Museums and the Web Asia conference 2015

Plenary Session / ‘Build Risk Appetite’ / Janet Carding, Timothy Hart and Seb Chan

Like so many conferences, a number of really interesting ideas and concerns took shape during Museums and the Web Asia in Melbourne and this post is an attempt to tease out and test those I found most pertinent. The highlights for me were learning about the Singaporean context from Angelita Teo, Director of the National Museum of Singapore, the panel discussion between three incredibly passionate museum executives about organisational change, and the concluding key note presentation from George Oates, Director, Good, Form & Spectacle. These three very different presentations all seemed to take issue with the idea of a museum for the 21st Century and in particular, what a museum needs to be of the 21st Century. A collection? A community? CRM? Oh my, oh my

Museum executives, Timothy Hart (Museum Victoria), Seb Chan (ACMI), Janet Carding, (TMAG) were panelists for the plenary session titled: ‘Lessons learned on taking your organisation on a voyage of discovery…’. The discussion touched on the concept of risk appetite which in this particular context was described as the risk to an organisation’s reputation of inaction. The discussion moved onto the related issue of capacity building and the challenge for museums to attract and retain expert staff given the fierce competition in other industries who can afford to pay higher salaries. The panel seemed to agree that for a museum to appeal to talented people, it must present unparalleled opportunities that are at once ambitious, as they are aspirational, that would otherwise not exist in other industries. This particular theme – capacity building and/or risk appetite – is explored further in Janet Carding’s article ‘Changing Museums‘ in Medium.

On day three, Courtney Johnston, Director of the Dowse Art Museum reflected on her experiences at three different museums in the United States where digital initiatives were developed for, and integrated into the physical space, in other words, site-specific. In short, none were perfect but given the small number of pioneering museums in this space, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves what we might do differently? What lessons can we learn from these pioneers? What impact have these initiatives had on the museum ecosystem? And what are the risks – both threats and opportunities – involved in such an undertaking?

]2015 Summer Architecture Commission / John Wardle Architects / National Gallery of Victoria

I’ve chosen to zoom in on the areas which resonated with me. I work in a team called Governance and Reporting and our job is to lead the development of QAGOMA’s Strategic and Operational plans and report on our progress against the objectives laid out in these plans. Occasionally this necessitates some blue-sky thinking. This is why I loved learning about ‘What’s in the library?‘ a collaborative project between the Wellcome Library and Good, Form & Spectacle, to develop several prototype views of the entire library catalogue. The project had four main themes: Scope of the Collection, Show The Things, Context vs Catalogue Data, and Scalability, with one week dedicated to each theme. George Oates explained that visually prototyping the collection in different ways was interesting for all kinds of quirky reasons, but also offers an alternative way of thinking about collections and their cultural value, opening up new fields of enquiry. It also throws into question the authority of the institution – where is it located if not in the moment of selection, acquisition and even at the point of MARC1 entry?

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What’s In The Library?


Intellectual (Agency) Property

Agency: Assembly (Showroom) 2011, Installation view, Photo: Daniel Brooke

I attended a curious talk at the Institute of Modern Art (IMA) last Thursday: a teaser for their upcoming exhibition ‘Imaginary Accord’ by Brussels-based artist Kobe Matthys who, in 1992, founded an institution called Agency. Curious because I didn’t realise just how relevant this talk was going to be for my current focus which is to review the Intellectual Property Policy at QAGOMA.

Agency has been growing an archive of ’things’ which resist simple categorisation, particularly in Intellectual Property law. For example, have you every wondered who is the author of a choreography, a jam session, an interview or even an idea?

Agency explores these ‘things’ through presenting all pieces of the Intellectual Property puzzle, such as the surrounding judicial processes, lawsuits, cases, and (sometimes) controversy, and where possible, re-enacting the thing itself. Agency calls this format an Assembly. Each Assembly has a different focus question and in Brisbane the exhibition will explore how processes and systems can become included within artistic practices.

Processes and systems seem to be alive and well in artistic practices – I’m thinking Tomoko Yoneda’s ‘Scene’ series, begun in 2000 and currently on display in the exhibition ‘We can make another future‘. It consists of large-format, colour landscape images depicting the current state of sites of events of world significance. Where would you situate this series of images, or more specifically the process behind the series in the labyrinth that is Intellectual Property?

Tomoko Yoneda, Japan b.1965 / Path – Path to the cliff where Japanese committed suicide after the American landings, Saipan 2003 / Type C photograph on paper / The Kenneth and Yasuko Myer Collection of Contemporary Asian Art. Purchased 2013 with funds from Michael Sidney Myer through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

Agency provides an open platform to explore and weigh up these complexities which, particularly at a time when property, both public and private, online and offline, is increasingly contested, could not be more welcome. Researching the possible forms of IP in art museums I have become more aware of how complex an issue it is and I’m interested in how the exhibition ‘Imaginary Accord’ might address the role of the institution.

