Google Arts & Culture Experiments
The “crossroads of art and technology” sounds like somewhere you might get run over by a badly driven cliche. Nevertheless, under this banner Google Arts and Culture continues to offer a motley but intriguing set of playful and interactive artistic and cultural heritage experiences.
The site is part of a series of sandboxes that Google maintains for creative coding experiments. The level of polish varies, but there are a few gems. Pyramids of Meroë is a straightforward scroll-and-learn journey to the ancient Kushite capital in Sudan, with informative overlays and illustrations that add levels of understanding to the photographic evidence of the pyramids themselves (there’s an audio version too).
Chopin Everywhere is an extension for the Chrome browser: with every new tab, rather than a blank Google search box you get new facts about Chopin and ways to explore his work. Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg’s Pollinator Pathmaker is pure delight with serious undertones: create and plant your virtual garden, then fly through it from the point of view of a pollinator as the seasons change. As well as a unique custom artwork (fun), you get a set of planting instructions to help turn your own garden into a buzzing paradise (and add to local biodiversity).
Given Google’s notoriously short attention span for spin-off projects, and the failure of some of its other arts and culture efforts to break through, this has an uncertain future. But as museum websites necessarily focus on the bottom line, it’s worth seeing some slightly more adventurous visions of what can be done for art and collections with technology.
The Bath and Colonialism Archive Project
Sometimes, history moves at one speed and museums and archives move at another. A post-Colston wave of popular revulsion at Britain’s colonial history has prompted widespread interest in (and some funding for) research and engagement projects digging into Britain’s colonial past. But once planted, such seeds take time to flower: one of these is the Bath and Colonialism Archive Project.
Supported by local cultural heritage organisations and the National Archives, a team of volunteers has been searching and annotating the archives of the Bath Chronicle from the late-18th century, locating references to both transatlantic enslavement and the history of Black people living in Bath.
The project aims to share findings with “as wide an audience as possible”.
But beyond a few leaden introductory paragraphs and a very basic image gallery of newspaper clippings, there’s little here for the newcomer to get hold of that might help them shape an understanding of the slave trade’s impact.
The legacy of slavery in the UK is heavy and painful, and uncovering injustice is not always enough by itself: some deeper thought about how to engage a popular audience with a traumatic subject would not have gone amiss here.
A recent visit to Tate Britain with kids was saved by the physical manifestation of the Tate Draw app: the best part of an hour was spent drawing and sharing with Tate’s new digital drawing tool.
The online version is just the same, and works well across laptops, tablets and phones. It’s super-simple: choose a mode of drawing (mirror, pixel, invisible), pick up your virtual pencil and sketch away. No gimmicks, no filters, and at the end you can share or upload your masterwork to a collective gallery or, if your self-regard knows no bounds, get it printed on a T-shirt.