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…

I read it for the pictures…

At a workshop on FileMaker Pro this weekend with its founder, I learned about Brooklyn’s Reanimation Library, which collects out-of-mainstream-circulation books for their visual content.

I was reminded of my senior year as an art major, when I’d loiter around my library’s annual sale and wind up with more books than I needed, ostensibly to be used as art supplies or occasionally enjoyed for their illustrations.  I was thinking, “maybe this is a good way to get rid of some of these books I’m clearly never going to use”, but turns out the Reanimation Library already has one of them!


Yup, the 1974 Red Cross publication Lifesaving, with graphic, two-tone lineart; I knew I had good taste!  I do notice a lack of books on Hopi kachina dolls though, so might still have a few books worth donating…

I love this idea tremendously, and their site is great fun, with scanned images from lots of their books and information on in-house events that reanalyze libraries and their collections, and  temporary, far-flung branches that function as combination libraries and galleries.

Their items are marked based on how they were acquired, and Secondhand Stores are a popular option.  Which is all to say that tomorrow is Pratt Institute‘s library book sale, at the Brooklyn campus library from 10am to 6pm.  As an art school library, I’m sure visually interesting books are a forte… Continue reading

Arab Pictures Generation

“Archival artist” is not a medium I’d heard of before, but it’s fitting for Akram Zaatari, the Beirut-based artist and archivist whose work is on view at MoMA through Monday.  A founder of the Arab Image Foundation in 1997, devoted to preserving photography from North Africa and the Middle East, the two videos at MoMA bely the image-collecting tendencies at the center of his artistic practice.

The centerpiece of the exhibit (with movie house style seats and everything), “On Photography, People, and Modern Times” showcases items collected for the AIF in the late 1990s along with filmed interviews with the images’ donors on their memories of the events and people captured in those pictures.  Continue reading

Carl Andre in The Hague – Guggenheim Blogs

Did I mention I’m a blogger for the Guggenheim?  nbd or anything…

I interned in their library this spring, when librarians began joining archivists to blog about items from the collection, and I recently started blogging for them again, with one of my first new posts out today:

Carl Andre, Dutch binder

Dutch Museum binder on 1969 Carl Andre exhibit, in the Guggenheim collection

Carl Andre in The Hague – Guggenheim Blogs.

This was a pretty fun one to research, independent of my admiration for the Dutch,  especially since I found some relevant resources on Europeana, including this later picture of Andre at the same museum, the Haags Gemeentemuseum in The Hague.

You can see all my Guggenheim posts here!  I’m actually due to write up some more, so will keep you posted on any noteworthy Findings…