Oral History of Museum Computing: Sarah Kenderdine
This Oral History of Museum Computing is provided by Sarah Kenderdine, and was recorded on the 30th of April, 2021, by Paul Marty and Kathy Jones. It is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license (CC-BY), which allows for unrestricted reuse provided that appropriate credit is given to the original source. For the recording of this oral history, please see https://youtu.be/2O89RICwDGU.
I was a maritime archaeologist, as you probably know. And working at the West Australian Maritime Museum. In particular, I was working on the Indian Ocean Program for Excavation, which covered Oman, China, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Cambodia. Very exotic. And I had an extremely clever boss called Dr. Jeremy Green at the Maritime Museum that we were in. And I was hired as the young blood curator, as they called me, you know, in those days. I’m the one that wrote this “The Bluffer’s Guide to Maritime Archaeology” for my final paper. And got given an ‘A’ by Jeremy an ‘E’ by the other professor. [laughing] So. Yup. Anyway. So, then he hires me. Great. [laughing] Very clever man and he said to me, I think it was 1993, and he said, “Sarah, there is something called the World Wide Web, and I want one.” [laughing]
So, being the dutiful youngblood curator, I went and built one. And so we put it online in 1994. So, maybe after others, of course. We put all the databases online for maritime museums. So not only ours, but connected up other ones. And we got notes from the government saying we’re the first cultural organization in the southern hemisphere to have a website of note. Yeah. For a cultural place.
So suddenly, there I am. Having done that, I then started to do a master’s. So I’m working full time. I did all my degrees while I was working full time. And I did my master’s at architecture school, in ‘information architecture’. The thesis was something like “Sailing on the Silicon Sea.” You know, the website of the West Australia Maritime Museum. And that I presented about it all over the world. And it’s also what led me to, I guess, my colleagues in the States… I think 1997 was the first time I went to Museums in the Web. Maybe? And I was thrilled to bits. I was suddenly in a community not in Western Australia. In Perth, which is the world’s most isolated city in the world. Right? It is. Like it’s – that’s one of its characters, characteristics.
So then, that was really good. By that time I’d built what some people say was the first black page website. You know, animated gif of a coin from one of these Dutch shipwrecks on the front cover. Some nice cut out arches and a black page. No one had done that before. And nobody does that now, by the way. [laughing] It fell out of fashion about 1999. [laughing] And then I started to be offered jobs and I moved. I quit my maritime archaeology job, which I think was a bit – how should we say? Well, it was a dramatic move, having been hired as a young blood curator. And I moved to [Sydney]. And to build the Australia Museums Online Portal Gateway site. And so, still having maritime in my blood, one of the first things we did was live broadcasting from shipwreck excavations over satellite. Right? From the middle of the ocean. So, it’s like, you know – it’s not even 2000 yet and we’re doing these quite radical things that were really difficult to do. You know diving on a shipwreck, broadcasting stuff up every single day over a satellite. So that was, I thought, pretty seminal.
The Australian Museums Online – we started a museums journal for digital. And we thought, “Well, this is going to be great.” I did this with Andrea Wit, who’s a museum theorist in Australia. Wonderful person, whose written a lot about interactive media and things. And basically it was shunned, right, by the mainstream. “Why are you starting this free online open access journal [laughing], when we are the best [ends?] of pedagogy and academia?” And coming from different parts of the of the government. So we decided, well, we did a few issues and that was that actually. We just couldn’t get the traction. The whole project evaporated, really. It became a political football. And I think it’s really true that many of the big portal gateways have really suffered. I don’t think there is one in America, for instance. The one in Europe is Europeana, which is kind of an independent EU body. But most portals never survived actually. Which is interesting because we all believe that the network should be about networked culture. Yeah?
