case study

Case Study – Michelle Kasprzak

Last week, I posted the first case study as part of my research on how Proboscis’ design for eBooks is being used. For me, CCI was a great example of how the eBooks are appropriated and used as part of a cultural organisation’s activities. Although Trail of Imagination and Curiosity was only one example of the kind of projects CCI is engaged in, these kinds of  workshops represented a key aspect of the work that CCI did and it seemed that the eBooks were becoming a key tool in the CCI toolbox for collecting and disseminating information.

The next case I want to present is considerably different in that the eBooks were not designed and used by members of an organisation, but by an independent curator and author: Michelle Kasprzak.

Michelle is currently working out of Amsterdam as the Project Director at McLuhan in Europe 2011. You can read more about her in here personal blog Michelle Kasprzak Art+Life+Technology.

I spoke to her from London via Skype on the 29 July 2010. Two specific examples of how she used the eBooks as part of her work came up in our exchange:

Sample project: Conversations

Michelle had been following Proboscis’ work for nearly a decade – “a longtime fan of Proboscis and what it does”. It was through keeping in contact with them that she first heard about the eBooks. Having kept a personal blog since 2004 and created as a way to publish her view on contemporary art curating, Michelle was on the lookout for new ways of publishing content. Since relayed a significant amount of information about job opportunities or interesting events, she began to explore different options for publishing “something a little more “authored by me” as opposed to just passing on information.” One of the ways she devised was to publish interviews she had conducted with curators Karen Gaskill and Alissa Firth-Eagland as eBooks on Curating.Info under the title “Curating.Info Conversations”.
This was early days (2007-08) in the development of the eBooks when they were only available via the website. At this point, eBooks templates were less flexible so Michelle could only choose the title and print her name on the front cover of the eBook. In order to give it a bit more of a distinctive feel, she added coloured images and pull-quotes.

Unfortunately, this project proved to be considerably more challenging than Michelle had initially anticipated. She felt the eBooks were a simple and effective way of making these interviews “stand out” – making them available as a “downloadable series of books as opposed to just “Here’s another post in my blog””. However, the work of preparing and writing-up the interviews at the level of quality that she had initially set for herself proved too time-consuming and exacting (I can relate!). As is the case for many freelance cultural and creative workers, it was too difficult to maintain this kind of involved but unpaid project for an extended period of time.

Sample project: In-Site Toronto

A more recent project in which Michelle used the eBooks was In-Site Toronto. Michelle was invited to curate work to be presented on the portal pages of several wireless internet hotspots in the Wireless Toronto network. The artists invited to contribute to the project would have their work automatically displayed for people who logged in on the network at designated hotspots. The project was launched by the Arts organisation Year Zero One on March 31, 2010.

Michelle used the eBooks to produce what she referred to as e-Catalogues. Rather than creating a catalogue that would encompass all of the exhibition, she decided to create a series of downloadable eBook catalogues that would be available at each hotspot where the artworks appeared – something that made more sense for her in the context of this networked exhibition. This way, anyone interested in accessing more information about the artist or the artwork could do so.

Just as she had done with the Conversations, Michelle designed the eBooks herself. Although this time she had access to the new Bookleteer system, she chose to keep things relatively simple. She opted for a uniform style across all six eBooks: keeping the same font and colours, inserting the exhibition’s logo on the second page, using the classic landscape format.

The advantage of the eBook in this case was that the eBooks would not only make the texts readily available to anyone who viewed the works, but that these texts would still be available in the distinctive “catalogue” format. Michelle wanted to provide something for people who “still long for that sense of “bookness”. “You still want people to feel like this is a real catalogue, it’s not just a pdf […] it’s almost a collectible.”

Challenges, recommendations and suggestions

Michelle finds it interesting that people are using the eBooks as notebooks. She regularly checks the Bookleteer site to see what new uses people are finding for them. At times in the interview, Michelle seemed almost apologetic about the way she was using the eBooks in that she felt her use was “fairly straight forward”. To some extent, this may be tied to the challenge of not having the technical abilities that someone like a graphic designer might have for modifying the eBooks or having access to the resources for hiring someone with those skills. Nevertheless, I would argue that the way in which she has applied the eBook format as part of her curatorial work shows considerable imagination.

Just like Ruth and the work at CCI, it was still unclear for Michelle how the eBooks were being used once they were in the hands of people who accessed them. Michelle had formed a general idea of who reads her blog – aspiring curators or people who are interested in digital art, most of them from English speaking countries including the UK and the United States – but this information was mostly based on what she had been able to piece together from exchanges with readers who had contacted her. Although hundreds of people had downloaded the eBooks, they were like a kind of “message in a bottle” because she did not know who picked them up or what happened to them afterwards.

Stay tuned for more case studies and some early analysis of what I’ve been able to collect to date.