Michelle: Okay, why don't we start. So, welcome to our third Digital Potentials Advisory meeting. I am still coming to you from the Lkwungen territory, the traditional territories of the Songhees and Esquimalt nations. I've been thinking a lot about Deb’s comment in the very first meeting, about how the current situation, things going on in these times, affect the work that we're doing, and I also started to think about this work in relation to that practice of offering a territory acknowledgement. I hope that what we're doing is infused with a consideration of how digital tools can be used as implements of oppression and I hope that the work that we're doing is really taking into consideration how we can undo that potential for harm, often implicit in technology, and think about how to create something really equitable and accessible and something that even critiques and dismantles those systems of power. So that's always at the back of my mind and from the presentations that we've had so far in the last meeting it's an ambition and interest shared by everybody in this group. So I'm really excited about the work that we can do together and what might eventually come out of this advisory. While today we're going to hear from the last three members of the advisory, we are going to start our conversation about what hearing from each other and talking things through thus far is starting to tweak in people's minds about what your advice is going to be.
Roy: (video 11:52) I think maybe I'm more comfortable going first because I'm going to give what starts off sounding like a talk about the kind of research that I do in augmented reality and virtual reality. In my day job I'm a software engineering professor and I feel quite humbled hearing all of the wonderful creative ways in which we’re trying to think about ways that technology can help us to enable a link between the people and the art, I suppose. I think that the technology side is the part that is most simple minded and straightforward, the challenges which are technological are not the real challenges that we’re going to have in putting things together. So why don't I start with that. I’m going to start off giving a vanilla talk, but then I'm going to backpedal and take away everything that I start off saying, so that's my challenge to myself. This could just be a talk about augmented reality and virtual reality, but that's only what we do in engineering. The reason why Deb and I know each other is because we both have a background in cognitive neuroscience. And really the trifecta of the capacities for humans, in terms of its information processing, is perception, action, and cognition. So when I think about the technological challenges for digital media and as well for augmented reality and virtual reality the challenges come from the human side — the perceptual capacities and constraints are the things that must be considered by software engineers and often are not. There, so now, in my day job, my research is in the use of AR and VR for medical visualization and applications. The reason for characterizing it this way is that when we think about the kinds of tasks that, let's say, clinicians do when they’re looking at medical imagery they're either trying to form a diagnosis, where they're trying to decide about what pathology that a patient might have, or they’re trying to guide a clinical procedure. My specialization is in surgical planning, surgical visualization, and surgical training. So when we think about the requirements for setting up systems like that, it is about the perception of spatial relations in anatomical structures and typically neural anatomical structures. It's about reasoning, forming diagnosis, and then planning actions within that space. So the reason for speaking so technically is that this domain, which is brain surgery, is actually quite constrained and that's what makes it feasible for engineers, and that, towards the end of my talk, will be the challenge for us — trying to think about how to characterize what people in art galleries want to do, and it’s much less constrained than surgery. Okay, so here, let me bring out the sexy pictures. This glorious machine here is a telerobot, it's the Zeus of telerobotic surgery. You see on the left that’s me, but a surgeon would usually sit at that console and then by viewing the 3D representation of what is being presented to them from an endoscopic view, which is within the patient, they can guide the robotic procedures. So they’re manipulating using their fingertips, that's being transformed to the endpoints of the effectors, and although this is in a lab it would be within the patient. So then you see why we're very interested in augmented reality, we hope to superimpose representations of the patient's anatomy within that camera view. Then the question becomes whether this is usable, whether the clinician can then perform procedures. Our perception is effortless, but it's not cognitively penetrable. The thing about visualization is that we're taking advantage of the special capacities of the human perceptual system, whether it be just to look at an object on the screen or whether to guide a procedure. This is for Deb. So when we do these procedures it's the clinician's brain which is really running the show, it's not the robot. The cartoon that I drew at the top is a representation of the overlapping systems of perception, action, and cognition, and we see that this maps nicely into the major regions of the brain. The occipital lobe, roughly the back half of the brain is about perception, the middle somatosensory cortex and the motor cortex come together and this is where we are able to plan actions in conjunction with our tactile senses. I'm getting this all out on the table because I think that what we will probably agree is that we don’t just want to be presenting pictures, we want to try to think about experiences that people will have while interacting with gallery exhibits. Then last, but not least, the frontal lobe, this part which we sometimes think is not necessary, but it's about presumably… [Laughter]. Good. So here we go. I'm going to skip quickly through this because I've kind of already said these things. One thing worth pointing out is that in human computer interface design I like to tell students the kinds of inputs that computers can have is remarkably constrained. When you interact with a computer, or when you interact with the world, you can only move through free space, select objects, and interact with them. In HCI it's like moving to a button, clicking the button, or pressing down on a button and dragging it like a slider, and moving to a new position in space. Or there's text. So Noya spoke a little bit about natural language interfaces as being the other form of communication that we can have, but other than that, that’s it. Computer inputs are exactly constrained by human outputs, and all we've got is muscle. We can only move through free space and interact with objects and I think that tells us the ways in which we should think about presenting information, whether it be scenes or interactive exhibits to gallery patrons. They will either be navigating through space, selecting different viewpoints on sculptures, statues, or paintings, and the interaction that they can have will either be to change their viewpoint, or it will be to interact through manipulation, or it will be through text and speech to try to index their way through the space of the gallery. Okay moving along. Movement in free space (here we go) not only humans can reach and grasp, but rodents do the same thing. And here we go. So we would not expect there to be anything different in virtual reality. There is just movement through space, interaction, and movement with sliders, and so the input space is quite constrained. This is the task related stuff, for surgery it's about performing fine manipulations, etc. This just corresponds to this notion of movement through space and interaction with objects. It's what we've got. And furthermore, you're either going to be navigating or manipulating objects and that's all that we do in medical imaging, but that just reflects the fact that, that’s all we do in the natural world. Okay. A few things about perception. I think, I won't dwell on these, what these present is that the ways in which we can present structural information to people is exactly constrained by the different perceptual channels that people have. In art, we know that contours are extremely important — that we have shape from shading, shape from motion, shape from stereo, but in fact these are relative depth cues that the cognitive system needs to be involved with when we want to try to reason about space or to find absolute depth. Okay, some funny pictures now, sexy pictures. When you think about medical imaging you often think about the three orthoplanar views that you get after you've been sliced and diced within a scanner. My research thinks about how we might augment these orthoplanar views with virtual reality. So some of our initial experiments were about trying to find out whether clinicians could reason about space, to appreciate the forms and structures, to make decisions about what kinds of pathologies that they might see. So we try to make use of computer graphics in order to enhance these displays, then it becomes an empirical question as to whether your spatial reasoning or your ability to target objects is facilitated or not. Engineers often think that if you put some sexy graphics on things it must be better, but it's always an empirical question, and students are always frustrated to learn that they actually would have to test these things. Here's a little video of an augmented reality system that we set up to test whether surgeons would be able to target entities when they're given the context of the head as well as the preoperative anatomical