September 15, 1999 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on September 15, 1999.
Versions of the following have appeared online regularly, since 1992, as a feature of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which is distributed for free via email every month except August. Ejournal subscriptions may be obtained via email request to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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digital information work in France and Europe -- as part of FYI France
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One of the greatest contributions which digital media can make is to give us new ways of looking at old information. The newest version of the Lascaux Caves W3 site,
provides a very new look at some of the oldest. A user now sees the paintings as their original prehistoric artists might have seen them: a "candlelight view" -- a small circle of light, guided with the user's own mouse across the digital image the way a hand - held candle might have moved across a painted wall in that dark cave long ago -- not thrusting all the glaring and flat colors of a printed page, and crowding in too many images and not - always - interesting printed text, but dramatically revealing the paintings and their subtle coloration only bit by tantalizing bit...
I remember -- very well, for any who would deny it today -- the revelation involved when art historians decided that the Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals had been colored in bright polychrome. Some of them had known this. But they hadn't told the rest of us. Our old black - and - white photograph textbooks, and professorial effusions about architectural "forms in space", had convinced us that the old churches had been black - and - white: Cistercians all.
The idea that Moissac, and Chartres, and Rheims -- and their carvings! -- had been been painted bright colors in their originals was hard to imagine. Only a trip to a "living" bright polychrome cathedral at Madurai in India can evoke what the dirty, smelly, noisy, and vibrant and brilliant life must have been like which surrounded the French sites during their 12th and 13th centuries.
Likewise with much of art, including music and printed / manuscript texts, and certainly with its context: anything traditional, as in not - yet - hung - on - a - museum - wall, had a context which is hard to recreate now -- think of the sterility of most archaeology and anthropology exhibits.
A Romanesque crucifix was not regarded by its contemporaries as a work of sculpture; nor Cimabue's 'Madonna' as a picture. Even Pheidieas' 'Pallas Athene' was not, primarily, a statue... for an Asiatic, and especially the man of the Far East, artistic contemplation and the picture gallery are incompatible... A painting was not exhibited, but unfurled before an art - lover in a fitting state of grace; its function was to deepen and enhance his communion with the universe."
-- André Malraux, The Voices of Silence (Garden City : Doubleday, 1953) tr. Stuart Gilbert. p. 13-14; Les Voix du Silence (Paris : Pleiade, c1951).
Can the new digital media help us with this? Malraux's point was not that either the Western museum or the Asiatic approach to art was "better", but that each was "different", that each made its own unique contribution to opening up the art to our view and appreciation. Now, with digital publishing and the Internet, we truly have achieved the "Museum Without Walls" of which Malraux could only dream back in the 1950s. [See also his Museum Without Walls (London : Secker & Warburg, 1967) tr. Stuart Gilbert & Francis Price.]
But too often we simply dump 1950s and older material into it: soup cans and soft toilets get mixed in with Renaissance paintings and medieval illuminations, on the Internet -- monumental sculpture and architecture get lined up with miniatures, and computer tube users cannot tell the difference, certainly in scale and often as well in texture and color and significance.
There is so much more that might be done with the new techniques. The Lascaux Caves site is doing this, I suggest. Like the Cluny Project, which offered medievalists their first real "walk" through an architecture which has been in total ruins since the 18th century --
-- the Lascaux Caves site now gives a student, and even an established art historian, a "new take" on cave painting.
I attended a fascinating demonstration here in San Francisco a few weeks ago, at the California Academy of Sciences, of techniques which cave painters might have used in making paintings like those at Lascaux. An enthusiastic and talented Chuck Kritzon --
-- showed us how native rocks could be broken and mixed to form colors, and native plants twisted to make brushes, and then proceeded to draw and paint the famous bison and horses and a mastodon on a wall... so much better than a dim photo in an old Janson or Gardner edition, even one in color in the newer versions.
One great problem, Kritzon pointed out, is viewing the pictures: photos and spotlights nowadays give the wrong impression -- prehistoric men and women would have seen these images by the light of "fat lamps", which he showed us how to make, and these sputter and flicker and give off smoke and an aura of mystery and revelation.
This is achieved, better than in a book, by the Lascaux Caves W3 site now I think, with its "wandering eye" which reveals the images only in parts and slowly. Just so, other digital techniques can / should be used to give us new views of old images and information. Anyone visiting London, for example, must see the British Library's fascinating "Turning the Pages" exhibition -- see,
although "Turning the Pages" is not in HTML, yet -- you literally can "thumb through" a treasure like the Lindisfarne Gospels without, librarians take note, leaving thumbprints...
Old wine in new bottles, but some impressive new bottles, changing the
taste and color which we thought the old wine had, ever so slightly...
The President of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Jean-Pierre Angrémy, announced on September 4 the summer usage statistics for the BnF. These may be interesting for any of you either fascinated by bibliometrics, equipped with figures of your own which you can use for comparison, or critical of the BnF's user - friendliness / unfriendliness reputation. Remember that "summer" in Paris is a lot more dead than summer is elsewhere.
"So the BnF is experiencing usage in amounts which the old BN never knew..."
"Document delivery delays have been comparable to those experienced in other large libraries..."
And things are not standing still -- no laurels - coasting -- technical work continues on retrospective conversion: "We are preparing for a new era for the BnF: one -- very near -- which will offer a single multimedia catalog for all of the collections of the library...".
Brave New World, la BnF -- félicitations.
FYI France (sm)(tm) e-journal ISSN 1071 - 5916 * | FYI France (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic | journal published since 1992 as a small-scale, | personal experiment, in the creation of large- | scale "information overload", by Jack Kessler. / \ Any material written by me which appears in ----- FYI France may be copied and used by anyone for // \\ any good purpose, so long as, a) they give me --------- credit and show my email address, and, b) it // \\ isn't going to make them money: if it is going to make them money, they must get my permission in advance, and share some of the money which they get with me. Use of material written by others requires their permission. FYI France archives may be found at http://infolib.berkeley.edu (search fyifrance), or http://firstname.lastname@example.org/ (BIBLIO-FR econference archive), or at http://www.fyifrance.com , or at http://listserv.uh.edu/archives/pacs-l.html . Suggestions, reactions, criticisms, praise, and poison-pen letters all will be gratefully received at email@example.com Copyright 1992- , by Jack Kessler, all rights reserved except as expressed above.
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