ASIS&T Tours the Center for Jewish History

By JillMarie

This month, Pratt’s student chapter of ASIS&T (the Association for Information Science and Technology) was invited to tour the Center for Jewish History. The Center is a partnership of five organizations focused on Jewish history, scholarship, and art, with all five collections housed in their Manhattan location. The Center represents the largest collection of Jewish history in the United States, and serves as a central location for research and exhibitions open to the public.

The five organizations that make up the Center for Jewish History (American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, Leo Baeck Institute New York, Yeshiva University Museum, and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research) operate as partners with separate budgets and collections but shared resources to preserve the collections. Altogether, the Center houses artifacts that span 500 years of history, 500-thousand books across five dozen languages, and 50-thousand digitized photographs. All five collections can be accessed through a single research portal at cjh.org, which allows researchers of all kinds to peruse the resource.

The Lillian Goldman Reading Room

ASIS&T was kindly given a guided tour of the facility by several of the research liaisons, divided by floor and department. The tour began on the top floor where the research center and the Lillian Goldman Reading Room are found. The research portal at cjh.org can be access from the convenience of your home, but utilizing the research center on site gains you access to additional catalogs organized by location and subject, as well as direct assistance from researchers already familiar with the collections. Items from the collection can be checked out in the research room, which are then made available for study in the Lillian Goldman Reading Room, a beautiful two-story location with large skylights and books in every wall. Items from the collection can only be studied in-house, and most of the collection is available for this purpose.

18th Century Rabbinic Book on Astronomy

After touring the research and reading rooms, ASIS&T was brought back to the first floor where the public exhibits are found. Each organization with the Center for Jewish History has space on the first floor to display exhibits of their choosing. Ongoing now is YIVO’s “Jews in Space” exhibit, which features everything from rare 18th and 19th century rabbinic books on astronomy to Jewish pop-culture scifi references. The exhibit includes a timeline of Jewish achievements in astronomy and aeronautics, including items carried by astronauts to perform the first Jewish ceremonies in space.

While the first and upper floors are exciting for the general public and researchers, the heart of the Center for Jewish History is the basement, where the archives work takes place. The basement is composed of a long hallway with windows on either side where you can see the various stages of the archival process take place.

The tour of the basement began with the data center where the digital catalogers work. The Center opted for on-site servers in order to ensure that the catalog is always available during the Center’s hours of operation, and it’s the digital catalogs department’s job to make sure the catalog is up-to-date and available for the upstairs research center and the Center’s website. This responsibility includes converting the entire catalog from an old cataloging software to the latest system, which is a years-long process due to the size and complexity of the five collections. While the department itself is only a few years old, the metadata they’re charged with converting is up to 12 years old and was created over several generations of archivists at the Center. This complicates the process, since each archivist used their own methods to catalog the collections, all with varying levels of detail (or not), leaving this new team of digital experts with a range of decisions regarding how to store the information in a consistent system that needs to withstand yet another 12 years of use.

Next was a tour of the digitization room, a large and dim space filled with cameras, computers, and various recording equipment for both film and audio. The role of the digitization department is to, of course, digitize selected collections from the archive. Collections are selected by the partner organizations (or whoever is funding the digitization project) and are prioritized by on-site management. The Center has enough funding and interest in digital archives to have a constant stream of work, ranging from taking high-resolution photographs of books or photos to digitizing old film, negatives, and audio recordings. This department has a special rig designed to photograph maps and large posters, which sometimes involves taking photos of each segment (moving the camera rather than the item in order to minimize the risk of damage) and then stitching the photos together in Photoshop. This department produces “terabytes upon terabytes” of data that is then aggregated by the catalog department next door. Through years of effort by the digitization team, about one-fifth of the Center’s collection has been digitally archived.

On the opposite side of the hall from the digitization room is the digitization research room, where a small team of researchers are tasked with determining whether an item from the collection can qualify for digitization. This team curates the digital collection, first determining if the incoming item would hold value as a digital object, and then determining whether copyright and HIPAA legislation would allow for the item to be digitized (and if so, to what degree the item should be made available to the public.) Due to the age of the items and how they usually come into the Center’s possession (frequently by donation from Jewish families), copyright law doesn’t apply in many cases. In cases where the item is protected by copyright, however, it must be passed over for digitization and the Center must decide if the physical item itself should be preserved. This research department also handles some digitization tasks themselves, such as converting old computer files into formats that can be used by modern software. They’re also one of the largest contributors to Wikipedia in the Jewish history space. Incoming candidates for digitization are organized into projects, and once a project is complete, this department is responsible for updating and creating articles on Wikipedia that are connected to the primary sources that the Center has archived.

The last stop on ASIS&T’s tour was a large, bright room at the very end of the hallway where preservation and restoration of the Center’s items takes place. This room is filled with tables, some of which have plastic domes secured to them with holes and gloves so that objects can be managed with the utmost care. Items are selected for preservation based on the “intrinsic value” of the item itself, such as if the binding of a book is special or if the item was held by an important person. Preserving these items is a monumental task, requiring a surprising amount of knowledge not just of the items themselves but of environmental moisture and local insects. On the day ASIS&T arrived, the preservation department had spent the entire morning checking insect traps under a microscope, attempting to determine if a firebrat found earlier that day was a lone insect or the beginning of an infestation. Along this line, the preservation room is also equipped with investigative tools like endoscopes, which can be fed into walls and ceilings in order to check the Center for mold. The preservation of physical objects also has an interesting financial perspective: while funding for digitization can be exciting for donors, funding for a new HVAC system is significantly less so. The difficulty associated with preserving physical artifacts is one reason these five organizations partnered to create the Center for Jewish History.

