Monday, 7 December 2015

From the archives: Bill Fontana's 'River Sounding'

I was checking through some ancient work and found this about River Sounding, which was a joint venture between The Somerset House Trust and Sound and Music (SAM). The remit of both are very different; the Trust is keen to “open up its spaces to the public by presenting and commissioning work that places the building firmly at the centre of their activity”. SAM’s mission is to “present leading sound based art work to the widest possible audience”. Both were drawn to working with internationally renowned sound artist Bill Fontana, not least because of his previous work in key industrial and nautical locations in London, most notably at Tate Modern and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. 

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Gossip and the Fabrication of Reputation

'Thou art a whore and an arrant whore'

Gossip, whispers, muttering, celebrity tittle matter what the century, the 'la la la I daren't tell but I will' remains the bedrock of human communications. There is necessarily a feminist angle to all this mainly because women seem to bear the brunt of the gossip, as well as being seen as the clucking, busybody types pouring over the latest antics of the rich and famous. Academics can argue the toss over gender politics and the meaning behind historic relevance of women's conversations, but there was something deeply troubling about the reported slander from the 1600s which we heard recited in this lecture. Women can be truly hurtful and vicious.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Being (Digital) Humans

This is strange. I’ve been to many lectures recently but a mild panic about actually having to learn stuff for my skipper exams ensured all my notes have been neglected. The most recent one I attended was part of the Being Human Festival which, as the blurb says, 
Being Human is the UK’s only national festival of the humanities. From philosophy in pubs, history in coffeehouses, classics on social media and language lessons on street corners – the festival provides new ways to experience how the humanities can inspire and enrich our everyday lives. Being Human demonstrates the strength and diversity of the humanities, and how they can help us to understand ourselves, our relationships with others, and the challenges we face in a changing world.

Being (Digital) Humans and how we experience culture - content and knowledge in the humanities - struck a chord. Like it or not, the connection between the digital and human worlds are increasingly making us into digitally driven humans. The work I've been involved with professionally and academically came together in this evening, and the more the speakers went on, the more I found myself wishing I was involved more directly. There were four varied speakers, Professor Patrik Svensson, Professor Todd Presner, Professor Sally-Jane Norman and Professor Lorna Hughes demonstrated the infinite possibilities when you combine the human and the digital.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Collision regulations – a thrilling guide from #BadSkipper

Exams in a few weeks and luckily collision regulations are something that I can actually sit down and write some sense into. Unlike plotting, vectors, and distance over time, rules I can get my head around and memorise. Well, apart from the lights which are still driving me nuts and make me question why the hell I'm doing this. Remind me, why?!

Some skippers talk of having a ‘right of way’ in a potential collision situation. However the rules do not use this wording but in most cases one craft is the give way craft and the other should stand on. All skippers are required to avoid collisions and cannot claim they had right of way.

Monday, 28 September 2015

The River Effra’s Vanishing Act

"Yes," said Mr. Fawnhope. "There will be verdure, and that, I think, is what my soul craves. I, with my fair Cecilia, to Merton now will go, Where softly flows the Wandle, and daffodils that blow--What an ugly word is Wandlel How displeasing to the ear!"

Whenever anyone mentions vanished London rivers to me, I can't help thinking of Georgette Heyer's 'Grand Sophie' where I first read about the Wandle. So when there was an opportunity to find out about another of South London's rivers, I decided to make like Mr Fawnhope and jump unbidden into a carriage, in search of verdure, watery pleasure and poetry. Even the musical name 'Effra' conjures images of bucolic enjoyment, and according to Mr Ackroyd, 'is named from the celtic word yfrid, or torrent'.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Should the law be used to stop 'Uberification'?

This is the fourth and final debate in this Thomson Reuters series. Having attended two of the others, they have offered an entertaining yet expert view into wide ranging topics such as Right to Be Forgotten, Corporate Crime, and Human Rights. All of these debates can be seen on YouTube and this one will no doubt go up soon. Whether the law should be used to stop 'uberification' was the final motion to be debated and promised to be controversial from the outset.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

'Law Librarians! I want to make your role more interesting’ - #MmIT2015 Conference

Me looking professional
This is the full text of the talk I gave at the MmIT 2015 Conference 'With Power Comes Great Responsibility - How librarians can Harness the Power of Social Media for the Benefit of their Users'. This is a subject very close to my professional heart and I hope you will forgive me the length of this post.