Similarly, I built a portal gateway for ASEAN – the ten Southeast Asian nations. And that was – that was a very political showcase. So I was working in Asia a lot. And connected to that a lot. And then 2000 came and the Olympic Games arrived in Sydney, right. So Intel came to the museum three weeks before Christmas and said, “Hey, you’re having the Olympic Games exhibition next year. What are you going to do?” You know, what can you showcase for technology? And my boss at the time was Tim Hart. So we threw together, you know, a one page statement. And suddenly we had, you know, a million dollars. Which we had to deliver on. So this was one of those crazy situations where you’ve shot all the stuff, you still don’t have permission from the Greek Ministry of Culture. Even though we had permits to shoot to do the whole thing. It was a Web Outfitters service for Intel. So a very high end website. No one spends that money on websites these days, you know. It was also that period where because the tech drivers were so strong – that they would spend a million dollars making a showcase website. And it included a complete virtual reconstruction of Olympia. Hundreds of panoramas that were shot on long poles and all these kinds of thing. It was very early, none of this stuff had been done before. And we put it all online. And it was very well received and we made a CD-ROM. It went to all schools in Australia, this kind of thing. It had many outcomes. But the outcome for me was not so much the website, which doesn’t exist anymore because it was all built in Flash. Dun da dun. I’ve got a few assets, right, from that moment. And I can extract stuff from the CD-ROM but the website – no way. The Powerhouse just turned it off one day and that was that. So they weren’t prepared to migrate it anywhere. [laughing]
But at that time, we also did this big virtual reconstruction of Olympia and I worked with one of the universities. All the academics there and also people in surveying sciences and technologies for gathering all the data. And we made a big 3D installation inside the galleries with all the objects that came from Athens. They’d never left the country before. And it was at that moment, when I saw the real stuff and the digital stuff together that I got off the Internet. Because I thought, “Ah, this is much more fun. Internet’s turned into a sewer, anyway. So let’s get off the web and back into physical gallery space.”
So, in fact, that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. And I – having a great benevolent boss like Tim Hart, he then – you know you know in museums there’s always sea changes, right? There are the good times and the bad times. Well, the bad times came to the Powerhouse. He moved. Created me a job. And I moved to build a very big eight sided, rear projected, immersive visualization system. Which was very successful, five years at the museum. Now I’m building these really big machines with lots of hardware and software engineers and – so, part project management, part design, part curator, part, you know, everything else. [laughing]
And I was also doing a lot of field work. So I was still working in various countries. Mainly collecting data now. Not being an archaeologist. Basically being a film/documentation hack. You know, carrying tripods, taking photos in a myriad of ways, ambisonics and stuff like that. And so right. So I’m building big machines. We made many, many really great shows. And it became a lot to do with what people now call arts and science – a bit. It was in that realm. And then I shot – went with a guy called Peter Murphy, who was an older man in in Sydney, who was one of these guys who could figure out the optics of stereographics really well. Because it was a stereographic machine. And we went and shot stereographic panoramas at Angkor Wat for a show I was building for this machine.
Now in those days there are no cameras for this, right. [laughing] Nothing. Zero. No panoramic rotating cameras yet. But there was one developed just after that. Anyways, so the way we did it was a single camera with this massive fisheye lens – 185-degree fisheye lens – and took 360 photographs in a circle. And then it took every second frame – a slice out of every second one – to create the left eye. And a slice out of the other one to create the right eye, right. This is like big manual labor. But what’s crazy about that, if you choose one of the world’s most visited world heritage sites – of course is that tourists are walking everywhere. So poor Peter nearly had a breakdown at the end of that one because tourists are walking, we are stopping the shoot, they are continuing to walk, then we’re going [camera noises]. And it was all hand done, you know, on a on a surveying tripod head. It was really, really arcane.
But the story goes on with these panoramic stereographic photos, which are still extremely hard to collect at the resolutions of the machines that I’m building now of 20,000 to 30,000 pixels wide. You know, I need an image that’s at least that resolution in the horizontal axis, if I’m taking a panorama. There are no digital rigs that will do it. And so it’s still a very arcane sport. And I just shot the Atlas of Maritime Buddhism – spread of Buddhism from South India through Southeast Asia up into China, down into Korea and Japan – on an analog panoramic camera. So it’s a beautiful camera. It has two lenses and it rotates in 360 degrees. And slit film. So 220 film, which you then drum scan and then you can project at unbelievably good resolutions. We built a digital equivalent. A guy called Paul Bourke, who I work with a lot, who’s a stereographics expert, he built a rig. And the thing is that it moves – it takes one minute to do a panorama whereas with the slit scan analog camera it’s six seconds. And when you’re dealing with stereo, if anything is blurry, it’s a terrible photograph because stereo hates blur. Motion blur is terrible in stereo. So we tend to still shoot on a camera but we can’t buy any film anymore. The last film stock is in a fridge in Hong Kong. It’s 56 rolls. We shot all of the Astia in India, and all of Provia and everything. [laughing] It’s all gone. So it’s an amazing end of an era and there is no digital thing that has stepped into the breach to say, “Hey, I could do this for you.” So it’s quite an interesting tech problem. There should be a film revival, right. Just as there are, you know, little 35 millimeter film. This is 220 medium format film that we’re talking about. Not only the fact you can’t buy it anymore can’t you get it processed anywhere reliable, except in Japan.
