Latin phrases for iPod, iPad, et cetera

Raphael's "School of Athens" 1511
Raphael’s “School of Athens,” 1511

This started pre-iPhone. I was training for the Philadelphia Marathon and my first iPod wasn’t keeping up (I do still have it though). Apple had just come out with a new version of the iPod Nano, and as I was building my order, I noticed something interesting- an offer for free engraving of my purchase.

This is a service Apple still offers for iPads and iPods, here. With Glowforge, you can do it yourself. There are rumors that Apple will begin offering Watch engraving as a free service in the future, and there are third party companies that will happily engrave your iPhone, Mac, and more:

On Apple’s site, the free engraving perk is presented as a way to personalize a gift you’ll be giving to someone else. “I can never repay you, but here’s a start” says one iPad in their example roundup.

But, what if you’re buying something for yourself? I like the idea of personalizing something that you’ve worked hard for and will use every day. I used to name all my major tech purchases after major exhibitions, as a way to commemorate and pay homage to a lot of hard work. For example, I have a laptop named Van Gogh.

So, what to engrave? Latin has a lot of similarities to code. It’s alternately blunt and subtle. The personalities of author, translator, coder, and student invariably come through, as there are often multiple ways to say something, and even more ways to interpret it. Like Fortran, it’s an old language, but also one that’s all around us: alias, alibi, bona fide, veto, et cetera. Latin is often succinct, sometimes tongue-in-cheek (I especially liked the self-referential lines, like “Multum in parvo,” “Much in a small space), and individualizes your device. I also liked finding phrases that might refer to what one is reading, and/or musical tastes, and phrases that were encouraging and acknowledged hard work.

So, here’s the list I made:

Latin Translation Attribution/notes
Aude sapere Dare to be wise
Cave ab homine unius libri Beware the man of one book
Citius Altius Fortius Faster, higher, stronger Modern Olympics motto
De gustibus non est disputandum There’s no accounting for taste
Decies repetita placebit Though ten times repeated, it will continue to please Horace
Deus ex machina God out of a machine
Dimidium facti qui coepit habet He who makes a start has half the work done Horace, Epistles, Book I, Ep. 2
Docendo discimus We learn by teaching Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, Book I, letter 7, section 8
Dulce et utile A sweet and useful (thing) Horace, Ars Poetica
Dulcius ex asperis Sweeter after difficulties Scottish clan Fergusson’s motto
Dum spiro spero While I breathe, I hope Attributed to Theocritus and Cicero
Fac et spera Do and hope Scottish clan Matheson’s motto
Fac fortia et patere Do brave deeds and endure Motto of Prince Alfred College in Adelaide, Australia
Factis ut credam facis Deeds, then I may believe you- trust actions, not words
Fortiter in re, suaviter in modo Gently in manner, firm in action Acquaviva, Industriae ad curandos animae morbos
Fortitudine vincimus By endurance we conquer Shackelton’s motto
Humani nihil alienum Nothing human is foreign to me Terentius Afer, Heauton Timorumenos
Si hortum in bibliotheca habes, nihil deerit If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need Cicero
Imperare sibi maximum imperium est To rule yourself is the ultimate power Seneca
In nocte consilium The night brings counsel
In spe In hope
Labor omnia vincit Hard work conqures all Virgil, Georgics
Lex malla, lex nulla A bad law is no law St. Thomas Aquinas
Loquitur (loq.) He/she speaks
Male parta male dilabuntur What has been wrongly gained is wrongly lost. (Ill-gotten gains seldom prosper.) Cicero, Philippics, 2.66
Multum in parvo Much in a small space
Musica delenit bestiam feram Music soothes the savage beast
Otium sine litteris mors est Leisure without literature is death Seneca, Letters to Lucilius
Per angusta ad augusta Through difficulties to honors
Post proelia praemia After the battles, the prizes
Res ipsa loquitur The thing itself speaks- tort law Cicero, Pro Tito Annio Milone ad iudicem oratio
Res mihi suppetit I have abundance to say
Ubi spiritus est cantus est Where there is spirit there is song
Ubicumque homo est, ibi beneficio locus est Wherever there is man, there is a place for kindness Seneca
Veritatem Dilexi I delight in the truth Bryn Mawr College motto

