Quick Update

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I am paying attention.

I have not written in a while, partly because I was narrowly and intently focused on passing my comprehensive exams last term (I did succeed). In the intervening couple of months, I traveled to Ireland to see my family and to commiserate over the trauma we all (regardless of citizenship) have endured since the election. I’m now trying to navigate a new year and political landscape while remaining on track, professionally. I cannot deny that my concerns for the United States impact my own research and work, and I’ve been looking for opportunities to donate, volunteer, and generally remain angry and active since the election.

This website is predominantly concerned with my professional life, but it will be inflected with my political (and, therefore, personal) opinions, at times. I will reveal my bias, but I think this is necessary. This is a very important time in the history of our country and we need to fight against the oppressive force that has overtaken the oval office. In the coming months I plan to post more about my work and the context in which I perform that work.

A Website with an Expiration Date

Last Friday, as I hopscotched across a variety of museum websites, I was excited to stumble upon the traces of an intriguing online exhibition curated by the Tate. I was particularly excited because the exhibition existed exclusively online (quite unusual), and was intentionally “destroyed” after one year, on July 3, 2013 (very unusual, if not entirely unique). Of course, I immediately wondered: why would the Tate, and partnering institutions, create an online exhibition with an expiration date?

Gallery of Lost Art, produced in collaboration with Channel 4 (a British TV channel) and ISO (a design company based in Scotland– not to be confused with the International Organization for Standardization), was an:

immersive, online exhibition that told the stories of artworks that had disappeared

Here’s a short video demonstrating the experience of the original work:

Preparing for loss:

How did the Tate, ISO, and Channel 4, anticipate the end of Lost Art?

In my own experience with imminent loss, which has included the death of close family members and pets, preparation for the conclusion of grant-funded projects, and an upper-level undergraduate course on the psychology of endings (on death, divorce, retirement, job loss, etc.), I’ve realized that human beings and institutions are generally not well-prepared for endings. As well-intentioned as we may be, it is difficult

How did the Tate prepare for this ending? How did they determine what traces to leave behind?

  • I note that the website, Gallery of Lost Art, fails to mention (or intentionally omits) any specific dates. I had to investigate external sources in order to even determine the exhibition dates, and identify July 2013 as the expiration date of the virtual exhibition. The lack of dates creates a sense of loss or disorientation, in itself, but also allows the site to seem eternally current, perhaps?
  • What is this remaining website, Gallery of Lost Art? What is its role in the wake of the actual exhibition? Is it a digital archive of an ephemeral piece, or is it a type of artwork in its own right? Or is it both?
  • Is it okay that some of the URLs on the site are now rotten? Is this disintegration part of the natural process of disappearance…or would the creators like it to persist?
  • All of this makes me wonder: can a virtual exhibition ever truly be destroyed?

Lost material:

The exhibition was comprised of art that had been lost (stolen, hidden, misplaced) to the general public, so it makes sense, conceptually, that the form of this exhibition might follow its content. Much like so-called dark archives, the material in this exhibition is inaccessible, often undiscoverable, and draped in an aura of mystery (for more on dark archives, see this blog post from Preservation Matters).

Because of the virtual nature of the exhibition Lost Art, the site never contained any physical objects, but was itself comprised of digital traces in the form of images, archival film, essays, and digitized newspaper clippings. What does it mean to archive an exhibition that was, itself, always a kind of archive?

New Year, New Computer, New Research

So far this year, I’ve bid a heartfelt goodbye to a faithful laptop (6-year-old MacBook Pro, Rest in Peace), upgraded to a more “professional”-looking winter jacket, and defended my preliminary research proposal (first major milestone in my PhD program). I thought these three developments, listed in order of significance, deserved a post:

1. New Computer: 

My old MacBook and the complex apparatus I built around it. My cat removed four keys from the keyboard and made sure they could not be re-secured by deftly layering cat hair in their crevices. I purchased an old external keyboard from Goodwill and, must admit, loved it. I still have it in a drawer and plan to take it out whenever I feel like pushing more satisfying buttons.

This laptop, a sleek MacBook Air, is almost too easy to use. After the daily struggle I endured with my aging computer, I question whether it is right for me to enjoy such responsive keys and seamless functionality. Why should typing be this easy?

2. New Winter Jacket:

At age 28 I finally have a black winter jacket that looks “professional.” I’m still trying to figure out how to coordinate my old, less-worthy clothes with this new closet centerpiece, but I’m making progress. Check back for updates.

3. New Research:

Well, perhaps, not entirely new research, but at least freshly-articulated research. If you continue to follow my work, you’ll find that I will be devoting future posts to the following types of questions:

  • What is a digital exhibition, in the context of a fine arts institution?
  • What digital exhibition platforms exist?
  • How does the translation from physical to digital exhibitions occur?
  • How can I (ultimately) correlate my research to more sustainable solutions for museums, and other non-profit institutions?


Defining Curricular Exhibitions

Defining (or attempting to define) terms is obviously an essential part of doing research. In the context of the work I’ve been doing this summer, there are a handful of terms that are crucial to my study but that have not yet been adequately addressed.

One of them, of course, is the term “curricular exhibition,” which I’ve thrown about somewhat carelessly. In studying the online exhibitions of liberal arts colleges, I’ve felt quite safe in declaring these exhibitions as “curricular,” as they are tied to a specific, academic gallery or museum that is, by definition, committed to pedagogy. Yet, exhibitions outside these institutions may, in some cases, also be curricular. For example, institutions such as the Guggenheim are committed to circulating curricular material. Indeed, the Guggenheim offers innovative ways for educators to use museum exhibitions in the classroom (as is featured on their website in the section entitled: Arts Curriculum). However, the exhibition(s) itself or themselves is/are not the product of student and faculty curation, and the curricular connections seem somewhat incidental.

In 2012, when I presented on the topic of curricular exhibitions at the Visual Learning: Transforming the Liberal Arts Conference, at Carleton College, my colleagues and I settled on the following definition of “curricular exhibitions:”

Curricular exhibits are a powerful mechanism for making connections between the teaching and learning goals of an institution, the physical and intellectual resources of the library, local artists, and public scholarship…student-curated exhibitions both engage and challenge our notions of the classroom

In addition, curricular exhibitions are often interdisciplinary, benefiting more than one particular course and sometimes representing the culmination of collaborative work. For example, Rhythm of Line, at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, represented “a dialogue” between students in a Modern Art course and students in a Poetry class.

As I am looking at websites, specifically, it might be useful to further define “curricular exhibitions” by the way they are presented on institutional websites, and how this display suggests their pedagogical nature.

Search vs. Browse?

A well-designed website should incorporate both search and browse functions in order to offer the best user experience. Right?

This seems to be a fairly uncontroversial claim. However, it is challenging to find a website that perfectly balances both its search and browse functions. It has, perhaps, become too easy to tuck a search box at the top of a website’s homepage and “call it a day.” But we may be overestimating the value and amount of heavy-lifting that a little box can do. Continue reading “Search vs. Browse?”