Promiscuous browser

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A promiscuous browser : curatorial proposal for a digital catalogue by AAM 00071.1

Zoumana Meïté, Martino Morandi


Context
-------

This README text accompanies the Promiscuous browser, the third iteration of the New fire ceremony,
an ongoing research about museum digital catalogs, and possible desirable alternatives to their 
current form. The research points at the historical issues in the current model that regard the 
policies of knowledge administration: the colonial heritage, the imperial intentions, the gendering 
models, the hierachical values... Starting from the observation of the online catalog of the Art 
and History Museum of Brussels, these issues were approached in relation to a set of questions:   

- How do organizational models inform the meaning of the data they structure?
- How to highlight the ideological principles on the basis of which the politics of data modelling 
are chosen?
- Why is it important for information systems to offer the possibility to negotiate its 
organisational models with other entities?
- What is the semantic link in place between the patterns of graphical representation and the models
for structuring data?
- Is it possible to sensibly question the ideologies inherent to models by producing strange and 
crooked graphical representations? And on what other form of thinking should these crooked graphics 
be based on?

The first step in dealing with these questions consisted of a speculative narrative that does not 
try to answer them, but to make them more sensitive. The story enacts and illustrates a dispute 
between two goddesses. The first is Carmentis, the Roman goddess associated with technological 
innovation, who lends her name to the digital catalog of the MRAH Museum. The second is portrayed 
in the collection object AAM 00071.1, Tzitzimime (or Xochiquetzal), the Aztec goddess that every 
52 years threatens the world with destruction, unless humans renew their knowledge during the New 
Fire Ceremony. The first approach to the catalog took the form of a graphical reintepretation of 
the collection, illustrating with collages a critical point of view of the ideological base of the
museum as a system. The current version of this research, continues with an attempt to detour the 
normal browser interaction with the Carmentis on-line catalog, not without some (desired) 
experimental troubles. 

Notice that this proposal is not meant to overhaul the story and the meaning of museum objects. 
What it tries to do instead is to open or sink some of the restrictions that stop the visitors from
imagining different relations to "the collection". It wishes for a critical stance towards the 
objectivity and neutrality that are implied by the structures that host the meaning and the story 
of the museum pieces.



Description
-----------

The Promiscuous Browser builds a cross-eyed relation between the narratives (of origin, 
authenticity, fathership, power demonstration...) embedded in the knowledge production model 
of the museum's database and catalog, and the informational structures of hypertext language 
and internet browsers. The browser is designed to give visitors an opportunity to sense 
the relations between the objects' specific stories and the categorical narratives they are 
set into. It enhances and explores the ambiguity of data structuring processes and questions 
the way versions and conflicts transpose the colonial history of the museum to digital 
infrastructures.

Insofar as direct access to the catalog's structure and database is not permitted, we take 
the webpages through which the catalog is experienced in the browser as a simulation 
of data structuring categories. In particular, we use the DOM (Document Object Model) 
elements that constitute a webpage, and their graphical characteristics ( borders, colors, 
margins, fonts, orientations,...). Thanks to a script that modifies the DOM elements and 
displays the page according to a set of rules, the promiscuous browser performs the amalgamation
of the metadata categories of the DOM with data-based categories of the catalog. 
Hence, it destabilizes the normalized relation between collected object (data), collecting 
subproducts (metadata) and the hosting structure of the database, disobeying one fundamental 
rule of the economy of computing: the separation of instructions and data.

In the promiscuous browser milieu each object potentially takes hold of the whole catalog structure,
according to its contents, performing the display of the web page, re-structuring knowledge 
and stories in a graphical sense. As another form of promiscuity and of disregard of normal 
security limitations of individual browsers, the promiscuous browser allows several visitors 
to find each other on the very same page, sharing mouse and keyboard,
opening up the knowledge process to a wild range of sensibilities. 



Data structuring models and narrative interoperability
------------------------------------------------------

        Dating ("AAM00071.1")                   Culture                                                   Dimensions
        
    AD      ^                                A    _ | _                                             Y |  
           /|\                                    _ | _                                               |                Z    
          _ | _                                   _ | _> Gulf coast >________                         |              /   
          _ | _                                   _ | _                     | _"AAM00039.257"         |            /   
          _ | _AD 900                             _ | _                     | _"AAM00071.1"           |          /
          _ | _                                   _ | _                                               |        / 
          _ | _AD 600                             _ | _                                               |      / 
          _ | _                                   _ | _                                               |    / 
          _ | _                                   _ | _                                               |  / 
          _ | _                                   _ | _                                               |/____________________
          _ | _                                   _ | _                                                                    X
          _ | _                                   _ | _                                             
          _ | _                              Z    _ | _                                                                                       
    BC     
                        
To distribute the stories from a catalog is not only matter of literary writing. 
You can find some 'human' readable descriptions sometimes... But the traces of 
the stories in the collection are scattered in the details-inputs of database 
tables, formulated, and formatted into labels and values. 
With few words in lists, inside tables, within pages...