The above is my list, culled from multiple books and sites over the years. If you’ve read through this and are still looking for your best Latin phrase, I recommend: List of Latin phrases (Full), Wikipedia

And for even MORE bon mots take a look at: WikiQuote’s Latin Proverbs and The Quotations Page

Airtable, APIs, and thinking through a problem

“What is an API?” “It’s an application programming interface.” “…. oh, okay, … thank you…”

Sometimes the answer to a question doesn’t supply an actual answer. APIs are a good example- the name is an acronym, and the acronym uses specific terms that make sense in an industry, but might not translate to a digestible concept for the person posing the question.

“What is an API?” I had heard the term for a while, but wanted to understand more. At the same time, I was getting ready to go to Abstractions, a conference in Pittsburgh, PA.

Abstractions looked amazing! I was thrilled with the talk descriptions, the code of conduct, the transparent privacy policy, generous scholarship program, original art specific to the event, and more. Couldn’t wait for it to start! As I started looking at the schedule, I noticed something- the schedule didn’t render well on a browser. Talks were all in distinct blocks, and the blocks sometimes didn’t all fit on one row, meaning that you couldn’t see everything happening at one time on one row. Talks were also broken up by location first, not time first, so again, you couldn’t see what was happening at the same time.

Other people pointed this out as well on the conference Slack channel. The conference organizers, embedded in schedule-details for the past several months, didn’t see the difficulty people were experiencing, and in the heady, final days before an event, most likely had a few other things to do.

I wanted a conference schedule that I could sort and filter, and I wanted to be able to add keywords to talks so I could see what was on the docket for open source, art, various languages, and more.

Okay. So. 1. Excited about a conference 2. Wanted to plan my time well 3. Schedule wasn’t helping as well as it could

What to do? I had the information- but I needed it to listen to my needs. This is what an API is. In many cases it’s a tool, some form of software, but at its core an API is a series of decisions that connects information to action in a way that’s beneficial and transformative.

I can’t say enough good things about the conference organizers. They were completely fantastic- forward thinking, responsive to attendees, endlessly on-point with a thousand event-planning details, and they built something incredible in Pittsburgh. One awesome thing they did was provide the conference schedule information as a pure JSON file in addition to their formatted version of the schedule.

What is a JSON file? Another term I had heard, and even used in conversation, maybe the same way someone would talk about a vegetable even though they’ve never cooked with it. “Ah, the celeriac root! Yes, what a great…. root.”

Okay. So now we’re at: 1. Excited about a conference 2. Wanted to plan my time well 3. Schedule wasn’t helping as well as it could 4. Had a JSON file

From there my Google path was “What is JSON” ➡️“JSON visualization” (apparently not a thing/hard) ➡️“data visualization for schedules” (also apparently not a thing) ➡️lots of variations on that phrase, which mostly netted me schedules for data viz conference (which were terrible) ➡️listening to the most recent CodeNewbies podcast, which had a shoutout for Airtable ➡️Airtable ➡️“JSON and Airtable” ➡️“how to convert JSON to CSV”➡️ download CSV ➡️upload to Airtable ➡️tweak, add keyword content and “I’m new to coding” suggested talks track as a tag,➡️review ➡️share on conference Slack.

Here it is!

Here’s what you can do with it: sort by any column, search, filter, download a CSV, make your own copy and add other columns/fields (like a priority column, for example), and print. Links are active; you can make a Twitter list of speakers, check out their websites. Sort by suggested audience level, filter to only see organizer Justin’s recommendations for an “I’m new to coding” track, sort/filter by keywords.

Keywords was the feature I most wanted- I pulled them from the talk descriptions. You can see everything JavaScript, any other specific language, etc. In some ways, every talk could be tagged as “Best Practices” or “Career Development.” Same for terms like “software,” “coding,” or “tech.” With that in mind, I tried to tag for what stood out.

