dimanche 26 juin 2011

« Collecting on the web or the circumvallation of a small territory »

IKKM Lectures. 15-17 june 2011
Without footnotes- Not for quoting please. 

Collections on the Internet by nature proliferate – which might discourage any research on them. Yet I am going to try to propose a series of reflections on the way we might envisage some of these collections. More precisely I am going to try to understand what the eruption of a new technological system – here the Internet and the communication system for which it is the platform, the Web – has brought modifications in the practice of collecting, which is an ancient practice that is profoundly associated with the construction of Western culture.
In the first part I am going to recall some of the epistemological problems associated with the issue, and in the second part I will present some examples of collections that have appeared on the Internet starting in the 1990s, focusing notably on questions about their notion of space. How do these new collections use types of spaces, intellectual or perceptible, that are different from traditional collections?
A. Understanding the collection and the collector: epistemological reminders
To start, let us state what kind of collection we are dealing with, distinguishing two principal types of collections among the many contemporary ones: on the one hand, collections of works of art and great scientific collections in the natural sciences and archaeology, and on the other amateur collections that gather together diverse objects of value, running from cars to matchboxes. Each of these types has very different characteristics.
Collections of works of art (paintings, statues, prints, books) are assembled by persons belonging to the higher strata of society, from whence the figure of the collector derives. These collections, like the major scientific collections, have the vocation of enduring and of being institutionalized in the form of a gallery or museum, which gives rise to another figure, that of the curator (conservator). Study of them belongs to the history of art or the history of high culture.
The collections formed by amateur collectors traditionally belong to private space, from which comes the figure of the amateur; their study belongs in the framework of cultural studies and to the anthropology of contemporary societies.
There are occasional displacements from one domain to the other, in particular when individual collections enter into museums. For example, this might occur when a domain accedes to aesthetic legitimacy. This is the case of the French cinémathèque, founded by Henri Langlois on the basis of films he had saved from destruction. Amateur collections have usually fed museums of popular traditions (Volkskunde) or museums of daily life (see “Olle DDR” in Apolda).
From the start this partition of contemporary collections into two great ensembles focuses our attention on a central issue. To what extent does the displacement of the practice of collecting to the Web challenge this fundamental dichotomy? We might hypothesize in effect that the displacement of the practices of collection to the Web would entail a renegotiation of frontiers: of borders between legitimate culture and popular culture, borders between the private space of the amateur and the public space of galleries and museums, borders between professionals (curators, conservators) and amateurs. It would also modify the practices by which knowledge and the production of meaning are organized.
Foucault and the organization of things
Michel Foucault in a founding books Les Mots et les choses (The Order of Things) drew our attention to two elements that will become essential in the analysis of collecting. First, he showed that the arrangement of items is closely linked to the production of meaning. The categories that are utilized, their arrangement, and their hierarchies all structure thought and offer frameworks for representing the world. These “things” are particularly easy to conceive as concerns the scientific collections that accompanied the birth of modern science. Collections of stones, minerals, plants, and animals organize a vision of the world. The same is true of collections of works of art: the way of describing paintings, their organization into series, their mode of presentation all translate a conception of both art and its history. The firstly national museums give examples in various diverse scientific domains. Some cases reside on the borders of paradox, like Italy, which in quest of its national unity created in Turin in the 19th century a museum that organized the presentation of minerals as a function of Italian political territories. Some 19th century art museums organized the presentation of their collections by nationality, as did the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Budapest.
This invites us to take an interest in other characteristics of the collection: its organization, its modes of description, and its modes of presentation. So we might wonder whether the Web radically transforms these intellectual operations and practices that construct meaning.
Innovation and the history of technologies

Media studies and the history of technology are going to offer us keys to enter into this domain: Media studies because it teaches us to observe at the same time both the technology and the institution that carries it, the message and its medium. The history of technology is useful because it offers us a framework to grasp change. In fact we might consider that the establishment of the Internet and web as a change in technological paradigm. Mark Poster, quoting xxx, reminded us of what is obvious. Despite appearances, it is not the Web’s efficacy in terms of speed or quantity of handling information that marks the rupture. The Internet is not a means of transmitting more messages faster and further, rather it is an arrangement that entails a reorganization of the modes of communication. The appearance of the Web is a rupture with the past in that the services and sites that it harbors invite us to reorganize the social practices that are associated with them.
 The history of the networks of communication suggests that moment of innovation presents a rather precise temporality. When a new technology appears, we observe two tendencies that are almost concomitant: on the one hand, previous practices are renewed on the new networks. Thus a diligence was placed on a railroad flatbed, or in 1889 an opera was broadcast by telephone to Paris and Budapest. On the other hand, new applications develop that in time may change the relevant domain radically: thus the telephone would offer a network dedicated to individual mass communication, point to point, that was totally unprecedented…
I might add that an ensemble of commentaries form a “discourse on technology” whose principal characteristic is that it reflects the worries and interests of contemporaries, and this always accompanies an innovation. This global discourse, in the case of communication technologies, has several characteristics. It jumps ahead of even speedy implementation of new technologies by envisaging from the outset the consequences of those changes that are potentially the most radical. This projection into the future is carried by literary genres, by scholarly or semi-scholarly writing that varies according to the era. Thus technological utopias accompanied the innovations of the end of the 19th century and science-fiction literature those of the 20th.
We may note the existence of some fundamental texts that were thinking of cybernetics, digitalization, and networks back in the 1980s: for example, the philosophical analyses elaborated by Jean-Pierre Lyotard. More generally we realize that the Internet and the Web from their births were perceived as potentially capable of radically transforming relations with the world. The notion of post-modernism is central here: as regards our collections, we recall the questioning of the importance given to the subject, to subjectivity, and the effacement of traditional frameworks of collective life, of cultural hierarchies, and the eruption of new legitimacies linked to gender, race, ethnicity.
Other more circumstantial discourses accompany the processes of innovation. The authors who are closest to promoters of new technologies (and notably those who write in the context of popularizing science) imagine and defend legitimate usages of new technologies. We must indeed consider these legitimating discourses for what they are: objects to be placed under the gaze of the historian. The history of usages in effect teaches the historian something else. It is not rare that new technologies develop through what Michel de Certeau had discerned as “bricolage” – which is the key to their appropriation. The development of a new technologies also relies in its beginning on illegitimate usages that range from pornography to pirating, and which just as much as “proper” usages ensure the success of the innovation. Here we think for example of the cinema, of DVDs, and in France of the “minitel rose.” In this respect, the historian will consider certain academic discourses around the Internet as another kind of historical object, elements of a cultural history of technologies just as much as a tool of interpretation.
