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The Elastic System launches online

September 10, 2018 Leave a comment

Richard Wright’s art project the Elastic System has launched now online too. Originally commissioned as part of our AHRC funded project Internet of Cultural Things, the piece was first a temporary installation at the British Library (and subsequently touring to Hartley Library, University of Southampton where it was presented with support from Dr Jane Birkin and AMT).  Please find below the Press Release for the online launch. I myself am currently writing a text on art practices, library infrastructures and contemporary cultures of data in cultural institutions.

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Press Release

www.elasticSystem.net

Follow: https://twitter.com/ElasticSystem

You are invited to visit the new high resolution version of the ELASTIC SYSTEM, an artwork by Richard Wright in collaboration with the British Library.

The ELASTIC SYSTEM was produced during a year-long artist-in-residency at the British Library and is the first artwork to be given access to their core electronic networks and databases.

The work takes the form of an interactive portrait of the C19th librarian Thomas Watts, an obscure but important figure in the early history of information technology. In 1840 Thomas Watts invented his “elastic system” of storage for the British Library to cope with the enormous growth in their collections that was threatening to overwhelm them. This photomosaic has been generated from 4,300 books as they are currently stored in the Library basements at St Pancras, an area not normally accessible to the public. The “Elastic System” functions like a catalogue, allowing people to visually browse part of the British Library’s collections, something which has not been possible since Watts’ time. Furthermore, each book is connected live to the Library’s electronic requesting system. By clicking on a book you can find out more about the item and how to request it from the Library. If you do request a book, it is removed from the mosaic to reveal a second image underneath. This image is a portrait of the staff who work in the underground storage basements, the hidden part of the Library’s modern requesting system.

In order to create the second image, the artist spent two days working with the basement staff at the St. Pancras site, taking hundreds of photographs. With a collection as large and as diverse as the British Library’s, its successful functioning depends on a well tuned human element, which although it is as essential as the electronic networks, is less visible and less appreciated.

After being exhibited as an installation at the British Library, the Hartley Library and the Digital Catapult centre, the “Elastic System” has now been optimised and rebuilt at double the resolution. It is being released as a public web site on September 9th to mark the anniversary of the death of Thomas Watts in 1869.

This work is part of an AHRC funded research project called “The Internet of Cultural Things”, a partnership between the artist Richard Wright, Dr Mark Cote (KCL) and Professor Jussi Parikka (Winchester School of Art) with wide representation from the British Library including Jamie Andrews, Head of Culture and Learning, Dr Aquiles Alencar Brayner and Dr David Waldock. The aim is to use digital data and the creative arts to transform the way people and public institutions interact. The “Elastic System” uses Watts early C19th insights into database access to create a new catalogue out of visual metadata (digital photographs), making it a portrait that is also an extension of his work.

Richard Wright is an artist working in animation, moving image and interactive media. An archive of his work can be found here: www.futurenatural.net

Email: contact@elasticsystem.net

The artist has written three blog posts about their research behind this project:

https://internetofculturalthings.com/2016/06/08/where-is-the-library/

https://internetofculturalthings.com/2016/06/18/what-can-you-do-with-a-library/

https://internetofculturalthings.com/2016/09/01/elastic-system-how-to-judge-a-book-by-its-cover/

Google Photos: https://tinyurl.com/ElasticSystem-images

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Oodi Art Project: AI and Other Intelligences

As part of our curatorial project on Library’s Other Intelligences we received an exclusive sneak preview of the new Helsinki Central Library, Oodi. With Shannon Mattern, Ilari Laamanen (Finnish Cultural Institute New York) and our artists we were able to see how the insides are shaping up. The aesthetically and architecturally stunning building is also such an interesting cluster of spaces that one could write about them much more extensively than just a this short posting. That longer piece might follow later, but already now I personally was struck how they deal with media in its multiple forms from analog to digital, from projection to making. From a cinema theatre equipped with also 35 and 70 mm projecting opportunities to a bespoke space for an analog synthesiser, the library offers an amazing platform for a public engagement with media which also includes recording studio space and a maker space – and yes, even a kitchen. The library is catered as a space of media transformations. At the moment the building exposed its multiple wires, cables, ducts and work – the labour of construction as well as cleaning that is already going on for the launch in December.DSC_1800.JPG

 

The top floor is reserved for what one would imagine as the “traditional” library, a space for books and reading, which also opens up to a terrace overlooking the Finnish parliament building. The roof wave is pretty stunning.

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I wanted to include some of the visual impressions from the space that shows its infrastructure being built up,  a theme that is present in some of the works from the artists Samir Bhowmik, Jenna Sutela and Tuomas A. Laitinen. In general, a key theme of our project concerns architectures and infrastructures of intelligence – both engaging with AI but as an expanded set of intelligences from architectural intelligence to ambient intelligence, from acoustics to amoebas and others layers of an ecology of a library that is a life support system – biologically, intellectually and culturally. It’s these multiple AIs that define the generative forms of languages, materials, and new publics that are present in how we want the space to be perceived. The exhibition opens in January 2019. Updates on social media will use the hashtag #OodiIntel.

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