I shared it, people liked it and were appreciative, and the conference organizers ended up using it to plan speaker-emcee assignments. Things to figure out to do for next time- 1. Make it sync live with the JSON file the conference organizers hosted online (hmmm sounds like an API!), 2. Fix special characters.

So, API, JSON file, celeriac root.

API stands for Application Programming Interface, and it’s a series of decisions that connects information to action in a way that’s beneficial and transformative. JSON stands for JavaScript Object Notation. It’s a lightweight file that allows you to structure data in a way that can be read by web applications and/or converted to CSV for further data-wrangling. And celeriac root is a variety of celery that grows wild in the Mediterranean Basin and Northern Europe, that tastes amazing roasted, in soups, and in the French salad celerie remoulade.

And Airtable is great.

And more conferences should share their schedule information as JSON files.

Thanks Abstractions team! You put on a wonderful event, I had an amazing time and learned a lot, and THERE WERE DOGS.

Smorgasbord & order: Bloglovin to the rescue

Follow me with Bloglovin

Moment of silence for Google Reader, which was the best blog feed aggregator for a long time.

Google put that product out to pasture in 2013 and readers were left scrambling to find a comparable replacement. There were (and continue to be) many, many RSS options, from the longstanding Feedly to a sleek minimalist option called Miniflux.

I found Bloglovin after testing a few other options and have used it ever since.

Why do I prefer Bloglovin?

It’s quick- importing blogs from Google Reader took seconds.

It’s the right balance of image and content- some blog readers strip away all images and some are heavily weighted towards images. I wanted to see what images writers were choosing for their posts, but not at the expense of readability. Bloglovin’s main feed has each post’s title, synopsis, tags, and main image. Clicking on that summary will bring you to the full post.

It offers tools for engagement and privacy- you can share, like, and create collections. You can also choose to mark blogs you follow as private- I can see this feature being useful, for example, if someone was trying to have a child and following a lot of pregnancy blogs. You might not want to share that information with everyone, and by marking a blog private it doesn’t show up in your profile. Bloglovin offers integrations with Facebook and Pinterest; I have not tested these but I imagine they could be useful!

Image showing Bloglovin UI
Account portal to manage blogs: Add blogs, create groups, mark as private, and unfollow

It offers discovery- I don’t use this feature a lot but I do appreciate it- at the top of the site are general categories including Art, Technology, and Education. Clicking on one of those brings up a smorgasbord of posts relating to that topic, and you can choose to follow whatever blog looks good to you. Above that is a search bar that will search all the blogs and posts on Bloglovin using whatever term you put in. If a site isn’t on Bloglovin you can add it very easily- a feature that I really like. That feature means authors aren’t solely responsible for adding their blogs to this platform- once a blog is added, Bloglovin will pull information from that site just like any other RSS feeder, and authors can claim their blogs whenever they have time. 

Image showing Bloglovin Linux search results
Using the Bloglovin search bar for “Linux” shows me so many new sites and interesting posts!

It’s free- Not “freemium,” not subscription-based, free. No plugin or extension needed. Android and iOS apps are available and render well.

I’ve organized the blogs I follow into groups: Tech, Product, Money, Amusing, Philadelphia, and Scholarly. I can choose to read only what’s in one group, or scan through my whole feed. 

When I check Bloglovin, I scan through my main feed, open the posts that are interesting to me, share things with others, and then mark everything as read. It’s quick, comprehensive, and free; all things I like 🙂 You can check out my profile here and see what blogs I follow; maybe you’ll find something new?

GDI Woman Crush Wednesday- PHL

Quote from Laura Webb with headshot and link to GDI Philly

Last week I was GDI Philly’s Woman Crush Wednesday spotlight pick. The lovely Jen Dionisio asked me a few questions about what I do, GDI, and thoughts on tech in general. The full interview is here— I had a great time with these questions! Many thanks to GDI Philly— more information about this awesome group is below.

