I feel we have an obligation to re-use. The best way to keep things from humanity’s pool of cultural artefacts and knowledge available is by re-using and remixing them.
Most of my work is in ensuring more material becomes available for everyone to use. Such as open government data to enable socio-economic impact, with my company, or to allow for more democratic control in my role as chairman of the Open State Foundation. Such as creative output, in the form of images, text and music, in my role as board member of Open Nederland, the member organisation of the Dutch Creative Commons Chapter.
There already is a plethora of material available under open licenses. And while my work is all about adding to that pile and encouraging others to make good use of that, I find that personally I could be more active to re-use the cornucopia of human cultural expression and knowledge that is out there. In this blog I often re-use Creative Commons licensed images from others, and started adding images to my weekly reviews with that specific intent. But I could be much more aware of the opportunities re-usable cultural artefacts allow.
Last May, Elmine’s birthday gift to me was a set of 5 A3 sized photo frames, to fill up the mostly empty white walls of my home office. For months I didn’t get to actually selecting images to put in those frames. Browsed through the 25k of images I have on Flickr myself but couldn’t choose. Then I started playing with some existing images in the public domain or released with an open license, developed some ideas, but still couldn’t choose. Elmine broke the deadlock last week when she suggested to treat them as temporary objects. It isn’t about choosing the perfect images for my walls, it’s about choosing a few good-enough ones that speak to me at this moment in time. Our A3 printer will patiently spit out new images if I so choose.
So yesterday I decided on 5 images. Today Elmine helped me prepare the images for printing, as she has all the right software tools for it, and I don’t. And now they’re on the wall, joining two images already there.
Here are the images and their background as open cultural artefacts.
The eastern wall presents three images. The leftmost one was already there, a photo of me drinking coffee in Lucca, Tuscany in the summer of 2015. A month of healing with the two of us in a year of personal losses. Elmine took this picture and she publishes most of her pictures with a Creative Commons license that allows non-commercial re-use. In general Flickr is a resource to find great images with an open license.
In the middle is the most famous footprint not on this earth. It’s the imprint of Buzz Aldrin’s boot on the moon surface, taken during Apollo 11 in July 1969. NASA has published and is publishing a wide range of images of all their missions, all freely re-usable. This includes the set of Apollo 11 images, with this footprint. I selected this because it shows how even the most amazing human endeavour ultimately is a sequence of single steps.
On the right is a remix of two images. The first image shows our city’s water-gate, Koppelpoort (1425) around 1640. The image is an illustration made by A. Rademaker for a book dated 1727-1733. The Amsterdam Rijksmuseum is putting tremendous effort in digitising all the artefacts in their collection at high resolution and making those images available for free re-use. They also organise design competitions to stimulate people to come up with novel forms of re-use of the art works in their collection. As an overlay I added the iconic primary colored planes of a Mondriaan painting. Piet Mondriaan was born in our city, where his childhood home is now a museum of his work. As Mondriaan died in 1944, his work entered the public domain in 2015 and is freely re-usable. The image thus combines the medieval and modern history of Amersfoort.
Those primary colors are continued in the images on the southern wall of my office, the one my desk is facing.
On the left is an adapted page of Lego’s US patent. Patents are public documents (you get commercial protection for your invention in exchange for publishing how it works and thus adding to the world’s pool of knowledge). Patent offices publish patents and Google makes them searchable. So you can search for your favourite invention, whether it’s a Lego brick, a moonlander, a pepper grinder or Apple’s original iPod interface, and take a page from the patent to hang on your wall. Elmine added primary colors to the bricks in the patent illustration on my request.
In the middle is the photo I took last week visiting the Groninger Museum, with both E and Y in front of a giant head in primary colors, in the Alessandro Mendini exhibit. The image is available under a Creative Commons license (for non-commercial and equally shared re-use).
The rightmost photo was already there, a beautiful gift from Cees Elzenga, a photographer and photo journalist, who was our neighbour in Enschede. It is a photo in the rain, at night, near Brandenburger Tor in Berlin, and it strongly evokes the gloom I encountered visiting the still divided city in the second half of the ’80s. This is the one image on the wall that is not openly licensed.
One image is still missing, as I loaned one of the photo frames Elmine gave me to Y temporarily, until her own pin-board arrives in a few days. She uses it for two photos her grandmother sent her, after visiting the Unseen photo exhibit in Amsterdam with her. When it returns I will use the final frame for another NASA image, that of an ‘earth rise’ on the moon, similar to what I use as a background image on my Mastodon (and Twitter) profile page.
As my friend Peter says, we have an obligation to explain. So others may follow in our footsteps of tinkering and creating.
I feel we also have an obligation to re-use. The best way to keep things from humanity’s pool of cultural artefacts and knowledge available is by re-using and remixing them. What gets used keeps meaning and value, will not be forgotten. My office walls now make a tiny contribution to that.