The Blackaeonium Project: Workspace/Keeping-Place - An Archival Continuum of Creative Practice

PhD by Research Project, Lisa Cianci, 2012

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Blackaeonium Archive System Needs Analysis



The Blackaeonium Project - Needs Analysis 2004

Project definition (what is it? Core objectives?)

The project will involve making a database-driven artwork that uses multiple layers of content, data and metadata to enhance and extend the original multimedia objects created, to combine and recombine content/data/metadata[1] through screen-based interfaces, to take the work beyond simple format definitions of text, image, sound, video, etc, and play with the notion of the “object”, and also push the life-expectancy of the digital multimedia content into a more “continuum” - like model.

The project will cover two main areas of endeavour:

1.    to create an online structured database system that is both keeping-place for digital content and digital documentation of analogue content, and a work-space or “play-space” for experimentation with digital content, and

2.    to develop new and recombinant artworks through the use of a structured online system, and to publish/exhibit these works through the online system and through other means (both online and in physical space)

Areas to be investigated:

  • Creative processes involved in creating new media artworks;
  • Development of metadata descriptors for describing multimedia objects focusing on the language used to describe and document these objects;
  • Development of free text metadata as functional and literary text;
  • Development of a data structure;
  • How a system such as this could anticipate or affect creation of content (continuum model);
  • Dealing with inaccessible media, exploring digital preservation issues;
  • Presentation of multimedia content in experimental and diverse ways including: reuse of objects; building of context and relationships between objects; pattern recognition; stories and narratives that may emerge through development and accumulation of content.


Context (where does it sit in the field?)

The context of this project is to create a site and a process for the artist to document and experiment with creative content, while maximizing the preservation of the digital content documented in the system. It’s an experiment of process and methods for artists using archival theory and practice to augment creative practices that already exist but may not be explicit or evident.

Developing screen-based interfaces using 2-dimensional interfaces common to Internet browser applications is a constraint to work within. Development of engaging and intuitive interface structures and metaphors for the overall website system is crucial for the success of the artwork as a whole, as is the creation of all the content to populate the artwork. Content objects will be developed throughout the project, and will also include some content already in existence. Content will include a variety of text, still image, animated image, video, and audio objects – an extension of my existing analogue and digital art practice. The project will involve experimentation using this content with layered metadata to create connections and relationships at will, to see what new and different objects and artworks can be created.


The Objectness of Multimedia Objects

It is hard to define the extent of a multimedia object – often the word “granularity” is used to describe the level we will break down digital content to find the “object” or item. An object could be one discreet item such as a text file, or it could be a group of items held together by some structure or purpose – such as a Flash animation that contains a library (database) of symbols: text, images and audio. A whole website could also constitute an object.

Metadata can enhance multimedia objects, and can link objects of different granularity, making artwork created in this manner more layered and faceted, self-documenting, possibly even recursive. This is an extremely interesting area to explore as a new media artist.

The recombinant artwork proposed in this project will be a complex system of objects. The metadata itself could also cross over into the content of the system, become metacontent, and could have its own metadata – thus recursion. As content gets added and documented, the system as a whole shifts and changes. Decisions are made at the point of accession[2], but the interpretations and reading of the content can change over time. The artwork can grow, shrink, move, change, be seen from many different perspectives. 

The recent advent of blogs (weblogs) as diaries, informational sites, individual and collaborative artworks has been another influence in my work. The act known as “reblogging”[3] where guest rebloggers select individual blog entries from multiple blog websites and list them elsewhere is interesting from the point of view of recursive content, and recombinant content.


Internet as delivery medium

There are quite a few interesting new media artists using the Internet to publish their work. From the artist’s perspective, the main benefits are a wide audience, and the ability to continuously add/edit the work without expensive overheads. But my main interest in working on a web server relates to the user experience. Interactivity is really easy for most people using a personal computer, mouse and keyboard. The personal space of the small screen also provides users with a way of bringing the work into their own spaces, whenever they want. This interaction can also be easily documented and saved in the self-same database, which can be used to impact on the artwork in some way.

The artist is also a user, so the same issues apply – I can create and add new material from any location at any time. The proposed website system would also have the capability to document what I do, when I do it.

From a technical perspective, dynamic, data-driven websites are prolific, and sharing of information for constructing these sites is just as plentiful, so it will not be necessary to reinvent the dynamic-web wheel, Allowing more time to be dedicated to conceptual and creative concerns.


User definition (who will use the system? – creator/audience)

Types of user: Artist/Creator and Audience

Artist/Creator:  the artist is a creator of content that will use the site both for documenting creative work, and for experimenting with creative content to create new works. The artist will possibly work in both analogue and digital media, will be experienced in a range of software systems, and will create ephemeral and complex artworks in many different kinds of media. Some of the digital content created by the artist will exist in obscure and variable technological formats, which will not have enduring properties in the digital preservation continuum.