1. Your company and role:

1. I work in Information and Interpretive Technologies at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. My main role is all the tech purchasing for the Museum—anything from very specific software to giant touchscreen tables. No day is the same and I’m thrilled to work with a team of smart, kind individuals who love art and want to share it with as many people as possible.

2. How and why did you get involved with GDI Philly?

2. Wow, talk about a trip down memory lane! Three years ago I took my first GDI class: Intro to the Command Line. I wanted to know more about what was behind everything you see on a computer screen.  A month or two after that, I took Intro to HTML/CSS. Then, I wanted to be more involved in the group, so I signed up to volunteer as a TA. Since then, I’ve been a student and TA in many classes, including HTML/CSS 201, WordPress, SublimeText, JavaScript, Web Accessibility, Responsive Web Design, Git, jQuery, and Game Design. I went to my first tech conference because of GDI; the conference needed volunteers and Corinne Warnshuis, who had just joined Yasmine Mustafa at GDI Philly, forwarded that request to the GDI volunteer group. At my first tech conference and at a number of GDI events over the past three years, I’ve met several amazing people who continue to be in my life as inspiration, mentors, and friends.

3. Why do you think GDI Philly is important?

3. GDI Philly gives people a time and place to learn tech skills that directly correlate to more advanced job opportunities. The group also provides training in skills applicable in many fields, like negotiation and public speaking. But the most important thing about GDI is the community. No matter where you are in your career, no matter how much or how little you know, there is a place for you at GDI Philly. That’s the best part, really—that it’s an inclusive, encouraging space to learn and meet incredible people.

4. What is a project (or projects) that you’re working on that excites you and why?

4. I’m very excited to learn more about Python! I recently used Python to make my first Twitterbot: @Benjaminbotbot. It tweets out one line of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, in order, every day. The man is a bit long-winded, though; one sentence took four days and I expect many more surreal tweets to be generated.

5. Any advice for women new to the tech field?

5. Not knowing is okay, and you probably know more than you realize. Don’t worry if you don’t know what a word or acronym means. This is a good resource; I like that each definition has a picture and related terms. And again, you most likely already have a lot of valuable knowledge that can translate to tech—look for the analogies. Cooking and coding have a lot in common; if you can follow a recipe, you can follow a tutorial. If you can take what you learned from multiple recipes and change it to make your own, that’s programming.

Pink flourish GDI Philly- so what is it? GDI stands for Girl Develop It, a nonprofit organization that exists to provide affordable and judgment-free opportunities for women interested in learning web and software development. GDI Philly is the Philadelphia chapter of this organization, and information about events and classes can be found on Meetup here. If you’re in the Philadelphia area, or in one of the 53 cities with a GDI chapter, I strongly recommend looking into GDI classes and events. If you don’t see your city, don’t lose hope! Girl Develop It provides resources for those that want to start their own chapter and there’s lots of room to grow Pink flourish

 

 

Open Source at the UN

I grew up in war and saw the United Nations help my country to recover and rebuild. That experience was a big part of what led me to pursue a career in public service. As Secretary-General, I am determined to see this organization deliver tangible, meaningful results that advance peace, development and human rights. –Ban Ki-moon

I went last weekend and it’s continuing now- the United Nations in New York City is hosting one of the largest open source conferences in in the world. “Open Camps @ UN 2016” is July 8-17 this year. The conference is actually a collection of topic/platform specific camps, including MapsCamp, PyGotham, Drupal NYC Camp and Word Camp NYC. To get a visual sense of how many camps over how many days this conference entails, check out Open Camps main page.

First, some org titles and goals. Titles- Open Camps is organized by this amazing team of volunteers, in collaboration with the United Nations Open Source Innovation Initiative (which can be shortened to Unite Open Source) which is a part of the Office of Information and Communications Technology (OICT), which reports to the Secretariat and is within the Department of Management at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

The goals for Unite Open Source are below:

Unite Open Source aims to be

  1. a centre of excellence in OS knowledge,
  2. a hub for open source communities to meet (at conferences, in different regions, as well as virtually, on online platforms) to strengthen existing OS projects and start new ones, and
  3. a broker in partnerships between Open Source communities and Member States.

