Monthly Archives: March 2015

Final Art Project for DH 6005 (History and Theory of Digital Arts)

The final requirement of the module entitled History and Theory of Digital Arts is that of creating some art inspired by that already submitted by the other members of our class. Disclaimer: I’d like to note here that I am not now, nor ever will I be, an artist. As a matter of fact, I know more about Nuclear Science than I do about Art. I just wanted to clear that up before I begin.

nude standing by the sea

Nude Standing by the Sea

Andy Warhol proclaims “Art is what you can get away with”.This is certainly true when I look at some of Picasso’s work for example. (I don’t mean to single out poor old Picasso, I have nothing against the man, I’m simply using his work as an example.) Take the painting Nude Standing by the Sea. Does it appear completely alien to me because I know nothing about it, or is it alien to everybody else too? Must we have an understanding of the mindset of the artist before we can attempt to understand the painting and appreciate it? Was Charles Baudelaire right in saying “The beautiful is always bizarre”? Is my failure to ‘see’ anything in Picasso’s painting proof that artists see the world differently to the rest of us? (That’s an awful lot of questions, even for me).

Art is subjective – Whoopi Goldberg says it very well -“Art and Life are subjective. Not everybody’s gonna dig what I dig, but I reserve the right to dig it”

Instead of showing myself up as a complete fool in trying to draw or paint something for this project, which would no doubt turn out to be appalling, I relied on words to come to my rescue. I’ve taken four items which have inspired me, and written a short piece to accompany each one. I need to express my thanks to Perry O’Donovan, Claudia Sartori, Bree D’Oh, and Aodhan Rilke, without whom my own ‘project’ would not have happened.

I had intended to display these works as an exhibit using Exhibit-Builder on Omeka, but I’m having a few problems with getting it to behave as I want it to. This is nothing new, and so I’ve gotten used to it.


Bookstore poster

Promotional poster by Perry O’ Donovan

The first piece of art I thought about is one created by Perry O’Donovan as a promotional poster for his bookshop in Skibbereen.

Here’s what I wrote:

Perry’s Bookshop

He was a giant of a man, and he let the cold in when he opened the door. The little bell didn’t have time to jingle before he shut it behind him again, so quietly for someone so large. He leaned against it, and let out a long ragged breath, as if he had run from the hounds of hell, and escaped.

I hadn’t had many customers that day and was considering shutting up early. The day felt grey, had done since morning; as if the sky was covered by a scratchy old army-blanket, heavy, dull, and colourless. Outside, the air smelled like soot, like a million coal fires.

The man’s face was ashen. He stumbled to one of the leather seats near the window and sank into it, his great bulk filling it completely, and I thought of the tiny chairs in a doll’s house.

I suppose I must have looked surprised, and maybe I was, I don’t recall. Sometimes on quiet days I almost resented customers, saw them as an intrusion into my solitude, my beautiful world of whispering pages and long-forgotten secrets. It was very easy for me to dissolve into another reality and forget about the things that happen in a life: the family I’d left behind, the bills I couldn’t pay, the loneliness.

For a long time he sat, motionless, silent, weighing every breath, watching the rain begin to fall and splash against the windows. For a long time I watched him, and the silence stretched out between us in long slow minutes.

Then he turned, as if he’d just remembered where he was, and looked straight at me. His eyes were wide and haunted, and a scar beneath the good one was bleeding. When he spoke it seemed the sound came from somewhere dark and far away.

We should get going”, he said, “They’re here”.



The second is a piece written in response to a photograph taken by Claudia Sartori:


The Gates


The Gates of Hell

‘Open the Gates at Dawn’ the memo said. So we did. There’s a lot more to opening a portal than you might think, there are rules to be adhered to, rituals to perform, things to be chanted. It took a while.

The thing is, we hadn’t told anyone, and so the volume of bodies wasn’t as large as He had expected. Well, the sun was out that day, and shone warm and bright on the earth, and melted some human hearts so that they were less inclined to do anything to offend the other guy. The Boss wasn’t best pleased.

Of course, those were the days before Twitter and Facebook, days of good old fire and brimstone, and raining down curses on humanity just because you could. Now a body has to wait for the broadband to kick in, or stand in the chimney until the signal finds them.

I think we all secretly miss the old burning memos, the comforting smell of sulphur, the singed fingertips, though of course nobody here would freely admit it. It’s true we may not reach as many souls by doing things in the traditional manner, but at least we didn’t need to pay attention to something called ‘Netiquette”!


This is number 3: A painting by Aodhan Rilke of Horatio Nelson’s head (from the statue).

Nelson's Head

Nelson’s Head

Kiss me, Hardy!

Die well lads!
Glory tastes of brandy and camphor
in a small wooden cask
on smooth seas
for the last trip home.

Good name lives on in stone
on dry land
and a deathmask of charcoal.
Die well, England demands.