Audience: the audience will consist of any public users that might engage with contemporary artworks – both analogue and digital.  The audience for contemporary art works is wide and varied, but it is anticipated that many of these users will also be artists themselves, or individuals that work within areas of creative practice at some level, or are students in areas of contemporary art and creative media industries.  Audience users may range greatly in age, location(country/city) and in their experience and ability to use digital online systems.  It is anticipated that users will engage with the system from their own personal computers and devices, and will also engage with the system in public spaces such as galleries and university computer labs.


Required functionality  (what will it do? How will it work?)

The system must provide the following functionality:

  • Allow for uploading of digital objects to a website space with attendant documentation;
  • Allow for documentation of context, format, content, function, usage and artistic intent of the digital objects that are uploaded;
  • Allow for the following types of metadata to be documented and presented: descriptive and presentation; purpose and intent; preservation; object definition and structural
  • Allow for secure and reliable content (veracity) through password protected access and levels of user access to content.
  • Provide a work-space and a keeping-place for digital content;
  • Allow for flexibility to develop (ongoing development over a period of years) a range of interfaces to maximize the experimental development of new media works, and the experimental publication and exhibition of new media works in an online forum;
  • Allow for the flexibility to develop methods over time for exporting or sharing content in the system with other systems, or into other systems;
  • Allow for the ability to generate different types of output from the system such as online exhibitions, printed publications, RSS feeds and XML (or other) output for future unknown purposes.


Research – (reference and inspiration)

Main research areas:

  • New media artworks, Variable Media Initiative, Java Museum… specific artworks

  • Contemporary artworks
    Da Rimini, Empyre, Mark Amerika, Lev Manovich, Alan Sondheim, Sophie Calle, Mary Flanagan, to name but a few

  • Metadata Specifications or schemata
    DC, ISAD(G)

  • Archival systems
    institutional, small/heritage, in the wild…, Daniel Langloise, Variable Media – Whitney, PAM, Berkley, VERS, NAA,

  • Social media systems
    blogs and other socially motivated systems – Wordpress, Blogger, Myspace etc...


Design Requirements/Style (what should it look like?)

The system should have a minimal design – both in appearance and functionality.  As much as possible, it should be a blank canvas to allow the artworks and creative content to be the main feature of an interface.  Admin areas for content input need to be as simple as possible with minimal data set.  Artists do not want to spend time with tedious and complex data entry so the fields especially for object upload need to be templated (to allow for reuse of metadata) and easy to use.  Contextual information collection areas need to be minimal also for the same reason.  Minimal input for maximum outputs.

Archival quality documentation will be there in the system – readily available for creators and audience users, but the main focus should be on accessing visual material and artworks first.  There should be many points of access to content in the system, and many types of interfaces to satisfy different user requirements, but the system is primarily a tool for ARTISTS, so the artwork must be prominent.  Text will be available in summary and detail for all objects and context elements in the system, but not at the expense of creating a visually engaging site primarily.

The style should be bare, white and without fancy logos or icons, nothing should distract from the artworks to be documented and displayed. Text and links should be minimal in colour, sans-serif font without decoration.


Technical Requirements (what do we need to make it work?)

  • The system should be developed from open-source software systems:
  • A back-end relational database system such as MySQL
  • A front-end structure of web pages using open-source scripting languages such as HTML, PHP, JavaScript and CSS that enable dynamic display of many types of digital objects uploaded to the system.


Usability issues

Usability issues such as accessing textual content, and easy to navigate global links etc should be addressed, but as the site is primarily for the artist and an artistic audience, some accepted usability issues may become secondary to artistic aims – such as creating engaging content through experimental interfaces that are not accessible to all public users, or use of non-standard media which will populate the site. 



Online Resources:

Allen, Joshua 2001, Making a Semantic Web,, last viewed 21/12/2003, <>

Berthon, Hilary 2000 The Moving Frontier: Archiving, Preservation and Tomorrow’s Digital Heritage, National Library of Australia, last viewed 11/6/2004, <>

CTheory, 2004, CTheory: an international journal of theory, technology, and culture, cTheory, last viewed 2/3/200,

D-Space, 2002, D-Space: Durable Digital Depository, MIT Libraries, last viewed 14/6/2004,

The Digital Cultures Project, 2002, The Digital Cultures Project: Archive, University of California, Santa Barbara, last viewed 1/4/2004,

Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, 2004, Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, last viewed 7/2/2004, <>

ERPANET, 2004, ERPANET: Electronic Resource preservation and Access Network, ERPANET, last viewed 11/7/2004,<>

Hill, Linda L, Alexandria Digital Library Glossary of Terms, last viewed 23/7/2004, <>

International Council on Archives (ICA), 1999, International Council on Archives - General International Standard Archival Description, Second edition, International Council on Archives, last viewed 10/11/2003, <>

JoDI – Journal of Digital Information, 2004, JoDI – Journal of Digital Information, IAM Research Group, University of Southampton, UK, last viewed 25/9/2003,