Organizations or individuals that wish to open source proprietary tools can rely on Unite Open Source to handle the legal and logistical challenges of doing so. The UN, as an impartial and international institution, will allow volunteer communities to embrace these new tools now owned by the public. Source

All right, so that’s a start at the who, what, and why. It was interesting to be at the UN- I wasn’t sure what to expect. Some people told me to expect an aging building filled with disillusioned bureaucrats, other people (cough, me) were a bit more excited about the trip and the UN’s engagement with open source. This seems par for the course with a lot of nonprofits- after a while, some people only see the corruption and inefficiency- on the other hand, there’s power in this- power in coming together for the good of humanity.

I found myself somewhere in the middle. The building is getting old, sure, but it’s still a stunning architectural work. Maybe there are some people there who are mired in office politics, but every room I saw was filled with people who are engaged and passionate about leveraging the technologies and skills that we have, as best we can, to improve communities and strengthen people all over the word. It’s also full of actual treasure.

Laura Renae Webb with Myanmar tapestry
Laura Renae Webb with Myanmar tapestry at the United Nations in New York
Panamanian mola at the United Nations in New York, easily 30 ft by 30 ft
Panamanian mola at the United Nations in New York, easily 30 ft by 30 ft. I put this mola through Google’s Deep Dream Generator. Click the image to see the result.

And Star Trek-level communication devices at every seat.

United Nations microphone and voting tool
I have to assume the map only fills half the screen so that non-Earth dignitaries can add their own planets as needed.

I was most interested in MapsCamp, Daniel Doubrovkine’s talk at CommunityCamp, and Professor Edward Tufte’s keynote for DataVizCamp.

MapsCamp was fantastic. I learned a lot about GPS and was deeply inspired by the work MapBox is doing with citizens of Lesotho. “Open Source Time and Space” (Bert Spaan, NYPL Labs) was a great showcase of what can be done with a large map/photography collection, along with a lot of ways for people to get involved. The slides are worth going through– again both for inspiration and actionable resources. Daniel Doubrovkine’s talk was interesting because it focused on the financial incentives for a company to have open source be the default policy in place. Prof. Edward Tufte wrote the book on data visualization. I was thrilled to hear him speak in person. It felt very much like an old-school college lecture- the lights dimmed, and the professor spoke, working through his ideas logically, then took questions at the end, which he answered thoughtfully.

Notable:

Jacob Redding: Next Wave of Open Source

Jenny Wong: Jenny Wong did an excellent on-the-spot job of melding CivicCamp and CommunityCamp into one schedule. Conference organization is challenging and takes a good amount of flexibility and leadership. Her talk was on building an accessible community and I’m sorry I missed it- looks great. Slides 

Natalia Rodriguez: Visualizing Science for Museum Visitors at the American Museum of Natural History

Lyzi Diamond: Panel: What’s next for Open Source and Mapping?

In the quote at the beginning of this post, Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon speaks about wanting the UN to “deliver tangible, meaningful results that advance peace, development and human rights.” Open source projects are appealing to sustainable development initiatives, especially in terms of cost, accessibility, community engagement, and level of impact.

Follow Open Camps here

Follow UN’s CITO here

GitHub and Museums

Series of overlapping squares showing The size of 23,557 artworks in the Finnish National Gallery
The size of 23,557 artworks in the Finnish National Gallery

GitHub is exciting for museums. It’s a way for museums to participate in the febrile, weird, optimistic world of open source.

GitHub is scary for museums. It’s a weird word; it’s a weird site. Museums who do it well can benefit, museums who ignore it are also ignoring an amazing group of curious creatives.

For any non-profit, one of the first considerations for any endeavor is financial. How much will it cost? Cost is more than a dollar amount- there are also time-costs to consider- the time it takes to upload and establish, the time it takes to monitor/moderate, and the time-cost of keeping things updated.

Then, there are legal considerations. Copyrights¹, usage agreements, registrars, loan agreements, gift stipulations, individual agreements with living artists, and more. Many museums have entire Rights and Reproductions departments.