Finally, there’s this – a photo taken by Bree D’Oh of a sculpture in the Lee Fields

Dinosaurs in the Mist

Dinosaurs in the mists

Dinosaur in the Mist

“It’s what happens to metal things when it rains”, he said, “and don’t be a baby now, it’s not alive, it won’t harm you”. Jane was six. She knew things. She peered through the raindrops on her glasses at the metal monster, studying the red rash that the rain had caused. Today was Saturday, and she spent Saturdays with Dad. Sometimes she didn’t really want to, because they always went to places like this park, and they were always climbing things. Today she wanted to be at home out of the rain instead. It was cold. Dad got angry if she said she wanted to go home, angry in a way that he said nothing, just turned the car radio up. She had learned to smile instead.

They had come to this park before, and Jane still didn’t like it. She didn’t trust the red climbing thing. She knew it was really alive and just asleep in daylight, and it would wake up at night and start to move around. Dad wouldn’t believe her, he’d say she was silly. He’d give her that look, and sigh, and say “So you want to go home then? Ok, fine”, but he wouldn’t talk to her on the way home, so she always knew when he was angry.

In a secret place in the back of her memory, where nobody else could go, Jane had a picture of a dead dinosaur she’d seen in one of her schoolbooks. She remembered it now as she climbed.

Here it is as an Omeka exhibit:

So there you go!  Is it art or is it simply waffle? Does it actually matter, once we can use all the buzzwords to justify our creation? If we have the confidence to believe in our own work, will this justify what we do?

As I said, I know nothing about art, and I don’t think I’ll ever understand some of it. Sometimes it’s good just to throw around some questions and let them sit for a bit.

I’ll leave your with a quote by one of my favourite authors. See what you make of this:

“I make art. Sometimes I make true art, and sometimes it fills the empty places in my life. Some of them. Not all”

Neil Gaiman The Ocean at the End of the Lane


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Letters of 1916 revisited

As a continuation of this post, I want to share my experience of transcribing two letters for the Letters of 1916 project. I believe strongly in this project because handwritten letters and other items from the pre-digital world have taken a special place in my heart of late. For me, letters are records of thoughts and feelings from a distant and different world, and survive now as little pieces of history.

I was first introduced to this project when I attended a workshop entitled ‘Digital Skills for Research Postgraduates in the Humanities and Social Sciences’ (it wasn’t at all as scary as the title suggests).

The project invites members of the public  to upload any letters they may have in their possession which date from this period (ie, November 1915 – Oct 1916), and are urged to search attics, old filing cabinets, and long-forgotten boxes of keepsakes in an effort to add to the already impressive collection, (1600 letters to date). It’s an all-out treasure-hunt, and a wonderful opportunity for everybody to get involved in the first public humanities project to take place in Ireland.

envelope Ireland 1


The first letter I  was worked on was written by S W Griffin to James Smith on February 26th 1916, and concerned  a complaint made by Miss Mary O’ Leary regarding the appointment of Bridget Cremin as dressmaker and nurse at Killarney District Asylum. What really struck me when I read this letter was learning that an ‘Office of Inspectors of Lunatics’ actually existed and that one could be an inspector of lunatics by profession. How times have changed!

My second choice was a letter from Malachy J Kelly to the Administrative Area Officer, and this was a strange one because there was no address, nor any official stamp. Another puzzle was that although the letter was from Malachy Kelly, and bears his signature, the words ‘The Administrative Area Officer’ appear at the end of the letter, almost under the signature, which would seem to indicate that Kelly and the aforementioned officer were one and the same person. I have no idea how to deal with this, and although the site offers very helpful guidelines for transcribing and uploading letters, along with a styleguide for metadata, I found no mention of anything relating to issues such as this one.

The website itself takes a little getting used to. Personally I found it very slow to load – so much so that at times I wondered if I had actually hit the button at all. I suppose this is understandable, given that all the letters are images, and images always take more time to load. I had trouble at first in finding letters which hadn’t been worked on already, not realising that clicking on one of the category headings, (‘Love Letters’, ‘Official Documents’ etc), allows the user to see at a glance those letters which are editable. Of course, it would have saved time if I had read the instructions first…Oops!love-letter-cropped

I would also have like to have seen a really obvious ‘Save’ button at the end of the letter I was working on, instead of one which read ‘Edit transcripts’. Although it has the same function, it’s not obvious enough for the new user. Perhaps this is all down to how slowly each page loaded, but I felt that I spent far too much time overall having to think about what the next step might be. Perhaps the site might benefit from a clearer, more user-friendly interface?  In his bestselling ‘Don’t Make Me Think‘, Steve Krug tells us that when he looks at a webpage he expects it to be “…self-evident. Obvious. Self-explanatory”, and goes on to explain that he (or anyone else) “should be able to ‘get it’ – what it is and how to use it -without expending any effort thinking about it”. For such projects as this, where public participation is heavily relied upon, I think it’s very important to make usability a priority, and to ensure that the interface is as fool-proof as humanly possible.

Having said all this, I did have a great deal of fun with this project, and I found that the actual transcribing part, (the part I had been most wary of), turned out to be the best fun due to the cleverly designed Transcription Toolbar. Both of the letters I happened to find were typed, so I didn’t need to wrestle with deciphering handwriting, which no doubt would be far more difficult. I also found it was easier if I wrote out the letter myself before I started because this dispensed with the need to flick between screens. I will be returning to Letters of 1916 in the future to do some more transcribing, and I’m delighted to have been able to contribute in some small part to this great project.


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