Today is the start of Mental Health Awareness Week (18-24 May 2020) and this year’s theme is kindness. In my opinion this starts with being kinder to yourself and there are many ways to do this. As my colleague Hannah Nagle recently reminded me in her recent blog post, creative activities can help you to relax, lift your mood and enable you to express yourself. Also, I personally find that spending time in green spaces and appreciating nature is of great benefit to my mental wellbeing. UK mental health charity Mind promote ecotherapy and have a helpful section on their website all about nature and mental health.
However, I appreciate that it is not always possible for people to get outside to enjoy nature, especially in the current corona pandemic situation. However, there are ways to bring nature into our homes, such as listening to recordings of bird songs, looking at pictures, and watching videos of wildlife and landscapes. For more ideas on digital ways of connecting to nature, I suggest checking out “Nature and Wellbeing in the Digital Age” by Sue Thomas, who believes we don’t need to disconnect from the internet to reconnect with the earth, sea and sky.
Furthermore, why not participate in this year’s Urban Tree Festival (16-24 May 2020), which is completely online. There is a wide programme of talks and activities, including meditation, daily birdsong, virtual tours, radio and a book club. The festival also includes some brilliant art activities.
Urban Tree Festival 2020
Save Our Street Trees Northampton have invited people to create a virtual urban forest in their windows, by building a tree out of paper, then adding leaves every day to slowly build up a tree canopy. People are then encouraged to share photos of their paper trees on social media tagging them #NewLeaf.
Another Urban Tree Festival art project is Branching out with Ruth Broadbent, where people are invited to co-create imaginary trees by observing and drawing selected branches and foliage from sections of different trees. These might be seen from gardens or windows, from photos or from memory.
Paintings and drawings of trees are also celebrated in the Europeana’s Trees in Art online gallery, which has been launched by the festival today, to showcase artworks, which depict trees in urban and rural landscapes, from the digitised collections of museums, galleries, libraries and archives across Europe, including tree book illustrations from the British Library.
Europeana Trees in Art online gallery
Not wanting to be left out of the fun, here at the British Library, we have set a Tree Collage Challenge, which invites you to make artistic collages featuring trees and nature, using our book illustrations from the British Library’s Flickr account.
This collection of over a million Public Domain images can be used by anyone for free, without copyright restrictions. The images are illustrations taken from the pages of 17th, 18th and 19th century books. You can read more about them here.
As a starting point, for finding images for your collages, you may find it useful to browse themed albums. In particular the Flora & Fauna albums are rich resources for finding trees, plants, animals and birds.
To learn how to make digital collages, my colleague Hannah Nagle has written a handy guide, to help get you started. You can download this here.
We hope you have fun and we can’t wait to see your collage creations! So please post your pictures to Twitter and Instagram using #GreatTree and #UrbanTreeFestival. British Library curators will be following the challenge with interest and showcasing their favourite tree collages in future blog posts, so watch this space!
Like many at the British Library, the last couple of months has seen my role as a Senior Imaging Support Officer drastically change. While working from home, it has been impossible for me to carry on my normal digitisation work. Despite this, the time spent at home has reminded me why the work I do can be so important. Digitised collections have become essential during this time in allowing institutions to carry on engaging with the public at a time when their doors are closed. The potential and opportunity accessing heritage collections from the comfort of your own home can bring is being highlighted every day.
Research and academic use of online collections is recognised. However, the vast creative potential is still not always identified by users and institutions. This is something I have been interested in for a long time and I am always keen to produce work that changes people’s perceptions of how people can use online collections. The Hack Days I have taken part in over the last couple of years at the British Library have given me a chance to explore this, producing creative responses to the Qatar Digital Library. Whether through zine making, print making or colourisation, I have been able to produce this work thanks to the digitised material made available for free.