Bourdieu, the field, the collection
Pierre Bourdieu arrives at this point. Here we are not interested in his analysis of the media but of cultural practices. In fact he treated collecting in galleries and museums in several of his books: La Distinction: Critique sociale du jugement, L’amour de l’art, and Un Art moyen, where he develops a concept that relates to space: that of the field, inspired by the electromagnetic field. The sociologist locates the position of actors in the field, detecting a hierarchy of practices that are interiorized by actors, and s/he attributes to the latter a desire to move in the field, in general to move from less legitimate practices toward the more legitimate ones. We will pose the following question: Can this theory be used to understand what happens on the Web with respect to cultural practices?
 In fact, Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of field functions in a satisfactory way to describe French in the years from 1950 to 1980, and it is in this context that it was elaborated. It presupposes a stable world. The social practices linked to collections, galleries, and museums are clearly identifiable and they are inscribed in cultural hierarchies that are not contested. The actors belong to social groups that are clearly identifiable, too. For example, in the lineage of classical sociology (Weber), families are characterized by the profession of the head of the household. There is coherence between class relations and cultural practices (Bourdieu uses the terms “bourgeois” and “worker”). Finally, his model was developed and tested inside a national culture.
Collection and the postmodern individual
When collections develop on the Web, this context is not at all the same. As we have seen, the post-modern individual has been constructed. Moreover, sociologists of the succeeding generation, in particular those who are interested in cultural practices, have elaborated frameworks for description of quite different cultural practices. The correspondences between cultural practices and social positions are considered to be more complex. Society thinks of itself in terms of groups, generations, ethnicity, and gender – no longer class. Hierarchies in cultural practices exist, but they are interiorized in a different way.  Moreover, the explosion of a “mainstream” culture and the globalization of the culture industries reinforce the international and supranational aspects of cultural practices. Studies of the articulation of the network (Internet/Web) and cultural practices oblige us to take this complexity into account. The notion of “post modern” mentioned above has become an almost inevitable framework. It refers us back to the fabrication of the individual.
B. Spaces of collection
In the following pages I am going to describe several types of collections present on the Internet and analyze them as a function of the issues raised above. In terms of method, I will be analyzing what is seen on the screen, and deferring work on the archives and on interviews. We will look at how collections are organized (the intellectual space) and how they are presented in the fictional space that allows the visitor to see them.
Several hypotheses crop up. The first is that Web 1 and Web 2 have had different effects on the space of collection. Web 1 principally introduced new practices of collection starting from tools integrated into the technological logic of the network and the Web, available now to a huge audience. But it also witnessed the transposition of the classic logic of knowledgeable collections onto the Web, which gave it a wide dissemination and a new visibility without fundamentally altering that logic. Finally, it enabled an explosion in amateur collections based on a relatively unprecedented participatory model.

Web 2.0 seems to have had a paradoxical effect. On the one hand, it induces a sort of regression: by acceding to representation in 3D, amateur or institutional sites reproduce classic forms of presenting collections by re-inventing the model of the gallery and museum. On the other hand, by utilizing all the resources of social networks, it actually institutes a new dimension of the practice of participative collecting that creates a new social space for the collection.
Here we touch on those issues in a chronological fashion by following technological performances of the Web and seeing how they force existing practices to be reconfigured. We will identify three “moments”.
In a first moment, we will consider the transformation of traditional forms of describing collections and the evolution of notions of catalogue and database in a postmodern environment. In a second moment, we will look at the return of Euclidian space in visiting the collection. Finally, we turn in the third moment toward collections generated by and inside the Net.
I. Collections, catalogues and databases: migrating on the Web
What happens when collections issuing from the major institutions migrate to the Web? These collections in effect were endowed with tools of description elaborated in a precise intellectual context. Migration to the Web partially challenges their structure and their way of producing meaning. A first sub-section will be devoted to the analysis of two dimensions of the question: the substitution of the database for narration as a tool for describing the world, and the question of categories of description (does the Web permit a renewal of the latter and hence a loosening of modern schemas?). In the second subsection, we will consider precise cases by analyzing objects on the Net: from traditional databases that are barely transposed, to presentations that are stuffed with hypertext links.
1. Theoretical Approaches
Migration onto the Web of the intellectual tools that are traditionally used to describe a collection cannot escape the attention of specialists. Museum curators are interested in them from a double point of view: wondering about the future of their traditional tools (the database) and about the stakes in the categories utilized.
The database, generic matrix?
In the 1980s databases, elaborated to describe and manage the collection of a library, archive, or  museum, were an unpleasant monster, prickly and tricky to manipulate, but nevertheless indispensable. In general they were flanked with a thesaurus, an organized and hierarchized list of key words, which obliged the person responsible for indexing the collection to utilize categories preselected by the administration. Grand categories elaborated by the dominant institutions (libraries or “national” archives, international professional networks) were then imposed on institutions of second rank, on municipal libraries, regional archives, provincial museums.
These databases were placed among the tools, either preparatory to reflection or else active tools. They enabled a document to be found, a series to be elaborated, parallels and comparisons to be constructed – but they did not belong to the noble world of the elaboration of ideas or the exposition of thought. By contrast, the story, the demonstration, the thesis, in their classic forms (the book, the article, the lecture) were still indisputable forms of the production of knowledge.
The Web as a database collection
The Web, some people maintain, has changed all that, not only at the level of practice by institutions of conservation, but also at the global level of the production of knowledge. In the first place, it has substituted the database for discourse as the majority form of the organization and interpretation of data. In effect the Web as a whole can be considered as a collection of databases that occupies the place previously allotted to narrative forms in the modern paradigm. Developing the idea that the “computerized society” offers a new way of experiencing oneself and the world (Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, 1979), Lev Manovich asserts that databases change the structuring of experience of the world by opposing the form of organization of knowledge characteristic of the modern era for what he calls “narrative”. Attentive to the notion of space, Manovich also believes that if Evin Panofsky demonstrates that perspective is a “symbolic form” of the modern age, then one might consider that the database is a symbolic form of the age of the computer and as such it merits our interest: “The world appears to us, “ he writes, “ as an endless and unstructured collection of images, texts, and other data records. It is appropriate to shift to the model of databases to describe it, but it is also appropriate to want to develop a poetics, an aesthetics, and an ethics of this database.”