‘I want to make your role more interesting’ was one of the more unusual things that a lawyer has said to me in my twenty year career as a law librarian.

It was September 2013 and inspired by a talk given by commentator Helen Lewis, I had just written an article about internet trolls for my own wide ranging blog. I mentioned this in passing to the lawyer heading up a newly formed Collyer Bristow team – the official sounding ‘Cyber Investigations Unit’. This concentrates on assisting victims of cyber stalking, online harassment and abuse. After a read of my article,  he decided to make ‘trolling’ the topic of the next firm’s Cyber Matters newsletter. 

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

London's Sailortown in the 18th Century

I fulfilled an ambition at the weekend; to run down The Cut to Limehouse Basin, head on to Narrow Street via Ropemaker Fields, and then on round the Isle of Dogs, using as much of the Thames Path as possible. I was glad to have done it on Monday as the Greenwich Tall Ships hooted their welcome on reaching Island Gardens, and I paused to enjoy the atmosphere. As luck would have it, the river theme continues in to September with the Totally Thames festival and its 150 events over the coming month.
As the festival launched, I was lucky enough to catch Derek Morris at the Guildhall Library today, and listened avidly as he trounced history academics from the past couple hundred years, and wrote off the library's collection of books about the East End. As an opener, it certainly got my attention. He has just completed his own history, with his book 'London's Sailortown 1600–1800, A Social History of Shadwell and Ratcliff, an Early-Modern London Riverside Suburb' (2014) by Derek Morris and Ken Cozens. 

Friday, 28 August 2015

The Murky Depths of the #DeepWeb
No kittens on the deep web
Inevitably the recent hacking of the Ashley Madison website has caused a vast avalanche of commentary, covering everything from users’ morality to company security. I maintain that although the fallout on people’s personal lives from the data dump is one thing, the hackers’ employment of the so-called ‘dark web’ to communicate their criminal acts needs further exploration. What do most people know about the dark web, why does it remain such a taboo, and what are the issues facing the authorities?

Monday, 27 July 2015

Frames in Focus: #Sansovino Frames at the National Gallery

Thanks largely to a rediscovery of a love of free form dancing enhanced by fermented sugar beverages, art and writing has been rather neglected over the past few weeks. Sometimes you need to examine what is beyond the immediately visible; to step outside the frame, if you like. Which is what I've been doing so it was with a sense of familiar relief that on a lunchtime stroll I headed to the National Gallery to find whatever took my fancy. 

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Coral: Science, Mythology, Metamorphoses

 A Little Girl with a Basket of Cherries
© National Gallery
I’m not sure if two makes a series yet but despite holidays and work I’ve managed another Renaissance Utterances podcast. The technology still posed challenges but it has definitely been a quicker process than the first one was. The theme for this month, as promised, is coral, which has been wonderful to research. Luckily I knew exactly which pieces of art I was going to talk about, and I had already been to the featured exhibition. All I had to do on holiday was write the script.

Which is why on Saturday, three weeks after returning from my Adriatic travels, I found myself in the peace of the Warburg library up to my eyes in books. I was surrounded by volumes exploring the evil eye, gem lore, history of science and natural philosophy, and Italian coral fishing. 

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Are we alone?

Sam - alone; sole; only
Samoća - solitude; loneliness
Samostan - monastery
Samovoljan - self willed; obstinate 

In a Split art gallery yesterday there was an incredibly evocative wooden sculpture called 'Sam IV' (1972) by Branko Ružić. It was in dark old wood, a trunk hollowed out to resemble a seated figure, hunched against the world. His back, shoulders, and head are rounded, hands seemingly tucked under his thighs. The effect of Ružić's simple, empathic carving is on the surface utterly bleak. If a friend or loved one was to sit like this, you'd think their world had fallen in. 

Friday, 15 May 2015

The Sounds of Dubrovnik

I don't usually write about music because I find it extraordinarily difficult to articulate, unless in poetry. When I have talked about sounds, it's usually in the context of sound art, which is an entirely different thing. However music and musical inspiration has been unavoidable since I arrived in one of my favourite cities. 

I've forsaken my usual podcasts or music, and left off the headphones which are usually worn to protect my sanity. However the usual London assault on my hearing and consciousness is conspicuous by its absence. The last intelligible commotion was on the plane where a rowdy group were commencing their holidays. Since then it's been a babble of many languages, the frantic cry of swifts, the gentle burble of boats on water, and the clack of feet on marble.