Altogether, ASIS&T’s tour of the Center for Jewish History was a fascinating inside look at a local archive. It was exciting to see the perspectives and subjects of several papers from the Information Professions course come together in a real life environment, particularly in seeing how all the departments function. The Center for Jewish History is open six days a week and the galleries are free for the public, so if you haven’t checked out this site yet, you should!

Democratize AI : Event Series

By Caitlin Ballingall

Introduction

On March 8, I attended the launch of Democratize AI, an event series that now takes place on the second Thursday of each month at Work-Bench. For this first event in the series, the venue held a panel discussion that focused on “The Future Work” of AI. To be more specific, Artificial Intelligence in the workplace.

Panelists included:

Arthur Tisi – the CEO of MeaningBot.com. He has a background in engineering, computer science and marketing. Among Arthur’s critical goals is the focus on how people can use AI products, services, or solutions to solve real-world business and social problems and avoid seeing Artificial Intelligence as simply a shiny object.

Bill Marino – the co-founder and CEO of Uru, which uses computer vision and deep learning to help business and brands better understand and leverage all the video being created on the internet.

Oliver Christie – a consultant at Foxy Machine, who advises companies on the use of AI and business strategy to produce radical transformation.

Questions were posed to the panel such as;

  • How are artificial intelligence and automation transforming the way humans work?
  • What are the impacts on society and relationships in the workplace?
  • What will recruiters look for in an AI-first world?

Many themes emerged such as AI in the medical field acting as a second opinion for doctors and patients, AI eliminating bias in the hiring process and the jobs (if any) AI will replace in the future. For the purposes of this paper I will focus on the main themes the emerged from the event, and how these themes relate to the class discussion/readings, rather than naming the specific panelist’s opinions.

Definition of Artificial Intelligence

To kick off the discussion, presenters were asked if they could come to an agreed upon a shared definition of AI. This proved to be difficult but ideas around “pure AI,” “narrow AI” and AI cognition were among the main themes. Presenters did agree that AI is ready for a “pivot” as the technology and concepts that surround it seem to still be grounded in”legacy thinking.”      

Zooming in on the notion of narrow AI, defining this as AI that does not think like a human. To broaden AI, past legacy thinking, AI that only does one thing in a situation, developers should use the human mind as a model to create AI that embodies cognition, or can adapt to a situation.  Panelists mentioned how some people think AI can do this already, because of pop-culture’s manifestation of AI in television and movies, the word has become an alarmist term, and does not truly relate to what AI is or can be.

Thinking of AI as having human cognition is daunting, and viewing this idea through the lense of pop culture, which depicts this evolution as the beginning of the end, and apocalyptic, has its drawbacks. In our class, Black Mirror episodes were referenced and we discussed when AI has truly gone too far, and that is when it has become self-aware, or in Don Norman’s words “deceitful”. However, the truth is AI has been around for sometime, and hasn’t taken over the world yet, and is far from it.

During the panel, the speakers discussed that AI was developed in the 50’s and has failed a number of times. In Phoebe Sengers, Practice for Machine Culture, she makes reference to this in way of the cybernetics, which were small mobile robots, that moved around with little cognition. She claims these robots “fell out of fashion”, and research focused on cognitive abilities of AIs soon after. The hope was that one day the AI system would be merged with the robot or “cybernetic”.  Sengers states that this idea of merging the two concepts was indefinitely deferred for a time. The development of AI becoming more cognitive, tangible and more human like was also echoed by the panelists as a “far off” in the future idea. With some speakers expressing that we would not see this in our lifetime.

Human & AI Job Integration

With that, the conversation moved directions to what is in the near future, AI job integration. Humans working alongside AI to understand it and use it to their advantage, like it is already being done in the medical field. Doctors use it to transcribe patient interviews, speaking the words and allowing the computer to type them up, saving massive amounts of time. However, what is even more innovative is the use of AI as “decision support”.

In 2014, Sloan Kettering integrated IBM’s Watson into its patient diagnostic plan and process. Watson is an AI that has a large database of medical research documents. Doctors submit patient files to Watson, and within minutes the system formulates a medical opinion and test recommendations for the patient. Watson has become the “second opinion” for doctors and patients. Saving both parties time, by reducing the amount of tests the patient must endure, and money in medical expenses. Watson is also a system that works through machine learning, thus not only is the AI using uploaded medical research documents, but it also uses patient files to learn to see similar patterns for future patient diagnosis.

This is truly remarkable as doctors see countless patients and having to recall, compare and evaluate diagnosis can be difficult, and Watson as it is a machine, is able to recall everything, and furthermore, learn. In Don Norman’s, The Invisible Computer, Norman sympathizes with humans stating “People excel at qualitative considerations, machines at quantitative ones. As a result, for people, decisions are flexible because they follow qualitative as well as quantitative assessment, modified by special circumstances and context. For the machine, decisions are consistent, based upon quantitative evaluation of numerically specified, context-free variables. Which is to be preferred? Neither: we need both.” I think sums up where AI should be, decision support in the medical field as doctors and nurses are human beings and as much as they try they cannot remember every detail of every patient file to draw comparisons, and should not be faulted for this. Offloading this job to an AI as a second opinion is truly ideal.

AI Eliminating Bias

As one of the panelists companies works to eliminate bias in the job hiring process, this idea was discussed. Also, as it was International Women’s Day, I think the event hosts thought this would cover for the fact that there were no women on the panel, however there was a female moderator. Either way, talks focused around AI that could crawl resumes to find candidates for a specific job by looking at their experience first and not their name or gender to eliminate bias. When people annotate the job search there is deep bias, but with AI this is eliminated like a blind audition. AI now becomes an assessment tool for employers.

