Blurring the boundaries between art and data: Listening Post

Yesterday I paid a visit to the Science Museum to try and make sense of all the ideas, objects and themes that are pinging around my head in relation to the new exhibition I’m creating.  I originally went to look at the narrative structures the Science Museum uses when talking about telecommunications and how they deal with a historical thread in different themes. But after looking at lots and lots of labels and text panels, my brain started to melt.

One of the aims of ‘my’ exhibition is to explore the difference between art and technology, and to ask questions about what is art and what is data. Can art be data and can data be art? With this in mind, I stumbled into the Listening Post installation by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin.
It’s a mesmerising experience, classed as a ‘dynamic portrait’ of online communication.   The installation displays uncensored fragments of text, sampled in real-time, from public internet chatrooms, which are accompanied by the rhythm of computer-synthesized voices reading – or as some put it “singing” – the words that flicker over the screens.  It’s really quite beautiful and you do get lost listening to it. It really does challenge the visitor to think differently about data.

I’m really looking forward to delving deeper into this idea about the different between art and data, or lack thereof, using UCL Art Museum collections as a base for discussion.  I’d be interested to know if anyone has any other beautiful examples of installations that blur the boundaries between art and data.

Yesterday’s objects: the death and afterlife of every day things: Preserving Video Game culture notes

Last week I attended a really interesting event run but the Autopsies group entitled Yesterday’s objects: the death and afterlife of every day things.  It gave plenty of food for thought. I really enjoy conferences as I become very absorbed in the topics being discussed, and get very over excited about ideas and concepts and cant wait to see how I can fit those ideas into my daily work.  Over the next few posts I will attempt to bring my quick and dirty notes from the day in to some sort of coherent whole.

First up is the first presentation of the day on the session “Keeping yesterdays objects: Museums and Galleries”

Mark Carnall – Preserving Video Game culture: making the same mistakes with a new medium

Mark discussed the issues of Social acceptance of video games, or lack of. Posing the question “Are we missing an opportunity ?” Because video games are quite niche, the opportunity to preserve is being lost because it is not considered important.  All digital media are vulnerable to long-term loss, particularly video games. There are very few systematic attempt to preserve video games, despite video games being  an important part of modern popular culture. Robert Ebert’s recent journal article titled “Video games can never be art” is a recent example of how video games are still tentatively striving for a concrete affirmation of social acceptance.

Mark’s presentation reminded my of the brilliantly titled Grand Theft Archive, which attempts to understand the reasons for the current lack of video game preservation in the UK and suggests that this understanding is necessary in order to develop strategies of preservation and archiving  for the future.  Mark also pointed out that there is hardly any discussion about how museums should/could/need to display video games in museums. But of course we cant archive and display everything, are people right to let video games slip through the net?

Ideas were discussed about the broken games industry. Years of development active shelf life measured in weeks. There is little interest in backward compatibility. Boom and bust game development studies.   Computer and video games formats become redundant very quickly. Eg. Xbox 2002. Some formats that have become obsolete and require the original media or hardware as a condition of access. Users on the companies behalf have been trying to preserve but being told that they cant.

An opportunity- imagine how carious media histories would be different with a ‘full’ record. Video games are just past the tipping point whereby a ‘full’ history could be preserved. How should we go about it?

Do established measures of archiving still apply?

A design argument, the best designed games don’t have or need instructions but the real mind blowing stuff happens in gameplay mode which is complicated. Give a stranger a controller see what happens. Instinct is an important part of gaming. So play thought facilitated play and wider non object focused evernt. Context and authenticity. Playing the ‘right’ way.  Can you archive that?

Are video games museum going to be as elitist and niche as the worst art gallery?

Authenticity – which version is the authentic version? When preserving technology  authenticity quiet often goes out of the window

Anatomy of a video game-  what do you archive? The finished game, which may not physically exist. Finished game in all its versions, box, manual marketing materials, adverts, merchandise, films, design docs, other assets music, press reviews interviews trailers demos DLC, authors recollections 100s or even 1000s of people. Actions in the game itself. Community feedback- which takes many forms, fan art fan fiction, music remixes, video, video reviews, whole books. Games and other media inspired by it. Preserving Actions in a game? How on earth do you do it?

Inaccessibility is an issue.

Some examples of museums that have displayed video games

The national video game archive

La muse du jeu video (i like their website it makes me smile)

Game on exhibition at the science museum

Strong museum

However Mark mentioned that many of the examples he talked about were simply random collections of stuff, or a timeline of objects. One way conservation. No community.  Which fails to capture the excitement around games and the massive gaming community. Is that the way forward? crowdsourcing collections and exhibitions of niche popular objects? sounds like a cool idea.

The aftermath.

The past 48hours have been quite something.

You may or may not have noticed the large amount of press coverage about a certain Mr Murdoch, involving opinions on creativity, culture, humanities, digital content and in particular the British Library; that were flying around online today. I don’t think a bunch of overly tired, yet still buzzing digital humanists have been so excited in a confined space with flower pot muffins before. (some coverage can be found here, here, here, here, and here and many many more places)

Why? Well…  We officially launched the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities yesterday evening! Hooray!  James Murdoch, Chairman and CEO of News Corporation, the guest speaker gave a really interesting speech with some strong opinions (you can read the full text of the speech here).

It’s going to be really interesting to hear the alternate view of what James Murdoch spoke about.  There are a lot of strong opinions flying around, particularly with regards to cultural heritage institutions and electronic publishers and digital humanists.  I have yet to get my brain in gear about my thoughts on what James was suggesting.  It will be very interesting to hear the responses from others, particularly those championing freely available digital content .  ucldh are seeing what we can do to facilitate that response. watch this space. If you want to respond do let us know.