structures. So skipping ahead. We also have built hybrid models where in addition to the visualization we have tactile feedback as well. So interaction with touch is something that is a challenge for us, but in fact as you might imagine it facilitates the task when you have haptic feedback as well as the visual feedback. Making quick work of that one. Just trying to advance… there we go. Next slide. Okay. I pulled this one, although this was a toy example, it's just a nice example of how gesture based interfaces can be implemented within a digital media form. So we have 3D structures, there's ostensibly a task, it's not particularly realistic, but I was happy that the students were able to set up an interaction so that with very low cost devices, it's called a leap motion sensor it costs about one hundred dollars, you can set up displays which allow the observers to interact with a 3D world. And my students love programming those kinds of systems, you see how much fun they're having with this. But the whole goal is to try to see if we can have augmented displays which will facilitate clinical decision making or targeting. I put this one in because this kind of augmented reality can be done with just your cell phone. What you see with this guy, my student Saeed, is you can see his ventricles, right there, the region filled with cerebrospinal fluid right in the middle. You can see it from different views making use of the phone overlaid on top of the video stream. The cover story that we had set up for this conference paper was that if you were to have to perform an insertion of a drain at bedside that you don't really need to run to the imaging suite that you could overlay, in an emergency sense at the patient's bedside. It gives you an idea of the capacities that you have with augmented reality. Here I’ll get the movie clip playing. Here is an example where you can take anatomical structures and overlay them on the scene which is being fed by the endoscopic camera. So the endoscopic camera's view is overlaid with 3D anatomical structures and this can be shown to facilitate the guidance of these procedures. Really sexy stuff. So we have whole conferences on this — the operating room of the future — and you see that it's a chance for people to showcase their ability to develop technologies. Great stuff. Let me backpedal out of all of this, okay. So there are special capacities that computers can bring us, but while that's brain surgery, this is not. When I set up on this slide I’m talking about how if you characterize and you think about the special capacities and constraints of the perceptual system that you might be able to facilitate tasks which involve finding what is where or finding where is what. You know there's the dorsal stream and the ventral stream which more or less are doing that — trying to reason about space and where things are, or trying to look at entities and say, “Hmm, I wonder what kind of a thing that is.” And I do mean this as being a categorization. If you are standing there looking at a piece of abstract sculpture and you think to yourself, "What does that make me think of?” Really what you're saying to yourself is, “What in my experience have I seen before? What does this mean to me?" And perceptual systems have these two channels, these two kinds of enquiries, but this diagram, as cartoony as it is, also shows that they’re the tasks that these AR VR systems are designed for, in order to work as tools, to help the user, the clinician, or a general user in HCI. These are designed by engineers in order to work as tools, and we like to think, at least in my courses, that there's a pretty straightforward mapping if you come up with a pretty well specified set of requirements — that it's kind of mechanical to transform those well posed tasks into systems which allow users to perform those tasks, but that's not what we've got here and that's what really fascinates me about this. When you think about what kind of system you're trying to give to a person who wants to go and explore, to maybe free range through a gallery, that in a glorious sense is an ill-posed task for an engineering design problem, and that's why I love this challenge, because we're going to have to grapple with what we mean by, what we're trying to facilitate. And I think, in addition to cognition we're trying to do something which engineers don't know how to do and that is, think about how in addition to cognition there’s affect, that you perceive things and it makes you feel a certain way. That's a real challenge. We don’t know how to characterize the task if someone goes in and says, “Look, I just want to be fascinated by some things, I want to think about new things.” That’s an ill-posed task, but it's the most glorious task that we have. The other thing is that most of the stuff that engineers usually think about is how to facilitate tools for interaction, rarely for navigation and I think that's more like what we want to do here. So in closing I have this up on the screen, it's the kind of thing you might think an engineer would do at an art gallery. You'd scan a piece of art, you'd get it into a 3D representation and you'd allow people to spin it. I mean we can do that, it's super easy and easily facilitated, but what Rodney has taught me is that there's kind of a Native suspicion of reproduction. I ripped off something from CBC last night, you know that there was an announcement of Bill Reed's “Grizzly Bear” on the next toonie, and if I can get the video clip from his granddaughter she said something which is…
CBC news anchor: What do you think your grandfather would want people to know about him and about Haida Gwaii when they look at this coin?
Nika Collison: One of my favourite words, or quotes, of Bill’s is that, “You can't take the art without the people, because if you do”, and now I'm going off verbatim, “you know, you lose so much of it, it becomes just a thing.” I think that is probably the most important message he would want to continue. And, you know, another one is that Haida means “human being”, he wanted, and I know he continues to want, our people and all Indigenous people to not only achieve equality, but to have equity in this world.
CBC news anchor: Well it's a gorgeous coin Ms. Carlson, thank you.
Granddaughter: Well, have a really great day and thank you so much Susan for CBC’s interest in this really spectacularly historic event.
CBC news anchor: Nika Collison is the granddaughter of the late Haida artist Bill Reed. Ms. Collison is also the executive director of the Haida Gwaii Museum, we reached her in Skidegate, Haida Gwaii.
Roy: I have nothing to add to that, I’m learning so much from all of you and I think we have some technical challenges which can be feasibly addressed, but that’s not the hard work. Thank you very much.
Emily: Really neat.
Michelle: Does anybody have any questions for Roy? I feel like my brain is slightly, I don't know what the word is... At the last meeting I set the habit of having at least one observation to make after each presentation, I'm taking notes here trying to think of what I can say that reveals any meaningful understanding of Roy's work, but until you did that backtrack I was absolutely convinced that I had sent us all down absolutely the wrong track and that this shouldn't be about navigation it should be about interaction, because there is actually you know, you said something about people being in the space with art and changing their viewpoint and that representing interaction, but of course we don't really let people interact with things in the way that people are naturally driven to. So I started to spin out into all kinds of ideas about the potential for actual interaction with works of art in virtual space, based on what you were saying. I think that even though we have been speaking primarily about navigation this advisory is all about potential, so if you want us to think about interaction I think we should hang on to that as a potential.
Gabrielle: I think it's important to add that navigation can be interaction. I mean taking one path instead of another path can be revelatory, whether you're in an art museum or walking down a street. So to me, those things aren’t oppositional. I think that, in fact, it could be really productive to think about how they can be combined, which I suppose is another way of saying, “What is where, and where is what.” I wrote that down in really big letters, because that just blew my mind.
Michelle: I mean it also occurred to me that we are talking about sharing opportunities for thinking about the world, navigating and interacting with the world that could actually be less about what we're sharing with people and more about introducing people to a process and a way of thinking. So there could be potential for people to want their kids to hang out in a museum database for a while because of the skills that you learn doing that. It doesn't really matter what they find, but the experience is worthwhile. You'll get all of those kids in your classes in the future Roy, because they've had the opportunity to develop an interest in this way of thinking about and interacting with the world. Any other comments or questions?
Noya: Yeah. Thank you Gabrielle for that point, about navigation being a form of interaction, I completely agree with it. I think it's kind of like thinking about the archive as the object of interaction rather than the individual artifacts in it, but I was also hoping Roy, that you could speak more about the spectrum between cognition and affect from your perspective. It’s something that's so hard to define for me, so I was hoping you could speak a little bit more about that.
Roy: Well I agree that it's very hard to define. I think that people who study cognition have the easy path. You know about the vitruvian triangle, right? The notion of firmitas, and gosh what are the three latin words?