There is good news though, and that is the magical phrase “public domain.” What is public domain? From the Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain: “The public domain is the realm of material — ideas, images, sounds, discoveries, facts, texts — that is unprotected by intellectual property rights and free for all to use or build upon. It includes our collective cultural and scientific heritage, and the raw materials for future expression, research, democratic dialogue and education.”

Although museums can have works that are restricted by very specific copyrights, museums can also have works that have passed into the public domain either through the passage of time or because the artist has chosen to do so. Works in the public domain are what you’ll most often find on museum GitHub accounts.

So public domain is open source? Not quite- “No, free and open-source software is not in the “public domain,” which would mean that it is not protected by copyright law. The software is copyrighted, but the copyright holder chooses to grant specific freedoms to the public through a license (such as the General Public License), and she can do this precisely because she owns the copyright. So, while public domain materials are free because they’re unprotected by intellectual property rights, open-source software is free because of private action. This is how the license works: it says that anyone may copy the source code and incorporate it into a new program, but if they do so and redistribute their work, their new program must also be covered by the same license, making it freely available for others to use and build upon. (The license thereby keeps the source code publicly available and encourages broader collaboration, innovation, testing, and use.) If you violate these terms, then the freedoms granted by the license disappear, and you are where you would be without the license — namely infringing the programmer’s copyright.” ([emphasis mine] source: https://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/2012/faqs#q10)

It’s this combination of public (the works in public domain) and private (the non-profit’s… everything else) that museums are still navigating in various ways.

Below is a look at some of the most active museum GitHub accounts and how they have approached the question of rights and licensing:

Museum: GitHub link: Posted rights/license:
Cooper Hewitt https://github.com/cooperhewitt CC0 1.0 Universal, and requests attribution
Tate https://github.com/tategallery/collection#usage CC0 1.0 Universal, and requests attribution
Carnegie Museum of Art https://github.com/cmoa/collection CCo 1.0 Universal, except for images, says to contact their R&R
Walters Art Museum https://github.com/WaltersArtMuseum Varies by repository- mostly CC0 1.0 Universal. Also saw GNU AFFERO GENERAL PUBLIC LICENSE and Apache License. Has the email templates on GitHub, saw some hackathon projects
Harvard Art Museum https://github.com/harvardartmuseums Has a lot of code, terms of use in place @ API level
Indianapolis Museum of Art https://github.com/IMAmuseum CC BY 3.0
MoMA https://github.com/MuseumofModernArt/collection CCo 1.0 Universal, except for images, says give attribution

How are museums using GitHub?

The Cooper Hewitt Museum released their collection on GitHub in 2012: http://labs.cooperhewitt.org/2012/releasing-collection-github/

The Tate’s GitHub account appeared roughly 18 months after Cooper Hewitt’s- and it’s great. I love that they showcase artworks and digital visualizations people have made using the data here. Take a look at their examples section: https://github.com/tategallery/collection#examples

MoMA’s GitHub account appeared July 2015- this is a good article about it: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/a-nerds-guide-to-the-2229-paintings-at-moma/

Also in 2015, the Andy Warhol Museum posted their digital strategy as a working document on their GitHub account, in a fantastic act of transparency and inclusion: http://blog.warhol.org/museum/more-than-a-museum/

Today, searching GitHub with the terms “museum collection” pulls up 76 repositories²; this is a good general sense of museum activity in GitHub, specifically in terms of collection data. https://github.com/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&q=museum+collection Take a look!

This link is also informative- it’s a collection of open-source museum projects: https://github.com/MuseCompNet/muse-tech-central

 

These projects urge interaction and collaboration. I look forward to seeing many more added as more and more museums look to GitHub as a useful tool and community engagement oppertunity.

