Pröspect, is another step in Isabelle Gagné’s work as a geologist-artist of digital images, as she questions our relation to online historical archives. As various institutions – museums, libraries, etc. – are increasingly making their archives available online to make them more accessible, the “general” catalogue of online images is constantly growing. Despite the fact that their historical character is their main distinctive sign, heritage photographic archives also take part in building the enormous online inventory of digital images generated by the various Internet search engines.
To make sure that these previously digitized documents get rerecorded into our collective memory, the artist has created a device that reinterprets digital photographic images pumped directly from open databanks on a four-hour cycle. After selecting a document drawn from an institutional archive, Pröspect take a first reading that draws out “perceptible” elements. It then does a reverse search to find images similar to the one chosen. After having cut and pasted together these digital elements, the program creates a new image. It then randomly associates each visual object with verses drawn from poems specifically written for the project by author Stéphane Archambault. The new images created through this process are then referenced and “published” simultaneously on Twitter and on the web. That way, each query by individual users on search engines is likely to bring up one or many of the doctored images. The first resources used by the bot come from the McCord Museum’s Photography collection.
Isabelle Gagné’s Pröspect is part of the genetic code of online art and it questions the online use of historical archives available on the web. The project also aligns with a mining or geological metaphor (the idea of prospecting, for instance, or the discovery of a mining field) to better highlight the various aspects specific to researching, discovering and “mining” archives.
By infiltrating networks with newly referenced images, the work highlights the public access to and use of online heritage resources. In the end, Pröspect reassembles what the artist calls a new digital heritage mining field and encourages a renewed perception of historical archives and how they become part of our collective memory.
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