We Were Londoners

Our last day of class:

Most of us, in front of the Pegasus statue at the Museum of London, on our last day of class!

This photo was originally posted on Ariel’s Facebook page.

. . .  Was technically yesterday, but we got to get our completion-certificates today!

At the awards ceremony. I have no clue why there’s a big purple spot on my face.

Originally posted on our Facebook page by Kelsey.



So. Our last day. Not only the turn-in day for our final papers, but also the perfect time to discuss the current phase of museums and look to their future.

Yes, the boogeyman of today’s museum, DIGITIZING COLLECTIONS!!!!!

Where digital collections reside, probably.


Specifically, museums putting information online that is only accessible online, and museums that exist online, and online only.

My Online Museum is an open source museum in which anyone can participate, like Wikipedia.


This is the homepage, and it doesn’t get much better from here. One of my classmates called it “Sims Museum,” and we all agreed it’s a nifty idea that could be amazing, if, say, museums from around the world participated, and curators could pick items that usually don’t get exhibited to share on the site.

There are professional examples out there, like the Bodleian Library and the Gallery of Lost Art. The former puts together research and images from the collections at the University of Oxford for public consumption that are only accessible online, while the latter was an exhibit put on by the Tate museum in London on art that has been either lost, stolen, or damaged, which would be difficult to do in a traditional museum setting, given that some of them don’t exist anymore.

Jacob Epstein’s Mutilated Sculptures

There’s also the Mongrel Tate, which popped up when people went to the Tate Modern’s website for the fifth time, and the V&A’s game Luxury Time, tying in with their exhibit on luxury.

Nora Fok’s Bubble Bath, a necklace made out of hand knitted nylon thread.


We talked about how we would use the internet and digital capabilities to enhance the overall museum experience in ways that cannot be done in a standard museum environment. Our ideas were a map of the churches of London, where one selects a church, the map zooms in on it, and then the viewer can walk into the church and look around; a recreation of streets and areas throughout time; an interactive game, like Monopoly, using London as a game board; and a simulation of the Great Fire, where people can move through the City before, press a button and watch it burn (tracking the process of how it did so – this is educational), and then participate in the rebuild.

Question: Will contemporary museums of the future end up displaying the virtual and the real side by side? And if so, how?

I don’t actually have an answer for that, but I do know the museum of today has begun (or should begin very soon) the process of digitizing its collections, and in some cases have begun collecting the digital themselves.

At the Museum, my group was in the Print Room first, where Francis Marshall, Senior Curator of Art, went through the process of collecting contemporary art in a history museum.

The Museum has about 19,000 boxes full of prints, the two he pulled for us held copper and silk prints by Keith Coventry, who worked in the 1990’s. Coventry was inspired by the legacies of modernism and all its idealism, through the use of simple form and geometric shapes. One of his copper-etched pieces, titled “Tiber Estate”,


depicts plans of a social housing (read: government housing). The plan bears resemblance to modernist paintings and is intended to show tension between the idealism of modernism and the realities of social housing, which was poorly made and quickly became run-down.

Coventry’s silks touch on the same issues, with his works Junk I, II, and III based off of squashed McDonald’s litter he saw on the streets.

Here we have Junk II.


The term “junk” can also apply to drug users, or “junkies.”

These girls were invited to come to Coventry’s studio to be photographed. This is not faked, they are actually smoking crack:

Mr. Marshall showed us several photographs from this shoot, introducing them as “The Crack Girls.”


The Museum has exhibited these pieces, though Mr. Marshall did admit it “treads an uneasy path.” Once, when he was giving a “curator’s tour” of the exhibit, a lady “gave [him] a good harangue” over them. She believed they glamorized drug use and was therefore inappropriate. However, neither he nor we think it does; smoking out of a converted water bottle isn’t exactly what I think of when the word “glamour” is thrown out, and the girl in the middle would never be mistaken for the picture of health. It’s sobering, it’s sad, but it’s certainly not glamorous.