And so then I’m building these big machines. And Tim and I, we spoke a lot about how you could turn the museum into a laboratory. Yeah. What you needed to have a fully functioning – bunches of software engineers, you know, so you could experiment and build museum future type installations, right. And we plotted and planned and found spaces in the museum we thought it could go and etc., etc. And tried to seduce politicians to pay for it and what have you. And I was increasingly working with universities. And then out of the blue, I got invited to set up a laboratory in Hong Kong. So I did that with Jeffrey Shaw and it was the Applied Laboratory for Interactive Visualization and Embodiment Hong Kong Science Park under CityU of Hong Kong. And so that was big. That was 1000 square meters in the middle of a big place. You know, Hong Kong. And it was my first academic appointment. I stayed with Museum Victoria 50%. So I wasn’t prepared to let go of that at all. And in fact, I stayed 50% in my museum job until I came to Switzerland, which is just a few years ago.
So that was great. We got into the world of big machines. And I nearly died running VIP tours for three years in a row. Every day, every morning. I do it all the time now too. VIP touring is one of the biggest problems, yeah. Because it soaks up three hours. Everybody has a fantasy project that you’ve got to go through with them. [laughing] And then they tell you they haven’t got any money for your million dollar machines, you know how it is. And they don’t quite understand research frameworks, let’s say. But it’s – what is really nice about it is, you know, you get good vibes all day long because people are really very affirmative and amazed at what’s – what you can do.
And so I’m still this person who is working partly in, certainly, definitely in the cultural heritage sector. I now work a lot with intangible cultural heritage. So I’ve been working for 12 years now, with Kung Fu masters. And these are these are projects which are totally amazing. We’ve had nine exhibitions worldwide. Fundamental life change for the masters themselves because the government suddenly recognizes them. They’re going to build a museum and a research center for the archive, which we created from scratch. You know with masses of motion capture and so on. And being able to do that work in Asia is easy. Yeah. Getting the same funding from a European context to do that work is – is really difficult. So there are marked – markedly different relationships to this idea that you can digitize the ‘body’. Or that you can capture the intangible, right. Or the ephemeral. And that, you know, lots of performance theorists and people like Diana Taylor have talked about how the archival ossifies the living etc. While also acknowledging that the things like – I mean she wasn’t talking about motion capture – but motion capture has this ability to record and transmit at the same time – this knowledge. So these are really important issues in how we start to think about digital things. And, and what you can and cannot digitize, right. Because we’re in an increasingly complex computational world. And I think this idea, and I’ve been toying with it, it sounds a bit – I don’t know whether the context in which I am in, which is a high end engineering university – but now I talk about computational museology, right. And systems thinking approaches [laughing] and whole environment encoding. And so on.
And the so on is a big emphasis on big cultural data. So I just got a big grant for 120,000 hours of video archives to make the next generation data browsers for. And lots of machine learning, visual analytics, visualization, HCI. This kind of stuff. So things are, they’re they’re pretty great fun. [laughing] But it’s still quite glacial. In, in Europe they’re quite conservative. It’s not the kind of world that Asia is. Nor the kind of world that Australia was. And I think America has a lot of work going on. A lot of great work going on at that interface between academia and the museum. Which is very, very rich. So the good news is I didn’t really give up my museum job because I got another one. So now I direct my own museum as well as being a professor. And so I have this beautiful Kengo Kuma building overlooking the lake. A small team. I work myself to death. So it’s a second job, right? So I do my hoary professor job which, as we all know, take seven days a week, day and night. And then add a museum director and lead curator job and producer of everything, you know – likes to paint the walls at two in the morning sort of person. So yeah. But we’re able because – I think because we fly under the radar we can we can produce this stuff. My laboratory can produce pretty much anything. We’ve got amazing systems. I’ve got a 1500 square meter lab on the lake. And I can build anything for the museum. It’s more like a galleries. It’s not a museum. It doesn’t collect things. It’s an art science initiative of the university.
