What does a cultural Big Bang look like? For Amit Sood, director of Google’s Cultural Institute and Art Project, it’s an online platform where anyone can explore the world’s greatest collections of art and artifacts in vivid, lifelike detail. Join Sood and Google artist in residence Cyril Diagne in a mind-bending demo of experiments from the Cultural Institute and glimpse the exciting future of accessibility to arts and culture.
The world is filled with incredible objects and rich cultural heritage. And when we get access to them, we are blown away, we fall in love. But most of the time, the world’s population is living without real access to arts and culture. What might the connections be when we start exploring our heritage, the beautiful locations and the art in this world?
Before we get started in this presentation, I just want to take care of a few housekeeping points. First, I am no expert in art or culture. I fell into this by mistake, but I’m loving it. Secondly, all of what I’m going to show you belongs to the amazing museums, archives and foundations that we partner with. None of this belongs to Google. And finally, what you see behind me is available right now on your mobile phones, on your laptops.
This is our current platform, where you can explore thousands of museums and objects at your fingertips, in extremely high-definition detail. The diversity of the content is what’s amazing. If we just had European paintings, if we just had modern art, I think it gets a bit boring. For example, this month, we launched the “Black History” channel with 82 curated exhibitions, which talk about arts and culture in that community. We also have some amazing objects from Japan, centered around craftsmanship, called “Made in Japan.” And one of my favorite exhibitions, which actually is the idea of my talk, is — I didn’t expect to become a fan of Japanese dolls. But I am, thanks to this exhibition, that has really taught me about the craftsmanship behind the soul of a Japanese doll. Trust me, it’s very exciting. Take my word for it.
So, moving on swiftly. One quick thing I wanted to showcase in this platform, which you can share with your kids and your friends right now, is you can travel to all these amazing institutions virtually, as well. One of our recent ideas was with The Guggenheim Museum in New York, where you can get a taste of what it might feel like to actually be there. You can go to the ground floor and obviously, most of you, I assume, have been there. And you can see the architectural masterpiece that it is. But imagine this accessibility for a kid in Bombay who’s studying architecture, who hasn’t had a chance to go to The Guggenheim as yet. You can obviously look at objects in the Guggenheim Museum, you can obviously get into them and so on and so forth. There’s a lot of information here.
But this is not the purpose of my talk today. This exists right now. What we now have are the building blocks to a very exciting future, when it comes to arts and culture and accessibility to arts and culture. So I am joined today onstage by my good friend and artist in residence at our office in Paris, Cyril Diagne, who is the professor of interactive design at ECAL University in Lausanne, Switzerland. What Cyril and our team of engineers have been doing is trying to find these connections and visualize a few of these.
So I’m going to go quite quick now. This object you see behind me — oh, just clarification: Always, seeing the real thing is better. In case people think I’m trying to replicate the real thing. So, moving on. This object you see behind me is the Venus of Berekhat Ram. It’s one of the oldest objects in the world, found in the Golan Heights around 233,000 years ago, and currently residing at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. It is also one of the oldest objects on our platform.
So let’s zoom. We start from this one object. What if we zoomed out and actually tried to experience our own cultural big bang? What might that look like? This is what we deal with on a daily basis at the Cultural Institute — over six million cultural artifacts curated and given to us by institutions, to actually make these connections. You can travel through time, you can understand more about our society through these. You can look at it from the perspective of our planet, and try to see how it might look without borders, if we just organized art and culture. We can also then plot it by time, which obviously, for the data geek in me, is very fascinating. You can spend hours looking at every decade and the contributions in that decade and in those years for art, history and cultures. We would love to spend hours showing you each and every decade, but we don’t have the time right now. So you can go on your phone and actually do it yourself.