The format and layout of websites designed to showcase digitised collections is normally more geared towards researchers and academics. When using online collections creatively, I want to work with a website that is image focused rather than text based. As a result, I have found institution’s uploading to Flickr to be the easiest to use. The Library of Congress, The National Archives and The National Archives of Estonia are just some of the accounts I have used in the past. This meant that when I found myself working from home, one of the first things I wanted to do was work with the British Library’s Flickr account. With over a million images uploaded in 2013, there are some incredible images to use and I have long recognised its potential for use in creative projects. All of these images have been uploaded without copyright restrictions so that they can be used by anyone for free. Yes - including commercially! The images are taken from the pages of 17th, 18th and 19th century books. Digitised by Microsoft, they gifted the scanned images to the British Library allowing them to be released into the Public Domain.You can read more about this collection here.
It’s also important to note this certainly isn’t the first time the British Library Flickr images have been used creatively. Among others, artists like David Normal, Michael Takeo Magruder, Mario Klingemann and Jiayi Chong have all produced very different work using the book illustrations from this collection.
Animated collage created by Jiayi Chong, using Creature, a Cutting-edge 2D Animation Software
I knew I wanted to produce a series of collages but without access to a printer I was unable to print any of the images out. However, downloading the images allowed me to begin making digital collages. I used both Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop to create them. The collages I produced were in a similar vein to some of the images and artwork included in zines I have made in the past. These were normally made to illustrate a piece of text or data. However, this time I wanted to do something purely for fun, bringing random images together with lots of colour to create weird and wonderful images.
I began scrolling through the photo stream, collecting images into a folder on my computer. I enjoyed the serendipitous nature the Flickr interface brings and there were so many images I found just by chance rather than by using the search bar. There are also useful albums under different themes, including cats and cycling, which helped during my initial search. You can see some of the collages I created below.
As I was creating them, I realised that not only were they enjoyable to make, the process was giving me something to put my mind to. It took me away from the stress and the uncertainty of everything going on around me and once again proved the benefits creativity has on mental health. Studies have shown that getting creative can have a similar affect to meditating. It helps you to relax, lifts your mood and allows you to express yourself in ways you wouldn’t normally. Additionally, there’s no wrong or right when making art. It can be a bit of freedom without any pressure or stress - something so many of us need right now.
Having realised and experienced the benefits of this myself, I began putting together a guide on how to make collages using images from the British Library Flickr page. ‘How to make art when we’re working apart’ contains simple instructions on how to produce a collage, both digital and physical. If you don’t have access to printer, the guide focuses on using Microsoft Word to produce a digital collage. I am also currently producing a second guide for anyone interested in gaining a basic understanding of how to use Adobe Photoshop. Included is a list of artists who use collage in their work, along with a simple ‘formula’ of how to make a collage for those who are feeling a bit stuck. The guide is for anyone interested in creating a bit of art while stuck indoors. Even if you’re not creatively minded, it’s easy to use and ideal for anyone looking to give themselves a small distraction from the situation we all find ourselves in.
Cover image for "How to make art when we’re working apart" guide
Click here to download the "How to make art when we're working apart" guide.
Dr Matt Lewis, Tutor of Digital Direction and Dr Eleanor Dare, Reader of Digital Media both at the School of Communication, at the Royal College of Art and Mary Stewart Curator, Oral History and Deputy Director of National Life Stories at the British Library reflect on an ongoing and award-winning collaboration (posted on behalf of them by Mahendra Mahey, BL Labs Manager).
In spring 2019, based in both the British Library and the Royal College of Art School of Communication, seven students from the MA Digital Direction course participated in an elective module entitled The Other Voice. After listening in-depth to a selection of oral history interviews, the students learnt how to edit and creatively interpret oral histories, gaining insight into the complex and nuanced ethical and practical implications of working with other people’s life stories. The culmination of this collaboration was a two-day student-curated showcase at the British Library, where the students displayed their own creative and very personal responses to the oral history testimonies.
The culmination of this collaboration was a two-day student-curated showcase at the British Library, where the students displayed their own creative and very personal responses to the oral history testimonies. The module was led by Eleanor Dare (Head of Programme for MA Digital Direction, RCA), Matt Lewis (Sound Artist and Musician and RCA Tutor) and Mary Stewart (British Library Oral History Curator). We were really pleased that over 100 British Library staff took the time to come to the showcase, engage with the artwork and discuss their responses with the students.