So, I’m doing “Deep Fakes: Art and It’s Double” now, which is a 1200 square meter show. And – of all my favorite things. And actually, I’ve got many more favorite things I realized, and I can’t stuff them in the show. [laughing] That’s a problem. We’re just finished a show called Nature of Robotics. And then after Deep Fakes is Cosmos Archaeology. So I’m working a lot with scientists now – increasingly with scientists because they have real needs and this is where the humanities has an amazing impact. Because actually they can’t really see, you know, stuff. And they really need visualization help. They need ways of rethinking about how they look at stuff because currently visualization is using paradigms all developed in the ‘50s. The way they view scientific data was developed then and it’s also developed for the desktop screen. And their data, guess what, has gone like this [gesturing with arms out]. You know, absolutely exponential.
So this is a really interesting thing that has happened in my last lab as well, which I established in Sydney after I left Hong Kong. I went to Sydney. Built a lab there, called the Expanded Perception and Interaction Center at UNSW. And there I built my biggest ever machine. So I’m into big machines, actually. So this one was 56 projector, 29 computer cluster. Little panorama – only seven meters diameter. 3D, obviously. Full ambisonics. Fully tracked. I mean, gorgeous machine. It was really, really gorgeous.
But, okay, so it’s expensive to build this stuff. And so it was very easy to become a service provider for the sciences, in that context, because they have so much more money. It’s hard labor to do this stuff anyway. And they could afford it. And increasingly, I could see that I was going to be – and it was phenomenally interesting – but going to be that. A service provider to the sciences. Not doing my own thing. So EPFL offered me totally out of the blue to come here and said, “We’ll give you a museum and we’ll give you a nice fancy lab called Experimental Museology and how would you like to do that? Come and do your stuff here?” So that’s what I did, even though I’d built that other system. I think one of the things that has been very successful because I build big infrastructure with big money – is being able to share it back into the GLAM sector, which I do a lot of. And it has good impact. So one thing I did in Sydney was buy, you know – design, build – figure out how to build – a nice traveling fulldome system. And I got together a consortium of museums to be to be users and develop content with them. And they all used it. And then National Museum of Australia had a show and it was so successful for them that they bought their own. You know, they would never have done that in the beginning. But, you know, it’s three quarters of a million dollars. It’s not a cheap system. But now it’s touring the world with an Aboriginal Songline project that we did for them in that dome. And it’s a watershed. Won all the awards in Australia, you know, and they can tour it around the world. So these are – the ability to help the GLAM sector at the interface of the laboratory and the museum is really where I’m at now. Yeah.
And the way that academia works, also the way that museums work, quite honestly, when you’re talking about museums trying to procure new media, they don’t invest in-house. They go out-house and they don’t learn much in that process. Yeah. Not normally. They tend to go to tender. The guys come in. They build it. They leave. That’s it. It’s gone. It’s over, you know. And so, for ages, I was really advocating for museums to build really robust engineering facilities, which some of them can do and a lot of them have now done that in relation to the web, specifically. Not so much into gallery space work. That’s because [laughing] – I’ll tell you why that is. That’s because the space of the gallery floor is the most contested space in the museum. The internet, oh, well, we can just forget about that one. It’s just over there, you know! We can do whatever we like out there. But if you try to put it in the gallery. Uh oh. You know. So it’s really interesting how that has – and you could say – let’s take the Rijksmuseum as an example. Brilliant online achievement. Lots of high resolution images. Zero media on the floors of their museums. Zero. So, it’s a very interesting – problematic. And so I think it’s the last frontier. And that’s where I’m still busy. Is that enough? [laughing]
[Marty]: No, that’s great. Can I can I jump in with a couple of questions here?
[Marty]: Back to what you were saying about the fear of being a service provider for the sciences.