Gabrielle: …venustas, and the one that begins with the “C”…
Roy: …it’s form, function, and aesthetics. And that trifecta of things, when I teach my HCI course, I say to them, “That they're all important, they must all be there.” But the one thing that we do not know how to teach in engineering is aesthetics. And I say, “We might as well be clear about this right at the start,” that a user interface must be beautiful, but I have no way of teaching you how to make a beautiful user interface. I can make one that can implement the task that the user wants to perform, and we know it's important, but it will always be an empirical question and it will always be a subjective question. So I know I didn't answer your question, but when we explore art that's exactly what we’re trying to do, is connect in an affective way. Sure we can think about things, we can place art in its categories, we can curate art, we can think about how it fits within a context of other art, but what washes over the individual is their own business, and we just try to make it as accessible and freely interpretable as possible.
Mark: Yeah, we talk about active and passive consumption. So that affect could be something that — and the easy way to think about this is that the internet is basically a largely passive consumption system, at that point, there's a lot of structured information in there that is delivered to you, you don’t have to think about it, it just comes in. So you're constantly consuming, but you're not really controlling what that is, outside of maybe collecting what a feed is, or something like that. Whereas active is generally more resistant. So you are working towards consuming that information. Both are valid, both are different ways of experiencing and navigating information, and both can achieve affect in a different way, but it's helpful to think about how those layers, layer within each other. Sometimes the active one could be a disruption, whereas the passive is that idea of beauty and ease of consumption, ease of use. So it's very complementary, it’s interesting to really hear about the limitations, both ways, from somebody who… I design interfaces from a lot of different perspectives, but I hasten to say that I “engineer” them, although that's part of what I do. Then to hear the other way around where it is a method, but within that method I think you're selling yourself a little bit short in terms of the creativity that goes within that, and how easy that will be. But what I liked, what I heard about from your perspective Roy, is just again, really I love finding language, ways of explaining how we do rudimentary or complex tasks. Yours was very helpful. I typed out quite a few different lists after that one.
Roy: Well a lot of the ways in which I presented my stuff would benefit from the websites that you showed us that you have designed. They require interaction, they require exploration, and I really think that they're unique. So I benefited a lot from all of the presentations that we had the last couple of weeks. Thanks.
Rodney: I just wanted to quickly make a comment. Just listening to Roy's comments on this idea of augmented reality, you know, if reality is definable. I think it was Deb who was talking about designing and engineering and how engineers are set to a task. I think Deb was the one who was talking about these water filtration systems that are being built in these remote communities and they’re very complex and hard to run. So the trick is to tell the engineers, “Well don’t build the system that you need three experts to run, design it so that somebody with a high school education can operate it.” And then they're like, “Oh, well you didn't tell us that's what you wanted, of course we could do that, you just didn't tell us that's what you wanted.” So I think that's an interesting idea. That’s what came to mind when I was listening to you talk about the designing of this software, or however you referred to it. So was just an observation about making accessible.
Roy: Yeah that's exactly what I was going to introduce. So I think you said it right there, that it has to be both usable to the non-expert and it must be accessible across all.
Rodney: Cool. I remain suspicious.
Deb: And so you should Rodney, and so you should.
Rodney: Optimistically suspicious. [Laughter]
Michelle: If there are no more comments, then maybe we will move on to Deb’s presentation.
Deb: (video 44:10) Alrighty folks. I really struggled with what I was going to talk to you about today and about how I might be able to contribute to the project, because I’m not many things. I’m not an engineer, I'm not a designer, I’m not a curator, I’m not an artist, but maybe one of the things I could talk about is my experiences over the last 20 years of academic work and a deep knowledge of the other. It's about being other and to set the stage I'm going to take us back to the olden days when I went to school, which was the 90s, which apparently now people have parties to dress like. I'm pretty sure I'm still wearing the same stuff, so perhaps that speaks to my fashion sensibility, but that is such. You know maybe a place to start talking about is that I've always been drawn to the edges of where you start to colour outside of the lines, and where the lines are. When I grew up this is the kind of work that aunties did, but it was most definitely not art, right. This is an example of some silk work of a Métis person, most likely from around Lake Winnipeg from about the late 1800’s. It was very clear when I grew up that this was not art and yet this was what my nation produced in the way of art. When I grew up academically, this is who academics were — for those who don't know, this is David Baltimore who did a lot of the heavy lifting on HIV. Women researchers were people like this, and Indigenous researchers were people like this. And notice what's missing there. And by the way, I love Leroy, that's Leroy Little Bear on the bottom, but they sure didn't look like me and they didn't come from traditions like mine and they sure weren't studying what I was interested in. There were absolutely things that women studied in the 90’s, there were absolutely things that Indigenous researchers studied, and then there were the things that I was interested in studying, which were certainly not acceptable. What I wanted to study was in the social sciences, and I remember a joke back when I started was that anything that called itself or had to have the word science in it most certainly was not a science. So social science was not that. This is what neuroscience looked like, and it was the study of smaller and smaller bits. And actually what I was interested in was fantasy. This is actually a neural network model based on imaging data of the sort that Roy was talking about. I wanted to study how the brain caused behaviour not how the brain sent in messages down the length of its axons, those little bright dots that you see in the picture, I wanted to study the stuff of fantasy. It was an incredibly sterile time, we didn't talk about consciousness or intentionality, in fact Roy's mentor has a great example of how sterile the time was. You’d see a person walking and they’d see a car stop directly with violence against a pole and then you see the person take their phone and press three numbers into it, and what are the numbers, well we all know what those numbers would be, it'd be 9-1-1 if you live in a western world. And yet how do you know that, because there's no way we could measure that kind of thing, this intentionality. That was the stuff that I was interested in studying at the time — how do you get there. But again at the same time, and culturally, you know, the redskins did not reflect who I was or my nation and it was very clear in talking with the few friends I had, who were Indigenous, because most of my friends at university were not Indigenous, that people who were First Nations, or Inuit particularly, who had lived on reserve and come from a reserve system were the real leather on the one side, and as Chris Anderson said, “They were real leather and we were pleather,” or as they now call it vegan leather, but there was some element of fakeness. In fact until the Daniel’s decision in Canada in 2016 there was deep suspicion that, in fact, the Métis People were not actually Indigenous peoples of Canada, but the supreme court actually supported the fact that there were obligations under that. So to go back to my academic work, I wanted to study the neural basis of behaviour, particularly those that showed individual differences. Some of you on the call are really good at coding, some of you are not, some of you are really great at knowing where north is, for example, and some of you would say north is just one of these fake concepts that I reject. I was really interested in how we understand space, how we manipulate it, and how we interact with it. And I use two model systems. I've got a bunch of model systems on there that over time were of interest, including everything from squid to rats, and I studied rodents and humans, which in itself was incredibly odd i guess, or othering. At the time, if you studied humans you studied cognitive science and if you were in neuroscience you studied non-human animals and nobody did both. It was considered to be very suspicious behaviour of the worst sort. I think I've been accused of being an academic dilettante because I didn't want to stick to the one model system, but it allowed me to ask different questions of different sorts. Part of what I was really interested in was spatial ability, like I said, and one of the tests that was typical of the time was the one I've got in front of you here, where there are two of the four circled items on the bottom numbered one through four that are exactly the same shape as the one above. Some of you will find this trivial and some of you will find this like, "What, they're the same, or…?” And it just depends. I was curious about why some people's brains were really good at this kind of thing and why some people's brains found this absolutely challenging. Typically if we take a population of people women perform more poorly on this test than men, along with many other tests of spatial ability of this sort. And this is observed in a variety of species — female rats perform more poorly on tests of navigation — which then led to the dominant theory at the time that this was an evolved trait that relates to historical differences and divisions of labor with men hunting and needing to be able to throw projectiles at things, and interact with space in that way, but also figure out how to get home quickly and not necessarily use this sort of abstract reference to get there, like north and distance. But along the same lines women found that there were, sorry people found that there were, things that women did better. And I apologize for the crappy quality of this thing. I tried to copy it on my phone and it was just really