I asked Kobe about Agency’s neutral stance and whether he ever feels moved to take sides i.e. for increasing open access to cultural objects/acts or greater protection of artist’s rights. He responded by saying he was more interested in the doubt surrounding ‘things’ and how a different outcome could change the way we see ‘things’ in the world.

I should have seen that one coming given he kick started his presentation with the question: “Does it matter which art we make to make art with? What would happen to an art practice if copyright law would be a protocol of improvisation amendable with an art practice?”


Speculation seems to be an underlying theme at the IMA at the moment and is particularly at issue in their current exhibition ‘Hito Steyerl: Too much world’. Ellie Buttrose, Assistant Curator of International Art at QAGOMA will be giving a tour of this exhibition at the IMA on Saturday at 3.00pm. And if you’re super keen, the IMA will be launching its 2015 program this Thursday followed by the inaugural lecture of a talk series titled What Can Art Institutions Do? See you there.

Sounds of Silents

David Bailey accompanying silent film The Golem, How He Came into the World 1920

Is it just me or is there some uncertainty about silent films with live accompaniment? I say this based on a conversation I overheard in the queue for tickets to The Passion of Joan of Arc at the Australian Cinémathèque, GOMA. The ladies behind me were speculating where the band would be set-up, suggesting that they might be playing outside, perhaps in the interval (there wasn’t one) or whether they would be sitting in the audience and randomly strike up a tune mid-film (ok that one was me).

Because really, the term, ‘silent film’ is somewhat misleading. Though there is no synchronised recorded sound, since the nascence of silent films, screenings almost always featured live music. In towns and small cities, this would be a guitarist or piano player or in larger places, an organ or small ensemble of musicians.

David Bailey accompanying silent film The Golem, How He Came into the World 1920

For those of you lucky enough to catch the last two silent films presented by the Gallery’s Australian Cinémathèque, the first featuring the Brisbane band ‘hazards of swimming naked‘ and the second featuring David Bailey on our very own Wurlitzer organ, you will know that the tradition of screening silent films with live accompaniment is alive and well.

Members from ‘hazards of swimming naked’, accompanying silent film: The Passion of Joan of Arc 1928

But I couldn’t help but think, confronted with a visual masterpiece that is The Passion of Joan Arc, what could one or more musicians (with or without a Wurlitzer) possibly play that could complement such a powerful work? Which begs the question, is music, let alone live music, really necessary? Could you sit there comfortably in silence and be enveloped by the intensity of Joan’s gaze, the mocking expressions of the religious men, and the overall atmosphere ingeniously crafted by Carl Theodor Dreyer?

Perhaps that is not really the question. Thanks to the discovery of Dreyer’s final cut in a mental institution in Oslo (only edited versions existed after the final version was cut down due to censorship in France) we can experience the film with or without musical accompaniment, in different contexts, with different musicians, from different vantage points, etc. The possibilities really are endless so long as institutions like the Australian Cinémathèque continue to see value in screening the work for their audience.

Members from hazards of swimming naked, accompanying silent film: The Passion of Joan of Arc 1928

The question should be, what can live music do for a silent film, that silence (or ambient audience sounds – because we love the guy scratching around for that last Malteser – you know who you are) or a pre-recorded soundtrack can’t? I asked one of our curators who raised the important point that the music is actually in conversation with the film and the audience and without the energy an audience brings to the discussion, well, it’s a another experience altogether.

I would have liked to ask hazards of swimming naked, how does accompanying a silent film change their approach to performing music? Or does it at all? Judging on the band’s considered instrumentation, slow-burning energy, and textural improvisations that reached their height at the ***!!!plot spoiler!!!*** burning of Joan at the stake, I’d say it changes things quite considerably from a Saturday night gig. The great thing is I will be able to see for myself next Saturday at the Triffid, an old commercial hanger which has been transformed into a live music venue, where hazards of swimming naked are performing with a number of special guests.


