Thursday, 29 October 2009

Take a punt

and try something different today:

Mob Rule! How Users Took Over Twitter
by Steven Levy

It’s easy to write off Twitter as a happy accident, a right-place, right-time fluke. But that misses the point. When Twitter’s creators designed the service, they made a series of crucial and deliberate decisions — ones that seem brilliant in retrospect — that created the conditions that allow users to innovate.

What Startups Are Really Like by Paul Graham

9. Engage Users

Product development is a conversation with the user that doesn't really start till you launch. Before you launch, you're like a police artist before he's shown the first version of his sketch to the witness.

It's so important to launch fast that it may be better to think of your initial version not as a product, but as a trick for getting users to start talking to you.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Web muster

Just over 900 of Vincent van Gogh's letters have been digitised and put online in Vincent van Gogh: The Letters. A digital accompaniment to a print publication, the letters are fully transcribed, translated and searchable.

The strongest feature of the site is that way that you can view a single letter in multiple ways - an image of a page, the transcription, the original line breaks, the English translation, the editors' notes, and related works. You can also easily compare and contrast, as shown below.

There are amazingly detailed notes about the publication (down to the insertion of missing commas) and some solid info about the technology behind the site.

And in other web news: changes to the display of MoMA's permanent collection (including frame removal).

Friday, 23 October 2009

2 down, 1 to go

The Art & Industry Trust has announced changes for the next SCAPE Biennial in Christchurch, stating that "SCAPE 2010 will offer fewer pieces, selected against different criteria and a different process. More than two-thirds of the artworks will be from New Zealand artists, with a number of projects targeting the wider community for involvement." A curatorial group has been established, with three members: convenor Blair French, artist Julia Morison and landscape architect William Field.

Meanwhile, artists have been announced for next year's Auckland Triennial: Starkwhite's blog has the details.

That just leaves us waiting for an announcement from City Gallery about whether Prospect (the not-quite-biennial) will be taking place next year.

Thursday, 22 October 2009


The 1956 letter from American artists to James Johnson Sweeney, protesting Frank Lloyd Wright's curved-wall design for the Guggenheim:

The basic concept of curvilinear slope for presentation of painting and sculpture indicates a callous disregard for the fundamental rectilinear frame of reference necessary for the adequate visual contemplation of works of art

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Engage your community

The Engage Your Community conference in Wellington on 12-13 November looks like a perfect two-day immersion for people in arts organisations who are interested in using the web to connect with their audiences. (And I'm not just saying that because I'm running one of the workshops on the second day.)

The conference is being organised by Mike Brown, one of the people behind the renowned yearly Webstock event, and co-Webstocker Natasha Lampard ( ex-Head of Usability at Trade Me) is presenting on improving websites by putting user first. EYC might not have the glitzy international stars, but it's still one helluva line-up. Check out the full programme here.

Just as importantly, it's remarkably affordable. The first (conference) day is $150, and the half-day workshops are $175. There are good discounts for multiple attendees from one organisation, and for attendance at both days.

Thinking of Michael Stevenson

Reference Number: Eph-A-WAR-WII-1939-01
Reference Number: Eph-A-WAR-WII-1939-01
Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Oh, how punny!

It's an interesting name*, and an even more interesting business model. New Asshole is an online visual arts journal coming out of Philadelphia. You can download issues as PDFs for free, but the editors have put a Donate Now! Paypal button on the site with a suggested donation of $1-5 to help support the magazine.

This is a little like This American Life soliciting donations to support the broadband that makes their (extremely popular) free podcasts available. Small acts of philanthropy might be the future ....

*and quite an awesome pun for their blog - New RSShole

Friday, 16 October 2009

Web muster

Today I'm:

Tuesday, 13 October 2009


On a recent internet-less stint in New Plymouth I made several visits to the central library to get connectivity hits via the free wireless provided by the Aotearoa People's Network Kaharoa.

When I was a kid, my mum used to take us to the library every Friday after school. Every Friday I'd max my library card out to its limit, filling the sports bag I'd take along, then going home and shuffling the books into tall anticipatory piles on top of the piano.

Visits to the Taranaki Museum were another regular, but less fondly recalled, aspect of my New Plymouth childhood. I can remember being absolutely terrified of the education person, who I remember - fairly or unfairly - as a total harpy.