[Marty]: It reminded me – a couple of years ago, I was up at the University of Illinois for a visit. And I was visiting some friends at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications there.
[Marty]: You know, and they’ve got the exact same kind of stuff. All of these amazing immersive stuff that they can do. And who’s using it? It’s protein folding right, I mean, and meteorological work. And I’m not dismissing any of that research, which is all great, but that’s where the money is.
That’s where the money is.
[Marty]: So how does the GLAM sector compete with that?
Yeah. Yeah, so it’s interesting here at EPFL [École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne] because the sciences have started to – have found me also. Because they don’t have this infrastructure. And they don’t know how to do it. And they’re not sure whether it’s science communication because it looks good. Or whether it’s going to be good science. But anyway, so now I’m working with astrophysics on the world’s largest image of the universe. Yeah, it’s pretty impressive. It’s a big black space with lots of little white dots. [laughing] No, it is beautiful – it’s stunning actually. In my panorama system it’s pretty stunning. And then the plasma fusion physics guys, they are putting an engineer in my lab for the same reason – to try and – we’re actually going to be the European Center for Fusion Computation, Simulation and Visualization – for the whole of Europe. For fusion physics. I mean it’s really interesting because they they find me – I don’t know how – and say, “Hey, do you want to do this?” And it seem seems to be going well. The fusion physics guys are pretty hilarious. They said, “You know, Sarah, in our science, money just rains from the sky. [laughing] And I thought, “Yup. Good.” [laughing] So, it’s funny.
So there is being a service provider. There is – but I don’t feel like that here. I think if the directive is between two people who are interested – or two laboratories – who are interested in doing it, as opposed to maybe a university directive: “That funky center down there, we better get it doing all the medical biz. Right, because we’ve got lots of it.” It keeps the lab alive, but it also, a huge overhead there as well, for how cultural projects often develop. Which is, I mean, everything is slow in visualization. It’s not fast, it’s slow. And normally, I’ve got a young software engineer working for me and we’re working on a small project together. It’s a two 82 inch LCD screens [hands up to demonstrate back to back] on a rotating platform. Yeah, so you can rotate them and you just walk around. It’s for browsing Buddhist objects for my Atlas of Maritime Buddhism. And he said to me, you know, he’s been working on it for six months. He said, “When you gave me this job, I thought it would take three weeks. And we’re still working on it six months later.” And it’s the difference between making things that are good enough, and then the next bit is so hard and so painful you don’t want to do it. And so that effort that it takes – people don’t have a clue. And I think that’s partly the problem. They have no idea, yeah. So this is partly what your oral history project is about. Is that exact thing because it’s shockingly painful often. I mean, I’m dealing with large scale virtualization, clusters of computers. You know, how many things could go wrong? We have every possible permutation. [laughing] We don’t have too much demo effect, I’m pleased to say. But it can be really painful. And yeah, so technology – it’s hardware and software together that’s the real killer, right. Yeah.
I think things are – things got very cloudy with the advent of the head mounted display. Yeah. The whole VR thing – because I do high end VR. I know all about it. So I look at a head mounted display and I want to cry because it’s so bad, right. [laughing] But it had a good effect, at least, because there was a certain vibe that people were talking about, you know? And then COVID happened, more or less. And so this massive shift in the perception of the value of the digital – its malleability, I think, is one of its critical things. You can take this stuff and you can put it in a whole bunch of places in different formats and forms and different experiences. So what is it? “Publish once, publish everywhere.” Or something like that? [laughing] But, you know, there are these – this perceptual shift, which I think has been really good for the GLAM sector and the digital. But let’s see what happens. I mean what I found at the time, when all the museums suddenly said “Ah, great. Right, we’re going to get into virtual galleries and things.” I thought I was back in the early ‘90s, right? Yeah, that was [laughing] pretty – pretty crazy. So I don’t think things – conceptually things are only – just beginning to improve. I see a vast improvement in the way that online conferencing is done. And that people are willing to invest big effort. I’m not sure I would bother. I quite like the Zoom thing. It kind of works. Very functional. [laughing] Etcetera.