Of what consequence is this affirmation for the collections that interest us? First of all, we should remember that the databases considered here are far from modest architectures confined to the professional domain and those constructed by documentarians in the 1980s. We are talking about the ensemble of the date integrated into the Web. The latter, Manovich says, is nothing other than but “a simple collections of items,” a structured collection of data organized for rapid search by a computer. If this mode of organization has become fundamental, this is because it is particularly well adapted to the conditions of the Web. In HTML pages, in effect, it is still possible to add new elements to the list: all you have to do is to open a new file and add a new line. The result is that most pages of the Web are collections of separate elements: text, images, links to other pages or sites. A homepage would then be a collection of photographs, texts, and personal links. The site of a major search engine is a collection of many links to other sites (coupled with a search engine, of course). So there is a proliferation of collections of all sorts, from library catalogues to driving licenses, and the organization of the latter into databases.
At the same time, the mode of navigation by hyperlink has come to predominate on the Web. The phenomenon had been previously described on the basis of the CD-ROM experience. CD ROMs with cultural content were published by museums to describe their collections, enjoyed at the end of the 1990s a brief golden age, which popularized the use of hypertext links. Diffusing the term “virtual museums,” these CD ROMs transformed the way of presenting museum and library collections, but also the biographies of artists or a corpus of works. They systematically habituated users to tackle a collection, a personage, or a work, though a database of images and texts – most often representing the contents ranged according to the editor’s choice either chronologically, by country, or by artist, but accessible by the user according to various pathways though the hypertext links.
The generalization of access to collections though the Web would thus have almost mechanical consequences. The “narrative” logic would definitively wane under the effect of the proliferation of the database as the exclusive mode of organizing knowledge, on the one hand, and hypertext navigation, on the other.
Yet is this the only way to describe what happens to collections and in particular to collections that are found in museums? This overview does not teach us much more about it than the first intuitive analyses of the Web.
The Postmodern catalogue

In the same book Fiona Cameron in an article titled “Museum Collections, Documentation and Shifting Paradigms,”  proposes a less encompassing but more stimulating vision of the phenomenon. She is interested in the categories utilized in the construction of these databases and makes the transformation of these categories the real stakes in a break with the modern notion of collection. She says a radical change took place – or is supposed to have taken place – in the way in which descriptive tools give meaning to collections. Her point of departure is quite different, however.
For Fiona Cameron the database is not a post-modern element; she includes them instead among the “modern” arrangements for describing collections, on the same level as paper card indexes. What interests her is not the structure adopted to describe the collection (database or stories), but the descriptive categories that are adopted. Analyzing from a historical perspective the modes of description of museum collections, Fiona Cameron observes that the migration of descriptive functions to the Web has coincided – or may have coincided – with a transformation of the criteria of description. This transformation is also part of the postmodern revolution.
Citing manual data cards (series of punch cards) or databases elaborated traditionally to describe museum collections, she maintains that the chosen criteria of descriptions are primarily suited to the needs of accountants and curators. These traditional catalogues, whatever their form, draw their source from empirical modes of thought from Web 1. They foster the description of the formal elements of objects (size, appearance); they valorize measurement and naturally result in the establishment of taxonomies. The museum objet is exposed to observation, description, and measurement and takes its place in an interpretative grid produced by the criteria of description themselves. An interpretation then emerges that wins back or trumps all the others. There is no place in this practice of documentation for interpretations that might be considered as subjective. The establishment of different readings that are marginal or competitive with respect to other characteristics of the object, taking the context into account, an association with different narrations – these are not foreseen by the catalogue criteria.
The contemporary post-structuralist paradigms that valorize alternative readings, competing points of view, and which disqualify univocal readings and positions of authority are said to fundamentally ruin these traditional forms of documentation, and so the Web is – or could be – the tool of this revolution by permitting a wide range of users with diverse interests to introduce the bases of a revision of documenting collections. The possibilities opened by digital technologies and the Web would then make objects evade the narrow field of the discipline and the institution that took control of them and assigned them a meaning.  However, “to engage users more actively in completing the cycle of knowledge making,” is not without problems. In effect, it appears that users continue to search for a model of interpretation that is authorized and trusted on the part of museums according to a modern paradigm, even if in the postmodern form of the website and its forests of hyperlinks.
Here empirical analysis supports the theoretical approach. It seems that this possibility of associating stories with databases and of organizing very broad navigations through very diverse types of data, has instead been used by curators inside the framework of on-line exhibitions, and the data presented to visitors. It is in this context that the possibility of re-contextualizing the databases has been utilized. On the other hand, the very structure of databases to organize collections has rarely been challenged.
Does this formal approach allow us to analyze collections present on the Net and to understand the way in which description produce meaning? At least it draws our attention to the elements that ought to guide the analysis. First, we realize that the dichotomy modern/postmodern, although contested and contestable, is useful when it comes to specifying what are the forms of relation between the structure of the collection and the production of meaning. Moreover, it appears that the tools for description (lists, databases) and the instruments for searching inside the collections (alphabetical order, thesaurus, search engines) are indeed elements that merit precise analysis. Finally, it appears that it might be useful to pose questions linked to issues of power: who chooses the criteria of descriptions and what presuppositions do they carry? These issues traverse the symbolic and material spaces of the collection.
2. Case studies
The more precise study of three types of tools presenting museum collections or those of patrimonial institutions will enable us to reflect on the precise implications of the migration onto the Web of descriptive tools for collections.
a) Persistence of old models
Firstly, we are interested in the persistence of old models. The Internet, as Louise Merzeau shows, is not only the tool for communication that everyone imagines: it is foremost an immense system for archiving that contains foremost the memory of itself. This is why we today access via the Web sites that are either old – never erased or de-activated – or current, but which transpose previous logics onto the Web universe. Moreover, there exist recent patrimonial sites that reproduce the modes of old thinking. Museums and archives and libraries - institutions made to last - have not only transposed onto the Web their older modes of describing their collections but have also maintained them.

