Brakhage Center: Korsakow as a tool for digital curation?

I’ve just embarked on a project at the Brakhage (Media Arts) Center (University of Colorado – Boulder), and my job here is to come up with modes and models for digital curation. The idea is to help showcase various collections in the archive and organise them – so I proposed a tool that could conceivably organise a collection by showcasing it: Korsakow.

Korsakow is a non-linear database driven repository and a tool created for storytelling (and, as far as I can tell, subverting traditional documentary forms). From experience, it is also, by default, a method and means of working: aggregating, sorting, and displaying collections in a multimodal way. The creative process is highly iterative and requires a continuous conversation between the software and the media at hand. In other words, while you can (and often should) plan out the relationships (keywords) between media assets, this planning is perpetually revised through interaction with the database and interface. It’s neither about randomness nor chance, but rather about a set of limitations in our conception of links, or, in what we determine should be connected to what. Largely keyword driven, the software demands curation – choices to provide context to media. What’s special about the way we are thinking of using it is that its application will be to a collection of disparate media sources, and eventually collections of collections in the archival sense, which as far as I know, hasn’t been applied yet. As my incredibly insightful collaborator, Eric Coombs, sees it – usually technologies are invented for practical uses and subverted by artists; this time we’re repurposing an artist’s tool for a decidedly pragmatic end goal. We’ll see how that goes. I’ve committed to documenting our process here – and later on the BC blog perhaps – to detail the conceptual transformations, failures, obstacles, and epiphanies of our curatorial journey.

Korsakow is a ‘dynamic storytelling’ tool; it is Flash-driven and as such is limited to desktop, online, and kiosk display. Plans are underway to release an HTML5 version, which will be mobile-friendly and possibly offer new features. Korsakow was invented by Florian Thalhofer, a Berlin-based media artist. Its development has since been taken on by a team at Concordia University, in Montreal. This team is lead by Matt Soar in the Communication Studies Dept., working with various programmers (Sean Fraser and Dave among others) to continue the development of this amazing, unique, and free (for educational purposes) open source tool. One of my goal is certainly to see how our project at the BC can generate financial or technical (or both) support.

What we’ve outlined as the first step is to create an inventory of the one-off Poetry and Film Symposium from 2005 as an archival project prototype. If all goes well with that one, we’ll have generated a model for the regular symposium content. The content consists primarily of audio recordings and stills, and a few videos. Some of the media is of mediocre recording quality, which may pose an interesting archival challenge in software that begs for rich and vibrant content.

The discussion today revolved mostly around how to conceptualise the archive for this project. Can Korsakow effectively replace or provide an alternative to the ‘online archive,’ which typically resorts to long lists, sorted according to author, media and date? Can Korsakow provide an archival ‘experience’ to researchers? How will we curate the content? Will we select everything (all recorded media) or highlight key moments only? What are the implications of either option, for the research archive? Should duplicate all ‘raw’ materials in a comprehensive archive – maybe archive.org or or through torrent files or as a back up copy on our own server? Who is our intended audience? How will the archive be used and possibly misused? What advantages can a Korsakow archive provide a researcher? What are its drawbacks on the front and back end? Can the collections’ contexts be effectively generated through keywords? What will determine the connections between speakers and ideas? How can we make the material we have come to life through audio and images?

These are the questions we begin this journey with… the next few months will therefor demand attentive listening to/looking at all the media on hand pertaining to this symposium, and noting keywords to begin mapping the project. To be continued.