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Babble breakthrough

Babble breakthrough
30 January 2009 posted by John Wyver

Yesterday's post about mash ups and Martha Graham was a bit of a monster -- and despite my anguished self-questioning has brought forth narry a Comment. Today I want simply to celebrate Art Babble, a new project from the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA). Apart from anything else, this seems to me to raise the bar for the use of online video by cultural organisations. It's still in a Beta form but you can register for access -- and there are a host of lessons to learn from it, as well as a good deal of enjoyment to be derived from the content.

IMA is one of the smartest American museums when it comes to working with online and social media. If you don't know it, take a look at their Dashboard, which is a brilliant way of providing information about the institution -- ' an ongoing effort to measure various aspects of the Museum's performance' -- and demonstrating a high degree of transparency. As you'd expect they run a very good blog, and now they have opened the Davis LAB with Art Babble as its centre-piece. There's a physical space for this in the museum and the cyberspace equivalent.

Art Babble is a sophisticated but at the same time simple mix of video with social media. At present the site hosts around 100 videos relating to the museum's collections and special exhibitions, and these are embedded (at very high quality) is an interface which encourages comment, recommendations and discussion. You can create a profile and send invitations to friends and colleagues. It looks smart and accessible, is entirely intuitive and the videos are interesting and diverse.

Offerings include a film about the complex conservation of a Renaissance altarpiece by Sebastiano Mainardi, a conversation with Robert Irwin who has just installed a wondrous flourescent light installation at IMA, an hour-long lecture by Dr Gloria Groom about Gauguin and the Generation of the 1890s, and a record of an evening with chef Alice Waters.

Video from museums is really catching on now, with Tate Media, MOMA and many others offering shorts about artworks, projects and shows. But what I really like about the Art Babble offering is the indexing and annotations for the videos. Each one is divided into numerous short chapters, and the interface allows you to click through these as they are streaming. In addition, alongside the video is a vertical scroll of information and links, which offer commentary on what you're watching and places to seek out further information.

So you can be watching a 20-minute documentary about sculptor Maya Lin (above) and her new project for IMA and you'll be offered -- not as a distraction but as an extension -- an online biography, a link to a foundry where she works, suggestions for further viewing and reading, and much more. These roll elegantly over the paused video when you indicate your interest and then disappear when you're ready to return to the film. It's a terrific and innovative way to watch and interact and to truly engage.

One day, and let's hope it's not that far away, all online video may look like this. Certainly I'd love to bring much more video to the Illuminations site in this form. For the moment, though, take a look -- and learn.

Update: earlier today the IMA blog posted more images of the Davis LAB.



1 February 2009 13:12

John - thank you so much for the very kind review of ArtBabble. The IMA team has poured a lot of creativity and effort into this venture. One thing happening behind the scenes at the moment, is that we are talking with other museums about adding their video content to ArtBabble. This is site is dedicated to great video art content, not just IMA's, so look for some announcements in the near future. Thank you!


1 February 2009 13:53

Daniel -- good luck with that extension, and I look forward to seeing Art Babble enhanced with lots more video.

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