This idea like decision support sounded great, but the panel brought up that AI can be biased by people creating the AI. The idea of what makes a great candidate can be deeply subjective. With that, there has to be a plan in place to also eliminate bias in the creation phase. Panelists did not discuss how that would look.

Conclusion

Lastly, Panelists briefly discussed the relevant skill set people would need entering the AI job field. These suggestions focused on three ideas. (i) More machine learning engineers, which is relevant to Watson in the medical field. (ii) Productizing or AI, helping consumers know what the technology can do, and meet their expectations. Then Translating these technologies that work for people in their everyday work environments.  (iii) Companies are now hiring people with emotional intelligence over IQ. This trait is important for companies as the creative and emotional side of things will help companies advance in Tech and AI tech.

Overall, panelists agreed that AI’s purpose should come from “us”. It should be a human decision of where it goes. It is currently missing purpose. Norman also echoed this sentiment back in 1990 stating, “However, this is useful only if the machine adapts itself to human requirements. Alas, most of today’s machines, especially the computer, force people to use them on their terms, terms that are antithetical to the way people work and think.”   AI must have a purpose, as it is evolving, and we have a responsibility to define AI.

When Museum’s Start Selling Their Collections What Does That Mean For Preservation

By Caitlin Ballingall

While reading Michele Valerie Cloonan’s article, W(H)ITHER Preservation? (2001), the author makes reference to a public opinion survey conducted by the Conservation of Cultural Property. The survey found that Ninety-five percent of the adults who were polled either strongly agreed or agreed with the statement, “The collections in our nation’s museums, libraries and historic houses need to be preserved”(Gallup Organization 1996). But at what cost? This statement reminded me of an article I read last year about the Berkshire Museum, in which the Museum was looking to better serve its community and visitors by become a new “innovative 21st-century institute,” with a focus on history and science. In order to fulfill this plan the Museum would auction 40 artworks from its collection of 2,400. This sale was projected to bring in  50 million dollars to support the Museum’s 20 million dollar “face-lift” and increase its endowment.

 

This plan has been met with a large amount of opposition from two prominent organizations, American Alliance of Museums and Association of Art Museum Directors’. The organizations even issued a joint statement,  saying: “One of the most fundamental and longstanding principles of the museum field is that a collection is held in the public trust and must not be treated as a disposable financial asset.” I think this raises a greater issue of are archives limiting institutions? What happens when an institution wants to change its mission, and to do so it must purge parts of its collection to make room for change and growth.

 

One issue, facing the Berkshire Museum is that they made a promise to Norman Rockwell that his work would be maintained in the permanent collection.  Which brings up the point of artists’ rights in this matter. If an artist sells or donates a painting to an institution specifically because they want their work on display, and cared for by that institution, is it ethical to sell the work? In some cases the popularity of the artist and their work comes into play when making these decisions.

 

Such as in the case of Richard Serra’s short lived public work Tilted Arc. The large curved wall was installed in  Federal Plaza, NYC in 1981. The public found the wall to be displeasing and a monstrosity.  There were plans to have the work reinstalled in a different more “convenient” location, but in this case the artist voiced his opinion.  Serra claimed the art was made for that space and to remove it would destroy it, and so it was. Eight years after it was installed the wall was split into three pieces and taken to a scrap yard.     

 

Differentially, in the case of moving and selling Norman Rockwell’s artwork, the work does not have a specific tie to the Museum they are housed. The paintings were not created for the Museum, and moving them would not change the meaning or integrity of the art. I also think this is a bold move on the part of the Berkshire Museum to choose Norman Rockwell’s work, as the artist is considered an American icon, and most museums would covet this work. This also sends a message that regardless of artist popularity, all work should be viewed equally to assess how it fits into the overall mission of the institution.

 

A second issue is that Museums, excluding Smithsonians,  must make a  revenue in order to open its doors and turn on the lights each day.  One way Museums do this is by rotating and creating new exhibitions with its existing collection and other works outside of the collection, to draw in more visitors.  In the late 1960’s to the early 1970’s Thomas Hoving, was the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art’s head curator. Hoving is credited with creating “Museum Blockbusters” and one of the most iconic areas of the Met, the Temple of Dendur. He is also known for selling some of the Met’s permanent collection to private dealers. Artworks like Van Gogh’s “Olive Pickers” and Rousseau’s “Tropics”.  Selling artworks like these helped to fund such exhibits like the Temple of Dendur which is a huge part of the Met’s appeal to visitors today.

 

However, in 1973, the Met entered into a period of full transparency with an emphasis on “more public disclosure” by creating the “Report of Transactions”. It seems under Hoving’s leadership 32 paintings were sold to private art dealers. These 32 paintings were given to the Museum by a wealthy aristocrat that wished for the paintings to be housed within the Met’s collection or placed within other institutions. The Met claims the Report of Transactions had little to do with the sale of these 32 paintings, and more to do with creating a plan and transparent procedure for deaccessioning art. Similarly in 1983, the Brooklyn Museum handled a similar matter in which the Attorney General filed a case, a case that helped set the standards for behaviors of museum officials.  

 

Thus, what are the codes of ethics deaccessioning art? According to the New York Times article written about the Berkshire Museum expansion: “ The American Alliance of Museums’ code of ethics says that proceeds from the sale of collections shall not “be used for anything other than acquisition or direct care of collections.” The Association of Art Museum Directors’ code includes an even narrower definition of when sales are permissible, stating: “A museum director shall not dispose of accessioned works of art in order to provide funds for purposes other than acquisitions of works of art for the collection.” So is the Berkshire Museum in breach of these codes of ethics if they do expand?

