Thursday 31 January 2008

Warhol pre cooks the revolution in Brisbane

Excuse the gap in the correspondence but I have been on my travels again, both physically and culturally. Although still fresh in the memory it was more than two weeks ago which found me in Brisbane in the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art staring at the wonderful series of ten prints of Mick Jagger created by Andy Warhol in the 1960's.

They show Jaggar as the young adonis figure he was, his face alive with that postured curiosity, which some saw as arrogance, but which now, more and more, looks like intelligence looking for a framework to make sense of the circus around him.

The exhibition , hailed as an exclusive to Brisbane, brings together more than 300 paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, photographs, films, videos and installations.

The works come from the Andy Warhol Museum, and the National Gallery of Australia; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; the National Gallery of Victoria; and private collections.

Although I found some of it didn't engage - qv many of the early film doco pieces- or felt too remote in time - lots did still retain an ability to provoke big conversations with the viewer .

There are real works of power here , and in balance the exhibition - for me - did confirm Warhol was not only a player, and a contributor to the 60's circus, in hindsight, he really did create many of the key assumptions and ideas surrounding fame, personality and the place of the ordinary in the construction of the extraordinary.

And yes, at the emotional level you definitely have to celebrate the sheer creative guts of the guy, while admiring anew how his then revolutionary magpie techniques could take an issue, art movement or conceptual idea and mash it up for his own purposes.

Read Write Collaborate Generation
Which I guess is the big connection point for me - that though Warhol is welcome to his cult status as an artist who co-created the mid point of 20th century modernism his work retains a compelling contemporary relevance in the way it precooked some of the ideas we are no grappling with around giving the read write collaborate generation access and rights to the heritage and knowledge assets of our big state and national institutions and their collections.

As an example check his version[s] of The Last Supper.

State Library of Queensland

As it happens, for me, there was something deeply serendipitous about seeing Warhol's work being celebrated in such a grand style in this location. The Queensland Art Gallery , which has two sites, sits inside the Brisbane South Bank cultural precinct which also includes the Queenlsnd Museum, and of course, the State Library of Queensland.

I in turn had been invited to Brisbane to particpate in a two day workshop where State Library staff were discussing all the issues that emerge as a consequence of engaging with 2ist century digital literacy, including how to make collections accessible, discoverable, and open to participation to the user.

This user centered approach is already on view in the State Library. Courtesy of a recent remodeling , the ground floor of the building has been transformed into an info zone - i.e. a public/ student - learning space with an open wifi zone.

The result is just plain and simple stunning. You walk onto the ground floor concourse from the river walkway , and immediately encounter clusters of young people huddled either in active collaboration groups or just hanging in companionable silence . All have laptops or so it looks on first glance, and all are soft wired into the learning tardus which is the State Library.

And nobody checks you in - nobody asks your name - gives you a password, or takes away your tote bag!

Up stairs on the the upper floors the "normal " business of a State Library continues - collecting, describing and of course curating key heritage collections on Queensland history, as well as openly searching for models and methodologies which will bring all of this into the forefront of a re-imagined digital learning space which also offers the user the ability to discover, share, co-create.

I fell in love with the place , plain and simple.

And if you would like a taste of the possible - check out this transcription [ both text and audio] of the Diary of Maria Steley, aged 14, written on board the ship “Ariadne” and at the North Stradbroke Island quarantine camp between 6 October 1863 and 23 February 1864.

Wednesday 16 January 2008

Sir Edmund Hillary

Like many others I made my own private salute to the life and achievements of Sir Edmund Hillary's. Not least being the general acknowledgment that he seems to have been such a nice man!

The funeral arrangements would appear to be well in hand for next Tuesday. The day before, according to the NZ Herald he will be lying in state in St Mary's on the Monday. The funeral will also be broadcast on screens in Auckland Domain. There are also reports that Wellington and Christchurch will be offering their own feed.
And thanks to the NZ Herald for their updates on the arrangements, and their coverage to date.

Also of note are four web sources which people should check. First Christchurch City Library have put up a really good set of sources on his life. Second, NZ History have prepared a feature. Radio New Zealand have just been brilliant, here . And, last but not least Auckland Museum have put together an online photo set.
Thursday 17th
From Auckland Museum: "This link Commemorate Sir Ed with Auckland Museum concerns events in and around the Museum next Monday and Tuesday relating to the State funeral"

Tuesday 15 January 2008

Blogging History - two examples

I have been having a think about how blogging software can be used inside collaboration and co-publishing ventures, especially from a heritage point of view.

This is part of my ongoing interests but there also might be some projects which I can apply it to. In the process I have been reviewing some examples. Two of which I thought might be worth sharing?
First, the online Samuel Pepys Diary. This is an old favourite. Also, long before the internet thing , I have been a fan of Samuel Pepys, the 16th diarist of the restoration et al, who wrote almost continuously about his life and work in London during the years 1661 to 1669.