All cities have their percussive chant; London is probably best described as a continuous high octane techno-trance-electonica, pumping out its noise like the recent illegal rave held on my street. The contrast to London, this other ancient city still feels like it moves to the creak and roll of the ships; or the beat of the Roman trireme. Yes there is a pulse but felt in the stillness of the upbeat. So to lose this anticipation of a different song would be most churlish. So the headphones remain unworn.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

A New Chapter: Enter the Podcast!

I've finally done it. It's taken me nearly two months but I have just gone live with my first ever podcast. This has been a new experience for me because I'm so text based and afraid of the sound of my own voice. It turns out that I have no need to worry, thankfully, I don't sound like a complete idiot.

The process has been interesting and extremely time consuming. A blog post is usually 500-800 words, longer when I am working on an essay. But when you want 15-20 minutes of spoken effort, you need nearly 2500 vaguely coherent words. On the bright side, although some research is required, it's not like doing anything academic because I want to keep it interesting and above all, accessible. Therefore writing a script took almost an entire month, given work and life interruptions.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Future of Law Again: #LexisNexis

LexisNexis is the in the business of tracking and working with the legal market because it recognises the huge potential for profit. Although lawyers still need primary material ‘the law’, publishers see the benefits of not only adding value to this raw material, but also developing efficiency driving tools. These rough notes came out of a Product Adoption Advisory Board meeting, and nothing here identifies anyone who came along.

The vision that LexisNexis has for the future of law is, for many places, already here. Lawyers can work flexibly with a virtual presence anywhere in the world, are able to communicate with clients over instant messaging services and collaborate with colleagues using the cloud. As they noted today, all legal requirements regarding confidentiality, data protection, and regulated industries are appropriately observed.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Croatian Art on the Horizon: Lecture by Vanja Žanko

Cursed Crew (2013)
I took my new language on an artistic field trip to Wandsworth on Tuesday evening. Kristin Hjellegjerde's gallery was hosting an event under the auspices of the Creative Croatia Festival, and people with an interest in the Croatian art scene were there to hear freelance curator Vanja Žanko speak. She not only spoke about her curatorial work with various international artists but offered an insight into the artistic world in Zagreb, and Croatia more generally.

It seemed appropriate to talk about artists and their position as antenna of current events against Kirsten's current exhibition of Ethiopian artist Dawit Abebe. In his large scale, enigmatic yet colourful canvases, he explores the conflicts that can arise when history and technology collide. Although he is talking about his own culture, he is placing it against a broader international context, as he says, 'Ethiopia, like many developing countries, has struggled with the impact of technology and modernisation and its place within a long and rich local heritage and culture'. And that is precisely what Vanja is interested in.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

It's All About Us: The Importance of Embedded Librarianship

Sometimes it is only with hindsight that you realise you’re going about things the right way, professionally speaking. Over the past year I’ve been reflecting on how the law library profession has changed over the last two decades. When I concluded that ‘I like to think of library services being an 'information centre'; we are at the centre of the firm and information revolves around us, whilst we ensure it gets to the right place’, I had no idea that I was describing embedded librarianship. Although I was actually referring to communications, the latest SLA event on the 20th April at the Sage offices emphasised the importance of physically being in the middle of things.

We heard two very different speakers; Jacqueline Beattie, Information Services Lead at Neftex Petroleum Consultants Ltd, and Genny Franklin, Clinical Librarian at Barts Health NHS Trust. Both offered a tale of embedded librarianship in their respective fields: geoscience and obstetrics and gynaecology. A brief overview of their roles and their employers will inevitably draw out differences between the two roles, but there are inherent similarities. And it was these similarities to which I found myself nodding my head.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

#PaintingParadise: The Art of the Garden at the Queen's Gallery, London

From the natural open space of Green Park to the ordered splendour of Russell Square, it is hard to avoid London's parks and gardens. Open to all and offering different atmospheres to please all tastes, they ensure the sanity of tourists and locals alike, as well as inspiration to the most jaded of writers. When I saw the underground poster for the Queen's Gallery's exhibition 'Painting Paradise: The art of the garden', I was unconsciously lured by the well dressed young man's relaxed pose under a tree. Now I've seen that exquisitely tiny painting in its gold frame, I understand my response; it's spring. The sap is rising and simply put, sex sells, and sex is to be found in many of the painted gardens on show.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Clare Goes on a Bitchy Rant

My first non-librarian/KM conference is finally over. My experience was mixed; I'm returning with a phone full of Evernotes and a head overflowing with as yet jumbled ideas. I've not really assessed the learning yet because it's rather daunting and I've no clue where to start. But never have I encountered such cliquey unfriendliness, and in some cases pure discouraging rudeness.

