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Connected archives

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— ​Virtueel Platform reports on the Public Presentations event on Connected Archives that took place during the 2007 DEAF Festival in Rotterdam.


During this afternoon participants of the morning session reflected on this session and presented their projects to the public.

Presentations were in the following order: David Garcia, The Tactical Media Files Nadia Palliser, ISEA Michiel van der Haagen, CultureBase Wolfgang Strauss and Gabrielle Blome, Sandra Fauconnier, V2_ Alain Depocas, Daniel Langlois Foundation Wendy Jo Coones, Oliver Grau, Database of Virtual Art / MediaArtHistoriesArchive

Moderator: Eric Kluitenberg (NL), theorist, writer and organizer, De Balie

The Tactical Media Files: David Garcia (NL)

Garcia wonders whether we should strive towards an institutional memory, since it is a concept that is actually in paradox with the culture of tactical media. Tactical media embraces a conception of human freedom. To archive tactical media seems to be against its nature; these are media that should exceed themselves and not be locked up. We need to be strategical when archiving tactical media. Garcia then presents an interesting and important question: On what terms are we going to share?

Castells already pointed out the significance of machines and their social context in 1996. The modalities of human communication that Manuel Castells proposed seemed impossible at that time. Only today some of the promises about the net appear to come true. Machine-readable documents offer us new possibilities for connectivity. Working together through databases has become very important for human communication.

What was missing in the morning session, according to Garcia, is the idea of the database as symbolic and expressive form. We have to move away from the idea it is only an archive for collection. Garcia proposes to approach the database as a monument of intangible monuments. Such an approach definitely asks for artists to be invited to take part in the design of the database itself as well for the interface as the backend – in short, the total concept of the database.

As an example Garcia mentions MMBase’s quality; accessing moving image data. MMBase provides contact to a database during live events. Taking it further from this point of view the database becomes a tool for action and action-oriented research. Garcia concludes by emphasizing that developing keywords and a taxonomy is scary in the case of tactical media, but it is still an interesting area.

ISEA Online Archive, CultureBase Nadia Palliser (NL), Michiel van der Haagen (NL)

Palliser starts with an introduction of ISEA, a non-profit organisation that fosters projects with emerging technologies and science. It organises conferences, workshops, electronic theatre, and all kinds of publications about their symposia.

One of Palliser’s main questions is: how to archive a festival? What is festival history about? What kind of information does a festival generate? Questions that come up when trying to develop a taxonomy, a thesaurus, keywords for the ISEA archive.

She mentions the difficulty of not only having to deal with documents, but also with what actually happened at that time, with live events. How do you represent the collaborations and projects that existed or grew from the festivals?

After digitizing all material, Palliser hopes that the community of artists linked to ISEA will activate the archive.

Michiel van der Haagen then speaks about CultureBase, database software for cultural institutions. CultureBase is currently used for structuring the website of De Balie.

CultureBase is a specific implementation of MMBase, the open source multimedia content management system which is widely used in the Netherlands. CultureBase is targeted towards the needs of cultural organizations. Specifically, it offers interesting functionalities for the display of a video (streaming) archive. The ISEA Online Archive also uses CultureBase for its backend.

Semantic Connections, Wolfgang Strauss (D) and Gabrielle Blome (D), Netzspannung,

Wolfgang Strauss describes as an input and output pool, a community publishing tool, an environment for sharing. It is a website for artists, scientists and scholars for sharing and developing their ideas on how to learn or how to teach new media (art). The website presents material such as research (projects), art, installations. It is an open channel for publishing projects by artists.

Strauss explains that there are various ways of offering and organising the content of the website. One possible way is: ranking downloads, which eventually reflects user interests. Connected to a map, users' input is geographically located as well.

The database is edited by the community; therefore it doesn't feature a complex system and it is thus suitable for users that are not experts. Basic information is visualised for the user. The main issues have a central position in a mind map while the remaining topics provide contextual information.

An important question that netzspannung deals with is the following: what are additional strategies to provide access to a database (especially when users are not familiar with the material)? - semantic map: visualisation of the database content, through clusters. - timeline

The semantic map has a few key qualities in representing the database. It enables knowledge discovery; the user learns by browsing since it is semantically located information. Secondly, the map offers visual orientation and finally an intuitive search and dynamic zoom.

In practice, a user explores the map, then locates a project and checks related projects.

Another kind of map as interface to the database is the matrix visualisation. The question that came up with this kind of visualisation was: how to present all database entries next to each other? One answer to that question is the matrix + loop, which offers a quick insight in the database. It offers both a visual and a textual orientation through the images, the matrix itself and keywords; in other words: a cross-media overview.

Strauss and Blome then present an installation based on news keywords drawn from RSS feeds.


Eric Kluitenberg remarks that such a floating interface is constantly reconfiguring, making you find things you would normally never discover. He asks Wolfgang Strauss: who creates the relation between the content, the tags, who creates the keywords? Are they created by an editorial team or by the community? David Garcia then asks a similar question: where does the curatorial part end and where does the community input begin? There seems to be some ambiguity. Working with materials from newspapers could be an individual piece of art; would you be aware of being part of someone else's work? Do you want that?

