I’ve been working on a paper for a workshop on “Transforming data: drawing otherness into data debates” next week. I will be talking about one of my current research projects, Te Ara Wairua – Pathways of the Intangible. In collaboration with Kura Puke and Stuart Foster of Massey University and Te Matahiapo Research Organization in Aotearoa New Zealand we have been exploring how digital technologies can connect to a Maori Korowai (cloak) held currently in the UCL Ethnography Collections.
Tukutuku roimata, I.0013, see, ethcat.museums.ucl.ac.uk/detail.aspx?parentpriref=[/caption]
Together we are developing a critical perspective on the ways in which digital technologies can, or cannot, be used to connect communities to far away collections. We all have different interests and investments in the project, and these have generated different research questions. Kura Puke and Te Matahiapo have brought the Maori conception of Wairua (meaning spiritual energy), to the project. This is a category that instantiates Maori philosophies of the virtual within which the digital fits neatly inside. Wairua is understood as a form of connectivity across space and time connecting people, through taonga such as the Maori cloak. Stuart Foster, a spatial designer, is interested in creating virtual environments in which people can simultaneously experience the same events and objects. As curator of the Ethnography collection and director of the UCL Centre for Digital Anthropology, I am interested in thinking about the process of digitization and exploring different digital modalities in order to critique the world view and subject position that is all too often celebrated unthinkingly in contemporary efforts to reconstruct objects as 3d Digital surrogates.
Huirangi Eruera Waikerepuru, Mereiwa Broughton, Te Urutahi Waikerepuru, Tengaruru Wineera being projected through Facetime into UCL Octagon Gallery from Wharenui Te Ururongo, Pouakai, on June 17, 2014
Representatives of Ngati Ranana, and UCl Museums and Collections engaging with Te Matahiapo in the UCL Octagon Gallery, June 17 2014
Together our project has had a number of different events and outputs. We have held several virtual powhiri – ritual environments in which Maori elders have been able to connect to communities in London through real time broadband and cellular connections. We have exhibited the cloak within a digital environment using specially developed sound carrying light. These LEDs channel live sounds to bathe the cloak with light drawing attention to the materiality and environmental qualities of the digital and creating a DIY method of facilitating connection between communities and artefacts across time and space. We have experimented with 3D imaging of the cloak, using laser scanning, photogrammetry, and different software platforms.
An attempt to create a 3D image of the cloak using photogrammetry
In the places I’ve presented this already we have started to think a lot about deconstructing the positivism of 3D scanning in museum projects. The Korowai, made up of flax, wool, and the hair of the polynesian dog is remarkably resistant to digital data capture – its very difficult to scan textiles or to recreate the exact form of hair tassels. I’m interested to explore this process in terms of what the digitization process can illuminate about the object even if it is a failure in terms of creating a perfect simulacrum. Do my “failed” scans and photogrammetric representations of the cloak expose something else about the object? A sense of loss and disconnect? or do they open the door to alternative ways in which digital technology may represent the cloak?
I’ve therefore been thinking about failed scanning and failed digital representation. I took a piece of wool, similar to that on the cloak, from the Ethnography Collections to UCL’s Institute of Making and have spent some time trying to scan it with the intention of showing the limits of current technologies to represent certain kinds of objects. Working with the Institute employee and artist Zachary Eastwood Bloom we struggled to scan the fluff to various degrees of failure.
3d scan of a piece wool from the ethnography collections
Whilst there are craftspeople who could create a perfect simulacrum of wool using digital tools, the photographic metaphors currently used to describe 3d museum collections failed us in trying to understand the kinds of images of wool and fluff we generated directly from the 3D scanner. The conversation turned at the Institute of Making in the same direction my conversation with Kura and stuart had turned – what other properties of digital materialities could bring us closer to these objects?
Eastwood Bloom’s own work mirrors that of our work within Te Ara Wairua. He has been interested in converting 3D digital scans of objects by editing the scans to create new kinds of objects and like us is interested in the process of translation that the digital affords – converting light into shape, two dimensions into three. Uncannily just as we were converting the cloak into a landscape using gaming software, converting sounds channeled from New Zealand into light to connect to the Cloak at UCL, and converting images of the cloak into sound, Zachary was experimenting with creating digital terrains from audio outputs.
This convergence shows the benefits of having a make space like the Institute of Making on campus enabling academics to move their ideas into material realm no matter what their discipline or skills set. These experiments, and our research project with the cloak, are increasingly working with the digital as a medium of translation rather than a technique of perfect visualization which has important effects for the possibilities of how we may use digital collections to connect objects to communities in ways other than that of the simulacrum, using discourses other than that of “virtual” repatriation.
Deadline for Proposals: 20 February 2013
From the pioneer software sharing communities created around UNIX to the community of Emacs hackers and beyond, Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) development has been growing exponentially, following the popularization and widespread usage of personal computers and the Internet. Not only have FOSS communities expanded globally, but also its body of literature, becoming relevant for computer scientists and engineers, as well as for researchers in the humanities and social sciences. In the past decade, FOSS research was consolidated around questions such as individual motivation, collaborative practices, issues of scale, governance, and coordination of development efforts, as well as problems of political economy, involving the study of economic models, and forms of political mobilization around Free Software.
A themed Special Issue of Journal of Visual Culture
Issue Guest Editors: Laine Nooney (Stony Brook University) and Laura Portwood-Stacer (New York University)
Deadline for Proposals: 15 January 2013
The Editors are currently seeking proposed contributions for a Special Issue of the *Journal of Visual Culture* on Internet Memes and Visual Culture, to be published December 2014. The term *meme*, a portmanteau of * mimesis* and *gene*, was minted in 1976 by British ethologist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins proposed the meme as a “unit of cultural transmission,” a self-perpetuating cultural phenomenon analogous to the gene as a replicator of biological data. Almost 40 years later, the term “meme” has become the coin of the realm within Internet subcultures, particularly on microblogging and social network platforms. In these contexts the designation “meme” identifies digital objects that riff on a given visual, textual or auditory form. For a digital object to become a meme, it must be appropriated, re-coded, and slotted back into the Internet infrastructures it came from—memes require continued user adaptation. Thus, memes are co-constitutive with the user practices of creative (re)production that are default modes of communicative interaction on major social media platforms such as Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube. Memes are frequent objects of analysis among scholars of contemporary digital culture, socio-linguistics, fan culture, and social networking, wherein they are assessed as forms of generative vernacular communication and art-making that defy traditional models of top-down capitalist consumer control of mass media forms. Yet the speed, volume and insularity of meme-making often frustrates aesthetic, formal and techno-infrastructural scholarship on memes and meme distribution.