During the 1990s the catalogues of numerous cultural institutions were put directly onto the Internet. They authorized direct access on the part of Internet users, who were rare at the time. Thus one might in the 1990s enter from the CRAM in Paris by passing though CERN in Geneva in the collective catalogue of Italian libraries in order to search for a precise title by entering a simple keyword or a title. The Web in those days was transparent to some extent. What was given to be seen – apart from necessary references – was directly the imaginary of generations of curators of Italian libraries who had chosen, conserved and catalogued these books here (and not others).
These direct entries into the databases of major institutions have become rare for obvious security reasons. However, one finds their trace in sites that give the possibility of entering into “professional” databases created a dozen years ago and whose structure and philosophy have not been modified since.
An example of a database directly transposed onto the Internet is the Joconde database of the Ministry of Culture in France. Analysis of its pages illustrates the persistence of the modern model described above, where the categories chosen to structure the database offer a discourse of authority characteristic of the institution, of its choices and its limits. Let us take an example. A search with the world “slave” leads to several items, of which one is a “vase in the form of a slave” by Stephano Della Bella, which entered museum collections in 1796.
The complete listing runs as follows:
Domaine               : dessin
Type d'objet         : album
Title       : Vase aux anses en forme d'esclaves
Auteur/exécutant           : BELLA Stefano della
Précision auteur/exécutant   : né en 1610 ; mort en 1664
Ecole          : florentine
Période création/exécution         :2e quart 17e siècle ; 3e quart 17e siècle
oeuvre en rapport
Matériaux/techniques : plume ; encre brune ; pierre noire
Album Della Bella Stefano, folio 3, rapporté au recto ; Album cartonné recouvert de papier brun marbré. Il porte sur le plat une étiquette avec la mention suivante :Stefano della Bella, et sur le dos, une autre, annoté :vol. I. Ce volume est paginé de I à 126, chacun des soixante-trois feuillets qui le composent portant un numéro au recto et au verso. Les dessins sont collés, soit en plein, soit par un onglet sur le feuillet de l'album. H : 0,460 ; L : 0,365. ; Plume et encre brune. Traces de pierre noire
Mesures     H. en m 0,056 ; L. en m 0,058
Précision sujet représenté          : Langlois ; vase ; esclave ; Raccolta di vasi diversi, de Stefano della Bella
Lieu de conservation                 Paris ; museum du Louvre département des Arts graphiques
Museum de France : au meaning de la loi n°2002-5 du 4 janvier 2002
Statut juridique propriété de l'Etat ; saisie révolutionnaire ; museum du Louvre département des Arts graphiques
Date acquisition : 1796
Anciennes appartenances ancienne(s) appartenance(s) : Este, collection d' dernière provenance : Modène
Numéro d'inventaire           INV 304.2, recto
Commentaires : Le dessin est à rapprocher des dessins pour la Raccolta di vasi diversi, suite de six planches numérotées, publiées chez Langlois, vers 1646 (A. De Vesme, Stefano della Bella, Catalogue raisonné, with Introduction and Additions by Phyllis Dearborn Massar, New York, 1971, n° 1045-1050), toujours conservées au Louvre (F. Viatte, Museum du Louvre, Cabinet des Dessins, Inventaire général des dessins italinks, II : Dessins de Stefano della Bella, 1610-1664, Paris, 1974, n° 144 à 159)
Collections d'Este - Saisie à Modène dans les Collections d'Ercole III d'Este du 25 au 27 octobre 1796 (brumaire an V) sur proposition des commissaires du gouvernement de la République J. P. Tiner, J. S. Berthélémy et C. Berthollet ; remis au Museum en juillet 1797 (thermidor an V) ; album p. 5.
Copyright notice : © museum du Louvre département des Arts graphiques, © Direction des Museums de France, 2005
Crédits photographiques © Réunion des museums nationaux
commande reproduction et/ou conditions d'utilisation renseignements sur le museum- Contact museum
Site associé          Base Inventaire des Arts graphiques
The analysis of this listing illustrates the elements identified above as characteristic of the “old” culture des museums. The object is described as a function of its material characteristics, with particular insistence on measuring things. All the data necessary for accounts that can attest to its belonging to public collections are indicated. The stress is on the person of the author – which refers back to the ’affirmation (quite debatable after all) that any work of art has an author. The work is precisely inserted into the categories elaborated by art history: it is the gaze of classical art history, incorporated by the descriptive criteria, that constructs this drawing as an artwork.
Two elements stand out in this description: “slave” serves as the word of entry into the database, and the mode of entry into the collections. Slavery, as we know, was a non-subject of modern historiography. Here it is absent as a problematical aspect of describing the cup. “Slave” might have been the occasion for a discourse corresponding to new ways of tackling an object, as mentioned above. Which slaves? Of whom? With what model? Why black ones in this period? In Italy? No item in the description allows going farther along this avenue, which remains an impasse.
Moreover, the rubric that describes the way in which an object entered into the “national” collections is interesting: here it is a revolutionary seizure that took place in 1794, hence during the wars in Italy, in the collections of the d’Este family. Here we discover that the revolutionary seizure is as legal category that is reasonable and stable from the point of view of the Louvre Museum; the fate of certain works of art confiscated from the Jews during the Occupation (and since restored) shows on the contrary that this type of administrative category might be challenged. Here it draws its performative strength from its insertion into the descriptive categories of the catalogue.
The other interesting characteristic of the “old” databases is that their structure is readable by the user. The presentation in parades of lists allows embracing at a glance an ensemble of items and seeing how they were organized.
----- The Austrian catalogues -------
b) A mixed model: INA?
Let us look at another model: that of collections of audiovisual objects by INA (Institut National de l’Audiovisuel) in France. INA in effect makes two types of catalogue co-exist: an old catalogue that is a very complex computerized database elaborated in the 1980s, and an Internet site intended for the general audience. The two sites give access to the same data. The INA catalogue is interesting because it makes a connection between the public/professional separation, and between two modes, catalogue/database.