V2_'s archive and terminology resources for media art Sandra Fauconnier (B/NL)

Sandra Fauconnier starts with an introduction about V2_ and continues explaining how and why to build a controlled vocabulary.

A controlled vocabulary is a collection of terminology that you control and structure with a purpose and in a certain way. A thesaurus is a structured keyword list. Controlled vocabularies are developed for the following purposes: - Adding consistency into the description of content - Facilitating retrieval and findability.

What are characteristic of controlled vocabularies? - Thesauri are often hierarchical, but this is not necessary - Not an idealized system in itself - Subjective. An important remark is that V2_ has no intention to create the "ultimate" controlled vocabulary for electronic art – its thesaurus is created from V2_'s perspective.

Thesaurus construction happens as follows: - Through a combination of a bottom-up and a top-down approach, - Trying to represent the terminology that is actively used in a community.

A thesaurus describes the subject of items in a collection or database, and is mostly hierarchical. It uses scope notes to define how to use a specific keyword. V2_ hasn't yet developed specialized interfaces for its thesaurus; currently V2 uses a tree view on its website.

V2_ is currently interested in combining existing efforts on building a thesaurus or other database construction. Fauconnier argues that developing a specific terminology and a thesaurus should be collaborative work and possibly merged with other initiatives.

Trigger for discussion and future possibilities: - Sharing top-level concepts among institutions? - Partial autonomy? - Integration with larger initiatives, such as the Getty's Art and Architecture Thesaurus? - Can we learn from Web 2.0? - Is it possible to integrate user-generated content in an interesting way? For this, critical mass (a sufficiently large and active user base) is necessary. This approach will add valuable input from the users' perspective, for example via a tagging (ethnoclassification, keywords by the people). Combining editorial and user-generated content is not a situation of either / or; an interesting combination of top-down and bottom-up approaches is possible.

Daniel Langlois Foundation: Centre for Research and Documentation Alain Depocas (CDN)

The Daniel Langlois Foundation has years of experience with describing research and media art objects. It also funds individual projects.

The web acces to their database is a catalogue with tools to enter and navigate the database.

Situation today and future ideas: - How to open the system to other organisations? - Prevent overlap in research, how to save time. - New website to experiment with Web 2.0 features. - Offering tools to users which they can use outside the Daniel Langlois Foundation's website.

DOCAM project:

Database of Virtual Art / Media Art Oliver Grau (A) and Wendy Jo Coones (A)

The Database of Virtual Art is not restricted to core data; contributors can add several kinds of data. It has an advisory board and members. Copyright problems are mainly avoided since the artists are members. Artists can only become members when they have been qualified or recommended.

Today the database and its use is being researched for possible future adjustments. An important goal is to create bridges between the traditional art world and the media art world. The thesaurus of the database is used for historical comparisons and connections. is a self-archiving digital repository for scholars writing about media art; it is not intended for providing an overview of artworks. Either the people give works and an editorial team publishes it, or they publish it themselves. Online text archiving in an eprint environment is a future goal; this is pa pretty new phenomenon for scholars in the humanities. For this goal MIT Libraries and Hewlett-Packard Labs developed DSpace, an open source program that is search engine friendly.

Reports of morning sessions

The presentations were concluded with a report of the morning sessions. One of the things all parties acknowledged was the fact that they are archiving and defining the concept of the archive at the same time; a difficult task.

Action points for the future, mentioned by participants were: - Different vocabularies for different target groups. (Annemieke de Jong) - Localisation of cultural websites. (James Turner) - Preservation, working on distribution of collection, archive of activities of Montevideo (Amsterdam). (Gaby Wijers)

Janneke van Kersen discussed the city archive of Dordrecht and the possibilities of a kind of YouTube environment where user-generated information is added. The main question for her was: how to put a good community together? Should one use a controlled or an uncontrolled environment?

Another important point made was made on introducing the archivist as a guardian and on archiving an impermanent story.

In working towards a conclusion of the Connected Archives meeting, Arie Altena discussed the (im)possibilities of tools and models that the various archives deal with. - There are cultural differences between the humanities (people who work with the content) and the technical side (software developers). - How can we open up our archives? - Issue of interoperability, letting various archive initiatives work together and connect. Most archives use XML; in theory it should be possible to make feeds and open up archives for working together. An issue that leads to the question of how to work with metadata; should one only use controlled vocabularies? Perfect systems based on thesauri and ontology can be used, or should we look at Web 2.0 and technologies and models used there?

How to work together practically? A situation where people first have to agree on a shared ontology is difficult. One has to be careful not to build the cathedral while the bazaar way (open source theory) might have been better. The Dutch broadcasting archives needed 17 years for building their general taxonomy and thesaurus… the question is; do you want that and should you start this up? David Garcia makes a first proposal for taking a practical trajectory: rapid prototyping in a quick and dirty, playful way.



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