At the Harvard metaLAB, a design studio and creative research lab affiliated with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, projects come together as digital art installations in venues such as the Harvard Art Museums. Documentary media is one metaLAB métier, with works such as “Cold Storage,” a database-driven film about the Harvard Library’s depository, made by faculty director Jeffrey Schnapp and metaLAB principal Cristoforo Magliozzi. Other projects take shape as software, such as “Curarium,” a platform for exploring and visualizing art collections to search and discover patterns in visual culture, right in the Web browser.

Whatever the project, metaLAB infuses it with tinkering, inquiry, and whimsy. Tape and scissors combine with laser cutting in folded, hand-stitched books; JavaScript brings data to life in shipping containers, galleries, and library reading rooms. This hybridity reflects the group’s many connections across the University and beyond. It’s a hopeful mission for the future of the arts and humanities: interdisciplinary work as play.

 

1 Audience members look through books at the exhibition and release of an expanded edition of “Blueprint for Counter Education” at the Consumer Research Center/bookshop at the Carpenter Center.
2 Jeffrey Schnapp (left), founder/faculty director of metaLAB and faculty co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and Sarah Newman, artist in residence at metaLAB, look through books at the exhibition and release of “Blueprint for Counter Education.”
3 Before the panel, Jeffrey Schnapp (left) of metaLAB talks with Adam Michaels of Project Projects. The Consumer Research Center/bookshop at the Carpenter Center hosted this exhibition, roundtable discussion, and book presentation.
4 Sarah Newman (left) and Matthew Battles, associate director of metaLAB at Harvard and a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, work on “Your Story Has Touched My Heart,” a video installation exploring the Harvard Art Museums’ American Professional Photographers Collection, acquired by sociologist and pioneering photo historian Barbara Norfleet.
5 Matthew Battles and Sarah Newman are framed by photographs displayed in the reflective surface of the video screen used for “Your Story Has Touched My Heart.” The premiere screening and artist talk took place May 25 with guest art historian Kate Palmer Albers.
6 Sarah Newman (from left) and Matthew Battles work with technology fellow Ming Tu on “Your Story Has Touched My Heart.” The photo of the clown is a sample image used to test the screen. “The team’s projects infuse traditional modes of academic inquiry with an enterprising spirit of hacking, making, and creative research,” says Battles.
7 Cristoforo Magliozzi, metaLAB principal, works with conservators from the Harvard Art Museums to make an interactive video of a replica of László Moholy-Nagy’s seminal kinetic sculpture, “Light Prop for an Electric Stage” (1930).
8 Angela Chang, assistant director and conservator of objects and sculpture for the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at Harvard Art Museums, works with members of the metaLAB to examine annotated operating instructions for a replica of László Moholy-Nagy’s “Light Prop for an Electric Stage.”
9 Cristoforo Magliozzi (far left), metaLAB principal, and Alexandra van den Berg (center), museum installer/art handler, work with Angela Chang to make an interactive video of a replica of László Moholy-Nagy’s “Light Prop for an Electric Stage.”
10 Krystelle Denis (left), HGSD ’15, a researcher and designer, and Jessica Yurkofsky, principal and creative technologist, work on data visualizations inside the metaLAB office and studios. They are in the early stages of a metaLAB project called “Curricle,” which will offer novel ways to search and discover patterns in course registration, student interests, and the history of the liberal arts.
11 Designer Marshall Lambert works on a bookmaking project inside the metaLAB. “Designing with the people of metaLAB is something I consider quite rare and special,” she says. “In a certain light, we are this family of humble, curious, and creative misfits who get to come in every day and create, think, explore, and dream together. We’re all filled with various skills that complement each other well in the making and execution of projects. In that way, metaLAB is a wondrous place.”
12 Matthew Battles holds a book made by Marshall Lambert during a Wintersession studio-based design workshop, in which students responded to and remixed an extensive set of photographs from the Harvard Art Museums’ collection.
13 Sarah Newman (from left), Matthew Battles, Cristoforo Magliozzi, and Jessica Yurkofsky discuss their work inside the metaLAB office/studios. “With digital technology roiling education, publishing, and visual culture, the arts and humanities sometimes seem imperiled, even under assault. But Harvard’s metaLAB doesn’t see things that way,” says Battles.
14 Marshall Lambert and Krystelle Denis discuss their work inside the metaLAB office/studios.
15 Views of a Wintersession studio-based design workshop, in which students interacted with an extensive set of photographs from the Harvard Art Museums’ American Professional Photographers Collection.
16 Berkman Center Fellow Malavika Jayaram works during a studio-based design workshop at metaLAB.
17 Matthew Battles (from left), Marshall Lambert, Sarah Newman, and Cristoforo Magliozzi teach a Wintersession studio-based design workshop. “In its playful pursuit of interdisciplinary utopia, metaLAB can seem like an island of broken toys: peopled by architects who want to build software; artists interested in technology’s impact on meaning and memory; and designers who are curious about drones, data visualization, or the history of the book,” says Battles.