Last December, the British Library decided to release 1 million uncurated, unordered images “into the wild”.
It was designed as an experiment to see how open access can spark research and creativity. All the varied images were taken from the library’s digitised books and uploaded on to Flickr, allowing anyone to re-use, remix and repurpose them however they wanted.
They have received more than 180 million views to date and attracted academic interest in a PhD. But they have also been used to create albums of historical men with beards, new Manga versions of scenes from 19th-century books and a “metadata game” from Dartmouth College where players are scored on tagging pictures of ships from the archive.
Even more surprising was the decision of artist David Normal to draw on the material put up on Flickr Commons to create four artworks for the legendary Burning Man festival, “dedicated to radical self-reliance, radical self-expression and art”, which takes place every summer in Nevada.
For this year’s event, which was due to start on 25 August but has been delayed by unexpected heavy rain, Normal has drawn on illustrations from 19th-century books to make his own “Crossroads of Curiosity”, a suite of four vast lightboxes.
They were set to be prominently installed in the “Caravansary” at the very heart of the festival, surrounding the effigy of the Burning Man itself.