 

The Berkshire Museum would like to sell painting in order to fund the expansion of their Museum. The expansion will cater to a mission that is history and science based and fall in line with the popular buzzword/statement “innovative 21st century institute”. When I read that statement it did give me pause. I have found that many institution are using this “buzz statement” as it is appealing to grant applications and outside funders. Therefore it is worrisome that the Berkshire Museum could be selling off its collections in order to cater to an agenda or worse a possible passing fad.    

 

Furthermore, with such a large push for school education practices’ to be STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) based, it is inevitable that art will get lost, as that is just not where organizations are interested in placing their funds. By selling off the Rockwells as well as 40 other artworks, I think this becomes a larger issue of the message deaccessioning one genre of a collection sends to the public as a whole about cultural heritage.

 

Reference:

 Cloonan. V. Michele. “W(H)ITHER Preservation?” The Library Quarterly, Vol. 71, No. 2 (Apr., 2001), pp. 231-242.

Moynihan, Colin. (2017, July 25). Berkshire Museum Planned Sale of Art Draws Opposition.  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/25/arts/design/berkshire-museum-art-auction-criticized.html

 

Brenson, Michael. (1983, March 18). Art People; Accord Ends Ethics Dispute. http://www.nytimes.com/1983/03/18/arts/art-people-accord-ends-ethics-dispute.html

 

Van Gelder, Lawrence (1973, June 27). 1971-73 Deals Studied. http://www.nytimes.com/1973/06/27/archives/197173-deals-studied-metropolitan-museum-willease-its-secrecy-on.html

 

(1981) Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/cultureshock/flashpoints/visualarts/tiltedarc_a.html

 

Moynihan, Colin. (2018, February 9). Massachusetts Agrees to Allow Berkshire Museum to Sell Its Art

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/09/arts/massachusetts-agrees-to-allow-berkshire-museum-to-sell-its-art.html

 

Finkel, Jori. (2009,January 1). When, if ever, can museums sell their works?.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/03/arts/03iht-finkel.1.19031384.html

 

Kachka. Boris. (2017, December 6). The Director and the Pharaoh: How Thomas Hoving Created the Museum Blockbuster When King Tut became a celebrity.

http://www.vulture.com/2017/12/how-tom-hoving-created-the-museum-blockbuster.html

LIS 651 Observation: Interference Archive

By ekobert

This weekend, I observed and participated in a cataloging party at Interference Archive in Park Slope. According to their website (2018):

The mission of Interference Archive is to explore the relationship between cultural production and social movements. This work manifests in an open stacks archival collection, publications, a study center, and public programs including exhibitions, workshops, talks, and screenings, all of which encourage critical and creative engagement with the rich history of social movements.

Interference Archive (IA) is a fully volunteer-run and non-hierarchical organization, getting things done by way of working groups and effective communication, mainly via Basecamp and a Google listserv. The cataloging working group, for example, organizes semi-regular ‘parties’ where volunteers meet for several hours to create catalog records accessible through the organization’s public website. Most volunteers are local to New York City, though some commute from out of town to staff the archive or participate in events, and they include library and information professionals, artists, activists, and folks who are generally fascinated by social movements and believe that these materials can be used to inspire further social transformation. I count myself among this last category.

Folding sign in front of the archive

One thing that makes IA unusual as an archive is the open stacks structure. Any person who enters the archive during open hours is free to browse any materials on their own and to take pictures. The only instructions, highlighted on useful signs throughout the archive in both English and Spanish, are to handle the items with care (e.g., wash your hands first, lay larger items like posters on flat surfaces) and to avoid taking pictures of other visitors without their consent. Based on my own experience in staffing as well as reading the volunteer logs posted on Basecamp after each shift, visitors range from curious passersby to scholars looking for specific materials to college classes visiting with their professors. Volunteers are on hand to help point visitors in the right direction, and those who have been volunteering for years may have deep knowledge of the archive’s holdings, but this is really an archive without an archivist.

These signs are posted throughout the archive.

My own participation in cataloging on Saturday is a testament to this fact. When I arrived, I learned that we would be cataloging newspapers from a large donation. These objects had already been accessioned – assigned an ID with the year of the donation and a unique lot number, and listed on a shared spreadsheet with the item’s location and group-level descriptions – and our task was to record them using the cataloging program Collective Access. After creating a new account for me on Collective Access, two volunteers patiently walked me through the next steps. Because we were dealing with newspapers, the catalog records were series-level, so we created one entry for each newspaper title and then listed the volume or issue number and date of publication for each individual newspaper held in the collection. We used WorldCat and Wikipedia to research background information on the series like the run of publication, former or alternate names, and creators and contributors. We also used online information to create a general, text-searchable description field in the catalog record, and we took low-resolution photos to attach to each record. In the three hours that I was at the archive, I cataloged about a dozen newspapers under three different titles.

Objects at IA are sorted by format, and then further organized either alphabetically (in the case of serials, newspapers, and zines) or by subject (in the case of ephemera, posters, books, pamphlets, and vinyl records). One of the volunteers explained that a reason we prioritized cataloging newspapers over some other formats is that it’s harder to find what one is looking for alphabetically, so cataloging with subject terms and cross-references is much more helpful. For example, if a researcher is interested in the Black Panther Party, it would be simple enough to browse through pamphlets and posters under the Black Panther subject heading, but they might not know to look through the newspapers alphabetically for Space City!, a Houston-based underground newspaper that I cataloged which extensively covered the Black Panther movement.

