“Although “the humanities so far has focused on literary texts, historical text records, and spatial data,” as stated by Lev Manovich in Cultural Analytics (Manovich, 2020, p.?10), the recent advancements in artificial intelligence are driving more attention to other media. For example, disciplines such as digital humanities now embrace more diverse types of corpora (Champion, 2016). Yet this shift of attention is also visible in museums, which recently took a step forward by establishing the field of experimental museology (Kenderdine et al., 2021).
This article illustrates the visualization of an extensive image collection through digital means. Following a growing interest in the digital mapping of images – proved by the various scientific articles published on the subject (Bludau et al., 2021; Crockett, 2019; Seguin, 2018), Ph.D. theses (Kräutli, 2016; Vane, 2019), software (American Museum of Natural History, 2020/2022; Diagne et al., 2018; Pietsch, 2018/2022), and presentations (Benedetti, 2022; Klinke, 2021) – this text describes an interdisciplinary experiment at the intersection of information design, experimental museology, and cultural analytics.
Surprise Machines is a data visualization that maps more than 200,000 digital images of the Harvard Art Museums (HAM) and a digital installation for museum visitors to understand the collection’s vastness. Part of a temporary exhibition organized by metaLAB (at) Harvard and entitled Curatorial A(i)gents, Surprise Machines is enriched by a choreographic interface that allows visitors to interact with the visualization through a camera capturing body gestures. The project is unique for its interdisciplinarity, looking at the prestigious collection of Harvard University through cutting-edge techniques of AI….”