Valuable cultural institution resources:

Europeana Pro site: http://pro.europeana.eu/page/rights-statements-an-introduction

Rights Statements for cultural heritage institutions: http://rightsstatements.org/en/

OPenn: Good use-statement wording: http://openn.library.upenn.edu/ReadMe.html

¹In the United States, Section 502 of copyright law has been referred to in legal cases pertaining to code and copyright (https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/17/chapter-5). For more on open source software licensing slides from a recent Drexel Law panel are available here: http://www.slideshare.net/DrexelELC/open-source-software-licenses-61682869

²Which is exciting, unless you do the math- the International Council of Museums estimates there are 55,000 museums in the world. Which means that less than one-tenth of 1 percent (00.14 %) of museums have data publicly available on GitHub.

Virtual Reality Demo Day, NYC

Recently I had the opportunity to check out LoNyLa/Timewave’s Virtual Reality Demo Day in New York. The main reason I wanted to go was to check out the various physical hardware iterations for virtual reality- a technology that is growing at an amazing rate and has exciting implications for museums.

While I was there I was able to test every virtual reality headset on the market- from Oculus Rift to Google Cardboard. I also made a point to speak to each developer and noted their opinions about each product.

I was surprised to find that Oculus Rift was not the top choice- and neither was Google Cardboard! The main issue with Google Cardboard was the lens quality. Google Cardboard has created the cheapest VR headset option which is wonderful in terms of price accessibility, but to do so they reduced the quality of the lenses. A number of developers noted feeling nauseous after using Google Cardboard- something to consider when thinking about interactive/immersive experiences for the broadest possible audience. A shorter VR experience helps, and there are a number of museums using Google Cardboard, but having less devices of a higher quality is also a good option. Offering the public an opportunity to experience VR on a high-quality device they might not be able to afford on their own is also part of what museums can do to make art accessible.

What can museums do with virtual reality? I see two equally interesting options. First, museums can work with digital artists who are already using this medium as a form of expression- artists like Jon Rafman and Rachel Rossin for example. Some new media art being created today is being created specifically to be experienced in VR.

Second, museums can use VR to more deeply activate existing pieces in a collection- creating new ways of seeing what is already there. The Dali museum did this recently by offering a VR experience where people could go into a Dali painting; a completely immersive 3D experience.

I saw many similar things at Timewave’s Demo Day- “The Giftschrank (Poison Room)” “Dream within a Dream” and “Unboxed,” for example. “Unboxed,” by Jackson Tam, was especially interesting because as you moved around the environment (an inventor’s workshop) you could select objects on the wall and desk- so, for example, you’d see a newspaper article, select it, and it would come to you and be readable. Or, you could select a tool on the inventor’s workbench and a definition would come up. In essence, the label text/additional content wasn’t anchored to a wall in a museum gallery; it came to you.

More and more museums are using VR in galleries and exhibition spaces. Museums do not merely exist as physical structures holding physical objects- they’re spaces for inspiration, education, community, and creativity. It’s a digital space as well as a physical space, and the digital space has a far longer reach. Creating and supporting VR is a recognition of this.  

Of all the hardware at Timewave Festival’s Demo Day, HTC Vive was the top pick by far.

Learn more about the participants here: http://timewavefestival.com/spring-vr-lab-2016/

Art and Open Source

Street art mural by the artist Blu, depicting a gigantic man made of bananas
Von Stefano.questioli in der Wikipedia auf Italienisch, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38179050

Do artists make art to be collected? Or to be heard? The short answer is it’s up to the artist. It can be one or the other, or both, or neither. This question has been on my mind since I read this:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/prominent-street-artist-just-destroyed-all-his-works-180958408/?no-ist

Blu spent all weekend destroying his artwork. The symbolic act was in protest of a Bologna exhibition which features more than 250 pieces of street art plucked from their urban settings and placed inside a museum. Blu objected to both the exhibit’s backers—prominent bankers—and its tactics of removing street art from the streets themselves.

More here in this Italian article written by Wu Ming: http://www.wumingfoundation.com/giap/?p=24357

Some quotes translated from the Italian:

“…politicians pretending to solve the contradictions of Bologna, a city which on the one hand criminalizes graffiti, puts 16-year-old artists on trial as criminals, praises “urban decorum”, and on the other hand celebrates herself as the cradle of street art and wants to take it for glory on the market.”