 

Space City!, an underground newspaper, published in Houston, TX in the early 1970s

On the topic of subject terms, I was encouraged to use WorldCat subject headings as suggestions or jumping-off points, but one volunteer explained that the organization has elected not to use Library of Congress Subject Headings as an authority source because of how problematic they can be, especially as they pertain to more radical subjects, and they may not be in line with how the objects’ creators or the people who donated these objects would want them described. While this type of work takes place outside of the critical cataloging movement, which alternately attempts to correct biased information or engage pedagogically with the existing biased terms of the LCSH (Drabinski, 2013), I think it is a useful principled stand that sympathizes with the goals of critical cataloging. Attempts are made to describe objects in a straightforward and respectful fashion that is not subject to review by any authority source, but it’s also important to remember that even if only subconsciously, “all archivists bring assumptions, identities, and experiences to the task of description” (Caswell, 2016, p.19). I believe IA’s nature as a collective of pseudo-archivists with varying perspectives provides a powerful check to this issue, but it should not be ignored.

Another key theoretical concept in archives that plays out in an interesting way at IA is provenance. As noted above, information about donors is recorded and enshrined in cataloging records, but there is not really a concern for original order. An individual’s collection can be reconstructed digitally once it is fully cataloged, but it does not inform the way objects are physically organized. I think that Caswell’s (2016) proposed re-conception of provenance as “an ever-changing, infinitely evolving process of recontextualization” that takes into account creators, archivists, and users (p. 13) is particularly apt. That a person chose to donate their objects to a community archive, instead of a museum or more traditional archive, certainly says something about the object itself.

Cataloging at Interference Archive was a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon and to learn more about some of the objects in this collection. In the few months since I’ve gotten involved at IA, it has truly surprised me how productive and organized a group of volunteers can be, especially when they are not motivated by a time-sensitive or political goal (such as an election campaign). In its task of collecting of radical materials, IA takes a unconventional approach to the task of archiving, which suits its purposes and provides a useful model for organizations with similar goals.

Interference Archive’s collection of newspapers

 

 

References

Caswell, Michelle (2016). ‘The Archive’ Is Not an Archive: On Acknowledging the Intellectual Contributions of Archival Studies. Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture, 16(1). Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/7bn4v1fk

Drabinski, Emily (2013). Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 83(2), 94-111. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/669547

Interference Archive (2018). Our Mission [web page]. Retrieved from http://interferencearchive.org/our-mission/

 

 

Protected: The Mundane and the Sublime, the Radical and the Institutional: An Observation of Tensions at the Tamiment Library Archives

By rdaniell

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Missing the Point: Art Tourism and the New Wave of Art Fanatics

By armgar

Event: Untitled (The Drop), performance in Performa 17 by Barbara Kruger

Kruger Fans were disappointed—yes, I just labeled the new wave of followers and lovers of Barbara Kruger’s art Kruger Fans—they’ve written about it all over the internet. From Vogue to Artsy, these ‘art critics’ were not impressed with buying tickets to wait in a long, slow-moving line, just to buy “skater” fashions. But they did it anyway (Yotka, 2017).

Barbara Kruger is a Performance Artist Now?

The setting for the performance was a pop-up shop featuring a limited number of Volcom-brand tees and sweater, a special MetroCard, and even a skate deck, all printed with Kruger’s new work, for sale. Tickets were $5. Attendees became the actors, waiting outside to get their turn to make a cameo in the shop. No, really. The performance was us, standing in line, waiting to be let into the pop-up shop. For what? To make a purchase. That was it.

Barbara Kruger is a Non-Performance Artist Now

The focus of “The Drop” performance and her other installations became the resurfacing of Kruger’s drama with Supreme. The over-hyped, clothing brand relies on promoting the anti-authoritative, skater subculture, but it’s mainly just an exploitation of their aesthetic and caricature of their masculinity. Buyers consist of young males, who wait in long lines for expensive clothing. These particular events are known as ‘drops’. The brand is accused of having ripped off (read: stolen) Kruger’s typographical design treatments to come up with their brand identity. Later, they turned around and sued another brand for appropriating and using a version of their logo. The irony is unreal. If it’s not apparent, her partnership with Volcom is in direct, market competition with Supreme (Zuckerman, 2013).

On the surface, the pop-up was Barbara Kruger’s turn to give her middle finger to Supreme. She did this by not only ripping the brand’s style (and the idea of branding a MetroCard), but also by appropriating their sales strategies of building an air of great desire for limited-quantity items that promise a certain lifestyle. In a way, Barbara Kruger took back what is rightfully hers, and took a few other things along the way (Hodge, 2017).

Quickly criticized as anti-climatic, the internet dubbed “Untitled (The Drop)” a lack-luster non-performance. Meanwhile, Kruger’s other site-specific installations, especially “Untitled (Skate)” at Coleman Skatepark, garnered all sorts of attention and acceptance. I believe the reason that the skatepark was more successful, is because Barbara Kruger actually appropriated a whole skatepark, including the skaters. She served Kruger Fans an easy-to-digest performance: no surprises, provided the en vogue actors oozing the right aesthetic, and plastered war phrases and terms on a school bus. What a spectacle (Indrisek, 2017).

