DML Blog

The New York Times' A History of New York in 50 Objects

posted on 20 Nov 2013 19:15 by Andrew Gardner

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Main screen of 50 Objects.

If you haven’t already heard, we are preparing for a very exciting exhibition on New York City in the 19th-century, curated by Prof. David Jaffee, who also heads up new media research here at the BGC. The exhibition opens in Fall 2014. While this is neither the time nor the place to begin discussing preparations for this exciting exhibition (Laura, my DML colleague, and I will be working on the In Focus gallery project next semester, so I am sure you will be hearing more about it very soon), I do think it’s an excellent opportunity to think about projects looking at similar subject matter and how it is treated in the digital space. Part of next semester’s challenge will be to conceive of any digital components of the exhibition. The other challenge is deciding which objects will work best to tell our story.

The New York Times’ A History of New York in 50 Objects is an excellent starting point for thinking about the life of New York City over the last several millenia. This digital gallery includes 50 objects that help define or explain the history of New York, from its earliest residents to the latest in 21st-century technology. Objects include: the tusk of one of Manhattan’s earlier residents (mastodons); a print of the settlement of the Dutch on Governor’s Island to the old oyster shells the heyday of the city’s industry; a stamp depicting the first Armory Show; the yellow metrocard; and an artisanal bar of chocolate from Brooklyn. It’s a remarkable collection of objects to be sure.

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Singer sewing machine.

This project is an interesting case to consider, partly because we, as students of material culture, have to approach these objects from multiple perspectives. We think about them as primary source documents where text or language do not exist and we think about what objects best represent our subject or best tell its story. I am therefore curious about some of the curatorial decisions that were made in this particular project, and the telling exclusions. In the comments section at the bottom of the page, a commenter suggests that there should be a shirtwaist representing the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which was a pivotal moment in the labor rights movement in America. But clearly, the editors and curators thought that an original Singer sewing machine would better illustrate the booming garment industry in New York and trumped the importance of the labor rights movement. As Sam Roberts, who wrote the introduction to the project says, “ours ‘can only be a history’ and ‘not the history.’”

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The challenges of piecing together a gigantic story using only a few key objects seems a remarkably difficult task, even with the help of curators and historians. For example, I would have liked to have seen reference made to the city’s agrarian past and perhaps something that touched on the city’s culture of fine dining and Broadway theater. With this in mind, I will say that I was quite interested to learn the story of the origins of air conditioning and that Edison operated a primitive power station on Pearl Street in Lower Manhattan before the age of electricity was upon us.

I am also intrigued with the way that the digital exhibition functions on the NYTimes.com site. The pop-up lightbox photo gallery feature is nice, but it still is very Web 2.0. I immediately think of the possibilities that tools like Prezi, where zoom features figure heavily and where the object and the text work seamlessly together as your navigate through a timeline or set path of images. At the very least, I would have loved to have seen zooming technology so that some of the smaller details of the objects themselves. While certainly light years ahead of what most institutions can accomplish in terms of technological slickness, I do think that the navigation, the lack of zooming technology and the inability to read more about a particular object are limitations of this project.

With all this in mind, it gives me a lot to think about as we look towards the spring semester, when we will be preparing the 19th-century New York Focus Gallery show. Stay tuned for more!

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The Fall 2013 DML Salon

posted on 30 Oct 2013 17:35 by Andrew Gardner

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Digital interactive from the American Styleshow.

Tuesday, September 16 was the Fall 2013 DML Salon in which BGC faculty and students presented digital projects from the past semester and shared their insights on the use of digital tools both inside and outside the classroom.

A presentation by Associate Curator Ann Tartsinis showing the interactives developed for the her upcoming Focus Gallery exhibition An American Style, which opened September 27 at the BGC Gallery, detailed the process of developing a digital exhibition component when working with an outside developer. The results of the project, which will be displayed on a touchscreen in the gallery and online, raised questions about the importance of the digital in contemporary exhibitions and understanding how digital can augment the material objects in the exhibition.

Prof. Catherine Whalen presented her BGC Oral History Craft, Art and Design Project, which is the culmination of work by students over the course of several years. Students interviewed a number of modern “makers,” from furniture designers and product designers to textile artists and architects, and compiled the written dialogues with visual components. In the time since each interview was recorded, Prof. Whalen and DML Director Prof. Kimon Keramides have worked with an outside team and BGC’s art director to interpret the work of these students and translate it into a website with a scholarly digital archive of influential modern makers.

Of particular note for this first year MA student was the use of SketchUp, a 3D rendering tool that allowed students to mock up their vision for an exhibition in a digital form. Students in Prof. Deborah Krohn and Prof. Ulrich Leben’s class tied to the BGC Gallery’s George Hoentschel show Salvaging the Past were asked to dream up their own exhibition, thinking about the main themes outlined by the show, entitled “Salvaging the Past.”

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Kelsey Brow's Google SketchUp Project.

One student, Kelsey Brow, mentioned her initial phobia of the digital space, preferring analog forms, like developing a gallery layout using an old shoebox. But the minute she got started working on her project on a now-destroyed French chateau, working in Sketchup became “a nine-to-five job, as in nine PM to five AM,” she said.

Brow went on to explain the tool’s usefulness outside the classroom. Her internship this past summer called for a digital mock up of a new gallery space. Her previous experience using SketchUp for class allowed her to lay out her ideas for the exhibition so that her boss could see her concept before any objects had been brought in or moved around. The class also taught students the importance of thinking about the physical limitations of some objects in terms of gallery space and the importance of taking detailed notes about an object’s dimensions, as well as important considerations like object availability and insurance.