Some institutions have kept until recently the possibility of entering into their brains. Thus INA’s mediatheque offers researchers the possibility of entering into the professional databases created at the end of the 1980s for documentarians in public television in order to enable them to give film editors – especially for televised news and current affairs programs – extracts of archive film that were to be reutilized. This complex database relates to video archives that are not (for the most part) digitized. Each program or clip from one is indexed with a vocabulary that is not at all that of today’s historian but was that of television professionals in the 1980s. This database, accessible from computers in the viewing rooms of the INA archives, may also under certain conditions be accessed via the Web.
The New INA portal
However, we note that the same institution set up after 2005 a tool that is also accessible from the Web but totally different. This was a “wide audience” database that uses today all the Web 2.0 functions to enable the downloading of video sequences that have been found and bought. These sequences are the same – for the oldest among them – as those that were accessible via the professional and searcher databases mentioned above. However, the search procedures, the vocabulary of description of the video archives, and their mode of access are entirely different. One finds in these portals post-Google functions (free search by words, ranking) and functions issuing from commercial sites: the possibility of creating your own basket or cart, a memory of elements already bought, for example, but also the rubric of “those who have bought this will also love that” ... the type of rubric created by collections though commercial contamination. The portal’s functions here generate collections and modes of organization of a totally different order than those that had been previously developed. The archive has become merchandise and the way in which it is described, organized, and presented takes very precise account of this characteristic.
           The return of Euclidian everyday space: Google Art chez Van Gogh
Analysis of a museum site will enable us to enter into another dimension of collection on the Internet: on Web 2 the use of algorithms enables a reconstruction in three dimensions of the space of the exhibition gallery.
This last enters into our schema of analysis. We might consider that the hanging of works of art on the wall of a museum or a gallery constitutes a form of organizing the collection. Those who commission them know that this gives great prestige to the way in which the works of art are organized on the walls. The height of the hanging, the distance between the works, count as much as the color of the walls. It is the whole space itself that is at stake: for example the lighting is governed in a characteristic way. Overhead natural lighting or windows facing north are characteristic of the museum gallery where the collection is situated.
Moreover, this space has a specified way of being used; moving around, approaching the works, talking is permitted or forbidden according to the place of each person in the hierarchy of the museum, whether visitor, guard, or curator. Knowledge of what is allowed or not, recommended or disapproved of as gestures, movements, words, and noises in the space of the museum, what this space authorizes or not, is incorporated by the actors. Its constraining aspect is a dimension of modernity.  What becomes of it all in the virtual gallery?
 1. Fabricating space
The possibility of advancing in 3-dimensional space reconstituted on a screen comes originally from video games, whose origin is itself linked to the development of simulators at the end of the military training. These games would introduce modes of apprehension of privileged space.
We are going to consider two of them here; the constantly reconstructed perspective of “me” games, and the “God’s point of view” of social games of the SIM type …
a) Games of the “me” type and constantly recomposed space
In the first version of games, the possibility of reconstituting space in a realistic way was still limited, so the makers resorted to numerous conventions to obtain what one might call a fictional realism. During the course of the development of computer programs and the transmission capacities of the network and treatment by terminals, the spaces of the fiction in the game would become more and more realistic, notably in terms of perspective.
The cybernaut is in the place of the protagonist of the game. He is invited to see his environment through the latter’s eyes. This environment is transformed in a realistic way – by convention – as the character progresses and as a function of classic laws of perspective. On the other hand, the character can break the usual physical laws: for example, jump to astonishing heights
b. Worlds and the Creator’s point of view
Collaborative games and sites that propose living in another world would develop programs allowing a character to move in a three-dimensional environment. The cybernaut or player is not necessarily in the character’s place: s/he can adopt a bird’s eye view and move through space in various ways. Some games privilege copying human movements: remaining with feet on the ground and performing trajectories in three-dimensional environments. It is possible to rotate 360 degrees: the environment is thus immediately recalculated as a function of what the character sees. We note that to conserve a correct size, simulations allow for only certain trajectories and movements; not all movements are possible in this virtual space.
These reconstitutions of 3D space and a privileged viewpoint would be adapted to the presentation of collections on the Internet. In the following section we are going to look in detail at the implications of this transposition in terms of the constitution of an intellectual space and of a practice of collection: the museum visit. I am going to hypothesize that this return to the classical perspective is a sort of backward move that re-inscribes the traditional practices of the museum in the space of the Web.
I will analyze a museum site like a historical objet as a function of questions about: the organization of collections and the mastery of a discourse - the mobilization of an experience of space – and the construction in the Web of polarized space around the museum. The virtual visit will be an important element: it is an experience of spaces imbricated in each other. But the site and its extensions may also be considered to modify place – in both scholarly and social space as expansion of the museum itself as an institution.
Questions about the virtual visit: reactionary progress?
We might hypothesize that among the first to have proposed the presentation of collections in virtual space were museums, because they had the institutional means to do so (outside the commercial context). We note that city tourist sites were just as quick to offer a virtual visit of the place. There arose programs that in some way fixed the possibilities by creating an obligatory schema. In 2011, Google would try to systematize things by offering it in a standard fashion and including a range of possibilities that were to enrich its function as an obligatory portal.
2. The van Gogh Museum
Here we will study the Google Art Project. In 2011 it proposed on the Internet a 3D visit to seventeen museums. The projects utilizes Google’s StreetView technology: programs of localization that consist of filming and digitalizing all the streets of the world and offering a reconstituted realist space organized as a function of the walker’s steps. The adaptation to museums was offered on the Net starting in February 2011, featuring seventeen major museums, from the Tretyakov Gallery to the Tate Gallery.
            a) Mimicking the visit
 It is said that a museum is both an architecture (here the interior) and a place for experiencing the body. How then can we interpret the virtual visit of the Van Gogh Museum that mimics a real visit?  First of all, we realize that the visit proposed by the museum’s site articulates several types of spaces. Several experiences of space are presented on the museum’s Internet site. The first is the most traditional: a view of the museum map that enables one to choose a position in the rooms and floors of the Museum. What is newer is that this overview of the map allows access to a view in three dimensions. The screen gives a visitor’s point of view with several variants. The camera in general is at the height of the eyes of an adult (not those of a child), though it seems that one can adopt less naturalistic points of view, that of a spider above a partition...
Digital ambulation allow one to mimic the progression in space of a visitor, who may pass in front of paintings, stop, approach them. We note that the simulation requires a little habituation. Stuck to the mouse of his computer, the novice visitor may have traumatizing experiences: being thrown to the ceiling, leaving the space, finding his nose stuck to an unidentified surface. The use of a joystick makes things easier.