An Open Letter to the New Wave of Art Fanatics

You are the jerks that Barbara Kruger references in her work. You immediately succumbed to Kruger’s own version of brands’ manipulation tactics used to convince you to buy forgetful, useless products. “Untitled (The Drop)” is meant to be a reminder that we are capable of recognizing the audacity of certain groups’ actions, yet, are so quick to accept this information and move on with no action. We never really acknowledge the core of the problem, or attempt to protest and correct those situations. Instead, we become part of that problem. Even if you insist that you know it’s wrong or inappropriate, you still follow the masses (Williams, 2014).

Of course, those that study Kruger’s art are fully aware of the dualistic nature of her work. It intends to attack consumerism’s veil, while at the same time setting us up to succumb to the manipulative sales strategies, and enacting those consumerist-driven tendencies. They know her work is a call to action to apply self-reflective, critical thinking to the approaches we take in our daily lives (Canelo, 2016). We should get to know the institutions that we interact with, beyond the public-facing marketing campaigns. The underlying message here bears a reminder to go beyond consumption of information and no-action.

I urge the new wave of art tourists and Kruger Fans to not rely on art to teach them about culture. Culture is not a category defined by an institution. It does not come in a neat package, nor is it framed, hanging in some Chelsea studio in the gentrified New York . Culture spans the schools of thoughts. You can’t rely on any one institution to teach you everything you need to know about it.

Art is an industry maintained by consumerism—just like fashion and retail. Museums rely on event and ticket sales to promote agendas. Nevermind that you are unaware of this psychology. Your responsibility is to apply critical thinking and art theory to all works—which many bloggers, magazine editors, and art spectators miserably fail to do so more and more every day (Gottshalk, 2017).

Does it even matter that Barbara Kruger donated the money from sales to charity? Nobody wrote about that. Find the real problems that need solutions, or you might just miss the point.


Sources

Canelo, M. J. (2016). Art as social commentary: visual syntax and meaning in Barbara Kruger’s collages. Ways of seeing, ways of making seen, 70.

Gottschalk, M. (2017, December 08). Is Culture in the Americas in Trouble? Arts Leaders Say Yes. Retrieved December 10, 2017, from https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-culture-americas-trouble-arts-leaders

Hodge, K. (2017, November 07). Barbara Kruger Takes Aim at Supreme With “The Drop” Pop-Up. Retrieved December 09, 2017, from https://www.highsnobiety.com/2017/11/07/barbara-kruger-supreme-the-drop/

Indrisek, S. (2017, November 09). I Went to Barbara Kruger’s First-Ever Performance-and Left with a Skateboard. Retrieved December 09, 2017, from https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-barbara-krugers-first-ever-performance-left-skateboard

Williams, P. (2013, May 04). Artist Barbara Kruger Responds to the Supreme Lawsuit. Retrieved December 09, 2017, from https://www.highsnobiety.com/2013/05/02/artist-barbara-kruger-responds-to-the-supreme-lawsuit/

Yotka, S. (2017, December 08). Was Barbara Kruger’s The Drop a Success? Retrieved December 09, 2017, from https://www.vogue.com/article/barbara-kruger-the-drop-supreme-perfoma-2017

Zuckerman, E. (2013, May 02). Artist Barbara Kruger Is Not Cool with the ‘Totally Uncool Jokers’ at Supreme. Retrieved December 10, 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/05/artist-barbara-kruger-supreme/315652/


References

Barbara Kruger. (n.d.). Retrieved December 09, 2017, from http://17.performa-arts.org/artists/barbara-kruger

Barbara Kruger. (n.d.). Retrieved December 09, 2017, from http://17.performa-arts.org/artists/barbara-kruger-the-drop

Observation: VR World NYC

By Elise Fu

This year, the largest virtual reality experience center in North America-VR World, landed in New York, right close to the Empire State Building. Visitor can try out 50 unique VR experiences in three floors, including gaming, film, art, music, etc. I went there a few weeks ago, experiencing some games and movies, and also observing players’ behaviors from a user experience standpoint.

IMG_9788

Visitors are handed disposable eye masks for the purpose of hygiene when using public VR headsets. Each game has guide staff there to assist each experience, ensuring players have a full understanding of the equipment and experiences. Depending on the experience, each should last between 5-10 minutes. Most gaming bays have a big-screen TV where you can watch the action that’s happening in the headset, which makes it convenient to observe players’ behaviors and responses.

Experience types

There are different types of the VR experiences in the VR World, including gaming, film, art, and music, etc. Undoubtedly, gaming is the most popular one and usually needs to wait for playing.

All experiences require a headset and headphone. The simplest experiences are you can just sit and watch a film or documentary. The most common ones are those require controllers in hands and your body movements, such as “Raw Data” which lets you shoot droid with controllers, and “Tilt Brush” which lets you paint in virtual reality. Some special experiences normally need other equipment to interact with, such as steering wheel, “paraglider” and “spaceship”.

VR World Experiences

Children and adult have different experiences in VR games

Kids love VR game! During the 3-4 hours I was visiting, nearly half of the visitors are kids and they keep coming back to the game they found interesting. They are very excited and not stopped by the frustrations they came across. I can see a future where a place like this could become a “theme park” like Disneyland and Universal Studios.

Screen Shot 2017-12-14 at 5.42.38 PM

One interesting thing I noticed is children and adults have different experiences in VR games, majorly because of the height and learning curve.

Even though in the same game, we can see the angle of view from kid and adult are different. Adult’s is higher and kid’s is lower because of the height, which actually influences their performance in games. The broader view you can see, the better you can handle the situation, such as the enemy in the game. To improve the experience for kids, designers may consider providing a “child mode” and lifting the angle of view for them.