“The students have benefited enormously from this collaboration, gaining a deeper understanding of the ethics of editing, the particular power of oral history and of course, the feedback and stimulation of having a show in the British Library.”
We were all absolutely delighted that the Other Voice group were the winners of the BL Labs Teaching and Learning Award 2019, presented in November 2019 at a ceremony at the British Library Knowledge Centre. Two students, Karthika Sakthivel and Giulia Brancati, also showcased their work at the 2019 annual Oral History Society Regional Network Event at the British Library - and contributed to a wide ranging discussion reflecting on their practice and the power of oral history with a group of 35 oral historians from all over the UK. The collaboration has continued as Mary and Matt ran ‘The Other Voice’ elective in spring 2020, where the students adapted to the Covid-19 Pandemic, producing work under lockdown, from different locations around the world.
Here is just a taster of the amazing works the students created in 2019, which made them worthy winners of the BL Labs Teaching and Learning Award 2019.
Giulia created On the way back an installation featuring two audio points – one with excerpts of Irene’s testimony and another an audio collage inspired by Irene’s description. Two old fashioned telephones played the audio, which the listener absorbed while curled up in an arm chair in a fictional front room. It was a wonderfully immersive experience.
“In a world full of noise and overwhelming information, to sit and really pay attention to someone’s personal story is an act of mindful presence. This module has been continuous learning experience in which ‘the other voice’ became a trigger for creativity and personal reflection.”
Memory Foam by Karthika Sakthivel
Inspired by Irene’s testimony Karthika created a wonderful sonic quilt, entitled Memory Foam.
“There was power in Irene’s voice, enough to make me want to sew - something I’d never really done on my own before. But in her story there was comfort, there was warmth and that kept me going.”
Illustrated with objects drawn from Irene's memories, each square of the patchwork quilt encased conductive fabric that triggered audio clips. Upon touching each square, the corresponding story would play.
Karthika further commented,
“The initial visitor interactions with the piece gave me useful insights that enabled me to improve the experience in real time by testing alternate ways of hanging and displaying the quilt. After engaging with the quilt guests walked up to me with recollections of their own mothers and grandmothers – and these emotional connections were deeply rewarding.”
Karthika, Giulia and the whole group were honoured that Irene and her daughter Jayne travelled from Preston to come to the exhibition, Karthika:
"It was the greatest honour to have her experience my patchwork of her memories. This project for me unfurled yards of possibilities, the common thread being - the power of a voice.”
Meditations in Clay by James Roadnight and David Sappa
Listening to ceramicist Walter Keeler's memories of making a pot inspired James Roadnight and David Sappa to travel to Cornwall and record new oral histories to create Meditations in Clay. This was an immersive documentary that explores what we, as members of this modern society, can learn from the craft of pottery - a technology as old as time itself. The film combines interviews conducted at the Bernard Leach pottery with audio-visual documentation of the St Ives studio and its rugged Cornish surroundings.
Those attending the showcase were bewitched as they watched the landscape documentary on the large screen and engaged with the selection of listening pots, which when held to the ear played excerpts of the oral history interviews.
James and David commented,
“This project has taught us a great deal about the deep interview techniques involved in Oral History. Seeing visitors at the showcase engage deeply with our work, watching the film and listening to our guided meditation for 15, 20 minutes at a time was more than we could have ever imagined.”
Raf Martins responded innovatively to Jonathan Blake’s interview describing his experiences as one of the first people in the UK to be diagnosed with HIV. In Beyond Form Raf created an audio soundscape of environmental sounds and excerpts from the interview which played alongside a projected 3D hologram based on the cellular structure of the HIV virus. The hologram changed form and shape when activated by the audio – an intriguing visual artefact that translated the vibrant individual story into a futuristic media.
Also inspired by Jonathan Blake’s interview was the short film Stiff Upper Lip by Kinglsey Tao which used clips of the interview as part of a short film exploring sexuality, identity and reactions to health and sickness.