We shall notice that those few words and their table-oriented displays refer to 
standard forms of labelling that we implicitly know. 
Date. Place. Owner. Name. Dimension... similar to an ID card...
Imagination is meant to work through this categorization towards the pages, 
within the tables, among the lists of words...

Different forms of ordering coexist in the catalog with their own rationality 
and contradictions... Some of them refer to object properties and others to 
the object at the level of collection and classification.

                                                                    Object properties
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
|   ( Dating, culture, place, object name, material and technique define              |               |                   |                        |
|   another way of organizing the collection apart from classification...)            |               |                   |                        |
|                                                                                     |               |                   |                        |
|                                                                                     |               |                   |                        |
| Dating /A-Z//0-9/  >                                 >                          >   |       >       |  >      >      >  |""""|""""|""""|""""|""""|
|                                                                                     |               |                   |    [   ]               |
| Culture /A-Z/      >                                 >                          >   |       >       |  >      >      >  |""""""""""""""""""""""""| 
|                                                                                     |               |                   |               ^        |
                                                                                      |               |   (Dimensions     |                        |
                                                                                      |               |   adds some extensive properties of the object
                                                                                      |               |                   |                        |
                                                                                      |               | Dimensions /0-9/  |""""|""""|""""|""""|""""| 
                                                                                      |               |                   |            x      y    | 
                                                                                      |               |                   |                        |
                                                                                      | Creator /A-Z/ |  >      >      >  |""""""""""""""""""""""""|
                                                                                      |               |                   |                        |
                    ____africa                                                        |               |                   |                        |
                   /                                       /_                         |               |                   |                        |
                  /                 _________             /_           ____                           |                   |                        |
                 /                 /                     /_           /____                                               |                        |
                /_______america __/                     /___mexico___/_____                                               |                        |
               /                  \__North america ____/             \____________________________________________________|__ El zapotal(Veracruz) | 
 Place /A-Z/__/                    \___                \ _            \______                                             |                        |
              \                     _______             \_                                                                |                        |
               \________asia ______/             _________________                                                        |                        |
                \                  \____________/                                                                         |                        |
                 \                  \           \_______________                                                          |                        |
                  \                  \_______________                                  ______                             |                        |
                                                                                      /                                   |                        |
                                                                     ____material____/                                    |                        |
                                                                    /                \____________________________________|___ terracotta          |
                                        Mat x Tech /A-Z/___________/                                                      |                        |
                                                                   \                   ________                           |                        |
                                                                    \____technique____/     ______________________________|___ molding             |
                                                                                      \____/                              |                        |
                                                                                       \   \__                            |                        |
                                                                                        \____                             |                        |



This type of display, seemingly data-based and scientifically constructed, 
comes with its own type of story telling.
This story telling makes sense for us and builds upon discrete measures 
and classification systems to tell us about the objects' stories.
An embedded narrative corresponding to the scale of values that the western 
imaginary has in its experience.
The storytelling/display proposes a rationality which is limited to 
'civilized/civic' affinities and the interoperability of standards.
Nevertheless it "makes sense" - it structures sense - despite of the 
arbitrary aspect of the relations which were socially and politically 
settled as rational.


