Desi Gonzalez is graduate student in Comparative Media Studies at MIT and a research assistant in HyperStudio. Previously, she worked at the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art producing educational materials including as wall texts, audio tours, games, interactive learning spaces, and websites. Liam Andrew is a graduate student in Comparative Media Studies at MIT and a research assistant in HyperStudio. With a background in literature, music, and software development, he is currently researching the history of information management and recommendation systems. Their presentation at THATCamp CAA is titled, “HyperStudio: Collaborating with Colleague and Cultural Institutions.”
Collaboration is an important part of our work in HyperStudio, MIT’s laboratory for the digital humanities. We’ll be presenting on a current HyperStudio project, which is a tool that will empower users to discover cultural events, exhibitions, and art objects in the Boston area. After a brief overview of the project, we’ll discuss how we are collaborate internally, with each researcher contributing different skills and knowledge, as well as how we are collaborating with museums to develop an effective tool that best serves their needs and complements existing digital and educational strategies.
1. What is your current involvement with “digital art history”?
At HyperStudio, we are investigating how digital tools can encourage discovery and serendipity in the humanities, with a specific focus on art objects and museum collections. We are developing a mobile application or website that will empower user to discover cultural events, exhibitions, and artworks in the Boston area. Instead of creating another listing or image-aggregating website, we’re interested in probing how a new tool could foster meaningful and sustained relationships with art. For example, let’s say you see and are fascinated by the Amy Sillman exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art. Our tool might then connect you to an animation workshop led by a contemporary artist at the Peabody Essex Museum, inform you about a lecture about feminism and the arts at Harvard, or point you to works in the Museum of Fine Arts collection by other artists who integrate cartoon elements into compositions. While digital media can provide ways to discover art online, our project aims to put people directly in front of works of art.
The principles underlying this new project is a concept that runs through many HyperStudio endeavors. For example, Annotation Studio is an open source web tool that aims to enhance the ways a student interacts with a text. A student can add multimedia annotations onto a text, search and link to other content, and ultimately engage in a more active reading of the text. The digital tool doesn’t overshadow the original text, but is instead an avenue to dig deeper into it. Like Annotation Studio, the goal of our new project is to privilege engagement with the art first.
2. What is one of the most pressing issues in the field of “digital art history” today?
Digital tools purport to democratize cultural heritage, bringing art out of the museum and academy walls and reconnecting the audience to the archive. They bear the promise of making art accessible to new kinds of audiences, forming a dialogue between the present and our cultural past. But online everyone is a curator, whether they know it or not; automatic recommendation systems look to users to filter their content. Where does that leave the role of the professional curator online? Are there ways to harness both expertise and collective taste, both online and in museums? How can digital tools encourage meaningful dialogue when these two signals are at odds?
3. Where do you see innovations happening?
More and more museums are opening up collection data and high resolution images of objects to the public. Institutions that are leading the charge in this impulse include the Cooper-Hewitt, the Rijksmuseum, and most recently, the Tate. By sharing collection data, museums serve as an important resource and encourage artists, researchers, and the public to create their own meaning out of the data. Some amazing data visualizations have resulted: Seattle-based astronomer Jim Davenport graphed works in the Tate collection by height and width, finding that the dimensions of the majority of objects approximated the Golden Ratio. The Van Abbemuseum in the Netherlands recently invited Dutch designer Joost Grootens to create infographics based on the museum’s collection data. Installed in the collection galleries, these visualizations—probing questions like “Which works have traveled the most and to where?”—provide visitors new and exciting ways to consider the collection.
4. What’s the panel or issue you’d most like to see proposed for THATCamp CAA in Chicago?
We’re interested in discussing how scholars and museums can work together to build tools that benefit both parties. What projects have museums undertaken to make their collections useful for researchers? What new insights are coming from these collaborations? What makes such a collaboration effective?