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Danielle Charlap's Prezi exhibition mock-up.

Student’s from Prof. Keramides’ class on Interface Design talked about their own approaches to presenting their exhibition ideas. One student, Zahava Friedman-Stadler, utilized SketchUp and the supplemental 3D Warehouse to digitally render every single object in her exhibition in 3D form. Another, Danielle Charlap, was new to some of the digital tools presented in the class, but chose to render her exhibition about the process of buying books on Amazon.com using Prezi, a web-based presentation and interactive tool. The results of both projects showed the diverse range and possibilities for thinking about these projects and the importance of moving these ideas beyond the paper and into the digital—and finally—the physical space.

Several members of the faculty and students continued to return to questions of digital pedagogy and how digital fluency is a key asset for students working in the real world. No longer are students resigned to thinking about their exhibition in terms of a tiny shoebox or presenting a flat PowerPoint of images and text. As the coursework moves more towards the digitally savvy, tech-friendly space, it becomes imperative for us all to think about new ways of working with our beloved objects.


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Andrew Gardner, 2013-2014 DML Assistant

posted on 23 Oct 2013 17:42 by Andrew Gardner

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Watercolor portrait of Andrew by Maya Bradford.

Hi, I’m Andrew! I’m a first year MA student at the Bard Graduate Center. I have been living and working in New York for the last three and a half years, first in art publishing, then in arts and education. In undergrad, I studied journalism and graphic design, so I am coming to the BGC with a different line of inquiry; the way in which I approach an object or a theme is both as a maker and as an investigator. The array of perspectives and varied fields of investigation among students and faculty at the BGC were what drew me to the BGC initially and have allowed me to work through and expand on my own ideas about what an MA in Decorative Arts, Design History and Material Culture means to me. To that end, I am interested in the material culture of social or community-oriented spaces like the restaurant and kitchen and how these places become centers for all sorts of cross-cultural exchange, both in terms of decoration and in terms of dining rituals and customs. What I like most about the BGC is that these ideas are constantly evolving and I am also thinking about the architecture and built environment of cities, particularly of the 19th century, as well as systems and information design, as it applies to both graphic and interface design.

I came to the Digital Media Lab with a solid background using the array of Creative Suite tools (Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, etc.) as well as knowledge of HTML and CSS. I figured this was a place where I could use these tools in a practical way and also learn more about audio, video and 3D technologies. What I have discovered is that the DML is a place of (almost) limitless possibilities, where any new technology is considered and explored as not only a mode of pedagogy but also as a practical approach to thinking about and looking at objects. There is so much opportunity here to arm yourself with skills that can then be applied in the real world, from working with collections management-type software to working with web languages, laser scanners and video editing tools. There’s so much to learn from and do here, but I’m most looking forward to working on visuals for gallery shows, website coding and playing with the 3D printer!


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Laura Kelly-Bowditch, 2013-2014 DML Assistant

posted on 22 Oct 2013 17:20 by Laura Kelly-Bowditch

Hello, I’m Laura, a second year MA student. I was attracted to the program offered by the BGC because it brought together my undergrad studies in history and archaeology. Objects, I had learned in school and later at work, tell different stories than texts alone and I was excited to unite all of my experiences and interests at grad school.

I was introduced to the work going on at the DML last year through my participation in a project to scan and create a 3D model of a knight’s armor at the Metropolitan Museum, as well as through using SketchUp in an exhibition design class. Over the summer, I continued my foray into digital media at the Brooklyn Museum’s Digital Lab. It has become increasingly obvious to me through my coursework, as well as on the job, that digital media is becoming essential to the modern scholar of art, history, and museums. I am excited to be in the DML this year expanding my knowledge base of digital humanities in the museum world, 3D technologies, and other digital platforms as they relate to decorative arts, design history, and material culture.

I am particularly eager to work more with 3D technologies. Experimenting with photogrammetry—creating a 3D model out of a series of photos—on the Metropolitan’s knight project was fascinating and opens up a new world of possibilities for the uses of these technologies in museums. At the Brooklyn Museum, the BGC’s gallery, and at other institutions across the city, I have seen digital media in action and I am excited to explore new outlets for their use in cultural institutions.


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DML Salon Recap

posted on 05 Apr 2013 04:30 by Nynne Christoffersen

On Thursday, February 21, the BGC held its seventh salon. The DML Salon is a semiannual event that showcases some of the most exciting projects done in the lab from the previous semester. As such, the salon functions as a kind of academic show-and-tell and offers a unique glimpse into the latest developments within the BGC community. With the overarching theme - digital projects - the DML Salon is one of the events that best captures the spirit of current activity at the BGC. The salon provides a chance to see the efforts of both academic and curatorial initiatives combined: professors and students exhibit work that in many cases are done specifically for an exhibition in one of our galleries but can also come out of individual research initiatives or student-driven workshops. The DML is an open space for sharing knowledge on technology that can enhance, expand or communicate scholarly work, and the salons let that work shine.

This semester the DML Salon was happy to present work from three courses/projects. From Matthew Wittman’s course, “Pleasing the Crowd: Public History and the Material Culture of the American Circus”, Tenann Bell showed her online project.

Students from Kimon Keramidas's course “Media and Materiality: How Technology Shapes Media and Media Shape Culture” presented work they completed in developing a site for the course. Lisa Adang, Hannah Kinney and Antonia Behan presented their portions of the course site.

Kimon discussed progress on the digital interactive component of the upcoming Focus Gallery exhibition, Confluences: An American Expedition to Northern Burma, 1935.

Lastly, Sarah Rogers Morris shared her site, an independent class project for Erin Eisenbarth's class "Material Culture of Women in 19th Century America".


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