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Workshop Art, Collections and Data Across Borders

23 – 24 November 2016
Nasjonalmuseet Oslo

In November, the members of the lab.SNG team attended the second "Art, Collections and Data Across Borders" workshop in Nasjonalmuseet (Oslo), to gain insight into the online collection and digitisation activities of their Norwegian partners, discuss common practices and possible future collaborations.

The visit commenced with a guided tour through the permanent collection in the Nasjonalgalleriet, showing the highlights of Norwegian art from antiquity to present. The second exhibition in Nasjonalgalleriet was a  small display of two paintings by Goustav Courbet, installed along restoration and art history equipment, focusing on the process of verification of the artwork's authenticity. This small exhibition format was interesting and inspiring in its low requirements for the visitor's time and gallery space, and in offering a brief and focused experience with good educational value. Participants of the workshop were also shown the backstage of the gallery space, where the Nasjonalmuseet curators were planning future exhibition layouts using the architecture models of the new building.

The second day of the visit started with a tour of the information centre, located near the new gallery building construction site. Here, the visitors can see a multimedia exhibition that presents the new building, explains the construction process via infographics and shows the decisions that shaped the building's design (layout, energy requirements, materials, urbanism). Nasjonalmuseet is conscientious when it comes to informing the citizens about the future of their public space, the benefits of unification of the institution's various buildings (the Gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Architecture, the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design) and heightening anticipation for 2020, the year of completion. The citizens of Oslo have high expectations for the institution that is financed by the public money and the Nasjonalmuseet responds sensibly.

Two more excursions shown us the Digital Photography Department, which digitises objects from the collections using the Hasselbad camera and various equipment (such as a rotary platform for 360-angle object view) and the Media Design Group, which seeks to improve exhibitions through interactive technologies and playful ideas. The Digital Photography Department is currently looking into large-format scanners available on the market. The knowledge and experience of the SNG Digital Technology Department gained during the mass digitisation project Digital Gallery could help the department during this process, thus initial contact was established with a possible visit of the team to the SNG.

Over the course of next two days, lab.SNG and Nasjonalmuseet teams discussed the technological solutions to the shared problems, sources of inspirations, and possible future projects and collaborations. They talked about pros and cons of the tools they use (or plan to use) and their future scaling prospects. Among the tools discussed were the Fotoware DAM (digital assets management), KulturNav (Norwegian thesaurus and vocabulary system), Grid (image management system used by The Guardian), ImageNet (picture research database), IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework), Fedora (repository platform), Wordpress (content management system), Grav (flat-file CMS) and Caffe (machine learning framework). Nasjonalmuseet presented their machine learning project Principal Components, developed in collaboration with Bengler, identifying networks of images based on style and motive. The results of the project will provide the visitors of Samling with more angles for viewing related images/artworks, based on style and motive. The classification of images (i.e. landscape) created by the algorithm will be included in the catalogue records in the collection management system. The algorithm will be released on Github and lab.SNG will look into the possibility of using it to enhance the "related artworks" functionality on Web umenia. To get a glimpse of the project, see the "Romantic Landscapes" video.

Principal Components: National Romantic Landscapes from Bengler on Vimeo.

Online collection websites and projects by other institutions were analysed for inspiration for new features and UX – newly launched, The New York Public Library digital collections or Ajapaik – a tool for geolocating museum collections, mainly historical photographs. Future developments of Web umenia were outlined and discussed - 3D objects displaying (inspired by the Samling use-case), tagging (already developed, but not deployed yet), image annotation using IIIF, user profiles functionality, user feedback, crowdsourcing implementation, admin interface improvements, publishing more information the collections (location of artworks). The plans for further Samling development includes artists profiles and bios, featured content, educational content, admin flexibility, publishing texts about artworks The feature of multi-language support of the interfaces and content was discussed, including the to deal with the time requirements of the effort. We showed each other how our respective collection management systems (CEDVU and Primus) work and advised on the best requests for their next versions.

The Art Data Hackathon and its results were discussed. The event and final presentations were well attended, with five teams actively participating and working on software using online collections of both SNG and Nasjonalmuseet. The winning projects Klima, Vampart and The Mirror are good prototypes and deserve proper follow-up and further development. Vampart was launched online in the weeks following the event, with positive feedback on social networks. Vampart will possibly be developed further, enlarging the base of participating institutions and their collections. Klima could be released on iTunes, but also repurposed for the specific use in digital signage installed in SNG window, facing the visitors on the street.

Art Data Hackathon | 7.-8.10. 2016 | SNG from Web umenia on Vimeo.

Most of the Hackathon participants were quite independent in using the API, but its active use has also shown the need for a more thorough and detailed documentation. Compared to the previous Hackathon edition (organised independently by SNG in 2014), the event concept and results improved considerably, by engaging more with the participants through mentors and small workshops during the event, by making sure the teams consist of enthusiasts from various fields (coding, design, UX, marketing) and by using a broader dataset from both institutions. This outcome warrants next instalments and further expansion of its themes and goals. The Art Data Hackathon as well as the whole project was presented during the Europeana Annual General Meeting in Riga.

Since the cooperation between SNG and Nasjonalmuseet does not end with the project, there was also a discussion about future plans for each institution and the partnership. lab.SNG will focus on broadening the partners base of Web umenia (including more galleries), developing more types of content and bringing the website closer to being a platform for its users) and improving its design and interactivity. Nasjonalmuseet will devote more resources to online collections and incorporate more features based on machine learning progress made by This knowledge will continue to be shared, along with an input from other departments of both institutions. More common projects that employ the online collections are considered, maybe of educative and comparative nature - about artists, themes and visual styles of both countries.

Altogether, we discovered having many things in common, sharing goals and ambitions but also problems and challenges that arise when transferring large collections to the digital realm. We are looking forward to keeping art and data across borders alive.

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