terrible and I didn't feel like driving into the office to scan it so you'd have a beautiful thing. But if we ask people to look at this and then tell us which things have moved, women are actually really, really good at this, relatively speaking. And what they say is that, and part of the thing is, this is sort of the opposite specialization of the brain in that it's very important if you are foraging and gathering food to remember where items are, where you've been, to notice small differences in the environment around you so that you can stay safe. And I thought, well at the time I spent a lot of time studying this, most of my postdoc actually, but when I finally got my own lab I said, “Well, this is just crap, there’s something wrong here,” because, in fact, I’m not lost. I'm not wandering around my neighbourhood hoping to see a landmark that I recognize so that I can find my way home. Although, I have been known, to be honest, to strive confidently off the subway in Toronto in the wrong direction, but I'm usually not lost, not even in unfamiliar situations. So, what was going on in these sorts of things? So what we did was actually look at navigation in the real world, and what we found was that depending on how you framed the question you got different performances. So if you look on the left, if you frame things in terms of north and distances or east or west — you go west one hundred meters then turn north — you see the classic, men outperforming women on these tasks. But if you frame it differently you actually get a reverse, or at least equal performance. If you tell women to turn right at the purple doors, go up three sets of stairs, then turn left, what was always astonishing to me was that I would see men just blow through the purple doors, because they had gone five steps ahead in their head to where they thought you wanted them to go and they would miss these sorts of thing. It was absolutely stunning. So this was the first piece that allowed me to start to explore the idea that it turns out, how you frame the question affects the results. I won't go really deep into the fifteen or twenty years of research that I've done on this, but I really think this is informative of the next little bit of my question and maybe information for this group, about how to think about these things, about why things happen, and that how we frame things affect how people perform these pieces, in particular. This is work by a good friend of mine, Penny Paxman, and this is granting performance and funding levels for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, which is, for those Americans, the Canadian equivalent of the NSF the National Science Foundation. What you'll notice here, and I hope you can see this, is if you see this ratio right here, this is saying that women for undergraduate awards and graduate awards are actually more successful than men, but as soon as you get to — oops, let's go up, sorry — post-docs or the actual grants themselves, particularly the Canada Research Chairs which are among the most prestigious awards in Canada you can receive, or the Accelerator Supplement which is a grant you didn't even apply for but it gets added on top of yours because what you're doing is so original, you see that all of a sudden these things favour men. Penny's done a lot of work on this with some of her colleagues and one of the things that I would say is that she's found out that it stays flipped for pretty much most of people's careers as academics in the sciences, and it is an average difference of about four thousand dollars per grant per year. And I'll tell you, until Penny did that work I actually thought I was about four thousand dollars less smart than my male colleagues, because I would observe that they were getting slightly larger grants than me. So clearly there was something that made them better at this. But when we look at the actual research and the impact of the research we can see that, in fact, it's the language that is used to describe the applicant and not the science itself, or the results of the science. So, there is this implicit bias in even the judging of the quality of science that happens. The same thing happens when we look at 80,000 performance evaluations for men and women. The ways in which we describe men and women are very different and these can have long-lasting effects in people’s academic careers or whatever. And part of me bringing this up is not to delve into that piece, but look at some of the words that are used to describe men, “positive, confident, versatile, articulate,” then think about the positive words that describe women, “compassionate, enthusiastic,” and my favorite, “team player”. Very few women are described as “visionary”, and this is a common word that is used for men. In my own work I've noticed that despite the fact that in many disciplines, and in fact over the last 15 years or so, research shows that women are getting the bulk of doctorates and yet they are not changing the number of full grants for women in institutions. Part of why I'm obsessed with this is that I'm a creature of the university. I haven’t left since I first went to university in 1985. I mean, I tell my daughter I'm in like grade 45 now. But what I would say is that if we want to see more people who look like me in positions of power, I’m the president of a university, we have to actually change the way that we frame questions and start to describe these things, and in fact these are really subtle, subtle things. Just simply changing the way we describe a task can actually fundamentally shift a theory and shift how we think about people's brains, something that you’d think is very objective. The other thing I would say though is that, I bring this up because I think language shapes the world and how we experience it and how we think about others and evaluate them. I spend a great deal of my time these days trying to promote equity, diversity, and inclusion in the university, in science in particular because that's my discipline, but also about how to impact leadership. In 1990 about twenty percent of all university presidents were women. In 2019 in Canada about twenty percent of university presidents are women. There are three of us who are Indigenous out of 94 public institutions in the country and yet we've seen huge gains in education. So there's something there, these invisible barriers that are stopping people from being evaluated in a way that assesses different kinds of leadership. And I'd say that universities have done a fair job, not great, but fair in including women. But our federal government in Canada describes three other groups of people who are designated equity groups including disabled people, visible minorities, and Indigenous people, and indeed our university is part of a pilot that has a fourth group and that is LGBTQ2+ folks, and I think we've done a much much poorer job of including those people in our piece, which is the focus of my work these days at Vancouver Island University, and that is understanding the barriers that stop people from accessing what we do. This is key to dismantling these systems. Part of the thing I would say is that I think it's also in how we define excellence. Excellence at the university that I went to that Roy works at now was defined by who they excluded. It’s “exclusive”, it's an “exclusive university”, it's a place you can't go. Our university defines excellence as inclusive. We actually think by allowing people to come and providing them with the tools and supports they need to get there, that we provide them with an opportunity to have a good life and to access these things, and we do a good job. We do this right at kindergarten level in our communities by promoting people to sign up for free money from the federal government, which only forty percent of people in our catchment area apply for, and it's free money. That's like four thousand dollars if your parents applied for it in kindergarten you’d have four thousand dollars to do anything, with respect to your education. What we know is that for people who have applied for this, they are three times more likely to finish high school and go onto university, and that's just signing up for this thing that the government gives you for free. There's millions of dollars that's just sitting in government coffers for this program, but what we think it does is it changes the conversation, it changes the language that people use around the dinner table in kindergarten. It goes from what job are you going to do, to what do you want to study when you get to post secondary, what do you want to do, what do you want to be? That ability to dream and think differently is key. Our university wants to respect knowledge outside of the western canon, which is why we actually have elders who are considered faculty the same way as I am with a PhD. Uncle Barney, one of our elders, has a grade three education, so if you think that was an easy thing to get through a collective bargaining process with faculty who actually believe PhD’s mean something, it wasn’t, but it is a way to show respect for Indigenous knowledge and for different ways of knowing beyond the western canon. But even things that I'm trying to push this year are to try and address these invisible barriers. For instance, we hold most of our governance meetings after 4:00 pm. Participating in governance is one way to get a promotion and to become that department chair and the like, and yet we hold it at a time when we know that people with young families don't have access to daycare. And we don't pay for daycare for you to come to these meetings outside of work hours, we just expect that somehow you'll have the resources to do it. So we're spending the year trying to figure out some of these other things that stop people with disabilities, with small children, and the like from participating effectively in the things that we know promote their success. I think that some of this is also what we're hoping to accomplish with the collection. I would suggest that some of the collection, as Michelle spoke about very articulately at the beginning of this dialogue, suffers from biases in approaching the use of language — subtle beliefs about what is or isn’t art — it infuses everything we do, this notion of what is collected and what isn’t, who's represented and who isn’t. How we understand these pieces, these tensions between the language, and how we use it, is at the heart of “other”. So this is just an opening set of observations. I could speak, if you want, about consciousness, or what it's like to run a university, or anything like that, but I just wanted to say I think that “the other” is an incredibly interesting concept to play with as we work our way through trying to understand these pieces. So with that, I just want to say thank you for listening and hopefully I’ve had a moment of some cogence here. So thank you. And I'll stop sharing now so I can see you all again.
