Arjon Dunnewind: Content with Context

By  Stijnie Thuijs
Arjon Dunnewind - 'Impakt Channel: Content with Context'. Photo by Anne Helmond.

Arjon Dunnewind - 'Impakt Channel: Content with Context'. Photo by Anne Helmond.

Being the festival, artistic and general director of Impakt, Arjon Dunnewind is in charge of a database of art related content for which he has to decide the most appropriate way of uploading to the web. An important factor to take into account, he explains, is that the audience on the web has different expectations than ‘offline audience’. Online archives are the next phase and make us rethink how we structure the art collection, connect both the online and offline audience  and exploit the merits of the online environment to use them in the best possible way.

How to involve an audience?
According to Dunnewind this can be done by providing the viewers quality instead of quantity. This means no comment space below the art content. Arjon would rather have a platform without any comments than low quality comments and spam on his channel. Moderation and hierarchy are keywords for the Impakt Channel, only inviting experts to give their opinion and opening little by little. Arjon wouldn’t mind never to open it for ordinary users though – as it can degrade the quality.

Legal issues
A struggle for Dunnewind are the legal issues. Foremost, who is responsible for the content and the legal issues is not always clear. While being online for supposedly 20 years, only since 5 years has there been options for artists as to in which degree their work is allowed to be published. There is no standard agreement with the artists (all permission has to be confirmed in direct contact with the artist) and more importantly: the artists themselves haven’t always cleared the legal issues of the materials used in their pieces. On the sunny side of the legal issues is that the organization is relatively small, so they don’t receive a lot of complaints. Also there is not much historical material in the database and the legal methods Impakt uses now actually bond the artist and the organization really well. Which results in allowing to put the work online.

The Impakt Channel : Give context to content. Or: how to make a difference
To differentiate yourself from video websites such as YouTube – which offer little to no context -  could be done in various ways. To Arjon, a way is to do that is to offer unique content. Also building a unique platform with alternate possibilities and limitations is a manner. Furthermore, connecting the online channel with the offline events, art projects and festivals, including bonus material for example, are adequate ways to create context. As are the display of background information, articles, introductions and comments by invited experts, interviews and curatorial texts from the original programs.

All that said, Arjon concludes with his wish for the online Impakt environment. ‘We want the Impakt Channel to become a new platform’, he says. A platform that creates exhibitions online, a flexible, dynamic, autonomous space on which can be experimented.

Annelies Termeer on

Video Vortex 6

Annelies Termeer - 'Instant Cinema: Sharing the Screen'. Photo by Anne Helmond.

Annelies Termeer was the third speaker during the lecture themed It’s Not a Dead Collection, It’s a Dynamic Database. She is ad interim head of digital presentation at the EYE Film Institute, formerly known as the Film Museum. The project she is affliated with is called InstantCinema. The goal of the website is to facilitate filmmakers with a platform that affords them to easily upload their films and connect with likeminded people. An important part of the target audience exists of experimental filmmakers, who now have a platform that has the ability to unite the separate spheres of the online communities, the art world and the film world.

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Sandra Fauconnier on Video Art Distribution and the NIMk Collection

Video Vortex 6

Sandra Fauconnier – 'Mediating Video Art Online'. Photo by Anne Helmond.

Sandra Fauconnier, working as an archiver for the Netherlands Media Art Institute (NIMk), delivered a speech about video art distribution during the overarching theme It’s Not a Dead Collection, It’s a Dynamic Database. The NIMk curates and distributes works of art online through its website, which contains a searchable catalogue. The archive contains objects ranging from the seventies to contemporary works by established as well as upcoming Dutch and foreign artists. Fauconnier spoke about the ways in which the shift from the pre-digital to the digital era has faced the NIMk with challenges to how it was archiving its works.

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Teague Schneiter on Preserving Indigenous Heritage with IsumaTV

Joanne Richardson - 'Making Video Politically'. Photo by Anne Helmond.

Teague Schneiter - 'Improving Access and Facilitating Use of Indigenous Content with Isuma's Hi-Speed MediaPlayers'. Photo by Anne Helmond.

In Friday’s first session called “It’s Not a Dead Collection, it’s a Dynamic Database”, media archivist and researcher Teague Schneiter (US/CA) took off with an elaboration about the ‘IsumaTV‘ project she’s currently working on. The people behind this initiative aim to set up an accessible infrastructure for streaming and uploading video content in indigenous subcultures. This is not only a technological challenge, but also requires a lot of media literacy within these communities. Other than with traditional heritages, it doesn’t focus on the long-term storage but instead prioritizes the accessibility of the users.
When it comes to the technological part of accessibility, the project would require a solid approach to work for the across different communities. Since the Inuit areas are largely isolated from ‘regular’ broadband services (the costs / bandwidth speed ratio is one of the aspects that widens the ‘digital divide’), the organisation introduced special media boxes into these indigenous communities. Through this local server network, the IsumaTV network performs much better than mainstream platforms like YouTube or Facebook would have. Moreover, having a stand-alone video platform overall increases the feeling of (reclaiming) ownership, “it helps with having a good relationship with the users.” Even though the technological trade-off is that the network updates with a delay of about a week, this is still acceptable for a project with a goal to preserve cultural heritage.

