Monday, 29 September 2014

Generous Interfaces for Cultural Collections - Mitchell Whitelaw

This lunchtime I went to a lecture by Mitchell Whitelaw in which he talked about Generous Interfaces for Cultural Collections.

"After a decade or more of digitisation, the collections of galleries, archives, libraries and museums are increasingly available in digital form. But I argue that our interfaces have not kept up; the standard search-and-list approach demands a query, shows too little, and discourages exploration. In this talk I will introduce and demonstrate what I call “generous interfaces”: rich, explorable, browsable representations of cultural collections."

The first part of the lecture focused on how digital archives can be organised to enable people to engage with a collection and explore it without having a specific area of research or academic background.

Techniques such as grouping associated material and providing images have been used to prompt people to discover different aspects of a collection that they would not have otherwise have looked at.

Australian Prints and Printmaking have an original way of showing their collection, grouped by decades and in the various types of printmaking e.g. intaglio, relief

Whitelaw questioned whether we can reintroduce serendipity into digitally, and used serendip o magic as an example

The second part of the lecture was about generative interfaces i.e. interfaces that make stuff

I understand this to be DOING something with the information, not purely presenting it, and therefore I see Whitelaw's role as an artist.

He has used software to follow rules to create an endless collection of images that he hopes will lead people to see the material in different ways and will make meaning.

The software chooses 5 images, applies different effects to them (there is a choice of 3 effects that can be used), and then blends these images together to form a new image. This new image can be sourced back to its original components, and therefore if someone sees the image and goes on to investigate it further, it can lead them to a new area of investigation that they wouldn't have otherwise visited.

Mitchell Whitelaw is an academic, writer and practitioner with interests in new media art and culture, especially generative systems and data-aesthetics. His work has appeared in journals including Leonardo, Digital Creativity, Fibreculture, and Senses and Society. In 2004 his work on a-life art was published in the book Metacreation: Art and Artificial Life (MIT Press, 2004). His current work spans generative art and design, digital materiality, and data visualisation.

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