Digital technologies for museums

The School of Applied Mathematics (EMAp) and the School of Social Sciences (CPDOC) from  Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV) will organize and host the First Panorama in Digital Technologies for Museums (I Panorama em Tecnologias Digitais para Museus) on November 27, 2018.

The objective of this Panorama is to present the demands of the museological sector, as well as reflections on previous experiences. Given the scenario of the recent disaster of the National Museum of UFRJ, it is necessary a reaction of all the actors involved in the theme: managers, researchers, educators and other sectors of society.

The event will discuss the strengthening of a knowledge network around the use of digital technologies in the museum context. Likewise, it is necessary to consider impacts related to the diffusion of the collections of these museums, understanding that the society’s engagement with the issue, as well as the development of a close relationship between population and museums, is one of the ways of preserving, collecting and maintaining investments in these institutions.

Representatives of diverse institutions will participate as speakers in this event. Among them, my Ph.D. co-advisor and coordinator of the Visgraf Laboratory, Luiz Velho.

Collection and Digital Libraries Guide

The “Collection and Digital Libraries Guide” (Guia de Bibliotecas Digitais e Acervos Online, Portuguese only), published by the State Government of São Paulo, Brazil, lists 76 collections and digital libraries with free contents, including images, for consulting and download on different topics. The indicated collections are maintained by important national and international institutions, constituting a wide repository of cultural collections that can contribute to the development of research and motivate the sharing of knowledge in various areas through the internet.


Crotos: a project on visual artworks powered by Wikidata and Wikimedia Commons

Crotos is a search and display engine for visual artworks based on Wikidata and using Wikimedia Commons files.

The Wikidata extraction contains more than 133 866 artworks (September 2018) including 66 271 with HD image. This extraction is regularly automatically updated from Wikidata on the basis of the nature of the items and corresponds to visual artworks such as paintings, photographs, prints, illuminated manuscripts and much more.

The interface

Searches can be made by free or indexed search through a user interface. Results are displayed by chronological order with thumbnails. Links on thumbnails open a viewer with the image hosted on Wikimedia Commons.

It is possible to filter the results by type (painting, sculpture, print…) or to specify a period as a criterion.

By default, without criteria, a random selection is displayed. Besides with the Cosmos interface, it is possible to discover the artworks by indexation (par type d’œuvre, creator, movement, genre, collection…).


For each resulting image, the interface displays the title, the creator(s)  and the collection or the location where the artwork is maintained. These information are on Wikidata, a free, collaborative, multilingual, secondary database, collecting structured data to provide support for Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, the other wikis of the Wikimedia movement, and to anyone in the world.

Additional descriptors are date or period, nature of work, material used, inventory number, movement, genre, depicts, main subject, and so on. A full list of descriptors is mentioned here.

Contribution mode

The project has a contribution mode, useful for identifying missing information with facets. Finally, source is on github and the database of Crotos can be downloaded. Both are under Free Licence.

A tragedy foretold: Brazil’s national museum hit by huge fire

On the evening of September 2, 2018, a massive fire broke out at the National Museum of Brazil at Quinta da Boa Vista, Rio de Janeiro, destroying almost all of the historical collection spanning over two hundred years, which included over twenty million items in its catalog. In addition to this rich collection, the building itself was the former residence of the Emperor of Brazil. It was extremely damaged, experiencing cracks, the collapse of its roof, and failures of the internal slabs.

Wikimedia Commons initiative is helping to recover part of the historical collection

One of the most immediate challenges is to recover and preserve images of the museum building and its collection, as our visual memory of these items is now our main asset. Anyone who has visited the museum and taken photographs of the buildings and its objects or someone who knows another person who has taken photographs can help: create an account at the Wikimedia Commons and upload the relevant photos.

Visit the Wikipedia page of the National Museum of Brazil project for more information.

Wikipedia page of the National Museum of Brazil project


A visual catalog of material culture of Amsterdam

“Urban histories can be told in a thousand ways. The archaeological research project of the North/South metro line lends the River Amstel a voice in the historical portrayal of Amsterdam. The Amstel was once the vital artery, the central axis, of the city. Along the banks of the Amstel, at its mouth in the IJ, a small trading port originated about 800 years ago. At Damrak and Rokin in the city center, archaeologists had a chance to physically access the riverbed, thanks to the excavations for the massive infrastructure project of the North/South metro line between 2003 and 2012”.

