How many times can a lab be inaugurated? (HUMlab I)

The new Umeå Arts Campus will be inaugurated this weekend – including HUMlab-X – and I will try to post a few entries on HUMlab this week. The Arts Campus is a very exciting development, and so much will happen over the next couple of years. In this sense we are indicating a starting point rather than a well-defined operation. Inaugurating got me thinking about previous inaugurations and the development of the lab.

HUMlab was made a formal university institution in January 2000. We inaugurated HUMlab Phase II in 2001 (see here for an old web site with a short description). This was partly also an indication of renewed funding from the Kempe Foundation for equipment and a large grant from Riksbankens Jubileumsfond to support research and development projects. We are also at a point at which we had partly inhabited the space, when there was more common (although not wide) knowledge about the lab, and when we were looking forward to a new phase of development. The University Chancellor Sigbrit Franke played the laser harp, Espen Aarseth and others gave lectures, and the whole thing worked out well i think. As always, these events come about as the result of many people putting all their energy and passion into making them happen!

As is often the case with these events, it was a good opportunity to think about what we do and what we would like to do. Hopes, dreams and plans. It was a good opportunity to engage people interested in the lab and just celebrate. It was also a good opportunity to get things done (finishing things, producing materials etc. before the actual event).

HUMlab as an idea and implementation developed, and in 2006 we were ready to expand both in terms of space, technology and researchers. This is when we started to think proper about a postdoctoral program and acquiring the space next to ours in order to create an example of powerful humanities cyberinfrastructure – in particular a screenscape and interaction technology to support working with rich historical and cultural materials, questions and processes. When we created the 3D model below, the right-hand side space existed, and we were conceptualizing the left-hand side (the site described above).

The new part of the lab did not quite work out this way, but not too far off, and the conceptual grounding was kept intact.We got funding from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation for the physical and technical expansion, and the Kempe Foundation supported an international postdoctoral program.

It took quite time to get new part built, of course, and I guess that is another lesson. Such processes take much longer than you think or want to think. Here a video from 2007:

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And installations involve operations you never thought you even be close to – here is a photo from the installation of the large high-resolution 4K screen. It took a long time to figure out how to bring it to the lab, and it involved dismantling of doors and various others things.

Fortunately, I mainly provided moral support, and Magnus Olofsson and others took care of the practical side of things. The screen is great, by the way, and seeing some of the work where it is being used now makes me happy.

As mentioned, the other, very important part of the new initiative was the international postdoctoral program. It has been a very successful program and very important to the development of the lab.

And of course there was a new inauguration. The new lab, the postdoctoral program, a number of new research projects and other things made this a very exciting event. Many dear friends were present, and the event was characterized – I think – by good and forward-looking sentiment. See here and here for university reports from then. I just uploaded the program here. Among speakers were David Theo Goldberg, Bruce Damer and Galen Brandt, Sven Strömqvist, Erica Robles, Cecilia Lindhé, Harold Short and others.

Again, we got a great deal work done. I will not specify the date of the above photo (with the tractor thing), but it was fairly close to the event. Let’s leave it at that.

It was a great show, and we had about everyone there. The county governor performed the actual inauguration. The vice chancellor attended the whole day and we had many national and international guests. We showcased projects, researchers, work, development projects and other things.

Stories like this one tend to focus on the good parts (as well on “stuff” – will get back to other layers in the following entries), I guess – not deliberately biased I think, but rather that the hard work and all the problems are not the emphasis at such events. Over the years, I think I have learnt to bring in more of that too. In any case, there were some very tangible problems with the actual inauguration procedure. We had asked the county governor to unmask a picture through painting/touching the large 4K screen. Much of the day is available on YouTube (thanks to Stephanie Hendrick), and I actually use the clips below sometimes when talking about what can go wrong when doing presentations and how you can manage or not manage. Everything worked out really well in this case (in fact, better than if everything had gone smoothly – the drama added to the whole thing).

First a video from the day before the event (shows the new part of HUMlab well):

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And here two clips from the actual inauguration procedure (when things went wrong):

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Great fun! These events are manifestations and combine looking back and looking forward. My own presentation was called “HUMlab: Past, Present, Future”.

Now there will be a new inauguration, although it is for the whole Umeå Arts Campus, and even though it is a large operation, it is not quite as massive (for HUMlab) as some of our previous efforts. In all likelihood this will not be the final inauguration of HUMlab. I will continue the story in my next entry.

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