We moved on to more light-hearted material, collected by the Museum for the Olympic games.

When London was announced to host the 2012 games, the Museum started collecting materials leading up to the big event. LOCOG – the group that organized the cultural events – enlisted artists to make promotional prints that were turned into posters for the games. After the games, the Museum was given the originals that weren’t for sale.

Michael Craig Martin



Sarah Morris

“Big Ben”


Mr. Marshall drew our attention to the arc of popular opinion that they saw while carrying on the collecting. When the Olympics were originally announced, there were a lot of naysayers, with lots of talk about how expensive they would be and how many people would be displaced or otherwise negatively affected.

Julian Perry painted this diptych, Shed 54 and Rhubarb, to illustrate the loss of allotments (pieces of land rented off local council, this is where people who lived in the city in garden-less flats could grow vegetables and the like) in the Lower Lee Valley, which were to be swept away in order to build the Olympic stadium.


Shed 54


The last image we saw was a photograph of Battersea Power Station taken by Vera Lutter:

This isn’t the image in the Museum, I couldn’t find it on their website. 

This is from Ms. Lutter’s webpage.


The photograph in the Museum is 7′ high, and is the largest photo in the collection. It was captured using a camera obscura; Ms. Lutter’s is a shipping container, allowing her to create a photograph of this size. It takes weeks or months to burn the image properly, during which she has to work inside the box to make sure the image is uniform, covering areas coming in faster than others. She then had to develop it, and the difficult nature of this process resulted in only 24 successful prints from this project. The Museum decided to purchase this print in order to expand their photographic collection beyond its social documentary roots.

Moving on from the concrete images of the Print Room, we met with Foteini Aravani, Digital Curator, where she discussed collecting the digital and the Museum of London, something they began two years ago.

A collection is any aggregation of items (objects or resources), where the items are the catalog records. They can be physical or digital, and may have varying degrees of permanence or transience. Digital collections are useful in bringing together items that might be physically located in different locations, allowing people to access them in one convenient place.

At the Museum, a digital collection consists of digital objects selected and organized to facilitate their discovery, access, and use. Objects, metadata (info embedded in a file that is used to describe attitudes about its content), and user interface together creates the user experience for the collection.

Interview with Edith Poulsen

Here we have the object: the interview extract and the transcript; along with the metadata: the maker, production date, ID number, etc.; and the user interface all working together to facilitate the user experience.

Metadata is very important: good metadata should be appropriate to materials and users, as well as intended, current, and likely use of the resources. If you can’t tell what it is just from the initial perusal of the information, it’s not good metadata.

The Museum also has a Twitter feed, @londonisyours, where Londoners get control of the handle for seven days in which they share what they are doing while going about their lives in the city. These tweets are archived in the Digital Collection for future Londoners.

Making waves as the newest collection, begun one month ago, are video games. Specifically, games dating from 1983 through 2000 depicting London. These games are vetted for historical value, being about London or Londoners, the social scene, and the Indie gaming scene. Ms. Arvani is collecting the original tape, developer’s notes, and promotional material for all the games selected.

There are some difficulties in going about collecting video games, mainly copy right issues, but there’s also the commercial nature (the Museum doesn’t want to inadvertently end up advertising companies that are still going strong), following the selection criteria, the problem of explicit content, and outdated technology and display requirements.

When adding a video game, the first step is to selection, second is to settle copyright issues, third is handling the viewing problem through migration of the original to current storage (this will be periodically updated as technology advances), emulation, refreshing, and reinterpretation.

. . . .

Then class was over, and we were done. That’s the end.

But it wasn’t entirely over, we all went to a pub for drinks and an opportunity for all of us to get together, to talk and laugh outside of class, and to enjoy each other’s company one last time before we all go our separate ways, scattered across the globe.

It’s been fun. It’s been real.

And for the past three weeks, we were Londoners.

This photo was originally posted on Ariel’s Facebook page.


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