Sommeren er reisetid for mange, kanskje går feireturen til Slovakia. Her skriver Michal Cudrnak fra det slovakiske Nasjonalgalleriet om deres tilnærming med å opprette en «Lab», og hvordan de har brukt digitale fortellinger, blant annet, som et verktøy i deres arbeid med digitalformidling.
How do you accelerate the «digital transformation» in the public sector organisation, where change meets resistance more often than elsewhere? Setting up a lab with a small group of people, experimenting with new products and services on a smaller scale is often a good approach. It helps to mitigate the risk of failing on the organisational level, while having the potentianl to initiate real change. The key is to allow enough time for trial and error: start on a small scale, test, release, review, when failing start again, and where succeeding, continue.
In the Slovak national gallery (SNG) there has been ongoing activity revolving around electronic cataloguing of artworks since the 90s. In late 2000s, digital images of artworks were becoming more commonplace and the push to make them available on-line (along with the records) gained momentum. We hired a company to develop «Web umenia» (Web of art) for us, where people could browse artworks from Slovak art museums and find hidden gems in the collections for themselves. Along a similar vein, we had external photographers help us with digitisation of SNG’s collections.
Over time, the need to replace the website arose and we had to make a decision – do we go on with external resources, or do we build our own? As for the process of digitisation, the Digital gallery project (part of Operational Programme Informatisation of Society) allowed us to do both. We made a big leap forward with newly acquired museum scanners and digital SLR, with both inhouse and outsourced teams creating high-quality digital images of paintings, graphic prints, sculptures and other artworks. The development of a new website took a new track too, over which the lab SNG was born.
Case study: Soundwalk
Before revamping the art collections website, the first project of the newly established lab was to be a audioguide for the Strážky mansion. Part of SNG, the mansion where Ladislav Mednyánszky (a significant Central European artist from the Barbizon school, active at the turn of the 19th and 20th century) was living for some time offered an ideal ground for creating a new kind of audio guide – Soundwalk. One which wouldn’t replicate the traditional model of spoken guided tour with basic facts, but a mixed format of field recordings and radio play. Sound artist Jonathan Prior recorded soundscapes at the mansion and in the adjacent park, mixed them with professional actors voicing the historical figures according to a screenplay where facts and fiction overlap. The task of lab.SNG was to take the resulting tracks, each connected to a place, and present them in a mobile app, for the visitors to download and enhance their visit. We researched existing solutions, from commercial audioguides to open source tools and decided to develop our own framework, mainly because no other solution offered an non-proprietary technology, where we could put the tracks for offline use. What seemed to be a question of software turned out to be more a issue of the organisational ‘dark matter’ – how to ’embed’ the audioguide into the daily routine of the mansion. But we leave this for another blog – what we learned on the way however, was that we could rely on collaboration with other departments, the department of Education in this case. Here can you find a video of Soundwalk in action.
Enriching digital collections – «Art stories»
Back to our main mission of developing a new collections website, we decided to release the first iteration of it disguised as a microsite for the exhibition Two landscapes, with selected artworks available for browsing, searching, zooming and downloading.
While working without a strict functional specification, we adjusted the requirements on-the-fly, so that we could reuse the core functionality later. Not just for a few artworks from Slovak art museums from the exhibition, but potentially all of them. A micro-site for a exhibition focusing on changes of the Slovak landscape over the 19th and 20th century was a good testing ground for the overall functionality (harvesting of records of artworks from collection management system, fulltext search, deep zoom), but also for specific requirements. Displaying and browsing the artworks on a map, searching through a timeline, or sorting according to the exhibition sections. As the deadline was approaching we had to change the core functionality to a minimal version, so the resulting website was more of a prototype than beta version. We had to focus more on streamlining the website with the curatorial concept and graphic design, another cross-departmental lesson to be learned.
As more and more digital images of artworks were added to the old website, people began to send us requests for digital images to download, and some of them even added a story which was related with the requested artwork. A man found a painting of a cabin that he remembered from his childhood memories; a son found his father, a young miner at that time, in another photo.
As our website Web umenia lacked deeper insight about the artworks themselves – in it’s basic version, the artwork comes just its basic metadata and a image – we realised our content would benefit from a different approach. With little prior experience of digital storytelling, we decided to put out an call for the public to submit us stories about artworks and chose a collective of young film-makers to make short on-line documentaries titled «Art Stories». The pilot was finished recently and tells the story about a sculpture on a well known memorial.
This video was released along with a newversion of Web umenia last month. Similar to the exhibition website, we develop it in an agile fashion, iterating on weekly basis, releasing the code on Github. The main task was to make it responsive, easily searchable, with zooming functionality showcasing the digital artworks in detail. With the first release we delivered these, but we are far from a final product.
As we continue with our work, we realise we would benefit from an outside perspective – not just technically, but content-wise. We are looking for partners who are interested to help us gain more experience in fields which related to projects described (online collections, cultural heritage and geo-location tools, digital storytelling) – be it just sharing skills, lessons learned or doing an short residency. Maybe your organisation could be interested?
Dersom du eller din organisasjon ville gjerne vite mer ta kontakt med Michal Cudrnak per mail: Michal.cudrnak (at) sng.sk