is currently existing. So very familiar, you have items from the collection and a text search, and with the Lineage edition you could click on an image and get another window of Lineage results and from there dig into the metadata the individual object page, but again this is made for the needs of RISD and this project is an engine that can be manifested in many different ways in terms of graphic design or web design. The idea, the part, that I'm concerned with and interested with is actually generating these examples, generating these connections rather than displaying them. I think that's it. Yeah. Welcoming your questions, I feel like I went through that pretty quickly.
Michelle: Any questions for Noya? I mean…
Rodney: And quickly, oh sorry…
Michelle: Nope go ahead.
Rodney: Just in your text, I just wanted to say, I like that there was a phrase that said “discovery capabilities” and I thought that was an interesting phrase. I think, is it possible to call it “discovery possibilities”?
Noya: Oh nice! Yes, I'll take that.
Rodney: Sure okay, sounds good.
Michelle: There were so many things in that presentation that are really I think key to the work that we’re hoping to do and given how little time we have left I won’t belabour all of the things that I was madly taking notes about, but this idea of the text search being a barrier to collection discovery, I'm sure that Ellen, Nicole, and Stephen had the same moment of, “Oh my god, of course!” When you said that particular line.
Gabrielle: I think one of the things I keep coming back to is the tension, if it is a tension, between Mark's use of taxonomy and folksonomy and then combining that with, as Noya was presenting it, the assumptions of even approaching some kind of a website or search engine. We're so used to recognizing the way that all knowledge is generated power and yet, certainly for me, you stop short of recognizing what that actual search box presents, and that to me, I have to say, was just a huge revelation. Anyway that's going to keep me… that's going to be what I think about at 3 a.m. now, so thank you.
Nicole: I just wanted to… I mean I'm probably going to come up with a million questions once my mind can really sit with all of this, but two things that came up was when Rodney was sharing about the welcome figures as an interface and as a gift to the world, and the hope that people take them on as their own and all the things that come with that, the responsibilities, that's really sitting with me. I mean as an institution, what we do and how we're thinking about how this collection will be engaged with, how do we get people to really own it and also engage with it as their own and understand the potential and all that comes with that, which again depends on how we present that to folks. And I really liked what Noya was sharing too, about search versus discovery — how people are exploring that, because how we physically explore things in real space with our bodies, our eyes, and our minds is different than just with words, but also being really aware of the power of the words that we're using. That came up as well too, how words can impact how we direct how people use these interfaces.
Noya: I’ll add to that, I think you brought it up Nicole, this idea of — and of course Rodney's spoke about this too — how to connect this digital representation or this algorithmic representation with the place, with the community. It's very difficult for me to think even how to start to answer this question, because of my perspective and my position. I’ve been there once it was beautiful, but yeah, I feel like I wish to know more on that or talk more about that or understand what are the strategies to develop that type of knowledge or that type of bridge. That’s what I'm thinking about — hopefully sleeping soundly through the night.
Emily: The idea of the supernatural or the metaphysical or simply the unknown and leaving space for that, and also aggregation. Basically that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Gabrielle: Unfinished. That seems like such a powerful thing that I think Mark spoke about explicitly and Noya implicitly and then of course Rod in terms of the continuity which I think implies a certain degree of unfinishedness, and I think a kind of institutional comfort. How does an institution become comfortable with unfinished business?
Mark: Yeah. I'm reading Ursula Franklin's “The Real World of Technology”, and today I've just been marking things relevant to various perspectives I have, but today I was reading about the difference between feedback and reciprocity, and that touches on what Nicole and Noya were saying too. She says, “Feedback normally exists within a given design. It can improve the performance, but it cannot alter the thrust of the design. Reciprocity on the other hand is situationally based, it's a response to a given situation, it is neither designed into the system nor is it predictable.” And so it seems like this idea of reciprocity, the feedback is really, “Okay, I learned a little more about it,” but the reciprocity which is that ability to digest and maybe have dialogue is going to be the hardest, but the most exciting part of how this comes together here. That's the humane aspect of it and I think that's the thing that roots it in community and beyond community, it builds community outside. I've never been to the gallery and so I'll know about it by what I see in pictures or in the collection or how it's framed and presented outward. So I think there could be a graciousness and a generosity in that reciprocity as well, lest we forget that there can also be some alternate viewpoints in there, there could be conflict, which is a way of mediating that information. So it's exciting, because it can take a lot of different forms and perform a lot of different functions situationally — what you're going there to see, at what time. And some of those could be casual and some of those could be I'm really angry about this particular piece of art that has not been given back or is of nefarious beginnings or acquisitions, or things like that. I’m not good at asking questions. I’m learning a lot of limitations today.
Michelle: No these were all fantastic questions and comments and considerations and I think just really proved what an incredible grouping of people this is, because it really feels like things are starting to tie together already and I think that will continue to happen even more so next week, or certainly not next week, in two weeks when we hear from Roy, Deb and Emily. Did I get that right? Yeah. So, I know we didn't get as much time for conversation today, but I feel like that last fifteen minutes was really, really tight and purposeful and taking us in a good direction. So I hope you all feel the same way. I know I'm speaking for everybody at the AGGV that we are incredibly grateful and incredibly excited to continue this conversation and I hope everybody on the Digital Advisory panel is feeling as excited as we are.
Marina: Maybe I'll just mention too, Michelle, to everyone, please feel free to email some of your comments and questions to me as well and then Emily and I can compile all these things when we start to distribute, whether it be a Google doc or a Discord or a Slack thread of some sort. I know sometimes it just takes a while to let everything sink in and think about it, so yeah, please feel free to email those kinds of things to me in the coming days.
Ellen: Yeah and I just wanted to add a thank you to all of our speakers today in the presentations. I'm feeling very inspired and excited, so thank you.
Gabrielle: I was going to add that it was just really great to have all these presentations and to start putting all the pieces together.
Rodney: Also, just what Noya said about the search engine, “That it assumes you already know what you are looking for.” I think that was very profound, it's like a metaphor for life or something, so it's really sitting with me.
Michelle: Yeah and I think that ties into the tail end of the conversation. Museums have to acknowledge that we have no idea what we're looking for or where we’re trying to take people, and I think we will be better for it when we can admit that. Okay, so thank you everybody lovely to meet you Roy.
Roy: Great to meet everybody. I mean I'm just floored. If I could just add my thoughts here, really they're your thoughts — that collections are more than objects and assets, which the standard engineering approach is to think about how you're going to have a set of objects and have a very predefined way of accessing them, and this is completely the opposite, and so much of what I've learned from this notion. It seems what we want to construct is not spaces of objects, but these spaces that are between objects and to have unrestricted and unconstrained ability to move through these idea-spaces. We want to try to get away from text and move towards language, but also include personal movement through virtual spaces to be sensitive to interactions and human perception. Just flooring, thank you all.
Michelle: Thank you everyone.