Zsofia Ruttkay Discusses Role of GLAM Institutions at Digital Humanities Initiative Fourth Conversation Session

Professor Zsofia Ruttkay, head of Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design’s (MOME) Creative Technology Lab, was the Digital Humanities Initiative’s fourth guest in the “Conversations in the Digital Humanities” series on December 8.  Ruttkay is the supervisor of various digital art projects at MOME, scientific advisor at the Department of Computer Science at the University of Twente, as well as the author or co-author of over 160 academic publications.

The focus of the conversation session was on the so-called GLAM institutions (i.e. galleries, libraries, archives and museums) and their capacity to respond to the changes taking place in communication and educational technologies. In response to Ruttkay’s presentation, invited guests Sahana Udupa, associate professor at the School of Public Policy, CEU, and Vlad Naumescu, associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at CEU, proposed critical approaches to recent trends in digitization. Udupa talked about the risks of digital activism and participatory journalism, and in particular highlighted the exploitation of free labor under these labels by commercial media and corporate interests. Naumescu discussed CEU’s Visual Studies Platform and urged against losing sight of the anthropological perspective on the “digital user.”

Ruttkay started the conversation by presenting some of her recent digital art and history projects. In a collaboration between the Hungarian Jewish Museum and MOME, Ruttkay recently supervised the “Cemetery of Salgotarjani Road” (Salgótarjáni úti temető) project, an augmented reality tour of one of Budapest’s inaccessible and crumbling Jewish cemeteries rich in eighteenth- to early twentieth-century architectonic features. As part of the “Weores 100” memorial year to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the outstanding poet and author Sandor Weores in 2013, Ruttkay curated a digital exhibition at the Petofi Museum of Literature, where MOME’s students displayed their interactive installations inspired by Weores’s poetry. Ruttkay reecently worked with the Hungarian Lutheran Church on an installation displaying an original copy of Martin Luther’s will, which will be part of the “Reformation500” program series in commemoration of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in 1517. Although the document is owned by the Hungarian Lutheran community, it is seldom exhibited in Budapest.

In the ensuing discussion, Udupa and Naumescu remarked on the democratization of accessing information in the digital era and its impact on GLAMs, the importance of audience engagement in digital arts and history projects, and the added value of playfulness, which is inherent in many uses of digital technology for artistic, social and political self-expression.

Ruttkay pointed out that the current technological boom is inevitably changing the very concept of GLAMs. Museum applications such as an installation turning poems into tactile “objects,” or an app enabling its users to “walk” in the narrative of a novel are currently changing the audience’s expectations of GLAM institutions, which requires exhibition curators to adopt new digital curation methodologies, preferably not at the expense of traditional museology. It is currently the subject of debate whether, with the development of 3D modelling, virtual reality applications and 3D printing, museums, archives and libraries will actually need to maintain an inventory of physical objects. According to Ruttkay, the scale of the changes coming in the near future is detectable in the claims of those who believe that for newly established GLAMs it is enough to store, curate, and exhibit a “collection” of only digital representations.