But people are choreographing huge events online, which never happened before. And people are building – a friend of mine has just built this extraordinary virtual world with the Unreal Engine. And basically he’s – I mean it could be a commercial entity. But he’s hoping to host – it’s like the uber Second Life, you know. It’s like the second life you imagined was going to be there, but wasn’t. And it’s so functional and so easy and so extraordinary and so vast. You could just wander for days in this world finding people doing things – other avatars. And you can host your own event and stuff. You know these – they are quite seismic, these shifts and they’re very compelling. And I’m not a gamer you know, I know a lot about computer graphics, but I’m not in that gaming world. And so, they’re very interesting shifts.
And of course I work now a lot with machine learning and deep learning and stuff like this. In a, I would say, a fairly specific way because I’m not creating art using these tools. I’m using them as analytic tools to give me more access into the archive. To mine different types of data. Or to try and get at, yeah, the long tail. Narratives from the long tail of let’s say, moving image archives.
[Marty]: I do have another question on data visualization and the humanities, right, because I’m thinking about the vast philosophical shifts that you have seen happen with museum computing. I talk to a lot of our sort of digital humanities people here at Florida State and other places, and many of them are still fighting against the perception that that’s not “real” humanities research. Do you know what I mean? [laughing] I’m conscious that I’m being recorded myself right here, right. [laughing] But I’ve heard from too many people who’ve been denied tenure because that’s not “real” research…
That’s not real research. Yeah.
[Marty]: How do we shift that perception?
Yeah, I mean, actually, in that sense, I would say, maybe the scientists are more easy going, you know? What was that quote I used to quote? It’s something – it will come back to me. And so, yes. Can visualization help? Yeah. I mean, I think the way you could say – it’s been a pandemic of visualization recently, right? Because of the COVID situation everyone has learned to read infographics. Everyone now devours graphs and charts and comparative charts and things that are so complex sometimes I’m thinking, “Now, what is that trying to say to me?” Right? [laughing] So it’s an inevitable byproduct of information. I wouldn’t say overload but you know, the volume of information – it has to be presented in new ways otherwise we won’t we won’t be able to digest it. And, of course, there are many ethical concerns in visualization. Is it real? Yeah. And the sciences have it as much as the humanities, in that sense. So arguing use case is one of the biggest challenges in the sciences. Humanities don’t really talk about use case in the same way, it’s more of a gut reaction. Right. [laughing] So I interview – I’m on a professorial committee and these people were – we were interviewing them and I was surprised how little conception there was of the – this – the potential archive, the potential algorithmic archive for mining. For doing things with. You know, people still very much in the humanities think in terms of books and objects and things. They really do. And we might curate digital collections, but they’re digital collections of real things. Yeah.
And it’s very different to, kind of, this idea where we are – we are really going to be surfing just huge amounts of data for the same insights. For historical insight. And how we do that is – and how people can start to wield the tools that are necessary to do that. Along with all the ethical concerns, of course. But yeah, sometimes I feel like we’ll be in the tsunami and we might not pop up. You know. [laughing] Yeah. But there’s lots of great thinkers out there trying to do – to think about that. The whole AI for GLAM sector is quite interesting. As a recognition of information abundance and the ability to mine it using new tools. For good outcomes. Yeah, one hopes. So yeah, but I hear you.
It’s also – I think there’s another side to it, which is, you know, there were certain things that happened for museums in the digital, which people may have talked about or not. But you know, the advent of Google Art project and how that disabled the museum sector. Right. Gave them substandard cameras and made them sign terrible agreements. And that, you know, no click through from their website to the museum website. This was really – and these kinds of things, it’s a bit like the head mounted display. Everyone’s got to have an immersive VR thingy. And it’s also a bit overwrought, right? It’s – so there are various big tech projects which have led the museum astray, I would say, because of the hype factor.
[Marty]: Well, you know it’s funny that you said that. In fact, in another life when you and I have more time, I’ve always wanted to write a paper about big tech projects leading museums astray. [laughter] Right, because I remember back when, for example, you remember when IBM digitized the Vatican collections? There was similar stuff happening then. IBM went and digitized the Hermitage Museum collections and then a researcher, her name is something like Morbey [Mary Leigh Morbey]. I can’t remember – she’s at University of Montreal, I think. Did a great paper about the mess that they left behind. So there’s a long history of big tech sort of sabotaging… [laughing].
