DML Blog

Chuspas at the AMNH #focusgallery

posted on 02 Apr 2013 19:31 by BGC DML

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Today I went with Nicola Sharrat's class Weaving through the Past and into the Present: 10,000 Years of Andean Textiles to the textile archives at the American Museum of Natural History. Nicola is our current AMNH post-doctoral fellow (following in the footsteps of of Aaron Glass and Erin Hasinoff) and is working on a fascinating focus gallery project that centers on chuspas. //Chuspas are personalized bags made for the carrying of coca leaves that have been made for centuries in what is present day Bolivia and Peru. Nicola and I have been talking since she arrived last semester about these bags and how we might be able to leverage digital media in the gallery as a way to elaborate on the story she is trying to tell through her exhibition.

Today was an exciting day because we got to actually see the bags under the guidance of AMNH staff. It was particularly important for all of us to see these bags up close as we start to envision what shape an interactive will take and they were a great reminder of how the physical and material characteristics of the objects are the starting point for digital work. As we looked at the bags we noticed the different weaving techniques, styles in relationship to geographic origin, varieties in color and size and a wide array of iconic figures and visual motifs that were more or less prominent depending on the bag.

My personal favorite moment was when a student turned to Nicola and myself and asked what digital framework we would be working with and how the bags would be arranged in such a digital format. Nicola and I happily looked at each other and replied that that was up to the students to think about and that we would be asking and answering those questions together in class starting next week, continuing throughout the semester, and then really working in earnest to prototype digital models during the tutorial this coming fall. The student looked a little intimidated at first, but once she realized that the possibilities were open and that she would be able to participate in an intelligent design process I could sense her excitement growing. It was a great moment that reminded me of how unique and valuable the focus gallery experience is. The ability to work with highly knowledgeable professionals on really interesting objects and be immersed in both the analog and digital sides of the process of exhibition development is an opportunity that is clearly one of the highlights for BGC students. Looking at the real materials that will inspire the digital work that will take shape in the months to come really brought that home to Nicola, the students and myself today.


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Tags: amnh chuspas focusgallery sharratt


Wikis in the classroom

posted on 14 Feb 2012 20:54 by Sara Spink

I think it fortunate that in my time here as a student at the BGC, 13 of my 14 courses did use or are using class-specific wiki sites to varying degrees. At the most basic level, the platform provides a flexible and accessible resource for students to receive up-to-date information about the syllabus and class activities, and allows for a common access point for me and my colleagues to sign up for presentations or upload assigned readings that are then easily disseminated to everyone. But the wikis work best when they’re exploited to their full potential as a fluid entity that can be fully integrated into classroom activities and discussions.

With several of my classes it’s been really gratifying to be able to look back on the multilayered site we’ve built together over the course of the semester. Sometimes the site reflects the process of our independent research, enabling an ongoing dialogue over several months as we pursue our respective projects and pose questions about our direction or materials. This was certainly the case in the second iteration of Christmas Cards in America class (which developed into a focus gallery exhibition this past winter), as well as in The Social Lives of Things: The Anthropology of Art and Material Culture (which in part built on the previous semester’s Objects of Exchange course and focus gallery exhibition, and which culminated in an expansion of that research—this is reflected in the online version of the exhibition website; see also Kimon’s previous post).

It’s been most exciting for me when the wikis have enabled productive discussion that both drew from previous classes and contributed to those forthcoming, promoting the development of questions and ideas beyond specified class time. The use of forums and comments, and the implementation of continuously augmented pages of related imagery and media, all contributed to such an experience. Last semester, our Scenic Design course extended our interaction even further. That wiki boasts not only the enormously beneficial visual syllabus that Kimon has mentioned in previous posts, but also “digital portfolios” of each student’s work. We were challenged to integrate various types of media with our textual research, and to post and present that material online—I particularly enjoyed this encouragement to share and reflect on each other’s projects. Regardless of how they are used, the course wikis have a tremendous potential to stand as a rich testament to the interests and achievements of both students and faculty.


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Tags: focusgallery glass materialresearch objectsofexchange spink students visualresearch wikis


Objects of Exchange Expanded Launch #focusgallery

posted on 08 Dec 2011 19:15 by BGC DML

One of the first projects that really energized and challenged the Digital Media Lab was Aaron Glass's focus gallery Objects of Exchange: Social and Material Transformation on the Late Nineteenth-Century Northwest Coast. With a background in film and an eagerness to experiment and explore in digital media, Aaron's project took advantage of a lot of technologies never used before at the BGC. In particular, his use of a wiki as a collaborative platform for the accumulation and organization of information on the objects for the exhibition was for a long time the example that we used to show students, faculty, and guests the potential that wikis had for working with visual and material culture.

The exhibition also had an interactive touch screen that showed a network of connectivity between keywords relevant to the exhibition and the objects on display. Touching the keywords or objects resituated the materials to show the dense complexity of the connections. One fascinating aspect of the evolution of this interactive cloud had been that it almost completely came out of students' use of the tagging feature of the wikis and the preexisting tag cloud module that represented an alternate taxonomy to understanding the connectedness of the materials in the exhibition. Aaron and I had a chance to write about the role of digital media in the exhibition process in the catalog, and that work helped set a foundation for much of the work that has been done in the DML in the following years.

Even though the exhibition has long since closed, Aaron continues to work on this collection objects and the material culture of the Northwest Coast. Recently the BGC has launched an expanded version of the exhibition's web site with more objects, additional research material by students, and audio visual material. It is a great expansion on what has proved to be a valuable endeavor for the BGC and is worth a look at.

- Kimon

Here is the official release:


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