Tuesday, 19 January 2016

A Wall of Potential

A wall of pixels greets you when you follow the link to Visualize the Public Domain on the NewYork Public Library Public Domain website, and it looks like something both lifeless and without meaning.

 NYPL Public Domain Visualization
A Wall of Pixels
But allow your mouse to hover, and each pixel comes to life arousing something deeper than mere digital experience.

A living pixel
Each Pixel tells a Tale
In fact it represents countless hours of work to digitize countless works that in themselves would have taken their creators hours of precious time. Layers and layers of history and art overlain by further layers of contemporary history, because right now in our present day, there is a serious drive to digitize every artefact from every nook and cranny of our libraries, museums and national galleries. Will historians one day look back at our headlong pursuit of digitization? Where will it end? Will we ever get it all digitized? Only if one day, robots can do it? Is it really worth it?

One advantage is the sheer quantity that is now available to the digital scroller. Many curators have too many works to display, so storerooms house boxes of art and memorabilia. Once digitized and classified, these items become available to the click of a mouse. And more besides. The site describes the various channels into its volumes of works as experiments, encouraging even the most passive visitor to consider how it is all presented, and if there are other ways to get this out to the public, who let us not forget, are the current inheritors, curators, and future bestowers of every piece known and as yet unknown.

Behind each pixel is human endeavour, that of the artist to find meaning in the world, or an historian (amateur or professional) to conserve something of meaning for future generations, and the digitizers and visualizers who wish to share with as many people as possible the potentiality of each artefact, small and great.

The New York Public Library offer an API interface so that the data is truly ours to use and share freely. Perhaps one day our screen savers will be dipping into this ever growing global digital body and randomly pulling a painting from the Louvre or an imprint from a library in Kerry or wherever your settings may take you.

No comments:

Post a Comment