Yeah yeah. But you know, it also comes from inside. You know, I hear academics talking about “mining” patrimonial capital for profit, right. Aggregated mining – that’s the Google thing, right? Well, that’s a bit mixed up with brand presence. But it’s basically, if you’ve got it, you’ve got assets you can mine and resell. And ancestry.com. That’s it, actually. It’s the perfect example of mass exploitation of patrimonial heritage. I mean – a money making venture. But it does good service, right. So you know, people are really into it. So, you know, that’s okay.
But when it comes to the museum world there’s a slightly different proposition. And I think that the – I mean we all know that Google bought the Google Art Project in Paris. You know the big headquarters for Google Art. Because the French public were going completely berserk about the fact that Google wasn’t paying any tax. And you know when you look at the cameras that they use and the bullshit that they presented to museums. You know, they’re going around with a DSLR camera, taking a few snaps and stitching some pretty terrible images together. And in the museum world – we’re all doing quality work, which is 10, 15, 100 times better than that. And – but Google comes in the door because the director thinks [laughing] that it’s, you know, the thing to be in. And so, then Google built that housing around their DSLR camera, pretending it with something else. And it never was. It was just the same kit. Yeah, that was really hilarious. Anyway. Yes, so they bought a nice big heritage building in the middle of Paris because they don’t pay any tax. [laughing] Damn. [laughing] And yeah.
[Marty]: I’m reminded of similar stories about when – laser scanning of like the Parthenon or things like this right, where – I know a lot of art historians were like, “Well, that’s going to give us really useful data.” But it all – it almost always ends up helping the tech company more than the art historians…
Yeah, sure, like Autodesk and those – that crowd. And then there were all those crazy things that archaeologists we’re doing, you know when they reprinted the arch from – reprinted – they made a 3D model of the arch from Palmyra that was blown up. And then they reassembled it and carved it out of Carrara marble. And then they toured around the world. So it “launched” – Boris Johnson launched it – in Trafalgar Square. You know, at one to one scale. It was massively scandalous, right? Nobody knew what to do with this thing. Like, was it the right thing to do? Or was it the wrong thing to do? So, there’s very interesting things in the, in the digital and how it now acts in the world. How it acts in terms of heritage at risk. How it denies the past by recreating it. It denies history by recreating it. And people were really worried about that. There were academics who were saying, “If it gets bombed, that’s part of history. Why would you reconstruct?” You know, that debate in conservation and restoration. All that kind of stuff. But everyone felt it was in terribly bad taste to re-build it. Launch it in Trafalgar Square. And then trip it around the world with a few champagne cocktails, you know. [laughing]
So this deep fakes show I’m doing is really trying to address these issues. So it’s everything about the digital twin and the doppelganger but it’s also about neocolonialism and the – which is something like Google does, right? They hoover up the world in a, in a neocolonial way. And they hold the assets. It’s exactly the same process that the BM [British Museum] and every – all our other big museums have been involved in at a certain point. So, yeah it looks at those issues. It looks also, of course, at the aura issue, the authorship, authenticity, of course. And all the rest. And then it moves on to blockchain and forensics and cryptocurrency, etc., etc. Yeah.
[Marty]: And I just posted into the chat the reference to the article that I mentioned…
Oh, fantastic. Okay, great.
[Marty]: If you’ve never read that, it’s a very interesting look at what happened at the Hermitage Museum when IBM came in and partnered with them, right.
Interesting. Yep. Would love to write that book sometime.
[Marty]: Unintended consequences of big tech and cultural heritage, right? [laughing]
Yeah. No. Totally.
[Marty]: Well, because, you know, I’m not I’m not saying that people – that IBM set out to wreck a culture…
No, no. I think they’re sometimes quite innocent. I wouldn’t say Google’s innocent because of the way it developed. Right. They might have stumbled into it, but I wouldn’t say they were innocent.
[Jones]: Let’s not leave Microsoft out of this either with Corvus.
[Jones]: But Sarah, we have to leave you soon.
Yeah, sorry. I’m typing away.
[Jones]: But I don’t want to leave before asking if you have recent articles written about this work that you’re doing or the deep fakes exhibit?