Donald in Wonderland
Donald Palmer’s interview with Paul Merchant contained a wonderful and warm description of the front room that his Jamaican-born parents ‘kept for best’ in 1970s London. Alex Remoleux created a virtual reality tour of the reimagined space, entitled Donald in Wonderland, where the viewer could point to various objects in the virtual space and launch the corresponding snippet of audio.
“I am really happy that I provided a Virtual Reality experience, and that Donald Palmer himself came to see my work. In the picture below you can see Donald using the remote in order to point and touch the objects represented in the virtual world.”
Donald Palmer describes his parents' front room (C1379/102) Interviewee Donald Palmer wearing the virtual reality headset, exploring the virtual reality space (pictured) created by Alex Remoleux. Listen here
Showcase at the British Library
The reaction to the showcase from the visitors and British Library staff was overwhelmingly positive, as shown by this small selection of comments. We were incredibly grateful to interviewees Irene and Donald for attending the showcase too. This was an excellent collaboration: RCA students and staff alike gained new insights into the significance and breadth of the British Library Oral History collection and the British Library staff were bowled over by the creative responses to the archival collection.
Examples of feedback from British Library showcase of 'The Other Voice' by Royal College of Art
With thanks to the MA Other Voice cohort Giulia Brancati, Raf Martins, Alexia Remoleux, James Roadnight, Karthika Sakthivel, David Sappa and Kingsley Tao, RCA staff Eleanor Dare and Matt Lewis & BL Oral History Curator Mary Stewart, plus all the interviewees who recorded their stories and the visitors who took the time to attend the showcase.
The BL Labs team are pleased to announce that the seventh annual British Library Labs Symposium will be held on Monday 11 November 2019, from 9:30 - 17:00* (see note below) in the British Library Knowledge Centre, St Pancras. The event is FREE, and you must book a ticket in advance to reserve your place. Last year's event was the largest we have ever held, so please don't miss out and book early!
*Please note, that directly after the Symposium, we have teamed up with an interactive/immersive theatre company called 'Uninvited Guests' for a specially organised early evening event for Symposium attendees (the full cost is £13 with some concessions available). Read more at the bottom of this posting!
The Symposium showcases innovative and inspiring projects which have used the British Library’s digital content. Last year's Award winner's drew attention to artistic, research, teaching & learning, and commercial activities that used our digital collections.
The annual event provides a platform for the development of ideas and projects, facilitating collaboration, networking and debate in the Digital Scholarship field as well as being a focus on the creative reuse of the British Library's and other organisations' digital collections and data in many other sectors. Read what groups of Master's Library and Information Science students from City University London (#CityLIS) said about the Symposium last year.
We are very proud to announce that this year's keynote will be delivered by scientist Armand Leroi, Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Imperial College, London.
Professor Armand Leroi from Imperial College will be giving the keynote at this year's BL Labs Symposium (2019)
Professor Armand Leroi is an author, broadcaster and evolutionary biologist.
He has written and presented several documentary series on Channel 4 and BBC Four. His latest documentary was The Secret Science of Pop for BBC Four (2017) presenting the results of the analysis of over 17,000 western pop music from 1960 to 2010 from the US Bill Board top 100 charts together with colleagues from Queen Mary University, with further work published by through the Royal Society. Armand has a special interest in how we can apply techniques from evolutionary biology to ask important questions about culture, humanities and what is unique about us as humans.
Armands' keynote will reflect on his interest and experience in applying techniques he has used over many years from evolutionary biology such as bioinformatics, data-mining and machine learning to ask meaningful 'big' questions about culture, humanities and what makes us human.
The symposium will be introduced by the British Library's new Chief Librarian Liz Jolly. The day will include an update and exciting news from Mahendra Mahey (BL Labs Manager at the British Library) about the work of BL Labs highlighting innovative collaborations BL Labs has been working on including how it is working with Labs around the world to share experiences and knowledge, lessons learned . There will be news from the Digital Scholarship team about the exciting projects they have been working on such as Living with Machines and other initiatives together with a special insight from the British Library’s Digital Preservation team into how they attempt to preserve our digital collections and data for future generations.
