The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Artist
Time-based media art: artwork containing audiovisual components that rely on playback mechanisms or systems for decoding, and that are typically engaged with other elements as an installed, interactive and/or performed experience
In September 2013 I arrived at the Archives to commence the inaugural 9-month National Digital Stewardship Residency designed by the Library of Congress and funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Directed at the curatorial and conservation obstacles time-based media art imposes on museum workflows, I was tasked with developing strategies for handling the digital assets that make up these kinds of works, with particular focus on how they might best be placed in a trustworthy digital repository environment.
Jenny Holzer’s For SAAM (Smithsonian American Art Museum), and Siebren Versteeg’s Neither There nor There (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden) are just two examples of time-based media art that rely on digital assets to operate and that can be found in collections across the Smithsonian.
Through acquisition, installation, storage, and later re-installation, these works require technical evaluations and monitoring generally laid out in digital preservation strategies, which have not typically been cemented in museum procedures. At the same time, the variable, iterative, and subjective nature of these works necessitates the use of granular, yet scalable policies for describing, representing, and preserving their essential elements, behaviors, and variability. For these reasons, the standard assumptions surrounding documentation, authenticity, and custodial roles in the realm of digital preservation fall short of meeting the needs of time-based media art.
As part of my residency I am in conversation with curators, conservators, registrars, and gallery staff across the Smithsonian who have been participating in the Time-Based Media Art Working Group efforts. They have been looking internally and externally for resources and expertise in handling these types of works in order to fit the needs of their own collections. From these discussions I am developing higher-level procedures based upon preservation practices and current museum approaches.
It is important to note that the Smithsonian is particularly unique in this conversation, in that it represents a number of designated communities (units) with disparate collections, missions, and infrastructures.
With all of these things in mind, my ultimate goal is to produce baseline ingest, storage, and access policies for specific classes of time-based media artworks (web, video game, generative, etc.) with supplemental suggestions for the more granular, yet flexible guidelines based off variability and intended behaviors (installed, networked, performed, etc.). Through my deliverables I hope to add to the resources to be considered not only within the Smithsonian, but in other institutions collecting digital time-based media art as well.
Finally, since artists have and will continue to produce works using an assortment of both obsolete and emerging software, processes, and tools (whether intentional or not), it is necessary to remain flexible with regard to digital preservation approaches across museums. Priority should be placed on strategies that are adaptable, with the understanding that continued learning and collaboration will be essential in maintaining authenticity in the future re-creations of these works.
- Happy Valentine's Day with a flurry of related blog posts about love tokens, bouquets, and matchmaking for endangered species. [via O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH and Unbound blog, SIL]
- Not so easy to put up on the frig . . . the challenges of saving creations in virtual worlds (particularly relevant to those parents whose children play Minecraft). [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- With the snow the Washington, D.C. region received this week, it is hard to imagine choosing to sleep outside in the snow in a three-sided building, but that is just what artist Abbott Handerson Thayer and his family did. [via Archives of American Art blog]
- Check it out - The Digital Public Library of America and the Brooklyn Public Library launched new Tumblr blogs. [via InfoDocket]
- Taking a serious look at what it means to be "cool" at the National Portrait Gallery's new exhibition, American Cool. [via Face to Face blog, NPG]
- That is just super awesome - Marvel Comics opens up their metadata for non-commercial use. [via InfoDocket]
- One cool cat - an interview with Craig Saffoe, Curator of Great Cats at the National Zoological Park. [via Smithsonian Science]
A protégé of Secretary Spencer Fullerton Baird (scientist and second Secretary of the Smithsonian), Robert Ridgway was Curator of Birds at the United States National Museum (USNM) from 1869 to 1929. The eldest of ten children, Ridgway had a fondness for the natural world that was nurtured at an early date by his parents. Ridgway's interest in birds began at an early age. When the problem of not being able to determine the name of a paticular bird arrose, it was the mother of a boyhood friend, Lucien Turner, who suggested that Ridgway write to the Commissioner of Patents in Washington, DC. The letter along with a drawing of the bird found its way to Baird, then the Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian, who identified the bird as a purple finch. The letter was dated June 23, 1864, and in subsequent correspondence, Baird encouraged the young Ridgway to draw birds and mammals, to record his observations, and to prepare specimens.
Showing such fervor and skill, Baird appointed the then sixteen year old Ridgway as zoologist under Clarence King at the Geological Survey of the Fortieth Parallel. After a brief two weeks at the Smithsonian, Ridgway joined the party that he was to accompany for the next two years in New York. Starting his field work in Sacramento, California, Ridgway would continue on to Salt Lake City and the Uinta Mountains.
Upon the completion of his field experience, Ridgway began work under Baird to prepare the description and do some of the drawings for Baird and Dr. Thomas M. Brewer's A History of North American Birds. Ridgway's work primarily focused on American birds, and he would go on to publish eight volumes on the Birds of North and Middle America as Bulletin 50 of the USNM between 1901 and 1919.
The Archives holds some of the personal papers of Ridgway, as well as some of his drawings and field books. On Thursday, Kira, will talk about the rapid capture method used to digitize some of the Ridgway material in our collections.