If the “good way” of using this novelty seems to be to transpose into the new space the ways of the old, then the program lacks some functions corresponding to the habitus of the visitor to the traditional museum. For example, one cannot approach a painting close enough to read the label. (In any case this is a tic of contemporary museums: scenographers do not want people to read the labels in any case!).
A reality (overly) augmented
The treatment of the picture upon entry to the museum (the one reproduced at very high resolution) offers a sensory experience that merits a commentary. While in real life if one approaches a painting too closely an alarm sounds or a guard intervenes to push the visitor back from the painting, here by contrast the picture absorbs the visitor. A zoom literally makes him enter into the picture (here a field of grass). Here one shifts from one fictive space to another.

 Critical Reception
The way in which this service is received is interesting. We find via Google blogs and texts that are laudatory – which is not surprising; their enthusiasm responds to the technical excellence of the tool. Cited is the exceptional definition of the painting used at the entry to the site (several giga-pixels) that enables entering the space of the picture, or else the fluidity of the navigation. But it is not this technical view that is truly interesting.
A critical article by a Belgian professor points to other dimensions of the issue and uses terms linked to space. Her critique is basically constructed entirely on the fact that this virtual visit does not correspond to the criteria of the ultra-scholarly visit.  The first part of her article deals with the technical performance of Google Art by reinscribing it in the model (devalorized by her) of the game, considered as a secondary cultural practice: “it’s amusing.” In addition, the visit is evaluated by the norm of the “good visit” and “good seeing.” The publicity produced by Google for its service identifies as one of the positive elements of the project the possibility for the “visitor” to get close to a painting – the usual privilege of curators.  This is in particular what seems to underlie the interest of the “painting” by which one enters into each museum/site: “A painting of an incredible resolution,” “you can lose yourself in it,” writes the promotional document of Google Art, in passing establishing clearly that one is not in the order of knowledge but in that of sensory experience.
The professor mentioned above ordinarily interprets the possibilities offered differently. Approaching the work of art - to her a condition of knowledge - and in the museum as re-viewed by Google Art, the virtual visitor is sent back to his condition as ordinary visitor, restricted too far from the works. We notice that it is not possible to zoom in sufficiently to see the explanatory labels. To obtain the equivalent of the label, you have to leave 3D space in Google Art and go seek the equivalent in the “2D space” of the Net by clicking on a notice...
In addition, the article written by the professor critiques the difficulties of the appropriation of images, which, especially the reproduction in very high definition of the picture that serves as entry to the virtual museum are protected by rights that are shared by Google and the museum. Works cannot be displaced to other mediums that are like intellectual domains: “I am forced to make my students enter this site,” continues the professor, “to show them a work; I cannot reuse it within my own course, or by integrating it totally. Nor for an exposé. I cannot download the work.” Thus the site, just like the classic museum, is a sort of prison in which the work – and its visitor – is enclosed.
This article also is associated this situation with reflection on space and the public domain. The author explains that as an active member of Wikipedia, she fights for the presence in the public domain of reproductions of old paintings possessed by museums; the latter, worried about possible abuses (the use for commercial purposes without copyright benefits) are hesitant. A “closed” solution, like Google Art adopted for is 3D galleries reassures them:
What is my fear? That these museums …withdraw into a defensive solution like what the Google Art Project proposes, where the Web surfer absolutely cannot re-use the works thus shown. You see but you cannot touch. You cannot appropriate. You are a spectator and that is all. I fear that out of the desire to control the use of reproductions of works conserved in museums, the notion of the public domain is withdrawing. 
Moreover, the consequences of the openness of Google Art on the social networks, envisaged in terms of a democratization of knowledge, seems to her in practice to be a trap since all these links ineluctably lead those who want to see the picture back inside the sites of Museum Art. The function of these links is in fact ambiguous; they seem like supports for rather poor relations, if you read the remarks and commentaries posted on the site of the Van Gogh museum (via Google Art) you realize that the critique of the work is not the priority for those interventions. The messages posted are very short phrases that function as a sign of belonging and self- exhibition rather than as construction of a critical or expert discourse. That is the logic of these links. Their prime function is in fact to be transformed into information on visitors to the site, information that will be itself transformed into merchandise by Google.

In short, I share the disenchanted view of the Belgian professor quoted above:
So of course the technology is interesting, the buzz is legitimate, the experience of visiting is pleasant. But beyond that, is it really a modern ‘2.0’ vision of patrimony that is given here? I don’t think so. I even have a strong impression of finding myself in a CD-ROM of ten years ago, or in granddad’s museum…” 
b) A Museum on You Tube: a question of space
The site of the Van Gogh museum leads us to various elements of the Web. Let’s look at one of them: the TV channel created by the museum under its name on You Tube. It will introduce us, via another medium, to another perception of space that it reproduces and responds to existing hierarchies.
What does the museum do with this “channel” that is linked to its site? It puts on-line videos of various types (a collection?) that are organized in a precise way. We find here both courses and visits: the museum transposes onto the Net one function of any museum today, education or pedagogy that replaces the old types of mediation (guided visit, catalogue, labels).
Consider the rubrics that describe the position of the Van Gogh Museum in the symbolic space of You Tube. They indicate how to use a network, and hierarchized positions within this network. The series of links to their You Tube “channels” to which the museum subscribes proclaim in some way the status of the museum. So it is not surprising that this rubric assembles other channels or videos emanating from museums of a similar size and similar interest. Like an adolescent on his Facebook page, the Van Gogh Museum indicates who its peers are, its references and its models.
The tab that assembles the list of those who subscribe to the channel of the Van Gogh Museum also evokes exchanges of notoriety, which now function in another way. Subscribers borrow notoriety from the Museum. We find there other institutions of the same rank but also a link to a young artist. Following this link we understand that this is a site for the works of students of the school of art in Djakarta, who are letting themselves be seen by the habitués of the x Van Gogh Museum.  The exchange of notoriety here takes the form of an unequal relation in a post-colonial context.

The reading of videos the museum offers on its own You Tube channel is also interesting. The interpretation of the signification of tabs is rendered a little difficult by the fact that the Museum utilizes the original You Tube tabs that were elaborated originally for individual sites. Nevertheless, one sees how the institution presents itself and at the same time, its internal logic, its history, and its spaces.