Michelle: Thank you so much Deb. Before I jump in, does anybody have any questions or observations for Deb?
Gabrielle: Just an observation that it seems so useful to take this question or this concept of otherness and to deploy it in many different ways. We tend to get stuck, whether we're talking about cannons or categories or centers and margins, and it just seems really useful. We can even go back to Michelle’s comment about the Oreo, like what is otherness in a cookie? What is otherness in a collection? And I think it's about reframing and de-framing, reframing, de-centering, re-centering that can be really effective. So thank you for that because I think otherness became — again to go back, because I was also educated in the 90’s — that otherness was useful, but in some ways it has felt like it has outgrown its usefulness and I think the way that you're talking about it allows it to have a new kind of utility. So I think that's really important for these discussions.
Deb: Thank you Gabrielle. I mean, I played really hard with the concept, because I too was trained that we should talk about intersectionality and so on, but other is different than intersectional in a sense right, and so thank you for that feedback.
Nicole: I also really appreciated the comment about how we frame the question affects the result. How the language we use is so powerful in terms of what the potential for all of this is. So if we keep asking ourselves why certain folks don't see themselves represented in our institution or why we can't get over these hurdles or these hangovers from this colonial history that shaped the museum, I think going back to that question about, “how are we framing the question”, if we're not getting the result we want if we're not seeing the change we want to see, how are we asking ourselves and asking others the questions. That really stood out, so thank you for putting that into the whole mix.
Deb: Thank you. I'd like to point out that Roy is actually five thousand dollars a year smarter than me in NSERC, not four.
Roy: It’s an awful game, that granting. Listen, so that gives me a chance to jump in and ask a question, and I think this is a question to all of you who are thinking about the curation of art galleries or museums. From Deb’s comments about otherness — I mean it seems to me that this is a really hard problem — if you're trying to curate exhibitions to what extent does the curation target one person? It must be extremely difficult to curate so that it is targeting everyone. Is that true?
Nicole: Michelle, do you want to try that one?
Michelle: I was going to let you go ahead.
Nicole: I think it's like, yeah…
Roy: The dumb guy always asks the the naive questions, or the hard questions.
Nicole: No, that is a huge question. I think it’s… I don't have an answer. I'm trying to think of how we work through that, and I think this is what we're actively doing all the time, is trying to not center ourselves and trying to do the work so that we can understand all the different lenses through which people might be experiencing what we do. And it's a continuous challenge because we have egos and we have perceptions that have shaped us. So I think traditionally there's the curator star and their lens would shape the thing and then everyone would celebrate them and forget that there were artists who were involved in the project. I think the way we do it is if we're centering the artists and if we're bringing folks in with all of those different viewpoints and perspectives, and we try to take ourselves out of it, that gets us closer to that. I don’t know, that’s… I mean, yeah, it’s a constant process I think.
Michelle: When I worked at a much more bureaucratic institution, the Art Gallery of Ontario, we used to call that challenge making sure that there were multiple points of entry. And you actually had to articulate what the multiple points of entry you were providing were, because the goal was to reach as many people with as many world views as possible. I'm going to try and do that media interview trick where I say what I want to say, but pretend I’m answering your question, but maybe the two things do actually connect. As I was listening to Deb speak it was interesting that you were talking about your study in the cognitive sciences, because there were so many moments where I thought, “Well that's exactly the same issue,” those are exactly the same issues that we have in the art world. You start out as a kid who likes making pictures because you’re interested in fantasy, and without hitting every point where I saw the intersection happen again, the end point is that from that kid — well maybe I'll talk about the center point — to being a woman studying art history or visual art, primarily surrounded by other women, somehow you find yourself working in an institution where all of the leadership roles are held by men, and all of a sudden you're talking about fact, excellence, and what is empirically true, when everything originated in that moment of fantasy and that's why we're here. It makes me think of an artist that I worked with a few years ago who has this really interesting practice that is rooted in researching in databases. Her name is Carol Sawyer and she spent so much time in our database and in our collection and through really relating to what she was looking at and imagining how things could have come to be as they were. She decided that this drawing in our collection was by a woman artist that she was looking at, Vera Weatherbie. Somebody who used to work at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria who, at that point, was the art reviewer for the local newspaper, Robert Amos, was completely affronted at this claim that Carol was making that the work was by a woman because he knew, for a fact, that it was by a man. He didn't show all of this thinking and exploration that Carol showed. It was a fact that he found in a book somewhere and he was not willing to talk about it and gave her a negative review, and that was that. So it's so odd to think about the fact, as well that you know, art is the space of looking for the landmarks as opposed to just going due north or due west, but we still find ourselves in these strange dustups where we're not allowed to approach things with any amount of fantasy or imagination.
Ellen: Yeah I was just going to add to that, it's interesting that you brought up Carol Sawyer, and then back to your point about multiple points of entry as a curatorial process, and Deb what you were saying about your academic career and you're learning about not adhering to one model, so that's kind of what's resonating with me.
Deb: I wouldn't recommend it as an academic practice, it gets you punished with granting pieces, but it is fun.
Rodney: Just to quickly comment on what Deb was talking about, about framing the question, I think she said, “How we're posing the question?” And I guess I'm thinking, well what questions are we asking as this group, are we asking any questions, is there a problem or a challenge? Having worked with the fluent speakers in my communities for over ten years, how you framed the question was very crucial, because English was a second language to them. They would say, “Well, that's not a real question, because the question doesn’t make any sense.” It's like I would say well, “How do you say, ‘are you singing?’” Then they're going like, "Well that's silly, if somebody's singing obviously you know that they're singing, you don't have to ask them. Why would you interrupt them while they were singing to ask them that question?” So that was just very like, oh, you know, I was just trying to translate from English. Then just quickly, the other story, as I was just constantly thinking of creative things to ask them when we had downtime, I said, “Well, how do you say, ‘I was in the forest, I heard a crackling noise, and it was a bear!’” I thought well, that'd be a fun thing to ask them. They listened to the question and were like, “What were you doing in the forest if there was a bear?” That was their response. So it’s like, yeah, how you frame the question. Of course there was no answer to that question because what was I doing there if there was danger nearby. So anyways, it's just a different way of thinking about things that may be obvious to me, but just were not in their realm of reality. They had all this knowledge, but it was like, this just didn't translate in many ways.