Screen Shot 2017-12-14 at 5.42.52 PM

Same for the experiences which require other equipment. In the below example, the kids were struggling with pressing the brake. He cannot sat comfortably when his foot touched the brake. When kids are playing games, they actually consider themselves “an adult/hero” who can beat everything, then why not help them remove the constraints?

Screen Shot 2017-12-14 at 5.43.11 PM

(Notice from VR World about age requirements: “VR World isn’t an all-ages attraction. In fact, children under age 7 aren’t admitted and certain games have age requirements, while a couple of others are geared toward those over 5-foot-2.”)

Female characters are missing

Having game characters controlled by players is very common in most games, especially in role-playing games. While if you play alone, you may not get the chance to see what you look like in the game. If you have teammates who play with you, then they can see you and potentially collaborate with you.

When I was playing the shooting game called “Raw Data” with one friend, even though I am a female, my friend still saw a man in the game which is not appropriate. It reminds me of a discussion I’ve been through about  “feminist theories of technology”, which mentioned how women’s needs are less met by new technologies because there are fewer women worked in the tech industry, either as designers or developers. The situation I came across in the game is just a good example for that. Virtual reality aims to make people feel real, but if women cannot behavior or been seen as a female, how can it be real?

Screen Shot 2017-12-14 at 5.46.48 PM

Emotional Impacts and Learning Curve

Another two things I think the UX designer of VR games should consider are the emotional impacts and learning curve.

People react differently to the games, some calm and some exciting. Fear and frustration are the two major negative emotions I found when observing other people play. Although negative emotions don’t mean negative impacts, because people could actually be excited about experiencing vivid feeling in the VR games, the emotional impacts are still something needs to be paid attention. VR is emotion amplifier because of the immersion, which can also lead to motion sickness when players lose control – I felt once when I was playing the racing game and suddenly lose the control of the steering wheel.

Giving control to players is very important for the user experience of VR game, which connects the second aspect – learning curve. Different people have different learning curves, and different games also have different learning curves. First-time players can act very differently while playing. Currently, every game in the VR World has guide staff there to explain the instructions before each one plays. Therefore, how to make the games intuitive and self-explanatory, and help players master the techniques quickly are good challenges to tackle. When players are comfortable with playing it without assistance, VR games or places like this should be much easier to scale up.

 

References:
1. VR World NYC: https://vrworldnyc.com/

2. Wajcman, J. (2009) “Feminist theories of technology,” Cambridge Journal of Economics http://wiki.medialab-prado.es/images/4/4b/Wajcman_Feminist_theories_of_technology.pdf.

3. Moor, J. H. (1985). “What is computer ethics?” Metaphilosophy 16(4): 266–275.

Behind the Scenes at the American Museum of Natural History

By Micaela Walker

Tour of the American Museum of Natural History’s Library and Special Collections

Micaela Walker

On November 17 I was lucky enough to attend a tour of the Library and Special Collects at the American Museum of Natural History which was arranged by Pratt ASIS&T chair Heather Hill.  The library is located on 2 floors of a building within a courtyard surrounded by other buildings.  The tour was given by the Senior Research Services Librarian, Mai Reitmeyer and she began by showing us on several archival drawings and photographs where, exactly, we were.

The AMNH is notoriously difficult to navigate and now I understand why; the museum is comprised of 28 buildings interconnected over an area covering 4 city blocks. There are buildings within buildings, buildings that can only be accessed via certain elevators to certain floors.  It is a labyrinth of knowledge.  The museum began in 1869 in a building within Central Park, which it quickly outgrew.  Calvert Vaux, one of the architects of Central Park, helped with the initial design of buildings on the site where the museum now stands. However, new buildings and facades were being added and redesigned until 1936.

Illustration of an early design plan for the AMNH

Illustration of an early design plan for the AMNH

 

Mid construction photo of the Museum in 1878

Mid construction photo of the Museum in 1878

Along with the library, which is in building #1, the museum has over 200 research scientists and curators working in earth and planetary science, astrophysics, paleontology, anthropology, zoology, invertebrates,  several vertibrate departments, one of the largest frozen tissue labs in the world, and a PhD program in comparative biology.  This is, of course, only behind the scenes workings – the exhibits and educational programs  that are open to the public are immense and expansive.

The physical library holds over 1 million photo items including prints, transparencies, and contact sheets organized in rows of filing cabinets and cataloged by area of study (ie geography).

Print (and bust) storage

Print (and bust) storage. The painting at the end was an illustration for the cover of a magazine AMNH used to print.

 

Librarian Mai Reitmeyer

Librarian Mai Reitmeyer

 

Digitizing their existing collections of prints, negatives, journals and field notes is an ongoing process that has to be done carefully by hand.  The library has this clever device to scan books, with two cameras and lights placed at the perfect angles to capture pages that are gently pressed into a glass V called the Book Eye scanner.

Book Eye Scanner

Book Eye Scanner

 

They use EAD as their encoding standard entered in XML when adding the scans and their metadata onto their digital archive, a low res version of which is then uploaded to their online archive, which currently has over 25,000 items in it’s database (http://lbry-web-007.amnh.org/digital/).

They have partnered with Internet Archive to offer images through their platform, which has nearly 4,000 AMNH scanned items (https://archive.org/details/americanmuseumnaturalhistory).  Additionally, they have a Flickr photo stream that includes everything from collection items to student drawings from it’s education programs (https://www.flickr.com/photos/amnh/).

They are currently scanning field notebooks from various 19th and 20th century anthropologists and scientists, which will all be available to the public online.  Ms. Reitmeyer, as with nearly everyone I have met in the field since starting the MSLIS program, is more excited about the opportunities that all of this open access affords the museum to connect within it’s own community of scientists and researchers, and to the general public, than fearful of any possible copyright violations or misuse.

