Friday 3 August 2012

Kinks and links

Before I went to work at the National Library, I had little interest in metadata, or its kinks.

Now, whenever I see a metadata fail out in the wild, I feel a little bit of joy, as with this example from the National Library of New Zealand:

(You can see a selection of the National Library's serendipitous metadata moments in this blog post.) 

My latest favourite is the tagging on the Auckland Art Gallery website. I can't quite tell if these are added by hand or if (as I suspect) a taxonomy kicks in and augments what the registrar or curator enters. At any event, I'm rather entranced by the tags appended to one of my most loved McCahons, The Fourteen Stations of the Cross (1966).

The tags:
  • waterfalls 
  • natural landscapes 
  • landscapes (environments) 
  • settlements and landscapes 
  • christianity 
  • religions 
  • associated concepts 
  • religious art 
  • religious symbolism 
  • symbolism 
  • symbols 
  • visual works 
  • deaths 
  • events 
  • sentencing 
  • functions (activities) 
  • functions 
  • text 
  • components 
  • handwriting writing (processes) 
  • processes and techniques.

I kind of love the everydayness of 'deaths' and 'events' applied to Christ's crucifixion. I also love how cataloguing can nail all the facts and none of the emotions. I have a little germ of an idea for an interface to the pictures in Digital New Zealand that invited you to allocate emotions to images - The Fourteen Stations of the Cross, for example, might triangulate between loss, resignation, and hope. In fact, most of McCahon would live in that area of wonder and bewilderment. I'm not interested in tagging, per se, although I might just be splitting semantic hairs on this one. I want people to make choices, and then other people to explore those choices - making some magic with metadata. 


Tim Jones, ChCh Art Gallery said...

Agree very much with the appalling sterility of a list of words to describe something visual which in turn depicts something visceral and human and emotional. We are currently applying the Getty AAT thesaurus (whence these terms clearly derive) to our own collection and have had many wonderful, if inconclusive, debates about how to capture emotion, in words. I mean it's absurd really, but I really do want to capture melancholy and hope and love, or at least the instances of an artist depicting those things. Capturing my OWN emotional reaction is getting a bit too surreal. So we are tagging depictions of emotion, but to take one example, is our well-known 'Cass' really a depiction of melancholy? Or isolation? Or is it actually about hope?

I know, I know, you look at the painting and that's the totality of the experience: it is 'about' itself, nothing more and nothing less....

Courtney Johnston said...

And also what you feel can change so much over time - as your life changes, as your knowledge changes.

I think this is why I want a way of gathering this emotional data without getting people to enter words themselves. I'm thinking a single work might have an emotional map. Say three people call a painting 'sad' and three people call it 'melancholy' and two call it 'depressing' and one calls it 'angry'. The interface should be able to show all this - but in a better way than a list of words ... (it's all inside my head. I should start sketching ...)