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Wednesday 21 November 2012

Keynote 3 by @_sarahbarns #ndf2012

Past forward: speculative adventures in the city's archive
Sarah Barns @_sarahbarns
Dr Sarah Barns is a researcher, strategist and digital producer whose work sits at the intersection of cultural heritage, digital media and urban history. Her interest take collections out of the building, capture unguarded moments, and create real time city- and data-scapes from intangible heritage.
Recent projects include the ABC Mapping Emergencies trial (2012), which delivered a crowd-sourced platform for journalists, emergency service agencies and social media users to share information on natural disasters across Australia, Unguarded Moments for Art & About Sydney (2011); About NSW Suburb Labs for the Powerhouse Museum (2011); and ABC Sydney Sidetracks (2008), a cross-platform project exploring the history of Sydney using documentary archives from the ABC, the National Film and Sound Archive and beyond.
She has a PhD in Public History and a background working as a strategist and research adviser for many cultural and media sector organisations. These include the ABC, the Australia Council for the Arts and the Creative Industries Innovation Centre. Projects, sound resources and writing by Sarah can be found on her blog at

[ETA: Sarah's slides and notes.]

Last year comment made that "The 20th century has released us into history through technology". Big data is a big concern - digital deluge. She's interested less in dealing with it than in experiencing it. Previously had a sense of distance, peering through a window; now we can interact with it as a resource. A direct experience. Shows overlay of historic video over Streetview; video of Bert and Ernie peering through the camera and saying hi to us. We can interact with our past.

Interested not necessarily in most technically advanced way to do things but in where platforms are going. Various projects she's been working on in last 9 years, in interaction between archives (film, tv, sound, image), digital (relationship between information and space - eg geoweb, locative media), place (important to who we are as people), public space (site-specific installations).

"Making the invisible visible" installations from Helsinki - eg visualising pollution.

2003 looking at phones with GPS technology, location-aware, and wondering what might be done with this futuristic tech. Heard people talking at conferences about would be able to watch tv at bus station - was horrified at idea of replicating the past with old media monopolising new tech. Eg news companies when radio was introduced, opera when phone was introduced. So thinking how to engage location-aware phones with world around us? Idea of public authoring of the city. Someone did pilot of people contributing stories re places; another did pilot of navigating space and stories attached. But clunky tech meant you'd have to walk around looking at device, not interacting with the space itself. Also privileged the digital story over the physical reality.

Wanted the street to speak for itself so idea of using phone to act as homing device to history of place. Already had film and sound archive so could use these? Found people creating "sound walks"; artists and acoustic ecologists. 2007 worked with National Film and Sound Archive to reimagine archive as archaeologies of recorded action. Collection didn't include ambient recordings - hard to find. Protest footage from the 1970s (opposition to development) cf gentrified area in the present. (more on her website)

Found only could use ABC archives if employed by them, not as member of public. Created "Sydney Sidetracks". Moved away from pure interest in sound as website needs more visual stuff too. Mobile interface but very clunky and no-one used it. (She didn't even use it herself.) But well-received in terms of encouraging archives to rethink how to present collections. [Sound recording of Martin Place 1945 (first in situ sound recording in Australia) cf image of Martin Place 2008.]

Started to look around spaces for surfaces - can we interact with a space including sound but using projections? Project photos onto built spaces. Project for "Art and About Sydney" who think of city as collaborative canvas. "Unguarded Moments" asked people for photos from their life in Millers Point and got queues with photo albums. Site-specific projections of photos around the area, used windows showing (slow) video.

"Last Drinks" incorporates sound archives, images about the Australia Hotel (now site has MLC Centre), lots of culture documented about these times/places. Asked people for stories - work, marriages, photos. Scanned old Australia Hotel Journals. Not just website expecting people to visit, but plinths and other on-location things. Created a mobile site - pared down version of site.

No metrics on usage as all in public domain so hard to measure where people got to it. Naively thought could access eg ABC archives as a researcher because publically funded but no, doesn't work like that... Could only do it with partnerships/relationships.