La Mediatheque du Musee d’art contemporain de Montreal, 2004, La Mediatheque du Musee d’art contemporain de Montreal, La Mediatheque du Musee d’art contemporain de Montreal, last viewed 30/5/2004,

Manovich, Lev, 2004, Lev Manovich cultural software, Lev Manovich, last viewed 16/8/2004,

Merriam-Webster Incorporated, Merriam-Webster Online, Merriam-Webster Incorporated, last viewed 23/7/2004

Moal, Veronique and Turner, James M, 2003, MetaMap, Metamap, last viewed 10/6/2004,

National Archives of Australia (NAA), 2003, Digital preservation: XML data formats, National Archives of Australia, last viewed 22/3/2004, <>

National Archives of Australia (NAA), 2003, Digital Records, National Archives of Australia, last viewed 22/3/2004, <>

National Archives of Australia (NAA), 2003, RFC 2003/4 binary-object document format, National Archives of Australia, last viewed 22/3/2004,

National Archives of Australia (NAA), PANDORA Archive, PANDORA Logical Data Model Version 2, November 1997, National Archives of Australia, last viewed 25/7/2004, <>

PANIC, 2004, Panic – preservation & archival new media & interactive collections, Multimedia Access across Enterprises, Networks And Domains, DSCT, University of Queensland, last viewed 17/6/2004,<>

Public Record Office Victoria, 2004, VERS (Victorian Electronic Records Strategy), Public Record Office Victoria, last viewed 22/3/2004, <>

Rinehart, Richard 2002, Preserving the Rhizome ArtBase, Rhizome, last viewed 10/10/2003,

RLG, 2004, RLG DigiNews, RLG: IRIS Research Department of Cornell University Libraries, last viewed 8/6/2004,

RLG, 2004, RGL and Preservation - Preserving Digital Information: Final Report and Recommendations, RLG: IRIS Research Department of Cornell University Libraries, last viewed 1/2/2004,

Stalbaum, Brett 2001(c), Towards an Autopoietic Database, c5, last viewed 5/5/2004

Swartz, Aaron, 2002, The Semantic Web in Breadth, Aaron Swartz, last viewed 13/7/2004,

Variable Media Network, 2004, Variable Media Network, Guggenheim Museum Variable Media initiative, last viewed 19/12/2004,

W3C(World Wide Web Consortium), 2004, Semantic Web, W3C, last viewed 15/6/2004,


Email Lists and Postings:

Aus-Archivists, 2004, Aus-Archivists email Listserv, Australian Society of Archivists Inc. last viewed 3/9/2004,

Cyber-Society-Live, 2004, Cyber-Society-Live email Listserv, Cyber-Society-Live, last viewed 3/9/2004,

Empyre, 2004, Empyre email Listserv, University of NSW, last viewed 4/9/2004,

Faces-l, 2004, faces-l email list, faces, last viewed 1/9/2004,

Fibreculture, 2004, Fibreculture email list, Fibreculture, last viewed 2/9/2004,

Inter Society for the Electronic Arts(ISEA), 2004, ISEA forum, ISEA, last viewed 11/6/2004,

International Council on Archives, 2004, ICA-L (International Council on Archives Listserve), International Council on Archives, last viewed 18/8/2004,
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Rhizome, 2004, Rhizome Rare email list,, last viewed 1/9/2004,

Roberts, D < > 1999, ‘Continuum and life cycle models’, Listserv for Australian Archivists, Sunday, 21 February 1999 17:33, Aus-Archivists Discussion List, last viewed 11/6/2004,


Hard-copy Publications:

Manovich, Lev, 2001, The Language of New Media, 1st edn, The MIT Press, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

Montfort, N & Wardrip-Fruin, N (ed) 2003, The New Media Reader, 1st edn, The MIT Press, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

Packer, Randall & Jordan, Ken (ed) 2001, Multimedia: from Wagner to Virtual Reality, 1st edn, Norton, USA

Thomson, L & Welling, L, 2003, PHP and MySQL Development, 2nd edn, Developer’s Library, Sams Publishing Indiana, USA

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[1] “Metadata describes the attributes of an information bearing object (IBO) - document, data set, database, image, artefact, collection, etc.; metadata acts as a surrogate representation of the IBO. A metadata record can include representations of the content, context, structure, quality, provenance, condition, and other characteristics of an IBO for the purposes of representing the IBO to a potential user - for discovery, evaluation for fitness for use, access, transfer, and citation. See also, Meta-information.” (Hill, 2004)

[2] Accession is an archival term and an archival construct describing the capturing of an item into an archival system – this could be the physical act of placing an item in the archive, but is usually used to mean the capturing of archival documentation into an archival system.

[3] "A reBlog facilitates the process of filtering and republishing relevant content from many RSS feeds. reBloggers subscribe to their favorite feeds, preview the content, and select their favorite posts. These posts are automatically published through their favorite blogging software" from Eyebeam ReBlog <>



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