“We are faced with arrogant landlords who act as colonial governors and think they’re free to take murals off our walls. The only thing left to do is to make these paintings disappear, to snatch them from those claws, to make hoarding impossible.”

The people who take this action [obscuring the murals to prevent them being taken] can tell the difference between who has money, power and the highest offices, and who deploys creativity and intelligence.”

My understanding of Blu is that he makes art when it can be incorporated into the physical space of a city, seen either intentionally by those that seek his work or as a daily backdrop to the local people’s life- but always there. His work in XM24 space in Italy was groundbreaking and incorporated into larger protests of the time. But street artists rarely own what they write or paint on, so the decision to remove the murals and place them in a space that was separate from the streets, then further separated by an admission charge [13Euro regular price, 11Euro reduced (presumably students/seniors)], and finally even further separated from the public by the prospect of sale to conservative banking families- none of that was Blu’s decision or under his control. He felt that the only way to prevent this from happening- since he couldn’t buy the buildings or stop the bankers- was to destroy his own work, decades of it. To be in a place as an artist where one feels that the only actionable decision of artistic control is destruction- that’s a very difficult/brave decision.

I do want to stress that collating authentic art with the poverty of the artist is wrong. The idea that art is somehow more authentic if the labor is disconnected from commerce is a toxic idea that hurts the artists who have a drive to further their work/career, and also need to pay their bills. Blu does make money from his art- but- and here’s the crux- he makes money from the art that he chooses to sell. From what I can find, he has sold silkscreen prints and a DVD with time-lapse documentation of murals, hand-drawn animations, and other content. In a rare interview found here, Blu says,

“I sell some drawings and I make the money I need to go on with my projects.

I try to avoid other kind of works such as commissions from companies and advertising, which is something i don’t really like.

I’m not economically rich but I’m billionaire in happiness.”

Blu doesn’t want his murals sold. He doesn’t want them to move. Decay, yes. Be painted over and replaced by new street art? It happens. Taken? No. The location is a significant element of each mural. Every mural is photographed and the physical work is allowed to exist without the urgency of corporal preservation. So here’s an interesting thought about the difference between experiencing art and collecting it. Why assume that all art needs to last? I went through Wu Ming’s article and read Italian comments saying that the work was always intended to decay, that it did have a life span that included death, and that taking the murals out of their original space in order to preserve them went against these ideas of accessibility and impermanence. People spoke about having the murals take root in their memories- a daily commute that went past a certain one, or a significant moment where a mural looms in the background. They spoke about how sometimes the murals would suddenly appear and sometimes just as abruptly disappear- either by construction or a disgruntled landlord. They made a distinction between the Mona Lisa and Blu’s murals, for example, saying that the murals were less like a venerated, commissioned portrait and more analogous to wild animals. The idea is less that Blu’s art needs to be rescued by museums and collectors, to be preserved for an indefinite period of time, but rather that the mural is intentionally made as a living thing in a living environment- growing, changing, and sometimes disappearing, continuing to exist only in photographs and memories. 

One thing that stood out to me through reading more about this were glimmers of the concept of open source. This term has been living mostly in the tech world, so it’s interesting to see artists use it- it is a concept that some would describe as a philosophical belief/movement, so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. As one of the commentators put it:

“Above all, there was the beauty of a concept: street art is for everyone or for no one, it cannot become a privilege of those who do the hoarding, it cannot become a tool of further privatization. If you want this, we prefer to disappear. It is a political action, ethics, pedagogical. And that makes nice even a gray wall.”

Open source embraces creativity, collaboration, transparency, and accessibility. Blu did not experience that with the Palazzo Pepoli – Museo della Storia di Bologna, and so in this instance, he preferred to disappear. Some people disagree with his decision. Some people supported him and helped paint over the murals in Bologna. Blu’s murals can still be found all around the world. His art is fascinating and thought-provoking and I look forward what he will create next.

More on this from Brooklyn Street Art and The Telegraph.