Bellow the surface website presents the scope and methods of this research project, detailing the data processing and of approximately 700,000 finds. The website provides access to the photographs of more than 19,000 finds. The access to the complete dataset hasn’t been released yet, but a disclaimer note informs it will be shortly available.

In the main user interface (the object overview page), thumbnails of all 18.978 objects are arranged by estimated time of creation (period varies from 2005 AC to 119.000 BC). Users can scroll vertically along time with a mouse. A panel of facets filters the objects according to time range, object function (communication & exchange, personal artifacts & clothing, etc.), material (metal, synthetics, etc.) and location (Damrak or Rokin metro stations). The time range facet has an interesting feature: it is also a visual variable that shows patterns of distribution at a glance. The other facets indicate the objects occurrence through absolute numbers. Facets don’t require a preceding search and enable refinement (selecting an option of a facet changes the options occurrence in the other facets.

The main user interface

Selecting a thumbnail of an object reveals detailed information about it (close viewing). A bigger photography t is shown followed by detailed information about the object properties.

Close view of a selected object
Scrolling the page down reveals detailed information about the object

This research was conducted by the Department of Archaeology, Monuments and Archaeology (MenA), City of Amsterdam, in cooperation with the Chief Technology Office (CTO), City of Amsterdam.

IMPA and IMS team up with focus on photographic heritage

The Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics (IMPA), one of the most important Brazilian research centers, and The Moreira Salles Institute (IMS), holder of one of the most relevant cultural collections of Brazil, signed a research agreement aiming IMS’s photographic heritage. Two institutes apparently of such a distinct nature, but which embraced the challenge of bridging research and development in Mathematics, Design and Culture. I hope this partnership illustrates how productive and valuable interdisciplinary and collaborative knowledge can be! I feel privileged to contribute as a designer and researcher on this project! Hands on!

The article that follows has been translated from IMPA’s website (original article in Pt)

IMPA and IMS team up with focus on photographic heritage

Rua do Ouvidor, em 1890. Foto de Marc Ferrez

Imagine strolling down a Rue de l’Ouvidor filled with perfumeries, shop windows with the latest fashion in Paris […] as registered by Marc Ferrez in 1890. Thanks to a partnership with IMPA, new forms of enjoyment of the invaluable photographic collection of Instituto Moreira Salles (IMS) will emerge, as, perhaps, immersive experiences in iconic spaces of the history of Rio de Janeiro.

Renowned in the areas in which they act, IMPA and IMS signed on Monday (25) a collaborative research term, a promising step that will show how productive and valuable the intersection between institutes that are dedicated to Mathematics and the Culture.

The collaboration will be led by Visgraf, the Vision and Computer Graphics Laboratory of IMPA – created in 1989, with ample expertise in the field and a series of national and international partnerships – and IMS Photography Coordination.

With 2 million images, the collection brings together one of the most important collections of the 19th century in Brazil, including that of the pioneer Marc Ferrez (1843-1923), the main photographer of the period. IMS also has relevant collections from almost the entire 20th century and saves no effort to incorporate records from the current century.

The IMPA general director, Marcelo Viana, praised the convergence between the two institutes. The Visgraf coordinator, Luiz Velho, considered the partnership a way to validate and transfer to the society the work developed at IMPA: “It’s a way of empowering the culture of Brazil. The IMS collection is invaluable and, frankly, we can do unprecedented things” he said, estimating that the collaborative agreement would be long-term.

The IMS executive director, Flávio Pinheiro, observed that faced with the massive collection of the institution, it is inexorable to think about the impact caused by the new technologies: “It’s a huge job and a path that we needed to break through. I think georeferencing photographies is a start, something important, but there are unsuspected things ahead, such as what artificial intelligence and machine learning can do with images.”

Platform allows immersive experience

Dedicated to computational mathematics applied to media, Visgraf conducts research and development in several fields, such as visualization and image processing, animation and multimedia and virtual and augmented reality, with projects that go through the elaboration of audiovisual narratives, reality systems virtual, data monitoring and visualization platforms, among others.

For those who still wonder the connection between Mathematics and photography, it is worth knowing that algorithms can be developed, for example, to extract information from images. Techniques can allow computers to recognize faces or objects in large-scale visual databases, such as IMS photographic collection.