                                                                       Object classification
                                                                                              
                           _________________|_____________             Collections                       _______________________________________
                             |       |      |      |    |                                               |                                       |
                         america   china    |    Egypt                                                  |           margin (Collection)         |
                         |                  |                                                           |   _________________________________   |
                         |        ( musical instruments )                                               |  |                                 |  |
                         |                  |                                                           |  |        border (Classification)  |  |
                         |          ________|________                  Classification                   |  |   ___________________________   |  |
                         |          |       |       |                                                   |  |  |                           |  |  |
                         |    archeology        Hornsbostel-Sachs                                       |  |  |     padding (Object Name) |  |  |
                         |                __________|__________                                         |  |  |   _____________________   |  |  |
                         |                |   |   |   |   |   |                                         |  |  |  |                     |  |  |  |
                         |                                                                              |  |  |  |  content (Inv. Nr.) |  |  |  |
                         |                                                                                
                   ______|___________________________________          Object names                     
                            |       |       |       |                                               
                          __|__   __|__   __|__   __|__                                             
                          |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |                                             
                        __|__     |   |   |   |   |   |                 
                        |   |
                        |                                                                  It appears important to notice that the graphical display 
                        |                                                                  of the online catalog has some affinity with the graphical 
                        |                                                                  representation of categorical methods and rules (array, table, 
                        |                                                                  list,direction, hierarchy,...). There are proximities/affinities 
                        |                                                                  between the rules of the browser Document Object Model (DOM) and 
                        |                                                                  the ones of museal data structures.
                        |   
                        |
                        |
            |           |                           
      "A"  "B"   "...Tzitzimime"  "..."  "C"   "D"  "..."  "E"               Titles                | | |  |  |title | |Inventory Nr. | |on display|  |  |  |  |
            |           |                                                                          | | |  |  |______| |              | |__________|  |  |  |  |
            |           |                                                                          | | |  |___________|              |_______________|  |  |  |
            |           |                                                                          | | |______________|              |__________________|  |  |
          "A1"    "AAM00071.1"    "A3"    "B1"   "B5"   "C6"   "D7"          Inventory Nrs         | |    ______      |              |  __________         |  |
                         *.        *.     .*                                                       | |   |owners|     |              | |Depository|        |  |
                            *.     *.   .*                                                         | |   |______|     |              | |__________|        |  |
                                *. *. .*                                                           | |________________|              |_____________________|  |
                   {...}         {MRAH}       {...}      {...}               Owners                |__________________|              |________________________|
                             .                                                                                    
                          .                                                                                       
      "A1"=0   "AAM00071.1"=1   "A3"=1   "B1"=0   "C5"=1   "6"=0  "7"=1          On display(=0/1)                      
                        .                                                                                            
                          .                                                                                              
      X["A1","B1",...]    MRAH["AAM00071.1","A3","B5",...]   Y["C6","D7",...]    Depository                           
                                                                                                                      


Conversion guidelines for crooked graphics
-------------------------------------------

The object-centered catalog expands and entangles the different sets of arbitrary connections at work 
in our browser, arbitrarily connecting two different forms of classification and data structure. 
A script added to the browser emphasizes the proximity of rulesets by processing the relations between 
the object's labels and DOM elements. In this way we would like to enable the visitor to sense the 
implications of categorical narratives for the knowlegde/story of the objects by modifying the graphical 
representation of the catalog according to the object's characteristics.

We share our own rationality-narrative to build sense from the relations that are promiscuous in the 
frameworks of the catalog display, promiscuous but not reciprocating... Not yet.

A piece of the museum takes hold of the catalog by ruling the DOM/css elements of the webpage 
according to its classical properties. 

The illustration shows possible ways to connect DOM and CSS variables with an object's properties 
and its position in the catalog's taxonomy.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
|    #_INVENTORY NUMBER : The object gives to the page background a specific color corresponding to its number, influencing the following collection objects
|     _____________________________________________________________________________________      
|    |     _______________________________________________________________________________  
|    |    |"_TITLE : If the object has one, this should be displayed instead of the page title. Otherwise the title will  display its inventory number.
|    |    |    _________________
|    |    |   |*_The picture    |  {_COLLECTION : All the items will be displayed 
|    | b  |   |replace the logo |    in such context during a timesetting relative to   
|    | o  |   |to confirm that  |    one holding item. 
|    | r  |   |the piece is     |  [_ OBJECT NAME : Representation of the godess Xochiquetzal or of a Tzitzimime 
| m  | d  |   |holding._________|  !_DATING : The duration of the script's effects is a sensible projection  
| a  | e  |                          of the role of the date in the evaluation of an object.
| r  | r  |                        @_PLACE : ...
| g  |    |                        &_MATERIAL : But there is more, the material property of the hosting
| i  |    |                        object processes some layout rules in their hierarchy relation,
| n  |    |                        according to the depth of the hosting object's material classification.
|    |    |                        
|    |                             
|    |                             %_DIMENSIONS : the measuring values are used to assign the layout rules...
|    |                              
|    |                             materials transformations for holders:
|    |                                 
|    |              animal = writing-mode [ 'horizontal-tb', 'vertical-rl', 'vertical-lr', 'sideways-rl', 'sideways-lr'] [ depth of lieu ]
|    |                     |
|    |                     |                      stone = [ height ] 
|    |                     |                      |
|    |                     V                      V
|    |                     +----------------------+<---stone = [ width ]
|    |                     |                      |
|    |                     T<--->E<--->X<--->T   === vegetal = letter-spacing [ width/100 ] em|
|    |                     |              +       |       
|    |                     E         +     \      |
|    |                     |     +          \     |
|    |                     X +               \    |          |          |
|    |                     |  \               \   |<-border->|<-margin->|~[ depth of lieu ] = unidentified 
|    |                     T   \               \  |                  
|    |                 +---------------------+  \ |          |          |
|    |                 |   |     \           |   \|  
|    |                 |   +------\----------|----* <----- metal = rotate [ diam || depth ] deg
|    |                 |           \         |+                           
|    |                 |            \     +  |              
|    |                 |             +       |              
|    |                 |                     |
|    |                 |                     |
|    |                 |                     |
|    |                 |                     |
|    |                 |                     |                                                        ^
|    |                 +---------------------+ < processed = translate [ width ]                      |
|    |                 V                                                                              |
|    |       processed = translate [ height ]                                                         |
|    |                                                                                                |
|                                                                                                     |
                                                                                        <-------------+ <-- earth = scale [ height/width ]


