Coding da Vinci

As part of the project Coding da Vinci, which will take place in Berlin next weekend, I will lead a workshop on practical approaches of visualising cultural data. Coding da Vinci aims to encourage new uses for cultural datasets by joining designers and developers with cultural institutions.

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Registration is still open for the inaugural event on 25th/26th of April 2015, which will be followed by a ten week period for the participants to work on their projects, and culminate in a final event and presentations on the 5th of July.

Find more information and how to register on the organiser’s website

Media Archaeology as Artistic Practice

I will be presenting at this workshop, taking place on February 1st 2015 at the House of World Cultures in Berlin. The event forms part of the CTM festival and transmediale and is open to the public.


The House of World Cultures in Berlin. Image by Avda

The organisers Shintaro Miyazaki and Jamie Allen write:

Media archaeology is an academic method, but also an artistic practice and material inquiry. Playful, ironic aesthetics and critically historical approaches to media cultures and their technologies is gaining increased attention. We live in an archive of the media technological storage and of regurgitation of bygone times — such a situation requires artistic reactions and interventions.

In this context I will present my research and will focus on two recent projects on mining and visualising Wikipedia article revisions. A Wikipedia article, as commonly accessed through a browser, only represents the most recent version of that article. Underneath the surface are often thousands of earlier revisions of the same article. Wikipedia is not only an encyclopaedia, but also a history of an encyclopaedia and a reflection of changing knowledge, beliefs, concerns and social issues. Through my work I try to expose these hidden layers and mine the cultural archive of Wikipedia.

Backstory: 13 years of HIV/AIDS on Wikipedia

For the 25th Day With(out) Art an interactive timeline I created will occupy the website of the ICA Philadelphia on World AIDS Day, 1 December 2014. Visitors to the site will be able to explore the history of HIV and AIDS as captured by more than 8,000 revisions of the HIV/AIDS Wikipedia article.

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The visualisation is based on Backstory, a tool I designed during the Beautiful Data workshop at Harvard metaLab. For the Day With(out) arts, a campaign organised by Visual AIDS, I have expanded it into an interactive timeline, which lets users explore the revision history of the HIV/AIDS Wikipedia article.

In the words of Becky Huff Hunter from the ICA Philadelphia:

BackStory: 13 years of HIV/AIDS on Wikipedia is an online visualization tool which allows viewers to explore a subjective, contested, and constantly expanding history of HIV/AIDS, through a chronology of revisions to Wikipedia articles on this topic.

When you read the article about HIV/AIDS on Wikipedia, what you see is just the latest version of a document, that has undergone 13 years of collaborative writing and editing. This revision history, which is exposed through this visualisation, reflects the changing views and discourses around HIV/AIDS.

The basis for this visualisation form over 8’000 versions of the HIV/AIDS wikipedia article, which have been curated around three chosen keywords: Condoms, Viral Load and Safe Sex.

Visit www.icaphila.org on December 1st to see the project live.

See also the announcement on the ICA’s website.

BackStory is an online visualisation tool for exploring the history of wikipedia articles. It lets you access and navigate through past revisions of Wikipedia articles.

The Search Is Over! – Day 1

This is a long overdue blog post about a workshop I co-organised on the topic of exploring Cultural Collections with visualisation: The Search is Over! It was conceived by Marian Dörk, Mitchell Whitelaw and Stephen Drucker, and took place during DL2014, 11-12 September 2014 at the City University in London.


The line-up of speakers promised these two days to be exciting and it was matched by an engaged and enterprising group of participants. In this post I present a summary of the two keynotes of the first day given by Lizzy Jongma (Rijksmuseum) and Aaron Straup Cope (Cooper Hewitt).

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Bye Bye Beautiful Data

Last week the Beautiful Data workshop organised by metaLab (at) Harvard university came to an end. Twelve intense days filled with talks, discussions, hands-on workshops and visits to local museums as well as, of course, local bars.


Matthew Battles aggregating the participants question on an interactive blackboard.

The highlight, for me, were the people that gathered in the well air-conditioned, dimly lit premises of Harvard’s project space arts@29garden. For a workshop of this nature you can have the best possible organisation – and boy were the metaLab folks organised – what makes it in the end a success or not is finding the right mixture of participants, speakers as well as staff. The “diverse, elite group of curators, scholars, and technologists”, as the programme described the invited participants, turned out to be a very open, social and intellectually stimulating bunch from mostly the United States, but also Mexico and central Europe.

An impressive line-up of guest speakers accompanied us throughout the two weeks. Seb Chan’s talk left a lasting impression on me and, I think, on most participants. He presented his work at the Cooper Hewitt museum on making their online collection accessible and usable on the web. It all seemed so simple when Seb walked us through the features of their new website, but the takeaway point of it all was the need to let go of perfection. Data will never be perfect, collections data certainly not; the point is to get it out there anyway and to do something with it. Museums and institutions need to partly let go of their authority and expose their imperfections, so that the public can understand and, if necessary, help out. What became evident throughout the two weeks is that collections holders themselves don’t necessarily know much about their own data and that by opening it up they could learn a lot about their own history.

David Weinberger similarly pointed out the changing nature of authority. Our knowledge has, for centuries, been shaped by books and papers: truth is what it says in the book. Today, Wikipedia took on the position of the Encyclopedia Britannica in being the turn to place for finding “truth”. Part of Wikipedia’s success, Weinbergar says, is its ability to acknowledge its own fallibility. Institutions who want to remain credible, need to begin communicating their imperfection. It can start as simple as with changing the wording on a website, like Cooper-Hewitt’s collection being “pretty confident” about knowing something, rather than pretending something to be absolutely certain.

Of course, we participants were also invited to share our insights in ‘lighting talks’ that took anywhere between 5 to 15 minutes. Personally, I enjoyed these peer presentations the most. We had Pietro Santachiara talking about the “Tourist in Rome Syndrome”; the belief that everything is important and the importance of leaving things away. Gudrun Buehl told us about their ‘aztec style’ – or forged Aztecan? – birthing statue and how it made its way into Indiana Jones. Rich Barrett-Small from the Tate presented what they got out of making their dataset available on GitHub and copyright lawyer Katherine DeVos Devine dismantled the photographing policies of the Tate and other participant’s institutions on the spot.

I can’t mention all the highlights. If I could I would write more about the work done by the metaLab folk themselves: Jeffrey Schnapp’s presentation on Curarium, Jeff Steward’s visualisation of movements and interactions within the Harvard Art Museum collection and Yanni Loukissas’ time-wise visualisations of the Harvard Arboretum dataset.

I would also write more about the project work undertaken by the participants in the second week and the amazing outcomes, which I hope will be made accessible in some form very soon. Rich’s Colour Lens, a colour based cross-collection browser is already online. Steven Lubar outlines his impression of the workshop on his own blog and the project essay by Kristina Van Dyke and Steven Lubar is accessible as well. Cristoforo Magliozzi from metaLab was instrumental in producing videos together with the participants, such as Gudrun and Pietro’s Memorable Encounter and Lanfranco Aceti and Vincent Brown’s Border Cuts.

I’ll update this post with links to further projects once they become available. For now, I end with a big Thank You to everyone at metaLab, all the participants and speakers, and last but not least the Getty Foundation for their generous support.

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