The curator as artisan

screenshotSam Roberts has created a project called GhostSigns. This is devoted to capturing fading painted signs. Like this one in the UK for cigarettes, now featuring a kinda, sorta, Cheshire cat.

Mr. Roberts has turned his love of vanishing commercial advertising into a blog here, a book here, tours here and an archive here.

It’s hard to know the economics of GhostSigns. Can Mr. Roberts sustain himself with these “revenue opportunities?”

But first I guess we have to ask whether Mr. Roberts is really an artisan at all.

I think he is. His images are unique, hand captured, vibrating with a pleasure and a significance that outstrips their original purpose and utility. GhostSigns are history in place, and all the more meaningful for the fact that the viewer sometimes comes upon them in place.

There’s no question that there is rich “value adding” labor here. And it isn’t industrial. We could argue that it’s in a sense “anti-industrial.” It’s a kind of re-enchanted capitalism, to use Weber’s term, and squarely in that aspect of the artisanal approach to things.

Mr. Roberts is engaged in acts of salvage and documentation and dissemination. The chief thing that differentiates his work from that of a more typical artisan is that the final object, and revenue opportunity, is not so much crafted as curated.

There is a larger question here: is all the work being done in the new curatorial arena, in music, graphic novels, movies, fan fic and popular culture, is it artisanal or not?

Maybe yes, maybe no. Reader, you decide.

The pressing issue is the economic one. Can you make a living from this sort of thing? Could we make this a useful part of a “gig economy” portfolio. Only Mr. Roberts knows.

Clearly, the GhostSigns project requires large cities with a nice deep history. Maybe someone could run some estimates here.  How big a population? How deep a history?

But it does seem to me that all of this could be treated as a preliminary for an Augmented Reality project that would work something like this.

  1. we are walking around town (our home town or some other).
  2. we get an alert from our favorite supplier of curatorial intelligence.
  3. we turn on the AR function of our glasses.
  4. hey presto, here is a GhostSign is imposed on the building in front of us.
  5. entire panoramas could be lifted from newsreels and documentaries and superimposed on the world in front of us.
  6. images are just for starters. naturally we will augment realities with tons of diverse historical, economic, geographic, demographic, biographical data.
  7. physicists tell me (Steve Crandall, I believe this means you) that there are good technical reasons why time-travel won’t ever be possible, but this would be pretty close and pretty great.
  8. Canadians make a joke about “being as Canadian as possible under the circumstances.” Imagine walking a London that is, thanks to an AR intervention, as Victorian as possible. Or a New York City from the 1930s.
  9. The person who gets a GhostSigns project up and running is well situated to craft an AR operation. And the AR era is coming at us like a 3D freight train.
  10. If we can call the curatorial actor an artisanal one, we could say that the person giving cities an AR “layer” is crafting realities. And that’s a new domain for the artisan.

Grant McCracken

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the comments. I am currently in the early development phase of a worldwide ghostsigns map that will operate on crowdsourcing methodologies. You may be interested to see the AR work that History Pin do e.g. ghostsign here. Also, Craig Winslow has been experimenting with taking his Light Capsules into an AR context. My collaboration with him here.

    Liked by 1 person

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