Set art free, and the rest will follow!
Guest post by Merete Sanderhoff, Statens Museum for Kunst
With special thanks to Sanna Marttila for the title!*
Everybody is talking about it. Some are doing it. But what’s the value of open collections? Statens Museum for Kunst (SMK) in Copenhagen set out to demonstrate what freely re-usable digitised collections can be used for at a big remix event on 29 May.
For more than 5 years, SMK has been working towards releasing our digitised collections in the Public Domain. This has been a long and winding process, and we’re far from done yet. But we do have 25,000 images available for free download, and that’s worth celebrating!
What’s the value of open?
Open collections are a hot topic these days. We’ve seen some amazing and inspiring examples of cultural institutions taking bold steps to release their images to support learning and creativity within broader and more diverse audiences. But still, it’s not self-evident to everyone – both heritage professionals and users – what open collections are all about, and what kind of value they offer. At SMK, we’ve been looking for an opportunity to demonstrate to the world why we’ve been working so hard to release our Public Domain collections for free re-use. So when we got a chance to partner with Europeana Creative to host an event about creative re-use of cultural heritage, we said yes!
We teamed up with SMK Fridays, a monthly evening event at our museum that caters for a young urban audience. It offered the perfect platform to get the word out to people who intuitively understand the remix concept and feel comfortable about playing around with digitised cultural heritage.
Remixing the originals
The result was SMK Friday Set art free! – an event focused on showing how open collections can inspire creativity and new, playful ways of interacting with cultural heritage. At the core of the event was a design challenge – one of the pilots of the Europeana Creative project. We challenged 13 artists and designers to remix artworks from the SMK Public Domain collections, to be shown at the pop-up exhibition Mix it up! The remixes were exhibited in the galleries next to the originals on the SMK Friday and over the weekend. It was amazing to witness the diversity and high quality of work that the artists and designers submitted as response to the challenge. The work ranged from a digital rendering by Filip Vest of 22 skies from Danish Golden Age paintings mashed up into a huge frieze projected onto the ceiling of the museum, to sportswear featuring prints of a 19th century landscape painting, created by Product of Public Domain to show how everyday clothing can be a canvas to display great works of art to the wider population.
Admiring the digital projection 22 Skies by Filip Vest. Photo by Ida Tietgen Høyrup, CC BY-SA 4.0
The remixes turned out to be excellent ‘tin-openers’ to the museum’s old masters, shedding new light on the original paintings and sculptures, and opening up their motifs and meanings in new ways. One example was a work by Finnish designer Neea Laakso which merged two Danish paintings from the 19th century featuring birds – one caged, the other flying freely in nature. In her laser cut installation, the bird is set free from the cage, offering a poignant comment on the topic of freedom.
Mix it up! attested to the inspiration as well as practical building blocks which contemporary artists can mine from the quarry of Public Domain art. It also inspired SMK and our audience to look at art with keen eyes, and discover fresh ideas and perspectives in our historical collections.
Playing with the archives
SMK Friday Set art free! was all about showing the manifold possibilities of open collections. Another great success was the animated GIF workshop where people could bring SMK’s paintings to life*. It resulted in a range of fun and surprising GIF’s, including an animation where the clouds of a Golden Age painting are set in motion across the blue sky. A Wikipedia edit-a-thon was also organised in collaboration with our friends at The Hirschsprung Collection, where art amateurs, museum staff and wikipedians were summoned to hack the interpretation of art history and contribute their own knowledge and perspectives using Public Domain images to illustrate their articles. Lots of articles were initiated and improved, and we museum people learned a great deal about the potential of our open collections for global learning and collaborative enrichment of knowledge.
A VanGoYourself re-creation of a popular painting from SMK’s collection: From a Roman Osteria (1866) by Danish painter Carl Bloch. Photo by Ida Tietgen Høyrup, CC BY-SA 4.0
On the more playful side, the duo behind the award-winning website VanGoYourself – Jane Finnis and Frank Thinnes of Culture24 – helped visitors get dressed up to re-enact historical artworks. While this might at first seem like a lightweight parlor game, during the evening we discovered that people really studied the artworks closely in order to re-create them, often sliding in critical comments or new interpretations of the old subject matter in their re-enactments. The game led to great conversations about the artworks’ compositions, the stories they told, and what they mean to us today.
Playing with Europeana’s vast collections in CultureCam. Photo by Ida Tietgen Høyrup, CC BY-SA 4.0
Finally, the Danish design company Spild Af Tid presented their innovative Culture Cam, projecting the collections of Europeana onto the walls and ceilings of SMK in awe-inspiring patterns. The Culture Cam reads the colours and patterns in your clothes, and returns search results from Europeana.eu that match them. It was amazing to watch people do intuitive search into cultural heritage using their own bodies! For the occasion, Spild Af Tid had created a special version of the Culture Cam, with cut-outs from different SMK paintings of faces, hands, torsos, and feet. With your body, you could activate and play with these body mashups that mirrored your own movements – a game that appealed to kids and grown ups alike. Nobody held back, everybody moved to the beat of free art!
Join the discussion about Open Culture!
More than 6,000 people attended SMK Friday Set art free! If you weren’t one of them, make sure to come to Vienna for the Europeana Creative Culture Jam on 9-10 July. It promises to be the event this summer to share inspiration on re-using cultural collections in creative and innovative ways. You will also be able to Van-Go yourself into a unique masterpiece, discover and play with Europeana’s collections through Culture Cam, and meet all kinds of great people working in the cultural sector and creative industries eager to discuss the potential and challenges of Remix and Open Culture. I will be there to tell you all about our experiences with going open at SMK. I really hope to see you there!
*The title of this post “Set art free, and the rest will follow” was used as a battle cry for the animated GIF workshop, which was organised by Sanna Marttila from Aalto University, School of Arts, Design and Architecture.