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The virtual museum is not simply a museum in virtual space

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — cross-posted from Sembl — on the infinite possibilities of juxtaposition in gallery & museum, catalog & library — creativity & the Sembl game ]
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Van Gogh's Sunflowers: the Amsterdam and National Gallery Sunflowers side by side, Jan 2014. Photo credit: Julian Simmonds, Telegraph UK

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Please note that what I term here the “virtual museum” is intended to cover both a physical museum or gallery space with available or built in digital affordances and the museum as a completely portable function of the digital network and its devices alone.

I originally wrote this set of notes on February 10, 1997, and have made only tiny changes in the text as presented here — removing one paragraph that was left incomplete, switching the last two bullet points, and placing one “spare” sentence in a suitable context.

As I look back to those days of the Magister Ludi list, and forward to Cath Styles‘s progress with Sembl, I have a sense that this document was prescient, the seed of much that is coming into being now, as we speak. Like all such visions, the manifestation has developed over time, but the idea of the ready, multiple comparison of museum or gallery objects, together with supporting documentation, is still fresh: over time the invisible becomes cutting-edge.

To set the scene, here is a quote from Sven Birkerts that had long inspired me:

There are tremendous opportunities, and we are probably on the brink of the birth of whole new genres of art which will work through electronic systems. These genres will likely be multi-media in ways we can’t imagine. Digitalization, the idea that the same string of digits can bring image, music, or text, is a huge revolution in and of itself. When artists begin to grasp the creative possibilities of works that are neither literary, visual, or musical, but exist using all three forms in a synthetic collage fashion, an enormous artistic boom will occur.

With that insight in mind, here’s a glimpse of my early thoughts about the glass bead game and the museum:

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That’s right — the virtual museum is not simply a museum in virtual space

I

What’s going on here is that we’re dealing with a multidimensional space rather than the flat space of a wall or the three dimensional space of a room.

  • Walk-through “real-life” museums necessarily organize their collections in such a way that one work of art is sequentially related to the next. The visitor walks up a corridor, or through a room, and takes in each work in sequence, carrying a little of the previous work trailing in memory — and on occasion stepping back to view two works placed next to one another in a comparative way.
  • In her hand or in his ear, a textual commentary is available: the catalogue. And this is typically consulted in a one-to-one relation, such that picture 63 is viewed and the text for picture 63 heard or read.

The museum is a collection of physical objects with stories which explain them: virtual space is a space of virtual objects with linkages between them.

  • It follows that the virtual museum is a collection of virtual objects and the linkages between them.
  • But what are those objects?
  • We cannot assume the objects in the virtual museum are limited to the objects in the physical museum: if nothing else, the stories which explain those objects will themselves be objects in the virtual museum.
  • Both “collection objects” and “catalogue entries” are represented in the same digital fashion. The catalogue entries, in other words, are objects in the virtual museum.
  • We do not carry a catalog as we browse the virtual museum… “collection” and “catalog” merge.

The virtual museum is its own virtual catalog.

  • And this is because the digital democratization of information which obtains on the web renders the “art object” and the “art-historical text” functionally equal.
  • In fact, “digital democratization” allows for the expansion of presentable content to include not only visual and art historical materials on an equal footing, but also all manner of other texts, the world of literature and drama, architectural renderings, mathematical analogs and explanations, sounds and musical items…
  • Thus the virtual museum need not and should not limit itself to physical objects [eg pictures, sculptures] and associated texts, but can and should contain linkages to other arts and modes of representation [eg musical, literary, historical, scientific and mathematical expressions].
  • Furthermore, the virtual museum need not limit itself to the objects in its sponsor museum’s holdings, but may also contain linkages to the holdings of other museums: indeed — and importantly — web-based “frames” make this possible without the viewer leaving the originating web site.
  • Not just the museum catalogue and reference library, but also the world’s other museums, private collections, text libraries, record libraries and databases are all available as reference points for the items in the collection.
  • Linkage, in other words, is the “new” in our context, while objects and their stories are the given.
  • We do not move from room to room but from link to link as we browse the virtual museum.

The virtual museum can be conceived as an ellipse with one focus in the originating collection and the other in world cultural history…

  • The “virtual proximity” of other bodies of knowledge on the net and web invites the inclusion of multiple reference points outside the collection: effectively, the museum as we know it transforms into a repository of world culture whose special focus is the collection:
  • The virtual museum is thus no longer archeologically or artistically based: it encompasses all forms of expression.
  • The museum becomes an expression of cultural totality.