I don’t know what appealed so much – the immediacy of the writing – the sheer guts of his ambition, and of course the brio in which he takes the world by the scruff of the neck and makes it work for him. Somehow he just fits the world my mind constructs when I think of what it would have been like trying to make a living in London at that time.

But he also seems to travel over time - a contemporary 17th century project manager who is determined to get himself a nice apartment – make some friends – have some influence – and in the process make his mark on the world. I’m certain if he was alive today he would be straight into this Internet thing.

I guess the totally inspiring Phyl Gyford had a similar idea. He's the man, who for a couple of years now has been putting the diary up as a daily entry on the truly inimitable Diary of Samuel Pepys, using Movable Type with PHP and MySQL] to create a blogging tool on steroids.
He has also, from the beginning thrown the whole project out to others who share knowledge and interest in both Pepys and the project. This group spends its time adding annotations to the entries - especially the people, places, and incidents mentioned in the text.

Places are also marked on a parallel inline Google Map layer, and now, since December last year he has added 2797 inline Wikipedia pages. The result is a context machine which takes the core of the Pepys project and makes it a model for collaborative scholarship.

It’s also a brilliant example of how to take the likes of Movable Type and really drive it as a publishing /collaboration tool.

WW1: Experiences of an English Soldier
The other example which caught my eye over the holiday is also from the UK. It's a blog of the writings of Private Harry Lamin one of the Yorkshire and Lancashire Regiment who ended up in the blood and mire of Messines Ridge and Passchendaele.

Just like his family back home, currently we have no idea if he is going to survive This is a deliberate tactic from the blog creator, Bill Lamis , his 59 year old grandson, maths and IT teacher.

By the look of the comment pages [on the blog] he seems a little overwhelmed by the attention he has created with his project. Both CBC and the BBC have made news items out of it. The CBC is here. The BBC one is here.

It would be interesting to hear if there are any plans to do something similar here in New Zealand. There must be some excellent possibilities somewhere?

Monday 14 January 2008

2008 First Day Back

So - it is here - a bright and sunny Auckland morning for the first day back at work after the summer holidays. Feels like an age since I have been at the office desk - fingers a little reluctant, mind a little unfocused.

It was a fine holiday, including a trip up to the Bay of Islands and the lovely little town of Russell, aka Kororareka. Once the 'hell hole of the pacific', it was 'a lawless trading centre where whalers, seafarers and merchants mixed with adventurers, deserters and escaped convicts from Australia.'

Now it's a picture perfect small New Zealand town whose history regularly interrupts your holiday as you promenade along the pathway that scirts the edge of the water.

The Pompallier house definitely had something to say. It is New Zealand's oldest surviving Roman Catholic building. Built in 1841-42 by French Catholic Bishop Jean Baptiste Fran├žois Pompallier as the printery, tannery and storehouse for the French Marist mission.
The house is one of the very few examples of of pise de terre (rammed earth) on the ground floor and pan de bois (rammed earth panels in a kauri framework) on the upper floor. Once built, the Marists set up a printing press and were one of the first to publish texts in Maori.

This press is back in situ, and the rooms now decked out as they might have been in 1840, including a whole bunch of bookbinding implements and tools from the period. Actually the same tools can still be found in any amateur bookbinders bench, something I know because my dear old Dad, George Reynolds ,was one of this gentle breed.
He used to 'let me help' when I was a wee boy. So for me, touring Pompallier House gave me my own bitter/sweet 'voyage round my father'.

He also loved his garden so he would definitely have enjoyed looking through the vegetable and fruit garden, which is another feature of the restored house.

Back along the strand you come to the Russell Museum. This is quite a small place, the collection on display concentrating in the main on the early history of Russell, especially the sailing, and of course, lots on the relationships between local Maori and the new settlers.
I'm told they are making progress digitising their collection and are starting to think about how to to use digital to integrate the best of their physical collection with local community memory.

However, being a small, essentially regional museum with limited resources, albeit a huge cultural footprint, they, like many institutions of their size are still trying to figure out the tactical and resource implications of their ambitions. In short, maybe they need some help to figure it out.

The NZ Museums project, currently in development by Te Papa National Services Te Paerangi NZMuseums might be of interest to them. Basically its a big rework of their current web site. The current one is pretty basic limiting itself to a directory featuring 358 museums.

National Services Te Paerangi, in partnership with Vernon Systems Limited, has been exploring how this website could be redeveloped to allow museums to place collection objects, images, exhibitions and events information online, similar to websites such as and

The idea is that the new site will help small to medium-sized museums, which may be unable to afford to do this themselves. It has been designed with their needs in mind, but still allows larger institutions to contribute content.

And just for the record Vernons has asked McGovern Online to do the design - so I guess I should declare an interest.
That said, I think it is a great initiative, and a really good example of how 2008 can be the year when big frameworks/ institutions start thinking on how to help / assist / partner with smaller frameworks/institutions to create compelling joint ventures based on a common pursuit of excellence.