Sascha D. Freudenheim on Thu, 3 Feb 2011 20:31:38 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Two recent blog posts: Google-Art & Egypt

Like many of us, I suspect, recent events in the Middle East have 
captured my attention.  At the same time, my "normal" focus on 
art/technology/culture rumbles along here in frozen New York.

I have two new blog posts up, one on each subject: one on Google's new 
"art project," the other on Egypt, Israel, and Palestine. Since the web 
posts include links to sources, I have put a link to each post at the 


Googly Eyes For Google?

I have to admit: a little part of me was rather saddened today to see 
the launch of the Google Art Project.

The arguments in its favor make perfect sense, in the abstract.  It 
offers easy access to a lot of art, globally (or at least, for those 
with a good internet connection and a good computer).  In mapping 
galleries and providing scanning options of the space, it can help 
someone understand a work of art in its museum context â what works are 
adjacent, what surrounds it, etc. â as well as get a feeling for a place 
they may be planning to visit.  Providing selected works for 
high-definition, very detailed viewing offers some joys, too; it can be 
hard to see most paintings at this level of magnification while they 
hang on the walls of a museum.

And then thereâs the broader trend: museums are digitizing their 
collections, developing online companion pieces to 3-D exhibitions, 
creating Smartphone apps, developing teaching tools, and more.  All of 
which â I can say unambiguously â is the right thing to do, and must be 
done.  The museum person and the technologist in me are in agreement on 
the need to embrace this challenge.

Still, I felt sad by the digital rigor mortis of this art, and those 
clinically captured galleries. For one thing, itâs hard to see even a 
small work of art effectively on a computer screen.  (In my office 
set-up, I have two; that is, one computer running two, new, 19â flat 
panels. Even with that luxurious arrangement, I still donât feel like 
itâs adequate, not least because Google compresses the viewing picture 
into an inset box.)  Zooming in on specific works of art shows you much 
detail, but you lose the three-dimensionality to which the human eye 
responds so well in person, as it moves back and forth between different 
zoom levels and focal points in nano-seconds.

You might (rightly) ask yourself whether my perspective means much, as 
an insider: that the value of this system is for the people who cannot 
get to these museums in person.  But if you are a regular museum goer, 
itâs hard to see this really taking the place of an in-person visit. 
And if youâre not a regular museum goer, either because you donât like 
museums or you donât find art particularly stimulating â well, I just 
wonder how much allure â or benefit â there is to seeing works of art 
you probably are not familiar with as they hang in galleries you havenât 
visited.  In fact at some level, this is a very elite take on the idea 
of accessibility: you need to be able to appreciate art in order to 
appreciate art in this context.

I admire Google for trying this out, just as I appreciate so many of the 
companyâs Beta and Lab initiatives; Google has the resources to test out 
solutions to problems real and imagined, and I consider myself generally 
better off for their experiments.  Certainly the museums that 
participated made the right choice: why wouldnât you want to collaborate 
with Google on such a project?  If it had been my client, I would surely 
have recommended they move ahead.  But this whole thing feels cold to 
me, demonstrating once again the challenge of trying to replace (or even 
supplement) the in-person experience of an authentic work of art with a 
simulation, where so much detail and context is lost.  Untangling the 
gordian knot of digital solutions for art museums is not going to be as 
simple as one slice through the center with the Google Art Project.


A Failure of Leadership & Imagination

âMr. Netanyahu called on the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to 
resume peace negotiations without preconditions. But the prime minister 
also said it was possible that the gaps between the two sides were too 
wide to be bridged.â The New York Times, February 2, 2011

Between 1933-1945, the German government murdered around 6 million Jews, 
as part of an official policy of state-sanctioned genocide. Two years 
after the creation of the state of Israel, the two nations were talking. 
Twenty years after the end of the war, in 1965, Germany and Israel 
established formal diplomatic relations. By 2008, Germany and Israel had 
$6 billion in annual bilateral trade, and Germany is Israelâs largest 
trading partner after the United States.

There is probably some crude math one could do thereâ6 million dead Jews 
to $6 billion in annual tradeâbut letâs skip to the point: over a 78 
year period, the situation between Germans and Jews went from 
desperately murderous to fairly lucrative.

Between the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and now, 2011, 
fewer than 100,000 Israelis have been killed, despite several wars, 
numerous terrorist attacks, and a long-standing and simmering conflict 
with the Palestinians and some Arab nations. While there has been a 
peace treaty in place with Egypt since 1979, Israel has not been able to 
negotiate a formal peace with its Palestinian neighbors over the last 63 

Recently released papers suggest that the failure to make a peace deal 
over the last decade rests more with the Israelis than the 
Palestiniansâdespite common perceptions to the contraryâbut the question 
of who precisely is to blame for this irrelevant right now. What matters 
is the mindset embodied by the expression of distance by Israeli Prime 
Minister Netanyahu: that we cannot make peace, the gap between our views 
is too big.

I am having a tough time with the irony here. That would be the irony of 
Israelâs largely happy and mutually beneficial trading relationship with 
the nation that once murdered millions of Israelâs progenitor Jewsâwhile 
steadfastly insisting that peace is not possible with a neighbor whose 
inflicted casualties have been but a fraction of the damage previously done.

In 2011, of course, most of the Germans who participated in World War II 
are dead, and most of the Jews who managed to survive the holocaust are 
also dead. By contrast, many more of the Israelis and Palestinians 
involved in conflicts since 1948 remain alive. But this suggests that 
some generational turnover is necessary for peace, and that was clearly 
not true with Germany.  Nor can one simply point to German reparations 
or an internal sense of guilt and shame, and suggest that these kinds of 
feelings are missing on the Palestinian side: post-war Germany had 
plenty of ex-Nazis in government, presumably no less anti-Semitic than 
they had been before, and it took decades for the view of German history 
to catch-up to the reality of the war and the holocaust. There are also 
demographic and different kinds of existential threats from the 
Palestinians, sure. Yet what is more of an existential threat than 
concentration camps, gas chambers, and ovensâthings that the 
Palestinians (for all their issues with Jews and Israelis) have never 
attempted to construct.

I can understand the fear and trepidation that must result from watching 
the revolution in Egypt play out, with uncertain outcomes on a range of 
fronts. Still, the perspective captured by that New York Times article 
and others is depressing. This is a tumultuous time. But tumultuous 
times demand bold and visionary leadership. An Israel that found ways to 
support democracy in Egypt might find an Egypt that supports Israel. And 
an Israel that took this moment of tumult to re-engage with the 
Palestinians, to finally seek a conclusion to this conflict and the 
senseless Occupation, might find the long-desired peace it seeks with 
the Palestinians as well as with its other Arab neighbors.

Sascha D. Freudenheim
Doubt is humanity's best friend.

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