Codex Project: Formation Processes, Floods, and Books

This spring saw the publication of two new books from the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. A third will appear this fall with a limited edition print publication appearing of the course of the summer: Micah Bloom’s Codex. For more on that project, go here.

Below is my first draft of the preface for the book and a sneak preview of the contents:

Archaeologists study formation processes. These are the various natural and cultural processes that transform human activity into archaeological sites. To make meaning from the physical traces of the past, archaeologists disentangle the various events that create what we see in the present. The result of this work is both an appreciation for the complexity of time and experiences as well as an emphasis on objects and contexts that co-produce meaning. 

Micah Bloom’s Codex, here expanded with a series of new essays, is about formation processes.The surging waters of the 2011 Souris River flood left the city of Minot coated in mud and strewn with debris and Bethany Andreasen’s contribution to this book provides a sweeping overview of those events. Micah Bloom’s camera, however, focused on the books that the river deposited across the landscape. Robert Kibler the work of the flood and Bloom’s work has produced hybrid that embodies both natural and human transformations. As Ryan Stander shows, each photograph echoes both the book-littered landscape of the post-flood Souris and the myriad photographic images that have gone before.

I became familiar with Blooks’s project during its installation at the North Dakota Museum of Art in May of 2015. Laurel Reuter’s essay provides a perspective on that event from her position as director of the museum. The exhibit combined his photographs with various approaches to dealing with the damaged and waterlogged books. Some approaches were archaeological and featured careful indexing, systematic photograph, and scientific precisions. Others approaches embraced a religious cast manifest in a neatly-arranged book cemetery commemorating each volume lost. As Brian Prugh’s essay notes, books are special objects. 

In many ways, formation processes also produce books. Thora Brylowe reminds us that books themselves emerge from natural processes mediated by human intentions. Sheila Liming’s essay reveals that books are always in the process of decomposition as both the physical objects and the ephemeral containers of ideas. Bloom’s lens presents the blurred words and water soaked pages and encourages us to recognize that the intent of the book is, as Justin Sorensen notes, part of what gives it meaning. Books are to be read, but even when they’re not readable, they still speak to us as artifacts. The meaning of the books in Bloom’s photographs compels us to take their materiality seriously and to recognize, using David Haeselin’s term, that they are constructed.

This book too was constructed in a very particular way. The contributors hail from around the U.S. and, as this brief introduction has shown, bring a range of perspectives from the fields of history, literature, art history, and criticism to Bloom’s work. These essays were copy edited by the students in David Haeselin’s writing, editing, and publishing course at the University of North Dakota. Micah Bloom supervised the design of the book with the help of Marissa Dyke at Minot State University. The book is published by Bill Caraher’s project, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota with funding from both UND and Minot State University.

Lives, Land, and Labor in Bakken at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo

If you’re down in Fargo this evening and want to step out, check out the IdeaExchange program on Lives, Land, and Labor in the Bakken at the Plains Art Museum. To register, go here

This program is in conjunction with their ongoing Bakken Boom! exhibit which I’ve blogged about here.

IEBBoom2 12 2015poster

A Quick Follow up to Cultures of Curation

If you missed the panel discussion earlier this afternoon at the University of North Dakota’s Arts and Culture Conference, you missed an stimulating conversation about curation in the media, art world and film. As I said in an earlier blog post, curation has come to be a particular important concept in the late-20th/early-21st century cultural lexicon.

The panels were relatively conservative in their reading of curation and privileged the curator as a kind of arbiter of creativity. When asked whether curation could occur without a curator, the panel was largely dismissive. (And, yes, it was my question, and I have a blog, so I can respond to my own question here. It’s completely solipsistic, I know, but it’s hardly my fault that the panel stimulated me to have a conversation with myself.) My idea of curation sans curator was not that curation would occur without any agency, but rather the highly distributed models of agency present on the web challenge our traditional, frankly elitist, notions of the curator as culture-maker.

In some ways, the editorial work present at a site like Wikipedia or the crowd-sourced curation present at a site like Reddit demonstrates how effective decentralized models of curation can be. Interestingly, Jennifer Preston, a social media reporter for the New York Times, mentioned how the front page of the Times was among the most intensively curated spaces in media. When asked about curation without a curator, though, she responded by suggesting that this would give rise to massive collections of YouTube clips of people filming the news coverage of on their televisions. She overlooked that the crowd-sourced site Reddit claims to being “the front page of the internet”. 

I also thought about the assemblage of ancient objects present in collections today. The modern curatorial intervention comes only after centuries of human curation. The use of objects in various ancient context, trade routes, modern geopolitics, colonialism, and the unequal distribution of wealth conspired to make available a collection of objects for the modern curator. This clearly does not fit a narrow definition of curation as a reasoned, generative act, but it is reminds us that our current genius is always contextualized by the “invisible hand” of centuries of individual decisions, value judgements, and markets combined with natural, political, and social vagaries that have nothing properly to do with objects, but nevertheless shape their fates. 