The floorplan of the virtual museum is an n-dimensional graph of nodes and links.

  • The essence of the difference between the museum and the virtual museum is this: objects in the virtual museum are “next to” a far larger number of other objects than objects in the physical museum.
  • The system of linkages inherent in the structure of the Internet and the World Wide Web expands our concept of the museum by making possible a bewildering variety of new “throughways” between and among the items displayed, and “outside” the museum: thus raising new problems and possibilities in sequencing the experience of the “visitor”.
  • What happens as a result is that linkage itself blossoms from a narrow and largely sequential business into a multiplex affair.
  • The juxtaposition of one artefact with another explodes in an unimaginable freedom, and a system of constraints must therefore be imagined to limit and lead the viewer — through a “garden of forking paths” — to a desired and appropriate outcome.

To understand this is to make a virtue of the virtual … and a cathedral of the museum.

II

The virtual museum is not simply a museum in virtual space, but the virtual presentation of whatever the museum-as-archetype has been or will be in the labyrinth of human vision.

  • The sequencing the visitor’s experience in virtual space will thus inevitably reflect the topology not only of the collection, but also of the catalog and of the web itself.
  • And this topography brings a new feature to the foreground: linkage. The links between items themselves begin to assume considerable esthetic importance.
  • The museum and the library can no longer be separated, since their contents are intermingled: and the result is that the virtual museum, like the cathedral before it, becomes a speculum mundi or”mirror of the world”.

We live in secular times, and the museum is our cathedral.

  • This could mean, minimally, that the museum has replaced the cathedral as the central space where people congregate in a culturally rich environment. Maximally, and thus potentially, it means that whatever the cathedral was for us — master artwork of combined artworks in many media, ritual space, hub of the city, mirror of worlds — the museum can be.
  • The secular does not lack for a sacred dimension, but offers access to it in a manner that does not demand a specific, local belief or practice.
  • The virtual museum as secular cathedral is the place where all the world’s imaginal trasures come together as offerings, and from which all the world departs imaginally enriched.
  • The museum is thus heir to the phenomenology of shamans, saints and mystics, as well as of artists and their patrons, teachers and students — for it is visited by crowds in which each individual carries a different cultural inheritance, now Italian, now Congolese, now Navaho, now Santeria…

The test of the museum is its cathedral-effectiveness: its capacity to invoke wonder.

  • The virtual museum is thus a special case of the “art form” described by Hermann Hesse in his novel The Glass Bead Game:
  • The elevation of the virtual museum is a sacramental elevation.

Lotus board for a HipBone / Sembl type game

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — simply blown away ]
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Cath Styles and her team have worked even more magic with the latest (at least to my knowledge) board for the Museum Game at the National Museum of Australia

Beautiful. Huzzah!!

The White House, Games, and HipBone/Sembl — today

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — a project of keen interest to me, and a request for your support ]
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Something is going on in one corner of the White House that has me agog in a pleasant way.


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Mark DeLoura, Senior Advisor for Digital Media at the WH Office of Science and Technology Policy is soliciting ideas about Games that Can Change the World. I’ve jumped in, and so have some old friends, one auld acquaintance and one new…

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The home page for this project is hosted on its own Games for Impact site, and I’d invite you to take a look, and note in particular…

  • Games where ideas collide (& create new ideas)
  • This is my own page, for the HipBone / Sembl games and DoubleQuotes — and if you have found my style of analysis valuable, you may want to go there, (take the trouble to) log in, and upvote my idea — making a comment too, should you so wish.

  • Positive Impact and Game Evangelism
  • Similarly, you can log in and upvote the whole idea by supporting this proposal, the current “leading” concept…

    Part of what makes this entry so interesting is the fact that Chris Crawford, game designer and thinker non pareil, is discussing his own long-hoped-for paradigm shift in game design in this thread. Chris is the “auld acquaintance” I mentioned, and I met him via the good services of my old friend Mike Sellers late in the last century. It is good to read him again in the new millennium.

  • Games to increase understanding about emergent social systems
  • Mike’s own offering is this one, which I also highly recommend. Mike is one of the founding fathers of multiplayer games with graphical architecture, and has more recently been working to bring human psychology into gameplay with increasing subtlety. By all means give him a vote up if that sounds good.

