Below is the full-length abstract for "Digital Platforms in Arts Institutions: A Report from the Field", a paper I'm co-writing with my project partner, Aleks Kaminska, PhD. I will be presenting our research at both CSDH at Congress 2016 in Calgary, as well as DHSI 2016 in Victoria (both in June).
This paper is one of my first 'reports on findings' for a project not related to my dissertation research; Aleks and I met at DHSI (UVic) last year and found that we have a number of common interests. Our discussions spawned an initial co-written conference paper, which led to the development of a larger project (we realized the information we were after didn't exist, so we've set out to find answers on our own).
This paper offers a comparative assessment of art institutions’ use of digital space that is concerned with the future implications of today’s applications of DH tools by arts organizations. Outlining the currently blurry distinctions between curatorial platforms such as the e-catalogue, the online exhibition, and the digital humanities project, the paper considers the implications of these various modes of online engagement specifically for archiving, preservation, and art historical research. Digital tools offer art institutions new opportunities for transforming traditional exhibition and documentation structures, but also pose new challenges: how will future generations of art historians access today’s digital dissemination initiatives? For example, exhibition catalogues have so far remained stable and relevant archival forms, despite the opportunities of digital publishing. But as recent projects such as the Getty Foundation’s Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative are revising the conventions and expectations for catalogues, new questions about the role of the catalogue in the methodologies of curators and art historians are being raised. Indeed, the conversion of the catalogue into online space increasingly muddies the lines between exhibition and documentation space as it moves from linear and flat to interactive and modular, archival to ephemeral, digitized to born-digital—from future-oriented document, to a curatorial project in its own right. Does the traditional print catalogue still have a role to play as an object with archival value, and how do we this reconcile this with the risks of replacing a paper document with digital “solutions”? This paper uses the transformations of publishing and of the catalogue as one particular lens through which to consider the ambiguous and problematic role of digital space for the arts. In doing so it offers a context for considering the implications of distinguishing practices like e-catalogues or e-exhibitions as projects of digital humanities vs ones of digital art history. Analyzing this relationship is essential as DH tools start being increasingly used by the visual arts community, and especially as digital art history tries to catch up, in theory and practice, with DH (Drucker 2006; 2013; Posner 2015).
Curation in the digital age is always-already highly attuned to the affordances and emergent methods proffered by the digital humanities. DH platforms resolve issues central to the needs of the curatorial enterprise, with both curators and digital humanists invested in the creation of agile, multi-modal digital spaces and iterative research in general. Changing curatorial approaches like exhibition-documentation hybrids and digital projects-as-publications pose significant challenges for the future of art history, and offer a revealing starting point for considering the convergence of art research with digital humanities. This paper uses comparative case studies and interviews to consider these implications, including close readings of institutional websites, and examining policy statements and variances in nomenclature and practice. Interviews with collections managers and curators at major Canadian galleries and art museums (e.g. Art Gallery of Ontario, Vancouver Art Gallery), and the directors or administrators at select artist-run centres and commercial galleries, offer additional insight on the state of digital initiatives in theory and practice in contemporary art contexts.
I'm sharing this because I'd like to record the process of seeking these findings, as well as the even more complex process of co-creating a multifarious DH/Digital Art History project on top of our other (many!) obligations. Most of all, I'm hoping to capture the thrill of collaborating with someone who brings out the best in oneself. We're still developing the questionnaire, but have performed some analyses of extant documentation. There remains much to be done!