Prior to the March 16th, opening of Institutional Memory: 35mm Slides from the Met’s Collection Reimagined, Marco Castro Cosio formerly of the Met Media Lab sat down with MFTA’s Curatorial Team to talk about the changes that led to donating the Met’s slide collection, the shifting landscapes in archival technology and how it impacts art history.
MFTA: How did the Met end up moving away from the 35mm slides? What made them suddenly disposable?
MARCO: It wasn’t that they were disposable. It was more like how do we make sure that people have more access to them. Before archives were digitized art history teachers would come to the Image Library, select slides that he or she needed for the class, bring them to their class, show them to their students and then bring them back.
Once they were digitized people could go online, download the images they needed and then show them to their students.The process as far as I know has shortened. I noticed that the projectors and light boxes were being rented less as well. We had better technology come along.
They were the original JPEGs if you will
MFTA: When did it come to mind that the slides should be given away to artists or others to create their own projects with?
MARCO: The Met has 5,000 years of art history. It became, how do we look at the future of culture and museums? With the slides, it was like- we cannot let this slide go– we need to reinvent them, reimagine them in a new way to create new stories; because this was an integral story of the Met and of art history per se. Even just the fact people learned their history with this piece of technology. They were the original jpegs if you will. It was always a matter of how the Media Lab could be a hybrid place where both past and future could be. How do we make this project happen, it was a larger project than we could handle just as the Media Lab. So it was great partnering with MFTA and the Met Education Department to create this project.
MFTA: We’ve been talking a lot about access, and an interesting thought that comes to mind is that before slides existed, people had to read reviews from writers to learn about a particular artwork or exhibition.
MARCO: It’s was very interesting to see that when people came to the Met Image Library sometimes, they would find something that they wanted and sometimes they wouldn’t, or sometimes they would find things that they never knew they wanted. I think that’s the beauty of going to a library, culture center or any kind of place with a collection. It’s that randomness and serendipity that we haven’t been able to recreate, or I don’t think we will ever be able to recreate online. The I didn’t know I wanted that but now I want that, to me, that’s the beauty of MFTA. I could go shopping all over New York for things, but I would never have known I wanted that particular randomness.
“it doesn’t matter what the media is. Humans have been telling stories in different ways, whichever way is available to them. Technology can change, and media can change, but the content or whatever humans and artist can do using these tools will always be what connects us with different civilizations and societies”
MFTA: Jean Shin did a workshop for Teens Take The Met, and it was fascinating to watch. She introduced them to the slides and rolled out the projectors and light boxes for them to play with. It was interesting to see how seamlessly they transitioned into creating physical versions of Instagram.
MARCO: It was like ok, all these stories were captured on the slides and this format, but when people saw them and saw what they were, they would start curating it or selecting and putting them together to tell a story. So one thing that we were thinking was it doesn’t matter what the media is. Humans have been telling stories in different ways, whichever way is available to them. Technology can change, and media can change, but the content or whatever humans and artist can do using these tools will always be what connects us with different civilizations and societies. It was very interesting to be at the Met and say oh I can connect with this person who had been in the middle of New Zealand or many years ago even though we’ve never met but we have something in common and how do we find commonalities across time periods and geographies.
I think that humans are great at finding subtleties or shapes of anything, we can actually say oh this relates to this, and this relates to that, we can find patterns. We’re good at finding surprising patterns. Machines can be good at finding the opposite like very broad strokes. I think we’re in need of both probably, it’s just that we’re learning to deal with machines and understanding our humanity. And artists have understood their humanity before anyone else.