Academia has a problem. You only have to regularly read the Times Higher Ed and realise that the humming halls of learning disguise a bearpit of competition, backstabbing and secrecy. I'm an outsider in this world, just standing on tiptoes looking in, like a child at a window listening to warring parents. And I've no wish to join this dysfunctional family in a professional capacity. My library training and natural inclination is for openness, collaboration, and making room for new ideas from external influences and as such, I'm clearly unwelcome.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

From Jerusalem to Bethlehem: or Wo ist...?

There are a number of reasons why a few days in Berlin is a Good Thing. The least important one, despite it being the main event, is the rather large Renaissance Society of America 2015 conference which stretches over three packed days. More of that anon, if I ever navigate the 500 page programme guide. And once I have chosen lectures, will I find the right place out of the 100s of seminar rooms dotted around Humboldt University campus.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Richard Susskind Lecture: The Future of Litigation and Dispute Resolution

Richard Susskind has been making predictions about the legal profession for some years now. However when you’re closely involved with the practice of law on a day to day basis, as many of us are, it is hard to see the dramatic changes that have taken place. This is especially true if you’re in one of the middling sort of law firms. The firms in the extreme size brackets have probably seen the most change; high street firms with funding issues and larger firms with the push for outsourcing, diversification and international growth. All of this has been well covered in the legal press so Susskind has turned his thoughts to the future of litigation, specifically.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Musings on #3DPrinting

Art? Furniture? Protected?
There is no doubt that 3D printing will become ubiquitous as the technology improves and associated costs come down. It has the potential to change the world in many ways; from medical supplies and delivery, technology and repairs, fashion and wearables, to the protection of the environmental through resource efficient manufacturing. However if we were to use children as a gauge for future trends, then the present incorporation of 3D printing into the toy industry will ensure that even the youngest will be aware of 3D printing’s creative possibilities.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Part 2: Centre for Law & Information Policy #CLIP Launch!

These notes conclude the second half of the IALS Centre for Law & Information Policy launch on Tuesday 24th February. The theme was ‘Information flows and dams’. The first part is here. I didn't catch verbatim the last two presentations, and happily the keynote speech 'Does Privacy Matter?' is available online - I had another engagement!

EU Data Protection

David Erdos took the enormous confusion that is European data protection and asked ‘Is a reconceptualization possible?’. He made the case for the new regulation being bureaucratic, burdensome and illogical. Starting out with the relatively simple definitions of key terms, he said that personal data is any information relating to a person, even their job titles. Sensitive personal data includes racial profile, sexual identity, political affiliation etc. Given the general ban on processing sensitive data, taken to extremes, just by stating ‘David Cameron, Prime Minister and Conservative MP is a questionable breach of data protection.

Because of these broad definitions, effective protection is limited due to widespread non-compliance.' He quoted Bert-Jaap Koops (2014) and I’ve found this to clarify, ‘unless data protection reform starts looking in other directions — going back to basics, playing other regulatory tunes on different instruments in other legal areas, and revitalising the spirit of data protection by stimulating best practices — data protection will remain dead. Or, worse perhaps, a zombie’. He suggested some solutions:

1. There should be better definitions of the mischiefs that data protection counters.
2. There should be narrower scope and it shouldn't try to regulate everything.
3. It should acknowledge rights conflicts. Innovation shouldn’t be stifled
4. It should delineate peremptory rules
5. And it should be effectively enforced. 

He outlined some historic support of narrowing the regulation’s scope. First was the Durant case at 28 ‘.It follows from what I have said that not all information retrieved from a computer search against an individual's name or unique identifier is personal data within the Act.’ And the second was the OECD framework guidelines 1980, which were very clear on definitions and scope. However given that the regulation is the most amended piece of legislation ever, he is pessimistic about any back tracking and/or tightening of definitions. 

Cloud Computing

The second speaker from this panel – and actually the last in my notes – was Asma Vranaki on ‘the rise of cloud investigations by European data protection authorities’. I have made liberal use of her blog post on the same matter because this was an exceptionally technical presentation. We did have a twitter exchange on the complexity of the matter so please excuse any errors; they are mine alone.

