The Girl With The Pearl Selfie Stick – Ojas + Alex

Google Art as Software Remediation

When art is remediated digitally in computer software, the medium opens up editing affordances, blurring the line between type and token. That is to say the painting, itself a token, is typified when it is represented digitally. The digital painting is neither the same as, nor different from the original. In the case of the Vermeer work above, though Girl with a Pearl Earring is a token, it functions as a type for the token of the second image. The second image, in addition to the humor, blends the medium of painting with photography. Though the painting becomes one of the subject taking a mirror selfie, the image, in retaining the visual qualities of a painting, draws a relationship between photography and painting. In this way, it is a token for the types of artistic representation being engaged; however, it also adds new sign processing potential to the original painting. And this is one of the key transformations of artistic representation in Google Art and Culture. The pieces in the museum, when represented digitally, in being remediated and re-represented go through a process of re-typification and potential for re-tokenization.

Parallel Architecture

The three images above represent three layers of abstraction, all of which are in a greater network of sign systems. The sign systems work concurrently in a parallel architecture in which all three layers are engaged simultaneously in the sign processes of any one of images individually. This is because the layers of abstraction and representation are in an evolutionary ecosystem of sign systems. Any changes or re-representations of previous works affect the other representations. So in the case of Venus of Urbino, it is re-instantiated as a symbol in Tribuna of the Uffizi, and again in an extra meta layer of abstraction in Google Art and Culture, engaging and transforming the original.

Meta-Information & The Dialogic Process

We were interested in exploring the notion of the museum as an inherently dialogic institution. Malraux seems to place a primacy on the intertextual and inter-cultural dialog occurring when you juxtapose works of art in the context of a museum. By housing these pieces of art in the same physical and conceptual construct, we necessarily situate them in a historical, yet living, lineage. We are asked to compare, contrast, critique and engage with this lineage as we experience the museum. But meaning doesn’t arise in a vacuum. We need access to the meta-information of each work of art to effectively dialog. This is why tagging is such a crucial component in the digital mediation of Malraux’s “museum without walls”. It provides us with access to the stylistic, temporal, historical and otherwise contextual information surrounding each work of art. The potential for dialogic exploration is thereby enhanced, allowing the viewer to engage with the artistic web of meaning and analyse the art beyond a superficial level.


Google Art in relation to Malreaux’s “museum without walls”

As an interface, the Google Art Project is not only following in Malraux’s footsteps, it is expanding the size of the imprint. The constraints of the art history textbook and its photographic representation of the artistic work are loosened by digital mediation. Malraux conceives of the museum as a conceptual information system for the classification and organization of artefacts, and through its ability to delve deeper into various classifications, the Google Art Project provides us with not only more specificity, but also a more personalized and individualized framework of curation. It is important to remember that with the Google Art Project, we are still operating within the “museum” construct that provides a framework within which we engage with the artwork. We can expand the realm of what constitutes “art”, but we are still confronted by many of the same problems Malraux encountered, such as the reconceptualization into generalized abstractions and the alteration of historical contexts. A museum without walls is still a museum.


  1. Irvine, Martin. 2016. “From Samuel Morse to the Google Art Project: Metamedia, and Art Interfaces.”
  2. Irvine, Martin. 2016. “André Malraux, La Musée Imaginaire (The Museum Idea) and Interfaces to Art.”
  3. National Gallery of Art, background on Samuel Morse’s painting, The Gallery of the Louvre.
  4. Irvine, Martin. 2016. “The Museum and Artworks as Interfaces: Metamedia Interfaces from Velázquez to the Google Art Project
  5. Proctor, Nancy. 2011. “The Google Art Project.” Curator: The Museum Journal, March 2.