Yutzu connecting the art world

Arianne Vanrell Vellosillo, a conservator and restorer for The Museo Reina Sofia, turned to The University of Western Ontario-based Yutzu to solve her museum’s problem of communicating across hemispheres and languages.

Arianne Vanrell Vellosillo had a problem.

As a conservator and restorer for The Museo Reina Sofia, a major museum of contemporary art in the Hispanic world, she needed to collaborate with fellow restorers and curators across hemispheres and languages.

“We are building a huge contemporary conservation network with Iberoamerican countries (Latin America, Spain and Portugal),” she says from her offices in Madrid. “For us, it is very important to be in touch easily and that everyone be able to express their ideas in their own language.”

Without the proper tool for the job, the museum turned to Yutzu, and The University of Western Ontario, for a solution.

Developed in The CulturePlex, Western’s research lab on cultural complexity and digital humanities, Yutzu is an online tool for content sharing.

Its creators wanted to bring humanities and arts education into the 21st century. A spin-off of Cvltvre.com, another ongoing Western-based project tailored toward social media, Yutzu targets groups, not individuals, as its main users.

“We thought we needed to create something where social relations were not the basis of it, but relationships could happen through an object,” says Juan-Luis Suarez, Western professor of Hispanic studies and The CulturePlex director. “That’s why multimedia is at the centre of it.”

The project-oriented system allows the user to gather text, images, movies, music and links on a single topic. That warehouse of knowledge is then available for all colleagues to review. Features like live content editing and chat functions allow for real-time collaboration, as well as forums and commenting for off-hours work.

For The Museo Reina Sofia that means Yutzu provides it the multimedia versatility to add to its displays videos and interviews with the artist, documents explaining the creation process of the work, extra materials, etc. Also, it allows for the sharing of behind-the-scenes curator knowledge like how to install these oftentimes massively complex displays.

“For instance, they are displaying something at Reina Sofia, but then the installation is going to travel to Valencia or Munich or wherever, they can just share the Yutzu, show how they have done it and with the same information they can do the same in Europe or America. And that’s very useful to them,” Suarez says.

For Vanrell Vellosillo, it is all about cross-cultural collaboration.

“The most important issue in Iberoamerican countries, especially in Latin American countries, is to get direct access to new information,” she says. “The other issue is to connect with a whole group of people in our native language during the working process in a transparent way between the members of each working team.”

The museum has been using Yutzu since a friend and fellow restorer in Lima, Peru, who had been working with Suarez on a Baroque project, introduced Vanrell Vellosillo to the system.

Going forward, Vanrell Vellosillo believes Yutzu lets her team work smarter.

“Everybody can see at a glance what the principal issues were and propose new projects based on the experience of the group,” she says. “It also can be a good way to know if we are working in an effective way, if we are respecting the schedule of the project, and note if everyone is working at the same intensity or efficacy.”

As for the name, Suarez wanted to name the system ‘Yuzu’ after an east Asian citrus fruit. To him, the name said “fresh, dynamic and nice.” Unfortunately, that name was taken by a Quebec-based restaurant. So by adding a ‘T,’ Yutzu was named.

Live since February, the system boasts more than 600 users who have produced nearly 6,000 entries. Karthick Ramachandran, a PhD student in computer science, has served as lead engineer to Yutzu.

“Yutzu depends on how creative you are, how you want to use it and what problem you have,” Suarez says. “Start playing with it and you will be able to build whatever you want.”