Let us consider the small collection assembled under the rather obscure but generic title of “Added videos.” This rubric, common to all You Tube accounts, is clearly unsuited to professional use, a reminder that the whole logic of the  site was originally developed by individuals and that here it is the result of a bricolage. But it introduces the notion of time and alludes to the perennial nature of the institution. The three first entries concern videos ranged in chronological order, added “a short while ago” (from one to three months). Like an embryo for a collection of videos produced and added by the Museum, there are about twenty of them. The museum archives, testimony to its vitality (or on the contrary to its relative inactivity), were previously conserved within offices far from the visitor’s gaze, are now in some fashion exhibited on the Net.
The next rubric, “Favorites” (of whom? of the webmaster?) is also an re-appropriated (détourné) inheritance. It assembles a bizarre amalgam of TV reports, clips recorded on the occasion of exhibition inauguration or prestige visits, and interviews with curators … including one on Picasso. One might consider this some form of institutional memory.
The rubric “Playlist” under the tab “Van Gogh Hindsight” is more interesting because it brings us back to the question of the museum’s space. It gathers video interviews with curators at the museum who comment on the principal paintings. The camera brings us to the interior of the museum, where we are in the physical and mental space of the traditional museum. In one of the videos, the visitor is invited to enter (again) into the physical space of the public gallery of the museum. A painting is filmed rather closely. The curator shows it with her finger; we are at a lecture, deliberately constructed on the model of what a private guide would do, indicated by the close framing on the curator and the picture (other possible visitors are invisible), the frontal position (with very few insertions of other elements like fixed images or stills), and the fact that the orator is addressing the spectator.
The caption “Van Gogh Studio Practice” emphasizes another type of museum space: the rooms forbidden to the visitor. The link leads to a video that itself belongs to a blog on which are downloaded the productions of a group of researchers and curators. Here the video offers another representation of space. The model is the lesson from an expert, but this is neither a lecture in an amphitheatre nor even a class in a seminar room. The curators are in a frontal position, surrounding the picture they are explaining, which is in front of the spectator. No music. The patrimonial quality of the central object is underlined by its being placed on an old easel. The space is precisely specified. Unlike the video mentioned above, the ensemble is framed in such a way that one may see the room’s décor. Two machines (for digitalization?) are visible, as well as large shelves and files. All this signifies that we have gone behind the scenes of the museum, on the other side of the stage décor.
Traveling along the social media associated with the site extends this exploration of various tabs on the site of the Van Gogh Museum. For now we must be content with considering the paradoxical results of the possibilities of Web 2.0 in the Google Art application: Its revolutionary way of treating information opens paradoxically onto a reconstitution of the museum’s traditional spaces. Their hierarchy, their articulations, their symbolic significations are led onto the canvas like the three dimensional space of the gallery. New possibilities, like the capacity to lose oneself in the canvas, do emerge, though, and – to the great discontent of traditional mediators – turn the experience of the museum into a kind of game.
III. Collections fabricated by the Net
Web collections have an important characteristic we have not yet considered: the Web was originally thought of as a sort of machine for generating collections. How does that relate to our reflections?
1. Lists of links = collections?
As we have seen, the Web from the start included among elementary tools of navigation the possibility of creating lists of “favorites.” These lists in certain respects possess characteristics of collections. They are going to be the tools or privileged sites for the  constitution of collections that do not depend on an institution (like museums or archives) but which are inscribed within contemporary popular culture.
            Collection of links on Web.1
Form the very first years of its popularization outside academic and research circles, the Web integrated tools that were designed to fabricate a collection, and did so in a proliferating fashion. Let us start with the most elementary collection: that produced by the surfer by deliberately keeping (in a more or less organized way in files) the trace of the sites that he has visited. The first navigators were given the functions that enabled them to make a list of the links they consulted and to conserve the preferred ones (bookmark). The tab “favorites” on Mozilla thus enabled the user to constitute a memory of the sites he had visited. We note that when in 2010 Google produced its own browser, Chrome, the collections of links by surfers were transformed in a systematic way into merchandises and “sold”. At first, the collections of links elaborated by navigators were kept only on the user’s machine. Exporting them demanded a particular operation.
a) Social bookmarking on Web 2
It is the shift to Web 2.0 that definitively upset this use of Favorites and tipped it toward the construction of collections on a grand scale. It would introduce new possibilities in this domain: social bookmarking. Collections of links are now conserved and organized on sites located on the network. They can be shared and open up endlessly to other series, other collections of photos, videos, snippets of music.
Specific sites are created on the Web, now given the function of arousing, welcoming, and managing  collections. Let us consider a few of them. These few specialized sites or collections of links allow us to envisage three phenomena linked to the notion of collection: the construction of an ordered symbolic space, the link with the construction of individual or collective identity, and the renegotiation of frontiers between public space and private space. The issue of cultural hierarchies also emerges.
Delicious and its categories
Delicious is a service of social bookmarking of this type. It presents characteristics that allow us to measure the novelty of this type of collection: specifically, the issue of categories. The users themselves elaborate the categories utilized to classify and arrange objects. They introduce the amateurs into the world of collections as an integral part of popular culture, characterized by the possibility of placing oneself deliberately outside the cultural hierarchies by privileging, even inventing, bizarre and unexpected categories.
A portion of these collections of videos and images refers to relations between the “old” and new media. Many sites assemble according to the fantasy of their authors, fragments of films, television series, and clips that all rely on a shared audio-visual culture. They testify both to their authors’ total immersion in mass culture and in traditional media, and to a rupture with their broadcasting logic. We are faced with a phenomenon of appropriation and decomposition that is characteristic of traditional popular cultures.
The six worst routes in the United States - where you do not want to have an accident.
Works of art created “under the influence”.
In addition, these same users negotiate the elaboration of private, public, or semi-public spaces on the Net. They can make their collections of favorites invisible to people other than themselves and thereby somewhat private, or else make them visible and shared.
Finally, these sites make use of topography specific to the Web, which we recall is characterized by the fact that each user by following links elaborates in a temporary way a space specific to his research. The function of memorizing portals enables fixing and reproducing the specific space of a search or a pathway.  They may also see how many other people have saved this site or surfed the Web from this site by utilizing categories that users have introduced.