  • Knecht/Connect – a playable version of the Glass Bead Game
  • As you know, my own games attempt to bring the game concept embedded in Hermann Hesse’s great novel, The Glass Bead Game / Magister Ludi into playable form, and my friend Paul Pilkington has been doing the same in a series of books [1, 2, 3] and a Twitter stream. Let’s help him get some recognition, too…

  • Try the Poietic Generator
  • This one’s a game concept I like, too — it’s based on Conway‘s Game of Life… and brings it alive!

    It was submitted by Olivier Auber, whom I hadn’t previously met — so he’s my new acquaintance, and I’m hoping his game ideas will flourish and that acquaintance will grow into friendship in as things unfold…

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    So that’s the overall project, along with a sampling of specific ideas that I admire and would invite you to support. I hope you’ll find (and support) some other game concepts of interest, too.

    In a follow up post honoring Chris Crawford — which may still take a while to write and post — I’ll be looking at some of the historical background of “serious games” — and of the HipBone / Sembl style of thinking in particular.

    Geometry aka logic as an analytic tool

    Friday, June 28th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — reflections on cognitive empowerment by selective noticing ]
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    I just realized that I take notice of details at the level of “geometry aka logic” which I would miss if I were more focused on content. In effect, I treat idiosyncracies and hiccups of expression — such as paradoxes — as indicative of condensed or distilled meaning.

    What triggered this realization was the way my interest was aroused by this phrase:

    The parallel universes may soon become perpendicular.

    I found that today in an FP piece, Will June 30 be midnight for Morsi’s Cinderella story?

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    Paradox? Geometry? Contradiction? Figure of speech?

    It’s the irregularity in the pattern used to describe the events in question that catches my eye here, however you care to name it. And something very similar is going on when I flag the weird juxtapositions of imagery and music in Taylor Swift, Sara Mingardo, JS Bach and a quiet WTF, or the koan-like tensions and reconciliations inherent in such inseparable pairs as war-and-peace in Of dualities, contradictions and the nonduality.

    Here’s the full paragraph, discussing the increasing polarization of the Egyptian public, and some ways in which “the current situation differs more in degree than in kind from the recent past”:

    Second, violence is on the table. The parallel universes may soon become perpendicular. Of course, Egyptian politics has had its victims over the past two and a half years, but violence has seemed episodic and almost self-limiting since those who have deployed it have paid a heavy political price. Nobody advocates violence now, but many expect it and it is not uncommon to hear from both sides that they will not shrink from self-defense. And the line between self-defense and offensive action can become thin for each camp for opposite reasons. The opposition is hardly centrally controlled and rogue elements have already been involved in attacks on Brotherhood offices as well as those of its political party. For the Brotherhood, its discipline has led it to prepare for what it sees as defensive action in a manner that understandably appears threatening to outsiders (especially after the events of December 2012 when Brotherhood cadres constituted themselves as a vigilante force to confront those demonstrating at the presidential palace).

    Okay, so I’m already reading the article, ergo I must already have been interested enough in what’s going on in Egypt to click through to it. So why the fuss about paradox and geometry in what is, after all, only one turn of phrase in a piece whpose subject already interests me?

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    I’m still feeling my way towards and understanding of how my mind works, how I pick up on things, how I populate my mind with rich and interesting memories, how I make my small and large creative “leaps” — my means of collecting and connecting dots, if you will. Because there’s a cognitive skill there that I haven’t seen taught, and I believe it offers an “outside the box” alternative mode of monitoring topics of interest.

    You know, of course, that most every time you read the words you know, of course, that it’s a dead giveaway that the speaker or writer is skimming quickly past a cherished assumption that he or she wouldn’t want you to examine too carefully? Of course you do. It’s one of those psychological “tells” that should alert you, like a facial tick, a hesitation, or that curious (and paradoxical) tight grip on one arm of the chair with one hand while the other rests almost disdainfully relaxed and gracious on the other, in El Greco’s masterful portrait of a Cardinal, now in the Metropolitan in New York:

    How very telling that sort of detail can be!

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    And intersections.