                                   materials tranformation by the following objects, in the form of css filters:
                                       
                    animal = sepia 
                    vegetal =  opacity
                    metal =  invert
                    earth = brightness
                    stone = hue-rotate
                    unidentified =  blur
                    processed = contrast
                                 
                                 on display= show all hidden elements


                 telling it in otherwise
                      The material
                     transformations
                          ...
...should..........................................labels (material, place)..........................the...........................................
..........amalgamate........................some...........roots................................of..........class.DOM/css.............................
......................the.............of...........................to....................boxes.......................inheritence./hierarchy..
............................depth......................................the...........................
|....Hence..............................................|...................concentric................................................
|.............This model: ..............................|
|    A                  UL Parent                       |
|    ................................................   |
| D |                                               | B |
|   |    E   UL Parent rules                        |   |
|   |    _______________________________________    |   |
|   | H |                                       | F |   |
|   |   |    a   LI child                       |   |   |
|   |   |                                       |   |   |
|   |   |    _______________________________    |   |   |
|   |   | d |                               | b |   |   |
|   |   |   |    e    LI sibling            |   |   |   |
|   |   |   |    inherit Parent rules       |   |   |   |
|   |   |   | h  1st element of list      f |   |   |   |
|   |   |   |  |                            |   |   |   |
|   |   |   |  | g                          |   |   |   |
|   |   |   |  |____________________________|   |   |   |
|   |   |   |                                   |   |   |
|   |   |   |                                   |   |   |
|   |   |   |_______________________________    |   |   |
|   |   |                                   |   |   |   |
|   |   | d      e    LI sibling            |   |   |   |
|   |   |        inherit Parent rules       |   |   |   |
|   |   |     h  2nd element of list      f |   |   |   ...become this :
                                            |
                                            |
                                            |
--------------------------------------------|--------------------------------------------                               
--------------------------------------------|------------------------------------+     
       Top Metal >                          |                                    |           
                   _________________________|______________                      |   
      -------------\---------\-------\----- --------------/------------+         | 
                    \        /\       \                /\/             |         |
      Node Alloy >   \/\    /         /\   \          /  \             |         |
                     /  \                            /    \            |         |
              -------\---\--------------------------/-----/--+         |         |
                      \   \                      /\/   /\/   |         | Parent  |
                           \  /\                /  \  /  \   |         |         |     Metal > Alloy > Copper Alloy > Brass
    subNode Cooper Alloy>   \/  \              /   / /   /   |         |         |     body  >  div  >     span     > a
                            /    \            /   / /   /    |         |         |
                           +------\----------/-----+   /     | +child  |         |
|        |        |        | end   \/\    /\/      |  /      |         |         |
|--left--|--left--|--left--|--     /  \  /  \      | /       |         |         |
| margin | border | padding|      /         /     /\/        |         |         |      depth of place , material
|        |        |        |      \        /     / |\ +grand |         |         |
                           |       \               |/ child  |         |         |    
                           |                       /         |         |         | 
                           |    +so on            /|                   |         |
                           +-----------------------+                   |         |
^                          ^             ^                                       
left         left inner edge             right inner edge                     right
outer                                                                         outer
edge                         grand child & sibling                            edge
                           ---------------
                             child
                           ---------------
                             parent
                           --------------- <-- bottom of the box



