Technology Research Director of the Joan Jonas Knowledge Base
Deena Engel teaches undergraduate computer science courses on web and database technologies and undergraduate and graduate courses in the digital humanities and the arts. She also supervises undergraduate and graduate student research projects in the digital humanities and the arts. Co-director of the Artist Archives Initiative, she researches and collaborates with museums on the conservation of time-based media and software-based art while pursuing a PhD at the Bard Graduate Center, New York.
The Joan Jonas Knowledge Base (JJKB) is an open source digital resource housing information about the New York-based multimedia and performance artist Joan Jonas (b. 1936) who has been at the vanguard of interdisciplinary art forms such as performance, video art, and new media installations for over five decades. This academic research project (NYU, UQAM, UCLA) is part of the Artist Archive Initiative dedicated to providing useful information to conservators, curators, and other researchers who seek to learn more about the artist’s work.
In this presentation we will highlight the collaboration between the curatorial and conservation teams and the technology team in selecting and preparing a unique research resource drawing on materials from the artist’s personal archive, as well as museum archives, archives of photographers, galleries, university libraries, and other public and private archives and foundations where we found museum and performance documentation of the case studies, photographs, videos, publications, and exhibition ephemera included in the JJKB. Throughout this process it became clear that performance artworks are associated with many components, including objects (such as drawings, audio, video, and other media); performance art happens over time as new iterations are associated with the original work; and performance art may involve collaboration among artists and others. Hence, the materials and research data we worked with does not fit neatly into a traditional hierarchical schema, such as an SQL relational database. We therefore developed a flexible, RDF-compliant data model to capture a curated selection of research data and to upload this to the linked open data cloud via Wikidata, which allows us to support cross-cultural and cross-institutional research and collaboration.
This presentation will further highlight how we use of a variety of data visualization techniques — via Wikidata’s SPARQL endpoint — as an additional approach to present our findings to researchers. As we continue to add data into Wikidata about Joan Jonas and her work over time, the resulting data tables and data visualizations will become more complex and more robust. We hope they will lead to new and interesting ways to study this artist’s exciting works.