I’m about to because – dun da dun – I I just decided – so Routledge have been encouraging me to write some books. But I’m busy, right? You know, in the museum studies. They’re always encouraging all of us, I think [laughing] to do something. And so I’ve decided to give their open source publishing a go. I was about to run a symposium for deep fakes and I’ve decided to make it a book instead. But using this open source publishing and the first – the great thing about it – is their model is basically, you publish – you can publish chapters as you go and people can leave comments. Right. So I don’t have to have all the book written. I can just have the bit I need to write written. And then get my nice friends around the world to write on these topics and build the book over time, which is kind of nice. It’s maybe not nice in that you might have a book that never ends! But you know, you could always be adding chapters. You can also revise these books. So you can take chapters where the information has gone out of date and revise it, which is quite interesting too. So that would be one. I publish a bit. Yeah. I’ve got a few things. I did a couple of open access, you know, pay for the gold pass kind of things, recently. So I could send you those.
[Jones]: Sure that’d be great.
Yeah. I did one for the Screen, it’s quite a good journal. It’s all about immersion. And it’s a film journal so it’s really future cinema stuff. But, you know, I’ve got lots of articles on various things. [laughing]
[Jones]: Yes, I know. [laughing] But the deep fakes caught my attention…
Yeah, no. Definitely. Well, I think it – you know, in a way we’ve all been talking about these issues and this is, at one level – the exhibition is not going to cover everything because it’s a big topic. But um, yeah, it should be a really fun show. And Irina Bakova, the ex-Director General of UNESCO is going to open it. It’s now really the thing. She recognizes that. And this is really great. A big sea change in the big organizations, I think. Yeah.
[Marty]: I also wanted to say that I was really glad that you mentioned the story about visual capture of the Kung Fu masters.
[Marty]: I still remember when we were hanging out at that conference in Manchester and you were talking about that project.
[Marty]: Super cool. Right.
It’s super cool. You know, I still have – I have PhD students working on it all the time. We’re still doing it. It’s massive. I mean, if you take that kind of archiving seriously, it’s a life’s job. That’s the other thing. [laughing] Yep, probably doing it all my life. But we’re expanding it now also to – it – there’s an amazing European reenactment tradition for martial arts, which is based on 16th century manuscripts. And we are looking at a comparative analysis between South Chinese Kung Fu and and these martial arts traditions. So I’m hanging out with the sword fighters now. It’s fantastic. They are really – the Italians, I have to tell you – wow. Pretty impressive. They all live in castles and have got Irish wolfhounds as dogs. You know. And they make their own swords in forges. I mean, it’s a trip. It’s totally great. It’s the ultimate reenactment culture, as you could possibly want it to be.
[Marty]: And who funds that? Are they independently wealthy, or…? [laughing]
Yeah. That’s the one. Independently wealthy. It’s a club worldwide of these independently wealthy people. [laughing] Yeah. The rest of us, we’ve just got to hang out where we can get it. [laughing]
[Marty]: But it, but it is amazing to use those techniques to capture that that knowledge and the body movements, right – to make that kind of archive that didn’t exist before.
Sure. And it’s very rich so there’s many, many different types of documentation and experiments and things. And my student now is a data scientist and she’s just building ontology – motion ontologies. Which is great, right. Because if we don’t take real care of this archive – because it was built in such a crazy ad hoc way and we’re having exhibitions like mad and – it needed it needed a curator. And now it’s – she’s doing an amazing job. She’s Chinese and she’s, really great. Yeah.
[Marty]: Yeah. No, that reminds me. I know somebody in the school of dance here at my university who studies choreography with the motion capture, right? And that must be a whole big area in dance too.
It’s a big area. So, I mean William Forsythe was the guy. The dancer that really got into motion annotation of form or analytics of form. Of motion forms. And, but now I just noticed there’s a choreographer in Britain who’s got together with, I think [Google] and using AI for motion detection in his dance performances. And it’s exactly what we are doing in our motion archive. I have like all of these young, super bright master’s students who are all machine learning experts. They’re all in computer science. I only teach computer scientists these days. [laughing]
[Marty]: Well, this is where the ontology question really captures my interest, right. Because do we – we don’t really have a good ontology for sharing this, this information to make it searchable.
No. Exactly. Exactly. So that’s what she’s working on. And I think it’s, it’s going to be really great.