Cloud computing is the use of the internet to run applications or store data. Until recently, we kept everything locally on our computers or on a server in our office basement. Cloud computing revolutionises this because programs and data suddenly become accessible from any device and any location. The information is accessed remotely and not stored locally. If you have ever accessed web-based email, this is cloud computing. If you’ve streamed music or videos, this is cloud computing. Apps like Dropbx, MiCoach or Evernote both rely on cloud computing. Facebook? Cloud computing. And these innovative applications and technologies are proliferating and are clearly here to stay.

Cloud computing relies on large quantities of personal data, and scholars, regulators, and lawyers are becoming increasingly concerned about data protection issues. Who owns the data and how secure is it? It is these issues that the new European data protection laws are looking to address. Many global in-house lawyers are struggling with the complex and intricate data protection issues raised by cloud computing. Many organisations, including law firms, are adopting cloud computing technologies and services because it is an efficient, flexible, and cost efficient way to work. So what are the implications and how can we find out what is happening?

Asma’s work involves looking at various data sources:

1. Audits and/or investigations of cloud providers conducted by national data protection authorities;
2. Relevant press releases and opinions;
3. Current and proposed data protection laws, and; 
4. Relevant lawsuits filed against cloud providers on the grounds of breaches of data protection laws.

With this information she can assess the compliance of cloud providers with relevant data protection laws and determine whether cloud providers have breached relevant data protection laws. Her findings suggest that there have been a growing number of data audits and/or investigations of cloud providers, such as Facebook twice, Google and Whatsapp by national data protection authorities. At the same time, there is less litigation being filed against such cloud providers.

This trend in my view isn’t surprising. Firstly, it is inevitable that there would be an increase in audits because there are more cloud computing providers. What is more interesting is that there have been so few reported breaches. Perhaps the complexity and the international nature of the companies providing server space is one reason for the lack of investigations –and limited litigation. So many jurisdictions can be involved, and if there is more than one service provider, who is the data controller, which jurisdictional laws apply?

She warns in-house lawyers about these audits and says that this shift indicates a significant change in the methods and processes and people involved in assessing compliance. Additionally, further research needs to be conducted into the reasons behind the so-called rise of the ‘Audit Age’.

The event raised many interesting questions around subjects which have been in the news over the last week! There was a recent parliamentary report on drones; security around apps; the cloud, bio tech data...

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Ramblings around Giambologna's Appennino at Pratolino

This is a short piece; perhaps musings on what might and should grow into a longer article. Sadly I just don't have the energy at the moment. It has been a long week of illness in which Twitter and trashy TV have been my entertainment. Despite the mental exhaustion, still, an unknown person got me thinking about an object which I hadn't thought about for a very long time. @History_Pics tweeted a picture of Giambologna's monumental garden sculpture 'Appennino'. As luck would have it, the book I required was on my windowsill, so I reached out to have a look and all my memories of Pratolino came flooding back.

One of the happiest periods of study in my life was the Italian Renaissance Gardens module at Birkbeck University around 2004. That year, by some co-incidence, an inspirational set of people had chosen this course, led by course tutors who lived, ate, breathed garden history of all types. I, on the other hand, had no idea about the subject but had dropped on to the course because it was something I had never heard of - I mean 'garden history'? My focus was Renaissance art and I baffled tutors with my determination to stay in the 16th century when so little of these original fragile and transitory works of art remain.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Centre for Law & Information Policy #CLIP Launch!

These notes make up the first part of the IALS Centre for Law & Information Policy on Tuesday 24th February. The theme was ‘Information flows and dams’. The Centre itself is looking to advance research across the area of data access and ownership rights, data privacy and confidentiality, freedom of information, legal publishing (both free-to-internet and commercial), preservation and management of legal information, internet and social media regulation (in terms of content, access, and ownership) and the malicious use and misuse of data. It aims to build networks and encourage collaboration. 

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Don’t Free Citizens Need The Right To Be Forgotten?

