Serendipity is an integral part of the researcher's toolkit. Stumbling across hitherto unknown sources, making unexpected connections, and telling new stories with old objects is an experience that has been characterised as 'the allure of the archive.' Historians are now turning to digital technologies to help extend and enhance that experience. Generative art provides one avenue for new modes of archival exploration and expression.
This interactive artwork probes how serendipity provides opportunities to rethink biography in the digital age as a complex system of meshworks, lifegrids, and palimpsests. It takes a fresh look at the multifaceted world of nineteenth-century polymath William Colenso and his contemporaries using a randomised search algorithm and digitized objects harvested from DigitalNZ. The interface reassembles them into a suite of transparent overlays that both evokes the geology if not palaeontology of the archival research enterprise and affords opportunities to turn chance encounters into unexpected connections.
Modelled on Mitchell Whitelaw's Succession: digital fossils for an industrial age and built by Marsden technical lead, Rhys Owen, this digital artwork suggests new ways of understanding the complexities of the people, places, and things that constitute the Victorian republic of letters.
With the support of the Marsden Fund, Royal Society of New Zealand.