If you’re interested in seeing more silent films, The Mark of Zorro by director Fred Niblo (screening 1pm Sunday 1 February) and  Faust – A German Folk-Tale by director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (screening 1pm Sunday 15 February) will be accompanied by David Bailey on the Wurlitzer organ as part of the ‘Myths and Legends’ program at the Australian Cinémathèque, GOMA. Celebrating the world of heroic deeds, epic journeys and sacred stories, ‘Myths and Legends’ considers depictions of these two cinematic genres and the insights they provide into the mysteries and wonders of our existence. A companion program to 2014’s ‘Fairytales and Fables’, ‘Myths and Legends’ continues to explore the powerful relationships between classic folklore and modern cinematic storytelling, incorporating renditions and reinterpretations of classic tales, as well as contemporary accounts that translate mythic metaphors into unexpected genres, such as film noir, science fiction, adventure, drama, romance, comedy and the western.

Open d[ART]a

Claude Closky, France b.1963 / Installatin of Untitled (NASDAQ) 2003 / Wallpaper / Installation commissioned for ‘21st Century: Art in the First Decade’ held at GOMA 18 December 2010 – 26 April 2011 / © and courtesy: The artist

Earlier this year we published our first few datasets under the banner of the Queensland Government Open Data initiative. For those who are not familiar with the term Open Data it is used to describe knowledge “…that is free for anyone to access, use, modify, and share…”. 1 Not surprisingly, cultural institutions have increasingly been joining the global movement for Open Data by opening up their databases to share and enable research, learning and innovation and this is because an underlying principle of Open Data deeply resonates with cultural institutions, that is, access for all.

So in the spirit of open-ness, we published eleven datasets on the Queensland Government Open Data portal to be updated annually. While modest compared to our friends at the Queensland Museum and the State Library of Queensland, who are involved in exciting things like mashups (see an example of a mash up below), Library:/Hack and GovHack, we are eager to contribute to the OpenGLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) and expand on what we have published and we would like your help. We want to know what interests you and what kind of data you might like to use, re-use and re-distribute if you had the opportunity.

blog-open data
Andrew Young / Reflection of Time / Street scene including tram with destination ‘Brisbane Street’ / Image H81.292/134 sourced from the Victoria State Library and artist’s own images ‘City Night Scape’, ‘Tilt Train’ and ‘Motobike’ / All rights reserved by Andrew Young: undieroo

So far, we have published metadata relating to the artworks and artists in our Collection, attendance figures since the opening of architect Robin Gibson’s iconic Queensland Art Gallery building in 1982, and major exhibition attendances since the opening of the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) in 2006. The API (application programming interface) for screenings at the Australian Cinémathèque and upcoming public programs are also up there amongst other things.

But there is a lot more we could do which is why we are asking anyone who is interested in making things with (or generally curious about) data, to have a look and let us know how we can improve what is already there and suggestions for potential data to release, and we will endeavour to make it available in accordance with our Open Data Strategy.

You might be wondering what this has to do with art? Well, there is an interesting parallel to me made with some contemporary art practices. Take Claude Closky’s work Untitled (NASDAQ) 2003 which we had on display at the exhibition, ‘21st Century: Art in the First Decade”. Visitors to the gallery were towered by what appeared to be infinite columns of stock market figures. These lists of numbers in black and white represent the digital marketplace and our dependency on these often invisible figures, working silently in the background. Artists like Closky give presence to the transactions and informational flows going on around us, shedding light on the sheer wealth of data at our fingertips. Another example is the artwork Off shore accounts – II 2006 by Rashid Rana is another example of how the artist uses, re-uses and re-presents information, using pixilation as a means of abstraction.

Exploring a media-oriented visual landscape, Rashid Rana manipulates the concept of the pixel to portray the projected desires, dreams and ambitions of Pakistani society. The title of the work references wealth generated and held offshore, as well as the process of sending information from a distant location / Rashid Rana, Pakistan b.1968 / Off shore accounts – II (detail) 2006 / Lambda print mounted on composite board, ed. 1/5 / Purchased 2007. The Queensland Government’s Gallery of Modern Art Acquisitions Fund / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

To give you an idea of what is possible using Open Data, check out the visualisations of the Tate Collection by Florian Kräutli. Or if you are in the area, pop into to the exhibition ‘CUSP’ at the State Library of Queensland to see amazing data visualisations by Greg More and other design possibilities.

There are challenges faced by cultural institutions, including QAGOMA, to not only release data but also create spaces for communities to engage with the data. This is articulated in the article “Where next for open cultural data in museums?” by Mia Ridge, PhD candidate in Digital Humanities in the History department at the Open University. Not to mention the legitimate frustrations described in “So you want to reuse digital heritage content in a creative context? Good luck with that.” by Melissa Terras, Director of UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, and Professor of Digital Humanities in the Department of Information Studies at University College London (UCL).

We are working to overcome these challenges and part of this process is reaching out and asking questions. So if you have some ideas about how we might improve our Open Data or would like more information about the project please send us an email at or if twitter is more your thing @rpwillink.