Long before computers came to pervade every aspect of modern life, museums were collecting, organizing, and storing data. The art museum is a kind of vast machine for making all types of objects interoperable, from Bronze Age figurines to contemporary works of performance art. Like our digital machines, museums engender experiences of wonder and discovery—and they’re also engines of bias, power, and invisibility.
During Spring 2022, metaLAB (at) Harvard will take up residency in the Harvard Art Museums’ Lightbox Gallery to explore contact zones across computers, collections, and culture. In the first phase of the program, called Curatorial A(i)gents, metaLAB’s international consortium of artists, data scientists, and scholars will delve deeply into the holdings of the Harvard Art Museums and other collections. These projects use algorithmic methods to uncover patterns and relationships in the collections, making them sensible and navigable in ways that extend beyond the relations of works on walls. The projects will incorporate a range of critical making and media-driven inquiry. Appearing as a weekly cycle of interactive installations, projects will be organized not by collection, but by some of the underlying topics that organize museums, databases, and worlds beyond institutional walls.
In the second phase of the program, another series of projects will look beyond the museums’ walls to explore Living by Protocol, asking what it means to treat our lives, selves, and bodies as collections of data to search, navigate, and analyze. While the use of social media has become a daily routine for billions of people throughout the last decade, the problems and possibilities of this new reality were reflected and questioned by artists long before. In the early 1990s, cyberfeminism and Net Art laid a foundation for the digital realm to serve as an artistic medium; today, contemporary art is almost unthinkable without the network effects of Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, and Facebook. Living by Protocol queries contemporary artists’ reflections on, with, and by social media. Consisting of six weeks of curated, rotating media works and experiments, the program will commence with a week of talks, discussions, and other hybrid programming. Social media will be simultaneously the topic, platform, and space of experimentation.
Throughout metaLAB’s semester in residence in the Lightbox, such encounters will augment and enrich the weekly cycle of interactive exhibitions, making connections to other Harvard collections, a diverse array of audiences, and courses across the curriculum.
March 1–6: Kim Albrecht, Watching Machines Loving Grace
March 8–13: Minne Atairu, Igùn
March 15–20: Jeff Steward and Lauren Hanson, Otto Piene Sketchbooks
March 22–27: Philipp Schmitt, Sympoietic System
March 29–April 3: Francisco Alarcon and Stefan Helmreich, Ocean Amplification
April 5–10: metaLAB, Object Map
April 12–17: Giulia Taurino and Jonatan Reyes, This Recommendation System Is Broken
April 19–24: Kevin Brewster, Dan Newman, and Keith Hartwig, AIxquisite Corpse
April 26–May 1: Lins Derry, Second Look
May 3–8: Jeffrey Schnapp, Dietmar Offenhuber, Todd Linkner, and Kevin Brewster, A Flitting Atlas of the Human Gaze
May 10–15: Dario Rodighiero, Doug Duhaime, Christopher Pietsch, Jeffrey Schnapp, Lins Derry, Jordan Kruguer, and Maximilian Mueller, Surprise Machines
May 17–July 3: metaLAB, Living by Protocol
A collective headquartered at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, metaLAB explores the digital arts and humanities through research, experimentation, tool building, teaching, through publications in print and online, and via exhibition, performance, and social practice. In the Harvard Art Museums, as with partners across the university and in the world at large, metaLAB’s work infuses traditional modes of academic inquiry with an enterprising spirit of hacking, making, and creative research.
The Lightbox Gallery has served as an experimental space for digital research and development at the Harvard Art Museums. Developed in collaboration with faculty, staff, students, and visiting artists, projects in the Lightbox Gallery challenge how we document, share, and examine collections and collections data. Some of these projects are responsive, allowing users to navigate and manipulate the collections; others are cinematic, transforming the museums into a landscape of digital performance. The current collaboration with metaLAB marks the final use of the Lightbox Gallery in its current form. Later in 2022 the space will become a place for visitors to sit and relax, view the unique architectural features of the building, and browse the museums’ current publications.