The Flickr site introduces another path to the question of cultural hierarchies and of the porous frontier between public space and private space. Flickr enables the creation of a site of collecting one’s own images and opening them up to visiting. The collection of images remains in the profile of the person who created it but the site offers the possibilities of creating collections of links, of consulting the collections of links already in existence, and of contributing to their  transformation.  The site seems to have been created for the attention of amateur photographers, but (as with You Tube) it is utilized by photographers who are trying to move from the status of amateur to that of professional, or to acquire the status of artist.
The following site shows how through the constitution of photograph collections controlled by their author the latter tries to accede to the status of artist and give himself visibility in public space.
( ?) http://www.flickr.com/photos/lucas3d/favorites/
First, this site is visible by the whole community since the managers of Flickr signal it in the site’s homepage under the tab “Favorites” or “Selection of the month”. Thus an authority (the managers of Flickr) has assigned it a place in space hierarchies - by criteria that remain to be identified.

This link refers to a space constituted by the author inside Flickr. This space is both ordered by categories that are imposed / proposed by the Flickr site and by choices made by the site’s creator. These categories derive from temporal organization; originally created to accompany private life, Flickr sites are also suitable for the construction of a classic work of meaning. The site is in fact structured into classes, files, exhibitions, and best photos. One can reach the archives where postings can be consulted, organized by date. The author of the site – and the photos – him or herself assumes the functions of a gallery director and a curator: to conserve the created works, to retain the chronological trace of their creation, to assemble them in a thematic way, to “name” the major themes of the artist’s production, to make a hierarchy of production (from most important/ interesting/beautiful to the least).
The critical discourse on the works is also produced within the site – in somewhat surprising forms. The author keeps control over an important function that has elsewhere devolved onto documentarians who fabricate databases: indexing one’s works by “tags” that allow them to be found by search engines. Moreover, the author can himself write commentaries on his works.
But the systems of links and inscription in the lists of favorites (or similar) opens up another kind of socialization that we are going to consider through the example of You Tube, which has been studied in an academic context.

Gallery of photos by Lucas Janin - By the user
Buttons: Classes- Albums- Expos- Tags- People- Archives Favorites- Profile- Send a FlickrMail
b) You Tube: Construction of an ordered symbolic space 
You Tube allows the “posting” of videos of less than ten minutes. It was launched with little publicity in June 2005 but was later integrated into Google and has been the subject of a scholarly book devoted to an analysis of its contents in terms of the sociology of culture. The mode of making the lists, its type of organization, authorship and arrangement of items, the socialization that is incremental under it – are all data that show the new dimensions of popular culture.
Lists managed by the site: Most-Viewed and Most-Discussed
A site like You Tube is in fact only an unformed mass of videos. It is organized chiefly by lists that have some characteristics of collections: they are ordered ensembles of similar objects, gathered around explicit criteria, conserved in time, and given to be seen by their owners.
The site is a primarily structured around lists elaborated by site managers by criteria analogous to those described above for Flickr. These lists, when the book by Jean Burgess and Joshua Green was written, were based on YouTube ‘s four categories of popularity: Most Viewed, Most Favorite, Most Responded To, and Most Discussed. They were also organized in time (“yesterday”, “last few weeks”, “last month”). What is characteristic of a new symbolic organization is that these lists propose an organization of the whole based not on a classification pre-elaborated by the institution, but on the recording of members’ practices. These feed a system of legitimacy founded on the criterion of popularity, which might be different from what it was in the mass media: for example, the most discussed objects or the most “responded to” presuppose interactivity of site members.
Lists created by members
Yet these meta-lists rely on a basic material: lists created and maintained by the registered members, which may be considered as collections of audio-visual objects close to collections belonging to popular culture. They are gathered together by individuals according to criteria that are completely individual. These individuals have no authority within legitimate culture but are masters of the theme and also of the way in which items are “tagged” or labeled. The site offers various functions, including the possibility of writing a commentary. Each member can create several lists: we may conclude that the authority over the structure of the collection, characterized by the choice and organization of lists, the power of labeling, and that of commenting, are here clearly left up to the collector.
Let us consider only lists constituted on You Tube by individuals. They are interesting are regards the content, the associated sociability, and the boundary between public space and private space.
Themes and content
If we consider the most popular themes – which Jean Burgess and Joshua Green have done – we realize that the content of these lists of collections does not necessarily correspond to the hopes aroused by the appearance of You Tube. It is not just scenes of school violence, the erotic games, or the sequences featuring pets, but there are more complex relations with American popular culture, high culture, and the mass media.
We see being created, for example, collections of key objects in mass culture – “best scenes from TV series,” collections of accident scenes, or the appearances by an actor or of horses – which correspond to one characteristic of popular culture in the face of the productions of the culture industries: the practices of appropriation, fragmentation, roundabout use. We could put into the same category remakes of famous scenes, re-recorded in a serious or burlesque mode or transposed, and countless karaoke recordings.
The traditional popular collections are tied to the processes of psychic construction of individuals (adolescent collections) and to the procedures of social construction. For example, the figure of the expert is created – often an individual in whom society recognizes no other expertise. A particular sociability is organized around collectors: associations organize the accumulation of experience, a hierarchy of individuals and functions arise, and sometimes a market. They result in practices (e.g. motorcyclists gatherings).
Collections on the Internet offer collectors possibilities for socialization analogous to what is taken as different kinds of expertise that are inscribed in the making of the postmodern individual. One of the prime characteristics of You Tube in this respect is that it is directly inscribed in the modes of socialization carried by social networks. One of the keys to its success is the possibility of making recommendations via the “related video” list and sending via e-mail the link to a correspondent in order to “share” the video in question.  This constitution of affinity groups, linked by a common taste, shared instantly, corresponds to the cultural practices of social networks (e.g. Facebook) on which You Tube is now technically articulated. The lists of preferred videos now enter into the composition of the owner’s profile on the page where he or she defines an identity (real or assumed). But this diversity is not foreign to a certain cultural hierarchy. Explicitly citing Bourdieu, Burges and Green show that the users of social media know how to read in the elements of a personal page the signs of social or racial belonging that enables them to exclude or include “friends”.
Public space / Private space

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