- Record Unit 7167 - Robert Ridgway Papers, circa 1850s-1919, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Accession 12-048 - Robert Ridgway Field Books, 1864-1908, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Ridgway Family Papers, 1864-1950, Utah State University, Special Collections and Archives Manuscript Collection
- Biographical Memoir of Robert Ridgway, 1850-1929, by Alexander Wetmore, National Academy of Sciences
- Conservator Sharon Norquest talks about the conservation treatment of the antenna drive of the Ranger VIII, an unmanned spacecraft that traveled to the Moon in 1965 to take pictures of the lunar surface. [via AirSpace, NASM]
- At Dartmouth University, Metadata Games allows users to tag photos in archives. [via InfoDocket]
- Reach for the stars . . . An online image archive of high resolution film scans from every Apollo space mission. [via PetaPixel]
- Leslie Johnston at the Library of Congress shares about her path to a career in digital preservation. [via The Signal; Digital Presevation, LOC]
- The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library recently announced that five scrapbooks documenting the childhood of the Nobel Prize-winning author, Ernest Hemingway, have been digitized and are now available online. [via InfoDocket]
- Proving that one is never too old to be creative, 97-year-old Hal Lasko uses Microsoft Paint from Windows 95 to create artwork. [via Colossal]
It is currently the "dog days of summer" here in Washington, DC; hot, humid, and sticky. Last week (July 14-20) the daily temperatures were in the upper 90’s, with humidity regularly hovering over 70%. The streets and Smithsonian museums are filled with tourists, many of whom are surprised at how unforgiving the weather can be during July and August; sunrise temperatures rarely fall below 80, and the humidity is even higher before the scorching sun emerges to burn off the lingering malaise. While many are drawn to the city during summer vacation to explore the seemingly unlimited national sites and monuments, (a friendly tip; many of the Smithsonian museums hold extended summer hours, admission is free, and the museums are air conditioned!) those who live in DC and surrounding suburbs often flee to regions with more moderate temperatures and open spaces, a tradition that began far before swampland along the Potomac River was transformed into our nation’s capital.
Alice Pike Barney (1857-1931) was an artist, actor, playwright, and socialite. The daughter of Cincinnati millionaire and patron of the arts Samuel Napthali Pike, Alice was born into a life of privilege. She married Albert Clifford Barney, son of a wealthy manufacturer of railway cars, prior to her twentieth birthday. The Barney's had two daughters, Natalie Clifford Barney (1876-1972) and Laura Clifford Barney (1879-1974). The family split their time between New York City and Paris, France, until 1900, when they purchased a home in Washington, DC. Well aware of the steamy summers of the eastern United States, the Barney's would vacation in Bar Harbor, Maine, and in 1888, commissioned a "summer cottage" in Bar Harbor they named "Ban-y-Bryn." Designed by Architect S. V. Stratton, Ban-y-Bryn was built on a steep bluff, with the front of the cottage facing the rustic Maine landscape. The rear of the home, with its prominent turret and several grand porches, overlooked Frenchman's Bay. Rising to four stories, the home consisted of 27 rooms, including seven bedrooms, five bathrooms, five fireplaces, a large stable, seven servants' bedrooms, and additional servants' facilities. The top floor was reserved as studio space for Ms. Barney and her artistic pursuits. Ban-y-Bryn's exterior was constructed of granite. The interior featured exotic hardwoods and materials, and was furnished with antiques acquired by the Barney’s during their global travels.
The Barney Studio House (the Washington, DC residence of Alice Pike Barney) and its contents were given to the Smithsonian in 1960 by Natalie Pike Barney and Laura Clifford Dreyfuss-Barney for use as a cultural arts center. There are three individual Alice Pike Barney collections in the Archives. Accession 96-153 - Alice Pike Barney Papers, 1861-1965, includes a significant collection of photographs, including a few which feature Ban-y-Bryn's interior and exterior, as well as the social and artistic scene the Barney's enjoyed. The images personify the Victorian Era in America, and it appears that the Barney's spared little expense. The Barney women adorned themselves lavishly; long dresses and fashionable hats were commonplace. The facial expressions and poses captured in the photographs convey a heightened level of elegance. The interior images are equally impressive, and lead one to ponder where one would have found time to acquire such remarkable possessions while maintaining a highly active social schedule; such plights of the wealthy must have indeed been tiresome and required daily respites on the veranda, drawing in deep breaths of the sea air.
Record Unit 7473 - Alice Pike Barney Papers, circa 1889-1995, is the largest of the three collections, and features several of Ms. Barney’s original plays, mime dramas, ballets, short stories, and novel-length works. This collection also includes architectural drawings of Ban-y-Bryn. Accession 96-154 - Alice Pike Barney Papers, circa 1890-1994, focuses on records related to the Barney Studio House. Alice Pike Barney and her daughters, Natalie and Laura, immersed themselves in art, and indulged in the world of the social elite during America's Gilded Age. Ban-y-Bryn was one of their many luxuries; interest in the home began to fade as their respective pursuits and tastes evolved over time. The Barney's sold their marvelous summer dwelling in 1930. Sadly, Ban-y-Bryn was one of 67 summer cottages incinerated in the Bar Harbor fire of October 1947. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the images of Ban-y-Bryn in Accession 96-163 breathe new life into this remarkable home, and permit viewers to fantasize of the high times that once occurred within its walls and among its landscape. A brief walk, just moments ago, on the streets of Washington, DC, where it is currently 93 degrees and hazy, quickly dispatch such daydreams, and leave me longing for a cool breeze along the shores of Bar Harbor.
- Accession 96-153 - Alice Pike Barney Papers, 1861-1965, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Accession 96-154 - Alice Pike Barney Papers, circa 1890-1994, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 7473 - Alice Pike Barney Papers, circa 1889-1995, Smithsonian Institution Archives