Next Ms. Reitmeyer took us to the rare book section which is accessible only with two staff members present to open the door. It looks like an old safety deposit vault only less grand and more utilitarian, with metal shelves surrounding a high central viewing table.

 

Mai holds up a rare and very large book in the rare book collection

Ms. Reitmeyer holds up a rare and very large book in the rare book collection

 

There are some seriously big books. And very old fragile ones. The textures of the various crinkly, thick papers feel more like pelt than pulp. Among the treasures she showed us were a page from Charles Darwin’s manuscripts, books from 1551 and 1558 complete with spines intact, books of outrageously whimsical hand colored fish by Louis Renard, a rare copperplate of an owl by Alexander Wilson, and John Gould lithographs.  Each item is encased in an archival box that is custom made by the conservation staff. All told we had a firsthand tour of 400 years of printing methods in about 20 minutes.

Page from Charles Darwin's manuscripts

Page from Charles Darwin’s manuscripts

 

Fish by Louis Renard

Fish by Louis Renard

 

Copperplate by Alexander Wilson

Copperplate by Alexander Wilson

 

Lithograph by John Gould

Lithograph by John Gould

 

On our way out we got a look at the negative storage lined up perfectly in identical archival boxes and an entire room of audio and film storage covering nearly every format created. The goal is to have everything digitized and, where possible, made available to the public.

IMG_0726IMG_0730

 

We finished the tour as the museum was closing up so I went to say hello to the Titanosaur and catch a glimpse of some of the iconic (if ethically troublesome) animal dioramas. As I left the building I caught sight of this gem by Teddy Roosevelt, carved into the gargantuan wall above the check-in.  I took a picture because I thought my sons could use a bit of fortified, timeless advice like this, but actually I think we would all do well to follow it.

IMG_0736

 

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a map worth?

By Robin Miller

1

I have always been  intrigued by the power of maps and their ability to draw the viewer into the narrative they illustrate. It is understandable that I was thrilled when I learned the Information School at Pratt would be hosting a workshop entitled “Storytelling with Maps: Visualization as Narrative” presented by Jessie Braden from the Pratt Spatial Analysis and Visualization Initiative (SAVI). After attending the workshop, I knew that I wanted to learn more about SAVI and geographic information systems (GIS) technologies, so I approached Jessie with a request to visit onsite at SAVI and she was kind enough to accept.

So, on a cold and blustery autumn morning, I travelled to Brooklyn and had the pleasure of spending three hours in the warm company of Jessie Braden, Case Wyse and their hardworking team at the Spatial Analysis and Visualization Initiative. Located in a newly redesigned subterranean space on the Pratt Institute’s Brooklyn campus, SAVI serves as a technical research and service center for the greater Pratt community as well as external clients, through the use of mapping, data and design. When I arrived I had the opportunity to speak one on one with Jessie Braden, SAVI Director and co-founder, who gave me an overview of what they do, who are their clients, and what type of technologies they use. In brief, the SAVI team provide GIS lab support to Pratt students and faculty on the Brooklyn campus and consulting services for non-profit and community-based organizations, often pro-bono. She also noted that they have been very fortunate and have never had to do any formal advertising. All of their contract work comes via word of mouth from previous clients. When I asked what a normal day looked like, she told me it would be roughly 30% consulting services, 30% support to the Pratt community, 30% administration of SAVI, and 10% research.

2

Additionally, she provided a detailed overview of their certificate program for professionals as well as information on upcoming workshops at SAVI. They also offer a GIS and design certificate program for professionals to incorporate data driven mapping and visualization tools into their problem solving toolbox. As I am very interested in GIS work, I was excited to learn about the different technologies employed by the SAVI team. Jessie was happy to provide a short list of the products they use most often which include:

MAPPING

  • Arch GIS – (heavy usage)
  • QGIS
  • Carto
  • Map box
  • Leaflet
  • Esri

DATA CLEANING & ORGANIZATION

  • Excel
  • R & Python
  • SQL (in ArchGIS)
  • Open Refine
  • Adobe

I was then invited to attend their Friday check-in meeting where the full team discuss current, upcoming, and possible future projects. During the meeting Jessie discussed several projects that are currently being reviewed including the Hudson River project for graphic design and data mapping services, pro bono work for Mixteca working with undocumented immigrants, and a vacancies project which looks at commercial vacancies in New York City. The meeting closed with a team review of their new business cards.

3

After the meeting, I was able to meet one on one with Case Wyse, who works as a Spatial Analyst. He gave me an overview of his work which he stated is more on the data analysis side, whereas Jessie does most of the visualization.

Additionally, I had time to speak with their 2017 GIS and Design Certificate Program Student Fellow and two of their graduate student assistants who were working in the lab. All three provide support to Pratt students and faculty who come to use the lab or need help incorporating GIS and mapping tools into their own work, as well as work on projects, as assigned by the SAVI team leaders.

“We are absolutely inundated with volumes of geospatial data,” says Mike Tischler, director of the US Geological Survey’s National Geospatial Program, “but with no means to effectively use it all.”1

In conclusion, SAVI is doing great work and if the folks at Wired and the US Geological Survey are to be believed then they are going to continue to be very busy. I am grateful to Jessie, Case and their team for taking the time to speak with me.

https://commons.pratt.edu/savi/

1 Enthoven, T. 2017. Mapping the Future: Cartography stages a Comeback. Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/mapping-the-future-cartography-stages-a-comeback/

Protected: A Meeting on UX with Logic Department

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