Be sure to check out the final day of the conference tomorrow:

Thursday, Oct. 24:

  • David Pagel, Visiting Artist Lecture, 11 a.m.,Witmer 114, UND campus.
  • Kerri Miller – Visiting Artist Lecture, 3:30 p.m., River Valley Room, Memorial Union.
  • Closing reception, 7 p.m., at the “Cultures of Curation” Exhibition at 3rd Street Gallery in downtown Grand Forks.

Archaeological Glitch Art

Several members of the Working Group in Digital and New Media have been discussing glitch art. Some of this was inspired by Mark Amerika‘s glitched contribution to the Arts and Culture gallery show titled “The Eastern Shore of Maryland”. The term glitch art refers to digital images that are manipulated by deleting lines of code or through sometimes random processes of data and file corruption.

In a few brief conversations I became interested in the performative aspect of glitching art as much as the results. So on a grey Saturday, I started glitching some of the images that I prepared for the final publication of our survey at Pyla-Koutsopetria. The first step was converting the .tif files to .jpg files. Jpegs appear to be more susceptible to glitching and less likely to fail. Once the file is in .jpg format, it it possible to open it up in NotePad or TextEdit to and manipulate the code.

I started with an image like this:

PKAP ModernCT

Deleting random code made it look like this:

PKAP ModernCTGlitched1

PKAP ModernCTGlitched2

PKAP ModernCTGlitched3

PKAP ModernCTGlitch4

These images are randomly glitched. I have no idea what code I took out and could not replicate this. Each image is effectively unique. Some attempts to produce this kind of glitched image resulted in the file being too seriously corrupted, and it could not be opened.

A more systematic effort at glitching involved cutting parts of the code and replacing them. The advantages of this is that its replicable. By swapping out the effectively random letters (to me) that made up the code for the image, I began to think a bit more about how to introduce to the images something less random. In other words, to make the language of the image intersect with the more easily understood forms of verbal communication.

For this image I replaced the combination “SM”, the initials of Scott Moore, our ceramicist, with my initials BC:

PKAP ModernCTGlitchedSMBC

For this image, I replaced “DP”, for our co-director David Pettegrew, with “BC”:

PKAP ModernCTGlitchedDPBC

Finally, I replaced the letter P with the acronym of our project “PKAP” (the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project): 

PKAP ModernCTGlitchedPKAP

The idea of these last three images is to combine computer code and human codes to transform our computer mediate image of archaeological reality in unpredictable ways. The process is remarkably similar to analyzing the site via the GIS where we take the “natural” landscape and transform it into a series of symbols, lines, and text. By manipulating the code that produces these images in both random and patterned ways, we manipulate the meaning of the image and the way in which these images communicate information to the viewer. We problematize the process and manifestation of mediating between the experienced landscape and its representation as archaeological data.

Cyprus Research Fund Lecture: In Person or Live Stream

As loyal readers of this blog know, tomorrow is the fourth annual Cyprus Research Fund Lecture. The arrival of Dimitri Nakassis from the Department of Classic at the University of Toronto in the great state of North Dakota will official increase the number of (traditionally trained) professional classicists, ancient historians, and art historians in the state by 33% (at least by my count).

The talk is at 4pm CST in the luxurious and exotic East Asia Room in the magnificent Chester Fritz Library on campus. The talk is so huge, that it has appeared on the University of North Dakota’s homepage and in a Marilyn Hagerty column.

UNDHomePageNakassis

If you can’t make it to campus to hear the talk, do not fear! You can watch the talk LIVE on the INTERNETS. I would love to see an active and interested online audience.

Here’s the flyer:

NakassisJPEG

The talk is sponsored by the Department of History and the Cyprus Research Fund. For those of you who don’t know, the Cyprus Research Fund began as a fund supported by a loyal group of private donors who are committed to expanding the presence of Mediterranean Archaeology (and related fields) on campus and providing opportunities for University of North Dakota students to get field work experience abroad. Since its beginnings, however, the Fund has sponsored a wide range of related activities. In fact, its first impact was the purchase of server space for digital and new media projects on campus (and this server space ultimately contributed to founding of the Working Group in Digital and New Media). It has also funded eight speakers or exhibits on campus, three artist in residence on Cyprus, and helped to fund over 10 UND students time in Cyprus. This past year the Cyprus Research Fund co-sponsored the publication of a small book documenting the history and architecture of the oldest standing wood-framed church in town before it was demolished. The book was written by a University of North Dakota Doctor of the Arts student Chris Price and is titled The Old Church on Walnut Street: A Story of Immigrants and Evangelicals.

Here’s a snazzy book mark:

CRF BookMark

One last thing, if you are in Grand Forks, you need to check out the Arts and Culture Conference: Binary Inventions. There’s a panel discussion today at 3:30 pm in the Memorial Union and tonight at 7:30 (with a 7:00 reception) the fabulous Empire Theater. Be sure to check out the closing reception at the Third Street tomorrow night at 7 pm.