Throughout the day, there will be several announcements and presentations showcasing work from nominated projects for the BL Labs Awards 2019, which were recognised last year for work that used the British Library’s digital content in Artistic, Research,Educational and commercial activities.
There will also be a chance to find out who has been nominated and recognised for the British Library Staff Award 2019 which highlights the work of an outstanding individual (or team) at the British Library who has worked creatively and originally with the British Library's digital collections and data (nominations close midday 5 November 2019).
As is our tradition, the Symposium will have plenty of opportunities for networking throughout the day, culminating in a reception for delegates and British Library staff to mingle and chat over a drink and nibbles.
Finally, we have teamed up with the interactive/immersive theatre company 'Uninvited Guests' who will give a specially organised performance for BL Labs Symposium attendees, directly after the symposium. This participatory performance will take the audience on a journey through a world that is on the cusp of a technological disaster. Our period of history could vanish forever from human memory because digital information will be wiped out for good. How can we leave a trace of our existence to those born later? Don't miss out on a chance to book on this unique event at 5pm specially organised to coincide with the end of the BL Labs Symposium. For more information, and for booking (spaces are limited), please visit here (the full cost is £13 with some concessions available). Please note, if you are unfortunate in not being able to join the 5pm show, there will be another performance at 1945 the same evening (book here for that one).
So don't forget to book your place for the Symposium today as we predict it will be another full house again and we don't want you to miss out.
We look forward to seeing new faces and meeting old friends again!
Nominate a British Library staff member or a team that has done something exciting, innovative and cool with the British Library’s digital collections or data.
The 2019 British Library Labs Staff Award, now in its fourth year, gives recognition to current British Library staff who have created something brilliant using the Library’s digital collections or data.
Perhaps you know of a project that developed new forms of knowledge, or an activity that delivered commercial value to the library. Did the person or team create an artistic work that inspired, stimulated, amazed and provoked? Do you know of a project developed by the Library where quality learning experiences were generated using the Library’s digital content?
You may nominate a current member of British Library staff, a team, or yourself (if you are a member of staff), for the Staff Award using this form.
The deadline for submission is 12:00 (BST), Tuesday 5 November 2019.
Nominees will be highlighted on Monday 11 November 2019 at the British Library Labs Annual Symposium where some (winners and runners-up) will also be asked to talk about their projects.
You can see the projects submitted by members of staff for the last two years' awards in our online archive, as well as blogs for last year's winners and runners-up.
Our new art exhibition, Imaginary Cities, by British Library Labs artist in residence, Michael Takeo Magruder, has been drawing a steady stream of curious visitors since its opening on the 5th April 2019. Staged in the Entrance Hall Gallery, the show features four large technology-based art installations specially commissioned by the Library.
The works represent the artist's creative responses to a set of four nineteenth century city maps of London, Paris, New York and Chicago.
These four original digitised maps come from the British Library’s One Million Images from Scanned Books collection, which was made available on Flickr Commons in 2013. In the intervening six years, it has received over one billion views and sparked a wealth of creative responses, from the development of new artificial intelligence research, image tagging software and video games to educational initiatives, commercial products and artworks that have been exhibited all over the world.
From the 65,000 books from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries that were digitised, some 50,000 images of maps were identified and tagged by volunteers. Read more... Taking these maps as his initial inspiration, Michael then began to develop his ideas for this exhibition.
Cabinet containing some of the map-rich 19th century books that were digitised at the BL
Imaginary Cities was borne out of Michael's collaboration with British Library Labs, an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and British Library funded project that inspires and facilitates exciting and innovative uses of the Library’s digital collections and data. Michael has worked with BL Labs for several years as researcher and artist in residence, putting our digitised resources and the user-data associated with them to work in completely new ways.
A detail taken from Michael Takeo Magruder's gilded artwork based on the 1872 map of Paris and the public's digital interactions with it
In creating the art installations on display, Michael has employed traditional techniques such as precious metal gilding and woodworking alongside cutting edge digital technologies to produce four very different artworks. He worked closely with the computer scientist, David Steele, who used the digitised maps and data representing the public's live interaction with them to transform the singular into an endless set of iterations.