Gabrielle: I wonder too, and implicit in Roy’s question and then in the responses, if there's something about recognizing that there was a moment in, say, the history of curation when audience or audiences suddenly matter? You know as I'm wrapping my head around it — and Emily this was something I was thinking about after our conversation yesterday — in 1910 if one is putting on a show of Roman copies of Greek originals is anyone actually caring who the audience is? Or is it simply about this display of official important objects? So I wonder if there's a moment when, “Oh,” people start thinking about an audience, kind of monolithically, and then later when people start thinking about a plurality of audiences? Certainly in my own discipline it's kind of in the 60s, when we began to grapple with pluralities, that there was not one modernism but there were many modernisms, and that very notion of making it plural was actually a critical moment even though it had to keep becoming more plural. So I wondered too, if that’s actually something that we should think about. But I'm also the historian so I always try to locate these things at some moment.
Michelle: I probably should have let our Curator of Engagement, Nicole, talk about the evolution of the way museums think about audiences, but since we didn't time it as such I won't put her on the spot today, I’ll just say that is such a complicated narrative, the answer to that question. I think that at the outset of museums becoming an entity they always had an educational function, but not in terms of the way we understand education today. It was, as you describe, delivery of a set of objects and facts around them, and it certainly has been within the lifetime of my career — so the last 25 years — that there's been a shift from using the word audience to using audiences, from using community to using communities, and along with that a kind of evolving understanding of what the people are bringing to the equation. So also a shift of the idea of delivering information towards creating a space for participatory involvement and exchange. Is that fair Nicole?
Nicole: Yeah. I was just going to try to quickly add my context as well, to continue on from what Michelle said. Just recently I was talking to one of our colleagues about how I grew up into my career. I've been with the gallery for 15 years and my whole career has been at that institution. But the people I've seen come before me and mentor me and be in the positions of senior curators and chief curators, in the last fifteen years, I felt really fortunate that when I came into the position and I was trying to figure out what kind of curator I needed to be, and I wanted to be — I was coming out of an art history department and I grew up in an art community and had a father whose peers were part of a generation that was carrying a very traditional model of things in some ways — I was really grateful because I saw that there was another route. So early on I was carrying some of those traditions in my perspective or in how I thought I needed to do things, but as I saw that there was another model I was fortunate that the people who were mentoring me and who I was seeing lead before me made it clear that was actually where I wanted to go and how I wanted to do my work. So I’ve seen a significant shift in the last 15 years for sure, and I know it came earlier, but yeah that's kind of a brief response.
Deb: You know, I would just add this one piece. We spend a lot of time at my institution talking about decolonizing the university, and I don't actually believe that it's possible, because it is at its heart — depending on where you want to believe it started, but if you want to go to Bologna — it is a colonial thing. So what we're trying to talk about instead is about democratizing it and not about Indigenizing or decolonizing, but rather democratizing a colonial space to have more people of this world, who are on this call, represented there, and to which is where we’ve gotten to this idea of inclusion being our marker of excellence rather than exclusion. And so maybe what we’re trying to do — because you just made me think, really I was like, “Aha!” you know, of course museums are colonial objects, we went out to the colonies and brought back all these bits and pieces and stuck them around and showed off our great cultural wealth, etc., as either novelty or as aspirational objects of beauty — and maybe this is about democratizing the access to the collection, because I was sort of thinking of it in a colonial decolonizing model. So I don't know if that’s a useful aha-moment, but it's certainly something we spend a lot of time talking about in the university.
Michelle: Yeah. We also try to avoid the terms “decolonize” or “Indigenize” for very similar reasons and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria is most definitely an institution with a colonial foundation. But what we love doing is recognizing those spots where the institution is really hanging onto its colonial past. Our director has said to me, “You really like tearing band-aids off, I prefer to leave the band-aids on,” he told me. And I said, “I love tearing band-aids off and I'll even stick my finger in the wound and feel around to see what's there.” So yeah, I think there's actually something interesting about these colonial spaces, I mean if you can get your hands on on them and really sort of question and shake up and try and figure out what they did and what they've done to people and how you can reveal that, there's something actually pretty useful in the process for the other places where there is the possibility of decolonization and Indigenization as a learning opportunity. Any other comments, or should we hear from Emily now? Thank you.
Emily: (video 1:26:32) Okay. So the name of this presentation is “2 results for a why” and all the images that we're going to look at, which is a grand total of seven, are searches that I did in the AGGV database that are applicable to what I'm talking about today. I spent yesterday looking at Canadian art galleries’ and museum’s websites’ online collections, and I looked at between 65 and 70 of them, and it was amazing, because the potential that we're talking about here is not reflected in the presence of these online collections. Full stop. It is like looking at a bunch of index cards. The objects themselves, these things that live in storage rooms and basements are prioritized over this potential for, as we’re saying, interaction or engagement or navigation they are completely just not acknowledged. I've also noticed there's an awful lot of similar approaches to collections in institutions in Canada in general. If you just read their opening paragraph, it's like a broken record almost, it’s crazy, scary crazy. Why are they not all just in one place? Then they can send them around by drones when they want to take them out. It's really interesting you guys. Something that I really wanted to note here is a lot of places are talking about the collection as a donation vehicle and I think it's really important especially when we're talking about some of the underlying structures that Deb is bringing up, the mechanics that Roy's bringing up, all of this, that we are aware that there are driving forces to these collections other than assembling our end ideas and that often people donate work for tax receipts, or relationships, or caché. We need to acknowledge that, that exists and that often these can be defining moments in a collection. So we really need to be thinking about what are the drivers to these material objects, these objects that are molecules that we have to move around. In general it seems like there's not a whole lot of awareness about what the potential of opening up these collections are, so that's what I noticed, and I shared the small database in our Discord server for you guys to look at, if you want. I had the great benefit of speaking one-on-one with three of you this week and we just naturally were talking about — oh, well, four, Rod, I forgot — the ideas and the room to move and to think. I'm so grateful for all of you for being here. This is my food, this is like my jet fuel listening to you. I just needed to say thank you very much for the opportunity to think about this and to start to try to shape what our future might look like. Everybody, almost everybody here knows me, so I don't need to introduce myself or my work too much, but one thing that I'll mention is that I'm a very fluent collaborator. I know a lot about collaboration. I understand its mechanics very well, and I'm in a lot of collaborations. One of the collaborations that I'm in is with Rod, we call it “Search and Research”, and the reason that I bring it up is because we have taken the deliberate position that we want to position our collaborative work post-reconciliation, that the reconciliation process which is a formal process in Canada, is a growth industry and that somebody is going to need to start making patterns for what the world is going to be like when that process is over. So that seems awfully fun to do and I can really see a lot of relationship with this group with that idea, saying somebody's got to start showing or experimenting with what it's going to be like once we're through this tremendously disruptive process of disentangling ourselves from the structures that have been so limiting to so many people. So you're going to see — these are my little cues for my talk, at the top — the terms that I searched and on the screen is what the search revealed from the AGGV’s collection. So when I search “online collection” I get this. What I see as obviously missing from the images, the collections online that I looked at, is that first and foremost we can unearth buried objects, they are still buried in these collections online right now. There's this idea that you can access them 24/7, but they're still buried, so the idea of unearthing is interesting. We can form unseen relationships and thus create new knowledge. Then from there — these are so obvious to me, I mean I’m sure to everyone here it’s like this is obviously what needs to be happening, and that it's not, is just mind-boggling — there's also the idea that collections could be linked to one another and the only example that I came across was the McCord Museum, which is working with seven other institutions to have an online collection. But, why are major museum collections not more readily linked? Being