“Essentially, you have a mathematical model that is an abstraction of representations of some sort, and everything revolves around that. The area where we work at Visgraf goes from very technical things, like super-resolution that takes an image and enlarges it beyond the limit the photo was captured by the equipment, to image analyses and understanding. A photo has metadata that can be referenced”, noted Velho.

Under the agreement, IMPA lent to IMS a unique device in Brazil, developed by Google, which combines several applications for viewing content. The Liquid Galaxy is a platform consisting of screens with an angle of about 180 degrees that allow a panoramic view of videos and photos, enabling interactive tours in an immersive 3D environment. It will be used in research and demonstrations, said Velho.

About the equipment, Sergio Burgi, coordinator of IMS photography, highlighted the enormous potential a platform has when it integrates several databases, such as photographs and cartographies, among others. “There are many possibilities that are not yet effective in the collections. It’s an absurdly new challenge in the field of information processing conciliating intellectual and technical metadata”, he emphasized.

Bruno Buccalon, Julia Giannella, Luiz Velho, Marcelo Viana, Flávio Pinheiro and Sergio Burgi

The management of the partnership will be accompanied by Visgraf’s assistant researcher, Julia Giannella, and the IMS’s technical assistant, Bruno Buccalon. With the outstanding IMS collection and IMPA resources, the collaboration will be long and productive, esteem Velho: “It will work very well and with scientific rigor. I think we are in a holistic moment of humanity, of integration of Exact and Social sciences. This type of partnership we are doing here is innovative. The sky is the limit”, concluded the coordinator of Visgraf, about the results of the agreement.

Experiments by Google explore how machines understand artworks

Google Arts & Culture initiative promotes experiments at the crossroads of art and technology created by artists and creative coders. I selected two experiments that apply Machine Learning methods to detect objects in photographs and artworks and generate machine-based tags. These tags are then used to enhance accessibility and exploration of cultural collections.

Tags and Life Tags

These two demo experiments explore how computers read and tag artworks through a Machine Learning approach.

Tags: without the intervention of humans, keywords were generated by an algorithm also used in Google Photos, which analyzed the artworks by looking at the images without any metadata.

The user interface shows a list of tags (keywords) followed by its number of occurrence in the artwork collection. Selecting the tag ‘man’ reveals artworks containing what an intelligent machine understands to be a man. Hovering an artwork reveals other tags detected on that specific representation.

The user interface shows a list of tags (keywords) followed by its number of occurrence in the artwork collection. Selecting the tag ‘man’ reveals artworks containing what an intelligent machine understands to be a man. Hovering an artwork reveals other tags detected on that specific representation.

Life Tags: organizes over 4 million images from the Life magazine archives into an interactive interface that looks like an encyclopedia. The terms of the “encyclopedia” were generated by an algorithm based on a deep neural network used in Google photo search that has been trained on millions of images and labels to recognize categories for labels and pictures.

Labels were clustered into categories using a nearest neighbor algorithm, which finds related labels based on image feature vectors. Each image has multiple labels linked to the elements that are recognized. The full-size image viewer shows dotted lines revealing the objects detected by the computer.

The overall interface of Life Tags looks like an encyclopedia
Kitchen is a categoria clustering labels using a nearest neighbor algorithm.
Selecting a specific photo expands it and reveals the labels recognized by the machine.

Artscope: a grid-based visualization for SFMOMA cultural collection

Existing projects in visualization-based interfaces (interfaces which enables navigation through visualization) for cultural collections usually focusses on making their content more accessible to specialists and the public.

Possibly one of the first attempts to explore new forms of knowledge discovery in cultural collections was SFMOMA ArtScope, developed by Stamen Design in 2007 (now decommissioned). The interface allows users to explore more than 6,000 artworks in a grid-based and zoomable visualization. Navigating the collection follows a visualization-based first paradigm which is mainly exploratory (although the interface enables navigation through keyword search, the visualization canvas is clearly protagonist). The artworks’ thumbnails are visually organized by when they were purchased by the museum. The user is able to pan the canvas by dragging it and the lens serves as a selection tool, which magnifies the selected work and reveals detailed information about the selected piece.

ArtScope is an attractive interface which offers the user an overview of the size and content of SFMOMA’s collection. However, the artworks in the canvas are only organized by time of acquisition, a not very informative feature for users (maybe just for the staff museum). Other dimensions (authorship, creation date, technique, subject, etc.) can’t either be filtered and visually organized in the structure of the canvas.

The video bellow illustrates the interface navigation: