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Des annonces de stage. IKKM Lectures. Without footnotes- Not for quoting please. Collections on the Internet by nature proliferate — which might discourage any research on them. Yet I am going to try to propose a series of reflections on the way we might envisage some of these collections. More precisely I am going to try to understand what the eruption of a new technological system — here the Internet and the communication system for which it is the platform, the Web — has brought modifications in the practice of collecting, which is an ancient practice that is profoundly associated with the construction of Western culture.
In the first part I am going to recall some of the epistemological problems associated with the issue, and in the second part I will present some examples of collections that have appeared on the Internet starting in the s, focusing notably on questions about their notion of space. How do these new collections use types of spaces, intellectual or perceptible, that are different from traditional collections? To start, let us state what kind of collection we are dealing with, distinguishing two principal types of collections among the many contemporary ones: on the one hand, collections of works of art and great scientific collections in the natural sciences and archaeology, and on the other amateur collections that gather together diverse objects of value, running from cars to matchboxes.
Each of these types has very different characteristics. Collections of works of art paintings, statues, prints, books are assembled by persons belonging to the higher strata of society, from whence the figure of the collector derives. These collections, like the major scientific collections, have the vocation of enduring and of being institutionalized in the form of a gallery or museum, which gives rise to another figure, that of the curator conservator.
Study of them belongs to the history of art or the history of high culture. The collections formed by amateur collectors traditionally belong to private space, from which comes the figure of the amateur; their study belongs in the framework of cultural studies and to the anthropology of contemporary societies. There are occasional displacements from one domain to the other, in particular when individual collections enter into museums.
For example, this might occur when a domain accedes to aesthetic legitimacy. From the start this partition of contemporary collections into two great ensembles focuses our attention on a central issue. To what extent does the displacement of the practice of collecting to the Web challenge this fundamental dichotomy? We might hypothesize in effect that the displacement of the practices of collection to the Web would entail a renegotiation of frontiers: of borders between legitimate culture and popular culture, borders between the private space of the amateur and the public space of galleries and museums, borders between professionals curators, conservators and amateurs.
It would also modify the practices by which knowledge and the production of meaning are organized. Foucault and the organization of things. Michel Foucault in a founding books Les Mots et les choses The Order of Things drew our attention to two elements that will become essential in the analysis of collecting.
First, he showed that the arrangement of items is closely linked to the production of meaning. The categories that are utilized, their arrangement, and their hierarchies all structure thought and offer frameworks for representing the world. Collections of stones, minerals, plants, and animals organize a vision of the world. The same is true of collections of works of art: the way of describing paintings, their organization into series, their mode of presentation all translate a conception of both art and its history.
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The firstly national museums give examples in various diverse scientific domains. Some cases reside on the borders of paradox, like Italy, which in quest of its national unity created in Turin in the 19 th century a museum that organized the presentation of minerals as a function of Italian political territories. This invites us to take an interest in other characteristics of the collection: its organization, its modes of description, and its modes of presentation. So we might wonder whether the Web radically transforms these intellectual operations and practices that construct meaning.
Innovation and the history of technologies. Media studies and the history of technology are going to offer us keys to enter into this domain: Media studies because it teaches us to observe at the same time both the technology and the institution that carries it, the message and its medium.
The history of technology is useful because it offers us a framework to grasp change. In fact we might consider that the establishment of the Internet and web as a change in technological paradigm. Mark Poster, quoting xxx, reminded us of what is obvious. The Internet is not a means of transmitting more messages faster and further, rather it is an arrangement that entails a reorganization of the modes of communication. The appearance of the Web is a rupture with the past in that the services and sites that it harbors invite us to reorganize the social practices that are associated with them.
The history of the networks of communication suggests that moment of innovation presents a rather precise temporality. When a new technology appears, we observe two tendencies that are almost concomitant: on the one hand, previous practices are renewed on the new networks. Thus a diligence was placed on a railroad flatbed, or in an opera was broadcast by telephone to Paris and Budapest. On the other hand, new applications develop that in time may change the relevant domain radically: thus the telephone would offer a network dedicated to individual mass communication, point to point, that was totally unprecedented….
This global discourse, in the case of communication technologies, has several characteristics. It jumps ahead of even speedy implementation of new technologies by envisaging from the outset the consequences of those changes that are potentially the most radical. This projection into the future is carried by literary genres, by scholarly or semi-scholarly writing that varies according to the era.
Thus technological utopias accompanied the innovations of the end of the 19 th century and science-fiction literature those of the 20 th. We may note the existence of some fundamental texts that were thinking of cybernetics, digitalization, and networks back in the s: for example, the philosophical analyses elaborated by Jean-Pierre Lyotard.
More generally we realize that the Internet and the Web from their births were perceived as potentially capable of radically transforming relations with the world. The notion of post-modernism is central here: as regards our collections, we recall the questioning of the importance given to the subject, to subjectivity, and the effacement of traditional frameworks of collective life, of cultural hierarchies, and the eruption of new legitimacies linked to gender, race, ethnicity.
Other more circumstantial discourses accompany the processes of innovation. The authors who are closest to promoters of new technologies and notably those who write in the context of popularizing science imagine and defend legitimate usages of new technologies. We must indeed consider these legitimating discourses for what they are: objects to be placed under the gaze of the historian. The history of usages in effect teaches the historian something else. Bourdieu, the field, the collection. Pierre Bourdieu arrives at this point.
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Here we are not interested in his analysis of the media but of cultural practices. We will pose the following question: Can this theory be used to understand what happens on the Web with respect to cultural practices? It presupposes a stable world. The social practices linked to collections, galleries, and museums are clearly identifiable and they are inscribed in cultural hierarchies that are not contested. The actors belong to social groups that are clearly identifiable, too. For example, in the lineage of classical sociology Weber , families are characterized by the profession of the head of the household.
Finally, his model was developed and tested inside a national culture. Collection and the postmodern individual. When collections develop on the Web, this context is not at all the same. As we have seen, the post-modern individual has been constructed. Moreover, sociologists of the succeeding generation, in particular those who are interested in cultural practices, have elaborated frameworks for description of quite different cultural practices.
The correspondences between cultural practices and social positions are considered to be more complex. Society thinks of itself in terms of groups, generations, ethnicity, and gender — no longer class. Hierarchies in cultural practices exist, but they are interiorized in a different way. It refers us back to the fabrication of the individual. Spaces of collection. In the following pages I am going to describe several types of collections present on the Internet and analyze them as a function of the issues raised above.
In terms of method, I will be analyzing what is seen on the screen, and deferring work on the archives and on interviews. We will look at how collections are organized the intellectual space and how they are presented in the fictional space that allows the visitor to see them. Several hypotheses crop up. The first is that Web 1 and Web 2 have had different effects on the space of collection. Web 1 principally introduced new practices of collection starting from tools integrated into the technological logic of the network and the Web, available now to a huge audience.
But it also witnessed the transposition of the classic logic of knowledgeable collections onto the Web, which gave it a wide dissemination and a new visibility without fundamentally altering that logic. Finally, it enabled an explosion in amateur collections based on a relatively unprecedented participatory model. Web 2. On the one hand, it induces a sort of regression: by acceding to representation in 3D, amateur or institutional sites reproduce classic forms of presenting collections by re-inventing the model of the gallery and museum.
On the other hand, by utilizing all the resources of social networks, it actually institutes a new dimension of the practice of participative collecting that creates a new social space for the collection. Here we touch on those issues in a chronological fashion by following technological performances of the Web and seeing how they force existing practices to be reconfigured. In a first moment, we will consider the transformation of traditional forms of describing collections and the evolution of notions of catalogue and database in a postmodern environment.
In a second moment, we will look at the return of Euclidian space in visiting the collection. Finally, we turn in the third moment toward collections generated by and inside the Net. Collections, catalogues and databases: migrating on the Web. What happens when collections issuing from the major institutions migrate to the Web? These collections in effect were endowed with tools of description elaborated in a precise intellectual context. Migration to the Web partially challenges their structure and their way of producing meaning.
In the second subsection, we will consider precise cases by analyzing objects on the Net: from traditional databases that are barely transposed, to presentations that are stuffed with hypertext links. Theoretical Approaches. Migration onto the Web of the intellectual tools that are traditionally used to describe a collection cannot escape the attention of specialists. Museum curators are interested in them from a double point of view: wondering about the future of their traditional tools the database and about the stakes in the categories utilized. The database, generic matrix? In general they were flanked with a thesaurus, an organized and hierarchized list of key words, which obliged the person responsible for indexing the collection to utilize categories preselected by the administration.
These databases were placed among the tools, either preparatory to reflection or else active tools. They enabled a document to be found, a series to be elaborated, parallels and comparisons to be constructed — but they did not belong to the noble world of the elaboration of ideas or the exposition of thought. By contrast, the story, the demonstration, the thesis, in their classic forms the book, the article, the lecture were still indisputable forms of the production of knowledge.
The Web as a database collection. The Web, some people maintain, has changed all that, not only at the level of practice by institutions of conservation, but also at the global level of the production of knowledge. In the first place, it has substituted the database for discourse as the majority form of the organization and interpretation of data.
In effect the Web as a whole can be considered as a collection of databases that occupies the place previously allotted to narrative forms in the modern paradigm. It is appropriate to shift to the model of databases to describe it, but it is also appropriate to want to develop a poetics, an aesthetics, and an ethics of this database. Of what consequence is this affirmation for the collections that interest us?
First of all, we should remember that the databases considered here are far from modest architectures confined to the professional domain and those constructed by documentarians in the s. We are talking about the ensemble of the date integrated into the Web. If this mode of organization has become fundamental, this is because it is particularly well adapted to the conditions of the Web.
In HTML pages, in effect, it is still possible to add new elements to the list: all you have to do is to open a new file and add a new line. The result is that most pages of the Web are collections of separate elements: text, images, links to other pages or sites. A homepage would then be a collection of photographs, texts, and personal links. The site of a major search engine is a collection of many links to other sites coupled with a search engine, of course.
So there is a proliferation of collections of all sorts, from library catalogues to driving licenses, and the organization of the latter into databases. At the same time, the mode of navigation by hyperlink has come to predominate on the Web. CD ROMs with cultural content were published by museums to describe their collections, enjoyed at the end of the s a brief golden age, which popularized the use of hypertext links. The generalization of access to collections though the Web would thus have almost mechanical consequences. Yet is this the only way to describe what happens to collections and in particular to collections that are found in museums?
This overview does not teach us much more about it than the first intuitive analyses of the Web. The Postmodern catalogue. She is interested in the categories utilized in the construction of these databases and makes the transformation of these categories the real stakes in a break with the modern notion of collection.
She says a radical change took place — or is supposed to have taken place — in the way in which descriptive tools give meaning to collections. Her point of departure is quite different, however. What interests her is not the structure adopted to describe the collection database or stories , but the descriptive categories that are adopted. Analyzing from a historical perspective the modes of description of museum collections, Fiona Cameron observes that the migration of descriptive functions to the Web has coincided — or may have coincided — with a transformation of the criteria of description.
This transformation is also part of the postmodern revolution. Citing manual data cards series of punch cards or databases elaborated traditionally to describe museum collections, she maintains that the chosen criteria of descriptions are primarily suited to the needs of accountants and curators. These traditional catalogues, whatever their form, draw their source from empirical modes of thought from Web 1.
They foster the description of the formal elements of objects size, appearance ; they valorize measurement and naturally result in the establishment of taxonomies. The museum objet is exposed to observation, description, and measurement and takes its place in an interpretative grid produced by the criteria of description themselves. An interpretation then emerges that wins back or trumps all the others. There is no place in this practice of documentation for interpretations that might be considered as subjective. The establishment of different readings that are marginal or competitive with respect to other characteristics of the object, taking the context into account, an association with different narrations — these are not foreseen by the catalogue criteria.
The contemporary post-structuralist paradigms that valorize alternative readings, competing points of view, and which disqualify univocal readings and positions of authority are said to fundamentally ruin these traditional forms of documentation, and so the Web is — or could be — the tool of this revolution by permitting a wide range of users with diverse interests to introduce the bases of a revision of documenting collections.
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The possibilities opened by digital technologies and the Web would then make objects evade the narrow field of the discipline and the institution that took control of them and assigned them a meaning. In effect, it appears that users continue to search for a model of interpretation that is authorized and trusted on the part of museums according to a modern paradigm, even if in the postmodern form of the website and its forests of hyperlinks.
Here empirical analysis supports the theoretical approach. It seems that this possibility of associating stories with databases and of organizing very broad navigations through very diverse types of data, has instead been used by curators inside the framework of on-line exhibitions, and the data presented to visitors.
It is in this context that the possibility of re-contextualizing the databases has been utilized. On the other hand, the very structure of databases to organize collections has rarely been challenged. Does this formal approach allow us to analyze collections present on the Net and to understand the way in which description produce meaning? At least it draws our attention to the elements that ought to guide the analysis. Moreover, it appears that the tools for description lists, databases and the instruments for searching inside the collections alphabetical order, thesaurus, search engines are indeed elements that merit precise analysis.
Finally, it appears that it might be useful to pose questions linked to issues of power: who chooses the criteria of descriptions and what presuppositions do they carry? These issues traverse the symbolic and material spaces of the collection. Case studies. The more precise study of three types of tools presenting museum collections or those of patrimonial institutions will enable us to reflect on the precise implications of the migration onto the Web of descriptive tools for collections.
Firstly, we are interested in the persistence of old models. The Internet, as Louise Merzeau shows, is not only the tool for communication that everyone imagines: it is foremost an immense system for archiving that contains foremost the memory of itself. This is why we today access via the Web sites that are either old — never erased or de-activated — or current, but which transpose previous logics onto the Web universe. Moreover, there exist recent patrimonial sites that reproduce the modes of old thinking.
Museums and archives and libraries - institutions made to last - have not only transposed onto the Web their older modes of describing their collections but have also maintained them. During the s the catalogues of numerous cultural institutions were put directly onto the Internet. They authorized direct access on the part of Internet users, who were rare at the time. Thus one might in the s enter from the CRAM in Paris by passing though CERN in Geneva in the collective catalogue of Italian libraries in order to search for a precise title by entering a simple keyword or a title. The Web in those days was transparent to some extent.
What was given to be seen — apart from necessary references — was directly the imaginary of generations of curators of Italian libraries who had chosen, conserved and catalogued these books here and not others. These direct entries into the databases of major institutions have become rare for obvious security reasons.
An example of a database directly transposed onto the Internet is the Joconde database of the Ministry of Culture in France. Analysis of its pages illustrates the persistence of the modern model described above, where the categories chosen to structure the database offer a discourse of authority characteristic of the institution, of its choices and its limits. Let us take an example. The complete listing runs as follows:.
H : 0, ; L : 0, Traces de pierre noire. Tiner, J. Berthollet ; remis au Museum en juillet thermidor an V ; album p. The object is described as a function of its material characteristics, with particular insistence on measuring things. All the data necessary for accounts that can attest to its belonging to public collections are indicated.
The work is precisely inserted into the categories elaborated by art history: it is the gaze of classical art history, incorporated by the descriptive criteria, that constructs this drawing as an artwork. Slavery, as we know, was a non-subject of modern historiography. Here it is absent as a problematical aspect of describing the cup. Which slaves? Of whom? With what model? Why black ones in this period? In Italy? No item in the description allows going farther along this avenue, which remains an impasse.
Here it draws its performative strength from its insertion into the descriptive categories of the catalogue. The presentation in parades of lists allows embracing at a glance an ensemble of items and seeing how they were organized. INA in effect makes two types of catalogue co-exist: an old catalogue that is a very complex computerized database elaborated in the s, and an Internet site intended for the general audience. The two sites give access to the same data. Some institutions have kept until recently the possibility of entering into their brains.
This complex database relates to video archives that are not for the most part digitized. This database, accessible from computers in the viewing rooms of the INA archives, may also under certain conditions be accessed via the Web. The New INA portal. However, we note that the same institution set up after a tool that is also accessible from the Web but totally different.
These sequences are the same — for the oldest among them — as those that were accessible via the professional and searcher databases mentioned above. However, the search procedures, the vocabulary of description of the video archives, and their mode of access are entirely different. The archive has become merchandise and the way in which it is described, organized, and presented takes very precise account of this characteristic.
Analysis of a museum site will enable us to enter into another dimension of collection on the Internet: on Web 2 the use of algorithms enables a reconstruction in three dimensions of the space of the exhibition gallery. This last enters into our schema of analysis. We might consider that the hanging of works of art on the wall of a museum or a gallery constitutes a form of organizing the collection. Those who commission them know that this gives great prestige to the way in which the works of art are organized on the walls. The height of the hanging, the distance between the works, count as much as the color of the walls.
It is the whole space itself that is at stake: for example the lighting is governed in a characteristic way.