Last night saw the inaugural debate of the new Legal Debate Series organised by Thomson Reuters. It was a timely discussion around the highly contentious issue of an individual's right to control their own digital footprint and legacy. On May 13 2014 the ECJ backed the 'Right to be forgotten' and ruled that individuals can request that Google and other search engines remove links to 'inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant personal data'. The blurb continued, 'the implications for search engines, social media operators and in fact, any business with EU operations are huge'. Having already written about litigation and data protection, I was interested to hear if anything new could be brought to the debate.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Anticipating research needs; or being there from pitch to party

Old and New Clare Style
Collyer Bristow is home to a long-standing art gallery which presents the best and most interesting contemporary art, whether by up-and-coming or more established artists. Our current show is by Anne Howeson. She works with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century prints that are copied on to drawing paper, which she transforms by rubbing away, and making additions with paint. So a bucolic printed view of tile kilns on old Maiden Lane (now York Way) becomes overlaid with a modern glass fronted office block. This uncanny mix reminds us of the fluidity of London’s architecture, past, present and future.

What does this exhibition have to do with knowledge management and legal information? Surprisingly, more than you might initially think. One of the speakers at an event held in conjunction with this show was Jeremy Smith, an archivist from London Metropolitan Archives. Obviously Anne is a devotee of London’s archives because of their collections of prints, which provide the underlying inspiration for her work. Jeremy was proud that archives were becoming increasingly popular with artists, but admitted that this show was rare because he was able to see the end product of a user's research.

Monday, 9 February 2015

'Poky pigges and stynkynge makerels': Food standards and urban health in medieval England

  • The owner of a filthy bakery in Norwich has been fined after inspectors discovered mouse droppings, out of date meat, and grime caked on to the floors inside.
  • Loose rodent bait was found in the flour store, mould was seen growing on the ceiling, and a hole in the roof had been given a 'bodge job' repair - with a bucket used to catch the drips

I wouldn't normally start a post with a quote from the Daily Mail but it illustrates Professor Carole Rawcliffe's seminar on food standards and urban health in medieval England very well. Not only that but much of her archival research is Norfolk based so there is contiguity. There is a misconception that medieval cooks and food-sellers smothered their food with spices to disguise the taste of rotten meat or fish; Carole dismissed this out of hand. She was also scathing of the 1930s' William Edward Mead who said;

The helplessness of our ancestors in the presence of diseases now almost entirely extirpated in civilised communities by means of intelligence sanitation is indeed one of the most striking differences between mediaeval times and our own 

As she went on to explain, not only were there rules and regulations governing the cleanliness and freshness of food markets, but laws regarding weight and measures, all of which were enforced locally and efficiently. Punishments for selling bad meat or bread were extremely harsh - for reasons that I shall come on to. Not only that but designs for market locations and buildings were carefully considered so that they could be as hygienic as possible. Taken as a whole, and combined with the delightful modern bakery mentioned above, Mead's quote can be dispatched to historic oblivion.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Materiality of Art: Or is computer art, art?

It's rare that any lecture fails to spark a meteor shower of ideas but just occasionally I'm caught off guard. The LSE arranged an event to explore philosophical issues about art, and ask whether computer artworks are physical objects? Do they really qualify as art? The speaker Margaret Boden is Research Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of Sussex. I'd never seriously considered the more intellectual arguments about what constitutes 'art' and it also fitted in well with one of the German sessions of the Dresden conference which had focused on modern examples of mirabilia. I obviously hadn't written up that session so felt this was a good opportunity to synchronise some images and notes.

It's a good job I had some mental images of computer art because Boden provided no slides; 'she isn't into technology'. Was it wrong that alarm bells immediately started ringing? I don't paint with oils but I know how they feel, smell, am aware of their texture and understand their material 'paintiness'. I am no computer programmer but have a reasonable understanding of the architecture which sits behind the screen. My knowledge of marquetry is restricted to memories of my father and his woodwork, as well as reading how to guides, so I know about grain, colour, texture, symbolism. Historians of art require insight into the materiality of the objects they are studying, otherwise how do you understand the challenges that face the artist? It is telling that despite my linguistic incapabilities, I gleaned far more from Verena Kuni's visual presentation than Margaret Boden's words - pretty much the way when dealing with art!

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Dresden Conference: The one with Horse Blood and the Hunt

Can't resist this mirror
So this is it. The concluding session of the Dresden Conference on Cabinets of Curiosity. That two day event has provided a wealth of material, as well as making me think about the most extraordinary things. On reflection, the last three sessions were far more controversial than I originally thought; death and colonialism; classifying the unclassifiable; and this final session, which amongst other issues, discussed the blurring of boundaries regarding human and animals. I've combined Marion Endt-Jones and Sarah Wade's talks because they are relevant for my work, and they both used the Musee de la Chasse et de la Nature as a case study.