Workarounds for browser insecurity
----------------------------------

                                                                                               Security 
                                                                                             and authority
                                                                                           strictly regulate
                                                                                     the access to data structures
                                                                                such as catalogs and databases and to the
                                                                        online interfaces that expose those structures to visitors.
                                                
        These                                               #individual visitor    #179.36.154.1          #102.16.134.1          #183.16.208.1        
         limitations                                        |text = browser    |   A modification of      Il solo modo di aver   Il n'est possible de  
          were                                              |                  |   how those structures   un'esperienza diver-   changer l'expérience  
           an                                               |                  |   are experienced is     sa di queste struttu   de la structure que 
            inspiration                                     |                  |   only possible in       re é per mezzo di un   depuis son propre    
             to                                             |                  |   one's own individual   browser individuale,   navigateur           
              spin                                          |__________________|   browser,                                      individuel,          
                  around                                                                                                                               
                   the                                                                                                                                 
                   authority                                #172.18.169.1          #179.16.154.1          #172.16.224.1          #172.16.254.1            
                     issue,                                 A modification of      A modification of      A modification of      A modification of         
                       by                                   how those structures   how those structures   how those structures   how those structures  
                        interfacing                         are experienced is     are experienced is     are experienced is     are experienced is     
                          a                                 only possible in       only possible in       only possible in       only possible in       
                            browser                         one's own individual   one's own individual   one's own individual   one's own individual   
                               that                         browser,               browser,               browser,               browser,               
                                 would 
                                    allow 
                                       us                   #172.16.254.1          #172.10.254.1          #132.16.254.1          #172.16.185.1            
                                          to                   A modification of   A modification of      A modification of         A modification of      
                                            modify          how those structures   how those entities     how those structures     how those structures   
                                                one's         are experienced is   are sensed is          are experienced is       are experienced is     
                                                   encounter    only possible in   only visible in        only possible in          only possible in       
                                                        with           one's own   each own personal      one's own individual      one's own individual   
                                                            the       individual   browser,                browser,                browser,   
                                                               catalog,     brow
                                                                    and     -ser
                                                                         to        #172.16.214.1          #172.13.224.1          #172.16.254.1              
                                                                            share                         A modification of     |A modification of   |     
                                                                                  that                    ...                   |how those structures|   
                                                                                         browser with others promiscuously.     |are experienced is  |   
                                                                                            /                                   |only possible in    |   
                                                                                           /                                    |one's own individual|   
                                                                                          /                                     |browser, another tec|hnology
?                              ?                                                         /                                   who|se development is in|fluenced  
                                                                                        /                      #...             |      by the issue o|f 
                   ?                                                                   /              #172.10.254.1             |        security.   |
                                                              .....?                  /             .     .                     |____________________|
                                                                                     /
======================================                                              /
           HOUSED                    ||                                            /            ....#By accessing the url
                               IN    ||                                           /           .    .
01010101011100011110001111           |  and   |                                  /...............................................#one has access
01110011111000010101000011           ||            ....?         ....?          /              .                .
                  00111000           ||                                        /.....................#to the screen and mouse           
THIS EXPOSED      01111000     A     |                       |                /                                     .
COMMON BROWSER    IS 00110           |     accessing    |                    /...............................#...        .
                  HOSTED 0           ||                                     /                                          #172.13.224.1
IN A MINIATURE COMPUTER 10 0  1 00111000111110000111001010|via the internet(@ http://all-syste.ms:8080/ )
( A RASPBERRY PI)   111000           ||    ....?                            \....................#...          #...
00111000111111000110110011           ||                                      \                               .
                            PLASTIC  |           from                       | \...........#of that miniature computer,
                                     ||                                        \                         .
     TUPPERWARE                      |   different    |      places...??        \......................................................#172.16.254.1 
=====================================                                            \                              .
      ?                        ?                                                  \                               #effectively ending up 
                                                                                   \
                ?                                                                   \
                                                                                     \.... using  a...
                                                                                     
                                                                                                
                                                                                 #myIndividualBrowser______
                                                                                 |                         |
                                                                                 |    #AA0071.1Browser     |
                                                                                 |    |    #          |    |
                                                                                 |    |#me      #     |    |
                                                                                 |    |      #   #    |    |  
                                                                                 |    |  #            |    |
                                                                                 |    |      #    #   |    |
                                                                                 |    |-within-_______|    |
                                                                                 |                         |
                                                                                 |______________a-browser, potentially in company of others...#...#...#...#...