Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Feminist Art Base


Feminist Art Base is the digital collection of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. F.A.B. builds on the Center’s commitment to preserving the history of feminist art and to fostering engagement with a broad range of feminist artists. The entry page to the site promises users that the collection is “ever-growing,” and explains that the Center seeks to include the “most prolific contributors to feminist art from the 1960s to the present.” The collection includes images in multiple media, video and audio clips both as art and of artists discussing their works, artists’ CVs, and statements from the artists about their work. The collection currently includes materials from nearly 200 artists; the artist base for this collection seems to be those featured in the Center’s inaugural exhibit, the 2007 Global Feminisms exhibit of international feminist artists, and the collection has expanded from that beginning. Beyond these general features, is not clear exactly who decides or how they decide which artists to invite and include in the collection.

In addition to this being a singular collection, its strength is in the structure of the metadata which allows searching and allows users to generate related groups of materials. Metadata for each piece of the collection includes the artist, title, year, medium, artist description of the content (when available), and tags (subject headings). For example, Allyson Mitchell’s 2005 Tawny sculpture (pictured above) includes the tags: woman, lesbian, queer, nature, fur, creature, animal, sasquatch, beast, craft, textile. Users can click on any of the tags to see a grouping of various artists’ materials which share that tag. It is not clear how tags are selected; for example, the tag “canada” appears on some of Mitchell’s materials, apparently because she’s from Canada, but not all of her materials include this tag. Clicking on artists’ names brings up links to their materials in the collection along with an artist biography, a statement from the artist about her work, along with the artist’s CV, location, website, and contact information (if available). There is a search function which searches the metadata text, and users can also click to view popular tags offered as a sheet of arranged links ranging from imperialism to Polaroid to Wonder Woman. As I mentioned above, the choices guiding the collection aren’t described in the minimal metadata about the collection as a whole.

While the collection offers good information about the creation of the art presented, it offers no information about the digitized object produced from that art, nor does it offer any information about the digitization process. This information would be useful in this multimedia environment since the collection itself is an articulation of a feminist art project. It may be the case that artists themselves upload their own digitized objects; there is an “Artist Login” link within F.A.B. In this case, it would be interesting to know what format the artists themselves use to archive their work. The images in the collection in some cases appear to be photographs of other media, in some cases film stills, and in some cases they are scans of original photographs; users can click to enlarge some of the images, but others remain the same size. Video and audio streams are of clear. The fact that some images cannot be enlarged or examined more closely and that the video streams cannot be enlarged may limit the future utility of the collection.

The opening page of the collection clearly lays out its range of intended users: “Our goal is to make this groundbreaking archive a comprehensive resource for artists, curators, scholars, and the general public.” More broadly, the curators hope the collection will support part of the mission of the Center, “to educate new generations about the meaning of feminist art.” The “Artist Login” link suggests, too, that there may be additional features for artists using the collection. This is an impressive virtual gathering of feminist artists and one that seems useful to educators as well as to artists, scholars, and community members.

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