As Donna Roberts had already noted, 'cabinets of curiosity' have been the topic of many shows to greater and lesser critical success. Marion Endt-Jones suggested we were in a new age of curiosity, citing a raft of shows, from the Manchester coral show, various European exhibitions and the growth in alternative wunder- museums. She suggests that this revival is not just inspired by surreal art but a wholesale 'questioning of institutions'. It is also a reaction to the corporate nature of the white cube, an inevitable and long overdue rethink of ubiquitous bland, open, unnatural, cold galleries.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Dresden Conference: Chimeric Blobs, biological art, or where I go off script

The penultimate talk which I want to cover here marks the descent into something much darker than death and memory; the creation of life. Paradoxically, what should be the most joyous occasion is in an artistic/scientific context, the most troublesome. I can understand that the 16th century natural philosophers attempted to recreate the natural spark of life, and much has been said about this. With ingredients ranging from blood, semen and horse manure, I wasn't sure that the creation and display of modern artificial life would be as distasteful as some of the early modern alchemical recipes.

Helen Gregory's 'Curious instances and chimeric blobs: Disrupting definitions of natural history specimens through contemporary art practice' opened with a discussion about what constitutes a natural history specimen. From the historical wet and dry specimens, which served their purpose adequately, to new technology meaning that objects can be cryogenically frozen. Scientific and laboratory collections have inevitably moved away from their 19th century ancestors and, like some of the samples, evolved beyond all recognition.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Dresden Conference: Wildgoose Memorial Library

From theoretical surrealist curiosity to artistic rational enquiry, Jane Wildgoose's presentation on the work which has arisen from her 'Memorial Library' was rather interesting. I must confess to being rather sceptical at first because I wasn't sure where she was going, but in the end, the light she shed on national museums' archives was both shocking and influential on her work. I don't want to dwell too much on her own collection because, for me personally, this is the part about which I feel most ambivalent. I appreciate that her library of objects is meaningfully and obsessively collected, as well as being catalyst for her research, but I feel unhappy critically examining her collection here. I merely salute her, and suggest you look at her website.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Data Protection and Access to Information: An IALS Lecture

I attended the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies 'Data Protection Act 1984, Freedom of Information Act 2000: thirty and fifteen years on – perspectives on the past and prospects for the future' yesterday evening. The talk, as you'd expect from a university event, was quite academic. I'm used to library/legal events where lawyers/PSLs offer practical solutions to difficult legislation, but it was interesting to hear a different take.

This lecture acknowledged the awkwardness of the various conventions, directives, acts etc., which go to make up the legislative framework of data protection/access to information. There were some interesting insights simply because (shock horror) I'm not aware of the history of data protection, and I had never thought about why 'freedom of information' was actually a complete misnomer. It should be 'a right to access administrative documents' legislation. 

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Dresden Conference: Thinking Critically about Curiosity

Donna Roberts's paper set out to encourage us to think critically about curiosity. The world appears to have rediscovered 'cabinets of curiosity' in a big way over the past few years, turning it into the hackneyed phrase that we'd already noted. Although broadly speaking, the modern love of curiosity and rediscovering the love of 'odd collections' is a good thing, the problem with such popularity is the blurring of terminology and lack of critical thinking. To illustrate this point, the article, Museum of Curiosity set to ignite wonder with collection of 'weird' objects, stated that 'un-poetically branding his catalogue of curiosities as “weird shit”, Snelle is purveying objects all sorts of objects from the natural and man-made world'.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Dresden Conference: 'I was looking for bog people in Copenhagen' - the work of Rosamond Purcell

All Things Strange And Beautiful
I must confess to bunking off Robert Felfe's probably excellent second session presentation on 'ordnungsraum and labyrinth' because it was in German, and I'm not sure if I even understood the English abstract. My fault, not his. So I went off with a Hochschule student to see her term's work on smoke. It was interesting, and the photos of asphalt stuck on to the bumpy wall was rather effective. Reminded me of ash...
Once I'd rejoined the group after refreshments, we entered into the artistic and poetic realm of Rosamond Purcell and the shadow of things. As we saw from the first panel discussion, the conference organisers were keen to ask contemporary artists to speak about their art, not just art historical scholars.