UV-active installation based on the 1874 map of Chicago and user interactions
Another of Michael's long-term collaborators, Drew Baker, took the static 2D plans and extruded them into 3D in a real-time virtual game environment – taking the map and creating a synthetic 'city' from it. The resulting artwork is housed in the small darkened room within the gallery space, with a large 2D screen and a VR headset... When you don the Oculus headset, what you see is a virtual reality cityscape based on New York City which is continuously regenerated to reflect the live visitor data associated with the historical map on Flickr Commons, such as page views, interactions and volunteer image tagging.
Visitor using the Oculus headset to explore the 3D imaginary city based on the digitised map, 'Plan of the City of New York,' created in 1766-76
The exhibition has been reviewed in the press and by leading art magazines such as Studio International and Artlyst as well as featuring in Techworld's Culture Crossover series, which showcases 'examples of projects that delightfully bridge the worlds of technology and culture'.
We encourage you to come and enjoy the free exhibition over the final weeks of its run. If you haven't yet visited, or are unable to make it to the British Library in person, you can take a virtual tour around the exhibition here (video duration 4:36 minutes):
More videos about Imaginary Cities are available here:
A conversation with the artist, Michael Takeo Magruder, and his collaborators, Drew Baker, David Steele and the manager of BL Labs, Mahendra Mahey. Chaired by Adam Farquhar, Head of Digital Scholarship at the British Library, 5 April 2019 (duration 1 hour 15 minutes).
The opening night speeches by Prof Dame Carol Black and the artist Michael Takeo Magruder at the private view of Imaginary Cities, British Library, 4 April 2019 (duration 19:31 minutes).
This guest blog post is by the team led by fashion designer, Nabil Nayal - winner of the BL Labs Commercial Award for 2018 - for his Spring/Summer 2019 collection, presented at the 2018 London Fashion Week.
Nabil Nayal's SS19 Collection: fashion shoot at the British Library
The Nabil Nayal SS19 collection (The Library Collection) made history by becoming the first fashion show, on the official London Fashion Week schedule, to be hosted at the iconic British Library. The British Library’s digital archives deeply informed the collection. The Tilbury Speech, delivered by Queen Elizabeth I ahead of the attempted invasion of England by the Spanish Armada in 1588, was central to the use of print, as were other manuscripts, digitised images, maps and hymn sheets from the era. The collection encapsulates Nabil’s obsession with Elizabethan craftsmanship, whilst symbolising the power and strength of a woman who succeeded in bringing England into its Golden Age.
Nabil undertook historical research in the British Library for his PhD on Elizabethan dress, so the opportunity to collaborate with the Library in order to emphasise the importance of research in fashion education and practice was something he felt passionately about doing. Paying particular attention to the Library’s Elizabethan and Medieval Manuscripts archives, Nabil conducted his research with guidance from expert curators and with support from the Reading Room staff. Using key word search terms and date limitations to search through the digitised archives was particularly useful to find historically accurate documents to incorporate into the collection.
Elizabethan silhouettes were modernised in this collection by printing these manuscripts onto Nabil’s designs, including a three-metre-long cloak featuring the Tilbury Speech. A UK-based supplier, Silk Bureau, digitally printed the archival material on to a range of fine silks and cottons, which were then used to make garments within the collection. Nabil’s love of the classic white shirt was further explored too, offering a puritan backdrop that ‘whitewashes’ the complex hand-cut embellishments made of bonded poplins and marcella.
The designs in the SS19 collection have been sold to prestigious international stores such as Dover Street Market and Joyce and the collection will be launching exclusively in Selfridges this May (2019). The presentation also generated a huge response in key press and social media, including coverage in Vogue.
Nabil’s interest in promoting historical research within fashion was not limited to this collection. Currently, the brand is working with Collette Taylor of Vega Associates to continue to raise awareness of the potential of the Library’s collections to inspire the next generation of fashion researchers. Nabil held a Research Masterclass at the British Library in November 2018 to work with emerging designers as part of a fashion research competition to develop a capsule collection inspired by the Library’s collections.
