Selection as Art

Suns (From Sunsets) from Flickr, 2006-ongoing, Penelope Umbrico

Suns (From Sunsets) from Flickr, 2006-ongoing, Penelope Umbrico

In my job hunt I’ve applied to several archival digitization projects, and especially in the context of an institution just starting their digital archive, my main question is: what gets digitized?  Some job postings I’ve seen say they want all their materials scanned, and some expect hires to be involved in formulating the selection criteria.  Either way, devising an reasonable and feasible selection process seems like a crucial first step.

As information overload has become the defining characteristic of our time, it’s interesting how artists are co-opting some of the processes of libraries and archives in their practice and sifting through all the content we’re surrounded with to find the materials of their work.

Chris Wiley at MoMA PS1's Taster's Choice

Chris Wiley at MoMA PS1’s Taster’s Choice

A small show at MoMA PS1, called Taster’s Choice, actually takes this as its uniting thesis, joining four artists whose materials are primarily existing, ready-made materials:

For these artists, the act of selection allows them to engage with material abundance, and serves as a key mode of production and communication. Source

I admit the execution of this theme in this particular instance was maybe less literal than I expected, but I guess I’ve been spoiled by the exhaustive thematic culling of online materials characteristic of Penelope Umbrico‘s work:

Research And Destroy's Cops Ruining Christmas

Research And Destroy‘s Cops Ruining Christmas

I know there are many more artists who would fit under this theme, but I’ll leave the art world for now to mention a zine publisher that, like Umbrico, takes a collector’s sensibility, but with a more historical researchers’ perspective…

Research and Destroy is a publisher with a radical, anti-capitalist, anti-fascist edge, whose zines usually catalog thematically related police misdeeds over the ages, such as cops ruining Christmas or, most benignly, cases of cats attacking cops.

I learned about Research and Destroy because they’ll be exhibiting at the Brooklyn Zine Fest this weekend at the Brooklyn Historical Society!  I sort of missed the lead-up of associated panels and events around town, but the Zine fest is free, so maybe enjoy that…

That was a pretty weak segue I guess, but just wanted to get some of these thoughts onto e-paper!  Enjoy the weekend!

Brooklyn Zine Fest 2014 poster


Criterion Collecting

I’ve been checking a lot more DVDs out from my local libraries lately, and a couple recent ones were from the Criterion Collection, which has somehow become a sleek shorthand for quality films.  As a librarian I guess I love collections, but I’m sort of unclear as to the selection criteria (haha) for Criterion?  (Found it.)

At any rate, I was reminded of this video on the digitization of analog film that has been such a key part of Criterion’s mission since 1984:

Every time we start work on a film, we track down the best available film elements in the world, use state-of-the-art telecine equipment and a select few colorists capable of meeting our rigorous standards, then take time during the film-to-video digital transfer to create the most pristine possible image and sound.  Source

The movies I’ve been watching have been newer so I thought that wouldn’t be an issue, but turns out Aki Kaurismäki still films on film, so tools like Nucoda and Flame were used as part of the transfer from analog to digital, as pointed out in some fine print in the accompanying booklet…


Image by Manuele Fior

Speaking of Kaurismäki, the last movie I saw was his 2011 Le Havre, with a gorgeous cover image by Italian illustrator Manuele Fior which also speaks to the high artistic level of Criterion’s packaging; they have a shop for prints based on select artwork from their DVD covers and the distinctive brand labeling has been parodied on a Fake Criterions Tumblr too.  Guess that’s how you know you’ve made it…

From now on I will eagerly anticipate announcements of new Criterion releases like I do opera seasons and comic books; for the accompanying grouping and graphic design!

Flickr Commons Comics

Sometimes webcomics teach me a thing or two about the library world…

As you can see, Wondermark, by LA-based cartoonist David Malki !, is made up of repurposed illustrations, and derives much of its humor from the mystery of these recontextualized engravings, and especially the contrast with their very modern foibles and concerns (the internet, social media, etc).

On his about page, Malki ! discusses the making of his comic, which he populates with scans from his own personal collection of old books, as well as that of the Los Angeles Central Library.  Well, imagine his delight as more and more institutions put their digitized materials online, including The British Library‘s  recent entry into the Flickr Commons, Flickr’s repository for public domain images from institutions all over the world.  The comic above is made entirely from The British Library‘s newly available collections, which Malki ! celebrated by citing his sources, including this one:

British Library illustration, ID: 001437859

“Gleanings from popular authors” from The British Library

Already, The British Library has more than a million images on Flickr, all released into the public domain, so lots to explore and lots to do with them too…

iSketchnote illustrations

Digitize as You Go

I think we’re all aware by now of how out of control digital media production is…

With our daily output outpacing yearly output in times past, analog traditions like the picture album have a strange imbalance to deal with, as Sarah See Andersen hilariously points out above; a handful of pictures of our ancestors, a couple hard drives for our kids.  As we do more on our computers, we produce more digital stuff, but we never get a good grasp on these intangible collections and before you know it, it’s ballooned out of control; out of sight, out of mind.

As someone with a Wacom tablet, I’ve produced my share of born-digital drawings, but nothing on the scale of what the iSketchnote would permit… Continue reading