around Rod and his family I know that it is the dream of so many Nuu-chah-nulth people to go to Europe to visit all of the objects that belong to their relatives in these collections. Wouldn't it be amazing, and haven’t they been talking about this for 20 years, if these things are assembled into one place so that you can look at them? There is a little bit of work being done here on the island to do that, and every now and then there's this big discussion about intellectual repatriation. Why is that not easier? Why are we not, especially if everybody's using eMuseum, why is that not happening? Then the other thing about the idea of online collections is that it’s great if we can link collections within institutions together, but I also have collections. I have a food ephemera on printed material collection, and a museum of erasers of the world collection, and I have eight to ten years of photographs stuck in iPhoto, and I also have every time I connect my phone to my computer multiple duplicates of the same photograph, and I have papers and papers of notes from Rod and I talking. I've said this to a couple people this week, “I do not want to spend my life organizing that, and I'm trying to take myself seriously as an artist.” I know that to be a maker, to be a creator, and to have an impact on the world you need to be able to explain yourself to other people and you need to be able to explain your thought process, and that this is a practice and it takes years. So an investment of time and organizing that information needs to be made, but I need the time to be making the work, because I feel like I'm racing the clock on making the work. So it would be so nice if there were a way for all of that information to be online and sorted for me and taken care of. So that's the aspirational ill-posed task that I'm working for. So I want to share with you quickly three ideas that I've been kicking around in my head in relation to this project. Deb may be familiar with this idea of a digital twin. So a digital twin is a virtual replica of a physical device that data scientists and IT pros can use to run simulations before actual devices are built and deployed. It’s a digital representation of a physical object or system. So you can see that what Roy is making, some of them are digital twins some are different — augmented reality is different — but the concept of this idea of a digital twin the way that I interpreted it for the gallery is by using the metaphor, the example, of the New York Times. So there's the printed paper, and then there's its digital incarnation, and these are our two beings that have the same mission to deliver the news, but they're different formats and different venues and they have different qualities to them. The potential for the gallery with the idea of a digital twin — first, thanks to Deb and Roy for reminding us that there are huge infrastructure shifts that need to be made to be able to implement that — but there's also so much possibility in it, especially because there is no structure, there's no limit to the imagination of what can be done in this formless space. So the concept of the digital twin, all it needs, and Roy is going, “Well this is the hard part,” I'm like, "Well it's the easy part,” you just need to build the capacity in the gallery, the interest and the excitement to build this imaginary space on a cloud. That's one. The other is very practical and it's the idea of the bundle of rights. So if you look in the center there, where it says, "Left Right (Green Side of Ditch)” it says, “image not available”. This may be because there actually isn’t an image that is publicly available, but it may also have to do with very complicated copyright rules. So that is going to be something that we are going to have to grapple with as we're working with the collection, it's a pragmatic issue. The idea of the bundle of rights came out of some research that I did, which was trying to — it was a little contract — and it was working on policy, trying to help figure out what to do when a sacred site was found on private land. So in looking at examples of what happened when this — I mean, people on Vancouver Island will know that this was a big issue, I think it was on Salt Spring — became a big political issue when a sacred site was on private land. So this idea of a bundle of rights is a property law idea and basically when you own property you have a bundle of rights and the rights include the right to sell, to lease, to enjoy, to dispose, and you don’t always own water rights. So this idea of how a bundle of rights might work in collections and permissions might be of interest as we're moving from the idea of community to communities and with what is accessible and what isn’t at a certain time. So I just want to put that out there, that we have these practical things to consider and that there are some very interesting ideas that we can draw from in order to make them go. Then the last thinking or idea that I wanted to bring up is the idea of time travel. This is something that I've been playing with for the last six, seven, eight months, just trying to think about time travel as a lot more accessible and real than we think. If you move from one time zone to another you're time traveling, just trying to think about very practical ways that time travel exists in our normal everyday life. Do I sound crazy? You can just shake your head one way or the other.
Gabrielle: Crazy is relative Emily.
Emily: Right, and these are restless times. So anyway, I've been really trying to understand time travel in a practical way and I think that the idea of an institution’s collection is a very interesting moment for time and space. The idea that there is an assumption that an object is taken into a building, because the people don't stay there forever, but the object stays there forever and we agree to that and we agree that it's important — it’s really amazing. It really brings up Rod's idea of time immemorial. When he says that he's talking about the past, but we're also working into the future. Time immemorial goes both ways, and in the digital space we can explore the idea of being there and not there. Also letting go, and that goes back to the idea of what it would be like if I had a personal collections database, because I'm not limited to having to keep everything forever, I make decisions to let things go. So anyway, I’m just really thinking about the idea of time traveling inside a collection. This is my last slide and I wanted to talk about why I think the AGGV is the correct gallery to be doing this project. It's because this team is so very good at agility. You guys have had so much short-term planning, having to be so mentally rigorous with short time frames, and making changes and being adaptable, that from my point of view this COVID thing didn't even phase you. So that is really something to be proud of, especially because your audiences and your communities are both vertical and horizontal to the point of being spherical, in terms of age, in terms of background. This is a real accomplishment that you guys have made, this is a foundational strength that you have, and you are so ready to be able to do something and so deserve to be able to do something that other people can recognize as a trailblazing way forward through our next 20 years. All that is needed is someone to take up the cause of committing to a new vision for how the gallery works and you're already there. So that’s why my last slide is “why not”, and that is it.
Michelle: What a fantastic place to end the presentations. I feel quite validated, which I don't always feel, so thank you. Does anybody have any questions or responses to Emily’s presentation?
Mark: I had a good moment of synergy there. I think on each of your last three points something came to mind, so I'll just share those if that's okay, around the digital twin. A lot of my career is hacking, like using tools in a way that they’re not supposed to be used at all and then using it as a way of reframing a task or what an outcome would be, or something like that. So when you speak of a digital twin I think about the git process of forking, which also gets to property, which is an interesting piece. So if you're not familiar with that, forking is basically duplicating in process or in finished projects in code and then being able to either improve it, make something different, manipulate it, or change it in some way. So it becomes these forks after forks. It's a stat, how many times you've been forked, or a project's been forked or git. It's interesting because that becomes these mutations, if you will, some better some far worse, that are statistics. Like how many people have forked, or I look at actually how many answers there are in an issue queue to see how successful something is. So it's an interesting way of thinking about, or literalizing I guess, through code. The other part of it is it gets to the heart of property too. There has to be this share and share alike economy around that, which brought me to looking at the Creative Commons, and what is meant to be a fairly unrestrictive — or levels of restriction in terms of rights — alternative means of thinking about rights. That linked me over to meta collections and seeing how things can move back and forth. How maybe a personal collection then becomes part of a larger collection? Maybe that's a way of getting validation — my work isn't valuable because I’m not in a museum, but then suddenly you’re able to put it into that context. Finally, time travel, oh what a good one! If I have not mentioned this before I apologize, there's a newsletter out of Montreal called “Centres”, I don't remember the guy's name who writes it. Every week I learn something new, and there was one last year that I bookmarked about time travel and it was talking about history and being able to redefine history for marginalized populations, that time travel is a mythological process but it also could literalize by going back pulling an artifact putting it forward and then inserting it into an existing history. There's this great quote in here, “When we put the histories of those who have been marginalized or oppressed at the center of our stories, it changes the way we understand the present time. Time travel literalizes this process showing us clearly how revisiting history changes the current moment.” And so I'm on board with all of those, I guess that's just the big old, I agree with you Emily.