This collaboration between Nabil Nayal and the British Library highlights the importance of design education and research for the future-proofing and continued success of UK creative industries, which is a pressing issue. Since 2010, there has been a 34% drop in GCSE entries across the arts, despite the fact that the UK fashion industry supports over 880,000 jobs and delivered a direct contribution of £28 billion to the UK economy in 2015. The wealth of free resources at the British Library provides ample opportunity for design students to explore how education and research can enrich their creativity and allow them to succeed within the fashion industry.
Nabil’s work has received praise from the late Karl Lagerfeld and celebrities such as Rihanna, Lorde and Florence Welch. His SS19 collection epitomises the way that the use of archival research within fashion can generate commercial success, suggesting that the ever-changing fashion industry can benefit from becoming more historically informed and that modernity can be evoked through an interest in the past.
Watch Jennifer Davies receiving the Commercial award on behalf of Nabil's team, and talking about the collection on our YouTube channel (clip runs from 7.26):
Find out more about Digital Scholarship and BL Labs. If you have a project which uses British Library digital content in innovative and interesting ways, consider applying for an award this year! The 2019 BL Labs Symposium will take place on Monday 11 November at the British Library.
According to Tate, Net Art is art which uses ‘a computer in some form or other, whether to download imagery that is then exhibited online, or to build programs that create the artwork.’ Tate’s recent event, Lives of Net Art, sought to explore some of these unique digital works and the challenges and opportunities associated with creating, curating and collecting them. Highlights included Tate in Space, a BorderXing Guide and Rhizome’s preservation tools and goals.
Tate in Space was a 2002 project by Susan Collins which imagined how and why a British art institution might launch a gallery into space. Essentially an ARG (Alternate Reality Game) before they were a known concept, Tate in Space worked almost too well. Various newspapers, particularly those overseas, took the tongue-in-cheek work at face value and reported as if Tate really had launched a satellite. This provoked concern from the British National Space Centre, who got in touch to ensure all the necessary permissions had been obtained…
Heath Bunting’s BorderXing Guide considered space in an entirely different manner – the spaces between countries and how they are interpreted. Visiting borders across Europe and exploring their viability for making crossings, Bunting meticulously recorded his journeys and made them available via his website. Naturally, border agents became very interested in Bunting’s movements, and this led to his next work, The Status Project, an online database cataloguing how our identities are constructed from the information held about us.
What both these pieces had in common was that the ‘work’ could not be reduced to its website. Experiences outside of the work, reactions to the work (both public and governmental) and related online and offline content all come together in order for the viewer to contextualise it and make sense of it. They are net art not only in the sense of the technology used in part of their construction, but also in the sense of the network of meaning that radiates from them. It is this that Rhizome attempts to, at least partially address with their Webrecorder tool, a curation tool capable of capturing dynamic websites and online content.
Webrecorder also enables the building of collections so that net art can not only be captured on the website on which it appears, but also in relation to other articles, sites and data that help to frame the work for audiences viewing it outside of its original context. However, Preservation Director Dragan Espenschied was keen to stress that such collections can perhaps never truly recreate the work as it was, but instead aim to create a more fitting record of its existence than merely collecting software and hardware.
Michael Takeo Magruder, Imaginary Cities at the British Library, 2019. Photographs by David Steele (c) Michael Takeo Magruder
The British Library may soon face a similar challenge for its latest exhibition, Imaginary Cities by artist in residence Michael Takeo Magruder, which opened on 5th April and is on display until Sunday 14th July 2019. Drawing on 19th century maps found in the Library’s One Million Images from Scanned Books collection, the installations not only reflect real world cities and the techniques and practices involved in their construction, but also the digital structures associated with cityscapes, which change and regenerate via the user data of their visitors. Can such a work ever be considered to have been collected? Or, like the cities it seeks to represent, will it leave only a digital footprint of a highly specific experience?
This post is by the Library's Innovation Fellow for Interactive Fiction Lynda Clark, on twitter as @Notagoth. You can find out more about the Library's Emerging Formats project here.