Innovative ideas for cultural and creative sectors in Europe

European Visual Atlas

Crowd Archive for Visual Art

My idea is to revive Warburg's Mnemosyne Atlas by creating a website-based visual archive, organized by categories, shared and built by everyone in EU who has access to the web. It's a democratic database built on digital sharing, a collective brainstorming giving space to EU contemporary visual culture and historic memory.


This project can convey a new conception of the image and of the visual arts, not focusing merely on art history, but involving images in their political and historical components, by working on the image tout court. Even though museums often organize exhibitions on the theme of the archive or on non-strictly-artistic images, it is still necessary to mark the idea that all images, are a vehicle for cultural and political or historical content, and that their study in terms of traditional art history is becoming more and more limiting, most of all for what concerns the role of images in contemporary culture. This project can help work of arts leave behind their role of auratic cultural products closed in museums and made to be contemplated, and can recontextualize them historically, and it can help non-artistic images ascend to the role of vehicles for political and cultural content. A visual archive responds to an archaic need deeply rooted in manhood, the need of archiving to preserve historical memory and cultural heritage. An archive built through the help of everyone in Europe promotes the cultural specificities and diversities at a national level, and stresses the importance of an existing European culture, which transcends national boundaries. An archive built in cooperation and collaboration also promotes direct participation and direct action of users and gives the possibility of expressing ideas and giving voice to ethnic and cultural minorities in Europe.


The Atlas website works as a database in which anyone can upload images of every kind, from paintings to press photos, cuttings from magazines, maps or graphic works. Every month a partner institution chooses a theme under which images must be collected (and can also participate by uploading content), or users propose a theme which is then put to vote through an online poll. A theme has to be an abstract concept that can be interpreted freely by users, and that has relevance in our contemporary culture. Every theme is a single web page. Every category remains open to users' submissions for a month, after which the category cannot be updated or modified, but remains on the website as an archive. Every page should act like a visual encyclopedia, collecting images around a central abstract idea and then developing it in different concrete realizations. The project uses ICT because: it is based on a web platform; it makes use of digitalization of cultural heritage techniques to make cultural content available, helping its diffusion and its sharing; it makes use of technology to promote a "social" way of archiving, through collaboration and participation. The originality of the project lays in its possibility of combining the technical aspect of the digitalized archive with cultural content: web sharing is the most accessible and direct form of freely expressing oneself and sharing one's country's traditions and cultural visual heritage.

Target Group

The people to which the idea is directed are a vast group composed by everyone who is interested in the visual arts, in history, in visual anthropology or cultural studies (whether they are interested in the artistic aspect of images or in a theoretical approach to the visual). These people can be professionals in the sector or the visual arts or in museology (art students, researchers, professors, curators, artists, photographers, archivers, but also politicians, journalists, because of the historical meaning of images), or common people who simply want to express themselves. In fact this project can involve many different people because of its universal character. The idea of the visual archive responds to different needs, beyond a general interest in the visual arts: it can satisfy a simple need of expressing and communicating ideas, or, by stressing the historical and cultural meaning of images, it can respond to the expressive needs of ethnic or cultural minorities. It also responds to the need of the individual to recognize himself, his habits and culture, in images submitted by people from other cultures and countries, or to get to know other cultures and traditions. People to which the project is directed could be reached mainly through a promotional web campaign of the activity of the archive, and through partnerships with universities, research centers, archives, museums.


A possible implementation is involving museums and centers of images archiving, which can take part in building the Atlas by supplying visual material. This involvement of museums may also result in an exhibition of the Atlas, in which every table, containing images uploaded by users from all over Europe, is exposed to the public. The archive may also become a subject of study for researchers, helping the development of theoretical studies on images. With the partnership of local institutions, pages and categories of the archive entirely dedicated to a single country from the EU could be created, in order to stress both the cultural diversity represented in this project and the historical and cultural value of images. The Atlas started as an European project, but its universal character may help its diffusion to other countries. The project could then be adapted, by keeping the idea of the "social" archive, to other multimedia sectors. In order to be created and to reach popularity, the project needs partners: the main partners could be research centers (IRI - Institut de recherche et d'innovation du Centre Pompidou; Fondazione ISEC - Istituto di storia contemporanea), universities and centers for academic research (Goldsmiths College - Visual anthropology and cultural studies; Kingston University - Visual and material culture research centre; CIPH - Collège international de philosophie), museums or art festivals (Centre Pompidou, Reina Sofia, Biennale di Venezia).


This is a non-profit and low-budget project (the only costs would be the ones coming from the creation of the website and its management, or from advertising and promotion), and there are no elements that could be monetized in the first phases of the project, so the Atlas is sustainable only with the help and contribution of sponsors and partners. Possible partners that could contribute financially could be the EU Commission (culture), UNESCO culture, Fondazione Cariplo (an italian philanthropic association), the museums who actively take part in building the archive, or other cultural or research centers or even archives, which could be more interested in giving money to finance a non-profit cultural project. Other financing sponsors could be companies which work in the sector of digital archiving and produce technologies which could be useful for the Atlas project: these companies would benefit from additional promotion offered by the website of the archive, and could offer their service to other archives who need new instruments. The archive could also obtain some profits from exhibitions on the Atlas and linked cultural activities.