Dresden Conference: Part One Cabinets of Curiosities / Wunderkammern / Kunstkammern

View from the theatre
These are the first set of many notes taken at the Dresden Conference on the Cabinet of Curiosities in Contemporary Art (16-17 Jan 2015). As background, the programme states that 'we seek an overview of current debate, artistic, and curatorial strategies. The contemporary version of the cabinet of curiosities is a machine for alternative world views, because inquiring minds and the thirst for knowledge cannot be tamed. What are the curiosities of the 21st century? The mirabilia of the digital age? What are the politics, ideologies and dynamics of today's Kunst- Wunderkammer?'
So why here and now? In 2014 the Academy of Fine Arts celebrated its 250th anniversary of its foundation. This conference came about as part of the celebratory events. It accompanies Mark Dion's 'Academy of Things' which is currently on show at the Hochschule. I will come to that separately. Dresden is uniquely placed to host this sort of event because of its own Kunstkammer pedigree, but also its proximity to the Hapsburg collections and the House of Wettin with its pan European connections. Not to mention the desire to cut into contemporary art debate.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Logical Rain: or, the rain in Japan falls...

Sometimes the unintended visits to a place turn out to be the highlights. Although I am here in Dresden on another mission entirely, there is inevitable free time. So having never been to the Japanese Palace on the other side of the Elbe, it was pleasant to while away an hour in the rain.

Yes in the rain. It started with a video  of the Japanese monsoon; lingering shots on industrial landscapes, cityscapes, suburbia, all silent except for the rain. Remembering Whitacre's Cloudburst made me think of rain's musicality. The bursts of forte staccato on a tin roof, the murmuring pianissimo on leaves; an entire orchestra of musical possibility.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Lecture: Exotic birds and animals in the 18th Century garden

Buy a fine singing
bird (1688)
If you're an exotic creature, there's no trusting anything outside in January. From tiny tapirs, tottering giraffes to koalas in mittens our zoological world can be both a lifeline and an unnatural world for the creatures within. I'm clearly no expert on animals, the 18th century, or even the Georgian menageries of old London town, however, yesterday's lecture on exotic birds and animals in the 18th century garden still links to many areas in which I'm interested.

As it is the first in the History of Gardens and Landscapes lectures this term, David Marsh explained that exotica was the theme of  the series; exotica seems to dart about, like a lost traveller, zigzagging through the 18th century. He introduced Dr Christopher Plumb of University of Manchester who is currently writing a book on animals and birds of this period. As a great fan of Timothy tortoise, Christopher's interest in natural history was assured at an early age and he was happy to share some of the colourful stories - both tragic and comic - of England's earliest exotic imports.

On Burrell at Bonhams

Thoughts tumbling, confused memories
When connected curiosities crisscross
Like curlicued brambles which
Frolic over a falconer's purse

To breathlessly chase appropriate words
Like the tiny embroidered dog
Perpetually swimming after but
Never grasping the knowing duck

Stringing ideas like pearls
On Salome's neck, real, lustrous, pure
Incongruous they sit, her infamous deed
Leaving screaming St John with no head.

Concentrating on making mental echoes
Patterns in the dappled green oil reflecting
The Provençale light; golden, warmly
Remembered, longed for sun

Standing considering the diminutive Emperor
His empty visor unsees the crowd
Shiny still, yet battlefield battered
His corrugated strength lives on, upright.

Taken as a whole, this precious
Time capsule collects and connects;
Full of threads to knit, and wire to link
Living cabinets with those now lost.

In appreciation of the Cabinet of Curiosity which is the Burrell Collection.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Reverberations: #SocialMedia, Impact and #Altmetrics within Libraries and Research

I changed my CILIP Special Interest Group membership recently and, although it is too early in the year to tell, it’s possibly cemented the new direction in my continuing professional development. I’ve previously been nervous of the Multimedia and Information Technology Group (MmIT) because I am not a technical whizz and merely an enthusiastic end user of other people’s inventions; I constantly salute the brains behind Blogger, MiCoach and Evernote. However preconceptions are there to be unconcepted and at their AGM yesterday I was astonished at the group’s breadth, scope, and imagination.

During the introduction to the afternoon, chair, Leo Appleton said that the AGM usually set the theme for the year, providing a springboard into the annual conference. After the success of last year’s conference on ‘Sound and Vision in Librarianship: Going Beyond Words and Pictures’, which I’m sad to have missed, they are thinking about revisiting social media and how it's developed. Given that library and information services are using social media in increasingly inventive ways, it would be interesting to reflect on these changes and talk about where it is all going.