In the end, the project seems very worthwhile. Especially in the “era of of rapid change, [in which] indigenous groups seek to preserve their subculture”. Since the project started in 2008, over 2000 videos in more than 41 languages have been uploaded as well as pictures and text. Content-wise, it proves to be valuable to have the locals themselves act as curators, instead of having slightly related ‘outsiders’ maintain the archives. The fact that the communities rely mainly on verbal communications is another point that video creates a lot more insight into the different cultures.

Future plans with this initiative are to attract more sponsors like repositories, institutes, museums and participatory media (especially now the Canadian government has cut the budget), as well as to add crowd-source (subtitling or voice-over) features as well as further improving the network its accessibility.

It’s not a Dynamic Database… It’s a Dead Collection? [Temporarily Unavailable]

By Geert Faber

Mél Hogan - 'It's not a Dynamic Database...It's a Dead Collection?. Photo by Anne Helmond.

Mél Hogan - 'It's not a Dynamic Database...It's a Dead Collection?. Photo by Anne Helmond.

The second day of the Video Vortex conference started with the session ‘It’s not a dead collection, it’s a dynamic database’ covering a next phase of digitalizing and distributing video archives. The first presentation of the day is from Mél Hogan who talks about the rise and fall of three large online video art repositories in Canada and the setbacks they encountered. Mél Hogan is currently completing her research creation doctorate in Communication Studies at Concordia University in Montréal, Canada. Her research documents defunct, stalled, and crashed online video art repositories within a Canadian cultural context.

The title of her presentations (and of this blog) provokes the title of the session and questions whether the web provides a dynamic databases or dead collections. The growth of YouTube and its popularity has set new standards for online video databases, archives, and interfaces. More often online projects become entities on themselves instead of just bringing an offline collection online.

To showcase the difficulties of bringing video art repositories online, Mél discusses three cases from Canada and the setbacks they encountered. These cases were created by interviewing the people, partners, and organizations involved, by reviewing ground reports, and tracking the visual history of these collections and website by using the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. A general notion among these online projects is the implied value of the content the archives contain and the focus on the broader context. All the project envisioned an archive of videos and described a context in which those videos should be placed, however, the cases show that this context is often harder to develop and control, and affects the popularity and success of the online archives.

The first case describes the start of Vidéographe by viThèque which started in 2010 and is still online. The project encountered several setbacks in the development of the channel because of the involvement of several different partners and getting copyrights for the content. After years of development the project is now taken into the courtroom to settle arguments between different ex-partners, resulting in a widespread of competitive online channels presenting the video material of Vidéographe. A showcase how context is hard to manage and control on the web, and how the offline organization of projects can influence this.

The second case discusses the Vtape project which started in 2006 and ended in 2008 being a part of the virtual museum of Canada (Musée virtuel du Canada). The website has an active link to the archive but has been offline, or ‘temporarily unavailable’, for many years now, questioning the access of websites beyond the technical framework.

The last case discussed the Médiathèque project initiated by SAW video’s which started in 2003 and ended in 2009. The website provided artists a payment of 200 dollar per year for every submitted video. The website turned out to be an online repository of online video which focused more on availability instead of context, a faith, as Mél notes, for all digital media. A severe server crash in 2009 suddenly ended the availability of the website and it has been offline ever since. Although back-ups are available the website is still offline as a result of lack of dedication from SAW video’s, and new initiatives being developed. Mél Hogan has written a more detailed overview of the rise and fall of Médiathèque and the traces left on the web in a paper for

Collaborations with different partners and receiving long-term funding are common difficulties for online art video repositories. It is still unclear who controls and owns the content in the databases and how copyright material should be distributed from these archives. The cases discussed shows how videos were dispersed over different video portals including popular video websites such as YouTube and Vimeo. Another setback many online repositories faced was the adoption by both the audience and the artists, over time hits declined and channels were never adopted by the video art community. A challenge new channels trying to tackle by including social media tools for reaching their audience. Having the technology in place is not enough, context, partners, relationships with artists, and funding has an important influence on the success of the channel. This can be achieve, for example, by developing a  good connection between the artist and the platform and by giving the artist some control over the platform to involve them in the process to keep the platform online. However, as Mél notes, crashes and broken links have shown the paradoxical nature of online archives; failures are part of the narrative.

On Twitter: @Mél Hogan

About the author: Geert Faber graduated with a Master of Science degree in Business Administration from the Free University in Amsterdam and is currently graduating as a Bachelor of Arts in Media & Culture specializing in New Media and Television studies.

On Twitter: @GeertFaber