Thursday, October 30, 2014

Smithsonian Institution Archives: Digital Services Division



My name is  Rachel Guardiola and I am currently between the first and second years as a graduate candidate at Maryland Institute College of Art Mount Royal Multidisciplinary Program.During the summer of 2014, I participated in the Smithsonian Institution Archives Summer Internship Program with the Digital Services Division.   My studio practice utilizes a variety of analogue and digital technologies to investigate the means in which different tools alter our perception, extend our physical limitations, and allow us to see the invisible.  I  I was initially interested in conducting an internship with in the archives of a museum institution to gain access to academic resources for thesis research, and further learn about the means in which the apparatus shapes the way we create systems of documentation or truth, to construct our own simulacra.







While on winter break during the academic 2013-2014 year, I took this period of time to search for internships and residencies for the summer.  I had recently visited the Smithsonian Institution Air and Space Museum to do some research and thought it would be interesting to work with in a museum as a means to further my thesis investigation, facilitate conversations with other academics, and learn the infrastructure of the greater Smithsonian for future artist grant opportunities.  After going to the Smithsonian website I found a variety of different internship opportunities, and applied to a few of my top choices that involved the application of multimedia or imaging processes. I found the contact information for Riccardo Ferrante who is the Director of Digital Services, and spoke with him briefly over the phone before placing my application through the larger Smithsonian database system.  I heard back after a few weeks, came in for an interview, and was fortunate to be offered a summer internship.

The Smithsonian Institution Archives is its own entity that captures, preserves, and makes available documents that record the history of the greater Smithsonian Museum.  My internship was with in the Digital Services Division, which preserves born digital materials, digitizes analogue documents, and manages the web, new media, and outreach projects.   

During the internship my direct supervisor was the Director of Digital Services Riccardo Ferrante. The internship consisted of two large projects first working more directly with Electronic Records Archivist Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig to convert born digital video to universal file formats that could be viewed on the web, and the second project with Digital Imaging Technician Kira Cherrix to convert paper, photo, film, and sound materials to digital formats. The first project extended from the end of May to end of June.  The project was to take a variety of borne digital documentary videos on different topics, apply universal standards for each video, upload them to the (DAMS) Digital Asset Management System database storage for electronic multimedia, and ultimately make them available for the television Smithsonian Channel. My main tasks were to bag files for video transfer, script different folders to create universally readable video MPEGs from other video file types, create metadata, import files to the DAMS database, view the playback quality of videos before being made public on the Smithsonian Channel, and record data or any issues for each video onto a spreadsheet. Some of this work was very technical and was the first time I had done any scripting which was difficult at first, but quickly became second nature.  The work was a bit tedious, however the processes were important to learn, and it was also rewarding to be able to watch the finished documentary videos.

The second project extended from the beginning of July to first week in August, and consisted of
the digitalization of paper, photo, film, and sound files to digital formats.  I first started scanning the personal correspondence between art collector Joseph Hirshhorn with Willem de Kooning, Alexander Calder, and Marc Chagall. I used large flatbed scanners to capture high resolution digital images of different handwritten letters, still images, post cards, telegrams etc. that lasted over the years of the artists careers.  It was really interesting to get to peer into the lives of these artists as they shared intimate and contemplative thoughts about their art practices with Hirshhorn, and also read about the onset and development of the Hirshhorn Museum. Iwas fortunate to be able to get a glimpse into the different transfer processes of paper, photo, film, and audio all of which are mediums I use in my own artwork.

    The Smithsonian Archives Internship was truly a great experience as I gained further knowledge into different technologies and the roles they play in the preservation of different archives and artist works.  There were many conversations that were introduced over the course of the summer such as the difficulties in preserving multimedia based artworks, especially  as different artists being working more between different electronic genres and new medias.  The greater Smithsonian overall opened a lot of doors, as I had access to all the museum libraries and was able to conduct in depth research into  thesis topics. Lastly, I learned a lot about different careers that are possible with in a museum.  As an artist with an interest and professional experience in scientific fields,  I was able to speak with museum conservators to learn more about their specialized roles.  I am interested in the means in which a conservator combines the inherent knowledge of an artist with their materials, while also understanding the scientific properties of why materials they act in the manner they doI am ultimately looking forward learning more about conservation as a possible career option after graduate studies, and a means of combining a knowledge in film, photographic, and multimedia based objects.




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