    I talk quite a bit about juxtapositions and parallelisms, because they’re the elements of “creative leaps” (and Sembl / Hipbone moves) and I “practice” noting them for my DoubleQuotes. But one way to clear the xlutter from mind is to concentrate on places where two fields intersect. I’m interested in apocalyptic, for instance, so I take particular note when someone from a Christian apocalyptic POV (Joel Richardson, Joel Rosenberg, eg) writes about Islamic eschatology, or when someone from an Islamic apocalyptic POV (Sh. Safar al-Hawali, eg) writes about Christian eschatology. Reading wherever I notice this kind of overlap means that I learn in two contexts — effectively doubling my knowledge value — where most reading that’s not “targeted” this way only allows me to learn in one…

    Again: parallelisms, overlaps, paradoxes, perpendiculars, contradictions — these are all “formal properties” of a given text rather than “contents” — that’s the level of abstraction at which you can make the details sing.

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    Hey, I’m not alone. As I was cleaning this post up, Adam Elkus tweeted a link to a post about the CTO of Intel, Intel Labs: Assuring Corporate Immortality by Rob Enderle, which contains this phrase:

    This is very orthogonal thinking

    There we go! The word orthogonal is so important to me, and is so often on the tip of my tongue but out of reach of immediate memory, that I have a file on my computer consisting solely of the words “opposite oblique orthogonal congruent incongruous antithetical obtuse parallel asymptotic perpendicular right angles” — so if I can remember any one of them, I can easily find “orthogonal”.

    Very orthogonal thinking — terrific!

    Apocalyptic Fire in Azan #2

    Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — on end-times rhetoric and having no need of sun or moon ]
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    Detail from a Commentary on the Apocalypse by Beatus of Liebana

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    On the whole, the “signs of the end times” described in the installment of Maulana Asim Umar‘s Third World War and Dajjal, pp. 23-31, and now posted in the second issue of Azan on pp 83-89 are standard fare of the “wars and rumors of wars” type that could fit pretty much any time n history, including our own — “When the most despicable person of a nation would be its leader” would fit an astounding number of rulers across recorded history, depending on your point of view, including Nero and Diocletian, George III and Abe Lincoln, and a slew of Saddams, Mubaraks and Assads

    There was one section, however, that struck me as a powerful piece of visionary apocalyptic, and I wanted to bring it to the attention of those interested in such things.

    The Maulana writes [I’ve omitted the Arabic honorifics since I lack Arabic, and corrected one typo in Enlish]:

    “Hazrat Abu Hurayrah narrates that the Prophet of Allah said that the Day of Judgment would not occur before a fire erupts from Hijaz and lights up the necks of the camels of Basra.” [Bukhari, Muslim]

    The incident mentioned in this Hadith has already occurred according to Hafiz Ibn Kathir (RA) and other historians. This fire appeared in 650 H on the Day of Jumu’ah in some valleys of Madinah Munawwarah and remained for about a month. The narrators have said that the fire suddenly erupted from the direction of Hijaz. The scene looked like a whole city of fire – containing a whole castle, tower or battlement etc. Its height was 4 “farsakh” (around 12 miles) and its width was 4 miles. The fire would melt any mountain it reached as if the mountain was made out of wax or glass. Its flames had the sound of thunder and the energy of river waves. Blue and red-colored rivers looked to be coming out of the fire. In such a (horrible) state, the fire reached Madinah Munawwarah. But the curious thing was that the wind that was emanating from the direction of the flames felt cool in Madinah. The scholars have written that the fire had encompassed all the jungles of Madinah such that in the Haram-e-Nabwi and in Madinah, all the houses were lit up as if from the sun. The people would do all their work in the night from the light (of the fire); in fact, the light of the sun and the moon would became faded because of the light of the fire.

    Some people of Makkah (at the time of the fire) bore witness that they saw the fire while they were in Yamama and Basra.

    A strange quality of the fire was that it used to burn the stones to coal but it would not have any effect on the trees. It is said that there was a large stone in a jungle – half of it was in the limits of Haram-e-Madina and half of it was outside the limits. The fire burnt to coal the half of the stone that was outside the limits of the Haram-e-Madina. However, it cooled when it reached to the other half and hence, this half remained safe.

    The people of Basrah bore witness that they saw the necks of camels light up from the light of the fire…

    [The Beginning and the End: Ibn Kathir (RA)]

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    You know my interest in semblances and parallelisms. Compare:

    in fact, the light of the sun and the moon would became faded because of the light of the fire

    in that narrative with:

    the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God did lighten it

    in Revelation 21:23.

    I am not arguing that there is an echo between the two accounts, nor that they describe the same phenomenon — simply that the rhetoric of each has a similar poetic intensity. This just happens to be one of those occasions when there are more things in heaven than are dreamed of in your natural sciences.


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