Things have changed now, of course. Instead of the separate library and museum, New Plymouth has the integrated - and all all accounts hugely successful - Puke Ariki. On my visits to the library, I couldn't get over the roving groups of teenagers, and the number of people who clearly treat the cafe and quieter spaces as extension of their workplace.

I also went along to see Fixated: Photography through history at the museum. I have to admit to being put off by the heavily designed permanent exhibitions when Puke Ariki opened - a too faithful approximation of early Te Papa, and the sense that staff felt collection objects couldn't stand on their own, but required bucket-loads of exhibition furniture to make them interesting.

Fixated however is a different story. I think its major achievement is how well it reads on multiple levels. It presents two intertwined histories - the history of the European settlement of Taranaki and the growth and change of the province, and the history of photographic processes - and all without getting in the way of just looking at the photos as objects.

Curator Ruth Harvey says in the exhibition blurb

I chose the word 'fixated' because of the Taranaki community's huge interest in photography – people are 'fixated' with it. The community has had a long history with the medium – Taranaki subjects feature in some of the earliest photography known in New Zealand.

People certainly were fixated - like the library, the place was heaving with people of all ages when I visited (a week day in the school holidays).

The exhibition gently mixes in contemporary work with historical photos, whether it's Ben Cauchi with his old-fashioned processes, or Peter Peryer with his recent digital photography. While Bill Culbert's light work (a recent Govett-Brewster acquisition) worked in the show, and tested the limits, I couldn't quite figure out what the Elizabeth Thomson sculpture was doing there. Generally though, 'fine art' sits reasonably comfortably alongside personal, documentary, commercial and social history photography.

One of the most lovable aspects of the show is the evident care and thought that has gone into mounting negatives, photographic equipment, and other bits and pieces in the vitrines, with their ingenious little props, undercuts and lighting features. In general, the presentation was spot on, especially the inclusion of a caravan-like mobile studio, although I wasn't that keen on the label design (YMMV) and there's a bit of weirdity with the placement of the labels on a long wall of double-hung framed images.

I think what I really like about the show is that it carries itself lightly. You can take in as much of either of the histories as you like, or as little. There is a rare balance of objects and interpretation: you can read everything, or you can ignore all the didactic material. It closes on 26 October, and I thoroughly recommend you get along there if you can.

Images by Keryn Baker, from the Puke Ariki website.

Friday, 9 October 2009


I just tried to post this comment on John Hurrell's piece on the new Len Lye book on eyecontact, but Blogger's not accepting comments for him right now.

So here it is:

Boy, do I try to resist jumping in on things like this. But ...

It's great to have more scholarship on Lye out there, and a pretty book is a joy to behold and a lovely thing to put on the bookshelf (or coffee table).

However, I think the funds used to produce this book would have been much better invested in the digitisation of Lye's archives and works, and growing the associated online presence.

If we really want to spread the "gospel" overseas, the web is the place to do it. A decent online resource could be increased and maintained over time - not something you can do with a print publication. Take a look at the Calder Foundation site for a solid model.

It's really just not good enough any more for people to be ripping clips from the Horrocks DVD and posting them to YouTube, or for the first page of results for an image search on len lye fountain to not return any images from the GBAG or the Lye Foundation. Nor is it really realistic to think that people whose interest is piqued by some encounter with Lye will interloan a book or buy it off Amazon rather than turn to Google.

I don't want to yell, I really don't. And I don't want to feel like I'm forever banging my "the web is the answer" drum. But come on guys. The next time you're thinking about putting a chunk of money into something Lye-related, please think about the internet as a valid, sustainable, accessible and useful option.

Web muster

The Onion on scratch and sniff exhibitions

Ed Winkleman on shopping in your closet (aka blockbuster exhibitions curated from permanent collections)

The contents take forever to download, but just check out this thing of beauty that is the index of covers of Arts & Architecture magazine (thanks W)

The Tate launches a beta video channel (HT @littlehigh) (that's beta as in "not all the bugs worked out")

One of the nicest search interfaces I've seen for an online catalogue raisonne; the Calder Foundation (although I'm increasing in favour in long lists of search results, instead of 10 results per page)