For me though, it wasn’t the speech that was the highlight of the launch, for one, I didn’t actually get to see James speak. I was running (well walking quickly whilst trying to maintain an air of decorum –most likely failing) with a clip board and an iphone trying to make sure everything went smoothly. Yes, I can now add, major event planning to my repertoire. No, this isn’t my job. For the past month as well as working on three research projects I have been juggling quite possibly the biggest (I don’t think I have ever seen as much bottles of champagne in my life) event I have ever been a part of. Crazy. Myself and my colleague Simon took up the organisation  of the launch after another colleague had to take leave unexpectantly. I don’t think we really knew what we were letting ourselves in for. I’ve organised conferences before, but nothing like this! We have been so busy, I think I have forgotten what hot tea tastes like as I never had time to drink it. But it all came to a head this week. Its been stressful, but brilliant. Yesterday involved so much running around, phone calls, emails, sticky wotsits, logos and name badges.  During the day, what could go wrong did go wrong. Thank goodness for  iphones – they were our life saver yesterday, also my ability to memorise securities multiple phone numbers (my number memory response is now at all time high). But the event itself was a triumph! (i hope)  we may have been paddling furiously under the water, but on top we had the elegance of a swan! It was the people who came to the event, the people who helped, the people who gave us their time and energy, and most importantly the people who gave their smiles yesterday, that was the highlight for me.  I cannot thank enough all the people who helped on the night, and on the run up. We couldn’t have done it without you!

I have also seen so much more of UCL than I ever thought possible, a special lift in the library and the roof! Oh my the roof is amazing! ( I took some pictures from the roof with a very cool app called Hipstamatic, I will post them as soon as I find the usb cable).  I must also add that none of this would of been possible without the genius of Claire Warwick and Melissa Terras, they are quite simply amazing.

But that was only the first event. Oh yes. Two events, makes Claire a very dazed girl. Today saw the Time Trust and Authority: is web 2.0 the tool for you? event, which I have been working on with Anne and John. I fear I let the side down on this, I was a incoherent mess after all the running around at the launch yesterday. But nevertheless a brilliant day! I learnt some really cool stuff, UCL is really flying the flag for social media content and distribution, with some interesting research projects and technologies already in place.  Utilising social media in an education institution is always frought with difficultly with questions about trust and authority not to mention copyright and ownership of content. Despite this, UCL is doing some brilliant work; creating digital content, encouraging discussions and collaborations and broadening audiences for our research and teaching (possibly a controversial thing after the launch speech).

There is likely to be many more posts about the past 48hours to come. But right now I am going to have a sleep. Drained is not appropriate for this. Drained but happy.

Goodbye Geevor…hello London!

claire down the mineToday’s my last day at Geevor! My time here as flown by! It only seems like yesterday I arrived smartly dressed, bright eyed and bushy tailed and excited about the project ahead. The smart clothes went out the window straight away! (there is no place for shirts and heels at a mine on a cliff edge).

I have certainly left my mark at Geevor, mostly dents in doorways where I have banged my head so many times, earning my title as possibly the clumsiest person in the world. I’ve also brought my special brand of endless enthusiasm and my extreme tea and cake eating abilities to Geevor.  Especially with the girls in the learning team, hopefully Claire S will carry on this tradition with style.

I’ve loved working here, it hasn’t been easy and yes I have ranted and raved, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and can not thank the University of Exeter, Geevor and KTP for giving me this opportunity.  I have made some good friends and even more great colleagues, I have so many thank yous I’m not even going to begin, but I thought I’d leave you with some of my best bits….

  • The Blog! I love it! it shows a side to Geevor that you don’t get to see when you visit! A behind the scenes look at the goings on at Geevor. It also gives you an insight into the sense of humour of the staff, Bill’s posts make me laugh so much.
  • Flickr and Twitter– brilliant tools that are encouraging Geevor to interact with the outside world, and for you guys to interact with us! Some of the photos on the Geevor Flickr group are truly inspirational.
  • Banging my head on one of the new cases in the Hard Rock Museum a week before the grand opening and getting concussion. Nick T being more concerned that I’d got blood on the case, before tending to the egg shaped lump on my head and taking me to hospital.
  • Bringing an ethos of ‘tea?’ to the learning team. What on earth did you do without me and tea?
  • My endless enthusiasm, no matter what gets thrown my way.  I am excited by everything and love the potential that Geevor has. I hope this pro active and opportunistic mentality sticks with Geevor as the go from Strength to Strength.
  • And finally, the website! It was hard going and I’ve done my best with the resources and time available! Its not bad for someone with no web experience what so ever! Dress the miner seems to be going down well, and my favourite is the whoosy image thing (lightbox that does cool things to see the image better).  As I said in a previous post on the Geevor blog, there are so many things I would like to develop and improve on, but I now leave it in Geevor’s capable hands and look forward to watching it grow.   I hope you like it.

And where am I going? What am I doing next?

Moving back to London that’s what!? After two years in idyllic Penzance, I’m moving back to the big city,  back to UCL! Im gong to be working on a project call Linksphere looking at virtual learning environments and social media.  I get to geek out basically, looking at how/if academics are using blogs, twitter, wikis and facebook.  Yes I am a nerdosaurs.  I’m very excited about it.  but it doesn’t mean I will forget about Geevor. .. I’ll be keeping my eye on you….