Emily: Thanks, I love it. I love the forking, it’s great.
Mark: There’s a lot of funny terms like that. Sorry I just jumped on this, because I had another thought for a moment. After the uprisings of June the programming community got rid of — and this is directly related to GitHub — the “master” and “slave” language that was probably put in place by a sixteen year old in 1964, or something like that, just thinking, “Hey this is kind of funny and it's an easy way for me to remember something,” and it stuck to this point. Then it became primary and secondary. So another thing, maybe causally related to this, but forking maybe isn’t the right word for it, but the process I think, and then having a language around it is valuable.
Gabrielle: Yeah, I’ll jump in unless somebody else has a response.
Michelle: Go ahead.
Gabrielle: Okay. Two things that occurred to me — and again I loved the way you framed all that — I wanted to complicate using the New York Times as the example of the digital twin simply because it's actually digital triplets, because in that sense there's the physical paper, there is the digital version of the physical paper, and then there is the digital publication. And I think that's actually really important to keep in mind and it relates to one of the things I had mentioned, to you Emily, about the Getty trying to come up with this third thing, which is a kind of permanent digital thing that will exist in perpetuity or at least as long as we think of a print book existing. So just to complicate the notion of the digital twin. And also mind-blown in terms of thinking about some notion of truly digital collections in which there's this sharing of the digital twin, of objects, from all these different collections. But I think we know why it doesn't exist, the Elgin Marbles is the only example we need to explain why it doesn't exist, or paintings that were seized during the Holocaust, right. The moment you say this can be part of this digital collection is the moment you're acknowledging you don't have rights to it in the first place, but you have conveniently created a set of arguments to validate your possession of them. So if somehow one can begin to think productively about a way to convince, or to actually imagine, and maybe it goes to Deb’s notion of democratizing, but I don't know because it's so fraught politically and culturally, because Greece is never going to acknowledge that Britain has a right to the Elgin Marbles, and unless some other cultural seismic change happens the Elgin Marbles are never going to return to Greece. However, I never thought all the confederate monuments would come down in Richmond, and that is happening. So to me, maybe this is precisely the moment to say, “All right let's just time travel to a moment in which there is space for that truly democratized museum, even if it (I was going to say) even if it only exists virtually, but that’s problematic because that is privileging the physical over the digital, and I think that one of the things we're trying to do here is to say, “We don't need to privilege those things in that way anymore, that there's value to the multiplicity of the way they exist.”
Emily: Yes. As you were saying that I was trying to flip through my brain — and maybe somebody else in the group can think of something — but examples of digital interfaces that have integrity to the images or objects that have not been taken over by capitalism or taken down. So I'm thinking about Flickr, thinking about Instagram, even Pinterest was really great in the beginning, and now it's just a disaster. Maybe there are some examples that we can unearth too that can help lead us to that kind of integrity. It does go back to what I was saying about we've got to be very honest about what these collections are really for and I'm not sure that it's necessarily one hundred percent about preserving the art history or cultural history of a community. There are other forces, including, not always negative too, I should say, there’s also collecting to support artists, which Michelle and I were talking about yesterday and that's a really important part of what the AGGV is doing, making sure that artists are supported in their practice in the present.
Nicole: I’m glad you brought that up and that, that’s worked its way into the conversation because as we’re talking about how to make our collection more accessible I'm wondering, what is the purpose of… like why do we collect? We have a newer colleague who is responsible for our collection of Asian art now, and I was talking to her about hopes and dreams and philosophies for how we do things. And I was so excited because she really does want the collection to be accessible, and that these things, the way we're positioning them, it's not about you know… hoping to shift it from this feeling of hoarding and amassing of things, I win because I have the most things, you know. So anyways it's just brought up a bunch of that, but that’s just a whole other tangent about why do we have this, what is it, but we have it now, what are we doing with it, how do we move forward with this? So all of the things you brought up about rights and time travel and access, yeah.
Michelle: We’re at 11:59, so we're quite behind schedule. There was fantastic conversation after each presentation, so I feel like we just redistributed the way we had structured the last meetings, but does everybody have five minutes? I think that we could maybe work in Discord to start thinking about what the questions are, or what the advice is, that we're going to start giving more shape to at the next meeting. But we did hope that Noya could spend like three to five minutes talking about an initiative that has come together really quickly over the last couple of weeks.
Noya: Yeah I can talk about it, very quickly. So, continuing the thread of the Lineage project that I told you guys about last time we met, the idea is to invite a group of artists represented in the collection or with relation to the collection, and Michelle came up with a really beautiful list of people for this, to start thinking about ways in which an automated navigation or exploration of the collection can be designed. So really trying to prototype, as Emily mentioned, the types of knowledge that we want to discover and have the collection facilitate. I think a lot of what we talked about today really resonates with this quick initiative. Really thinking about relationships of pluralities, plural points of view, ways to engage with this affect and define it a little more or give examples for it, physical empirical examples, that then we can try and engineer or compute for. I feel like a lot of engineering projects start from, “Oh, I have this technology, here let me have you use it,” instead of thinking like, “Oh, I have a problem and I have a goal, let’s find the way to get there.” Then what Roy said about the actual computing being the easy part is kind of true, not in the sense that it's not complicated, but in the sense that once you know what you want to do getting there can be easier rather than not knowing what you want to do. So the idea is to really work in collaboration with these artists and with the curatorial team and have some actual physical examples of where we want to get with automated navigation that is visual not textual, as I talked about last time, and see where we get. And I'm super, super, super excited to do this type of engagement that is rooted in the physical or the digital twin and generate, what Gabrielle just referred to as, the third twin. So not the physical object, not the digital representation, but this third manifestation that is what horrible people would call native-digital, but we can call it a third twin. Did I cover all the bases, Michelle?
Michelle: I think so. I think so. So for instance Carol Sawyer, that artist that I mentioned, a little earlier is one of the people who will help us with this exercise. And honestly I always thought that I was a dilettante art historian, that was another point of intersection when I was listening to Deb talk, that's what I always call myself, but carol is amazing in terms of just creating these semi-fictional interpretations of art history that are more interesting than the real art history, so why not follow them. Yeah.
Noya: Yeah, definitely speaking to the fantasy element as well.
Michelle: So is everybody feeling okay about closing there and saving the conversation about hard advice for us until next time?
Ellen: Yes. I just wanted to thank all the speakers again, it's so mind-blowing and lots to think about.
Michelle: Yes, the categories that are there I think we're more about feeling out the space and figuring out how it worked. Yeah, I would just like to echo Ellen’s thanks another amazing, amazing morning/afternoon. That was so great.
Deb: Yeah, thanks everybody
Nicole: Thank you.
Michelle: Thank you.
Marina: Thanks everyone.