Crossroads of Curiosity (Category: Creative / Artistic)

Name of Submitter(s): David Normal
Organisation: David Normal

Artist David Normal’s Crossroads of Curiosity is a suite of murals that extends the notion of a “cabinet of curiosity” outward from the rectilinear arrangement of objects in glass cases to encompass the world in a series of dramatic tableaux featuring provocative juxtapositions of vastly different times, places, and peoples.
Originally created for Burning Man 2014, Normal used Victorian Era book illustrations exclusively from the digitised collection of the British Library to create the artwork. Beginning as black and white collages, the four pieces were developed into 8’ x 20’ lightbox murals that were arrayed around the base of the Burning Man effigy to support the 2014 festival’s theme, “Caravansary”.
The murals were moved to London and installed in the Piazza of the British Library and exhibited from June - November of 2015.
URL for Entry:
Twitter: @davidnormal
Job Title: David Normal = Taquito Grande

Background of Submitter:

David Normal in front of "Ostrischizocracy" at the British Library, 2015. Photo by Duilio Marconi.
David Normal Summer 2015
David Normal is a San Francisco painter and animator. Born in 1970 San Francisco, he is the son of Paul Butterfield Blues Band keyboardist, Mark Naftalin. Normal began his career in the late '80s making Punk fliers around the Bay Area. Throughout the '90s he created a series of what he dubbed “interactive theater parties” and also created large scale sculpture for the Burning Man Festival. Normal has traveled extensively in South-East Asia to document rituals of trance and spirit possession, an archive of video documents known as “Loose Spirits”. He has produced two animated shorts, “The Bicycle Ride” and “Pyramid”, both expressions of his deep appreciation of the psychedelic experience. Since 2008 created a series of oil paintings based on his philosophy of “Crazyology”, and displayed them throughout the U.S. and in Europe as unique glowing prints known as, “Illuminations.” An ongoing side project involves drawing scenes of bondage from life in a series of life drawing sessions called “Shibari Sketch”, and multiple trips to Japan to work with masters of Japanese rope art. David Normal’s current work is the “Crossroads of Curiosity”, an epic suite of lightbox murals that was created for Burning Man in 2014 for the theme of Caravansary and is now on display at the British Library.

More of David Normal's work may be found at:

Problem / Challenge Space:

It was not a "research question". It was a purely artistic endeavor. However, the art required use of BL Labs' "Million Image Release", and I had to search extensively through that database to create the collages that are the basis for the murals.

Approach / Methodology:

I used my intuition to find the images. My intuition told me when to make this project, i.e.; I knew intuitively when 1,000,000+ images would be available online for me to work with and thus began working on the project just days before the flickr photostream was made public. Analytical techniques such as suggested above are fascinating but they are pick axes, while intuition is dynamite. Intuition moves the mountain, and then analysis helps you go through the rubble and mine the hidden ore. Unfortunately, I do not have any analytical tools with which to approach a disorganized, uncharted database such as the Million Image Release. I could only move through it slowly, one image at a time using my judgment to determine what was of interest to me. From a computer science point of view there is nothing there whatsoever - I am not a computer programmer, just a painter. However, let me underscore my point; intelligence (artificial or otherwise) is negligible without intuition.

Extent of showcasing BL Digital Content:

Crossroads of Curiosity used BL Labs digital collection, "Million Image Release", exclusively as the source for collage material.

Impact of Project:

The artwork was presented at the center of Burning Man and seen by the vast majority of festival goers in 2014 - around 70,000 people. It is seen by large numbers of people who visit the British Library during its current exhibition.

Issues / Challenges faced during project(s):

The only challenges were the things that happened unexpectedly. I mean, if you are prepared for something it is not too much of a challenge, right? For example, I did not expect that when I bought a printer from Epson that they would ship a broken printer, or that I would have to spend 6 weeks arguing with them before they finally agreed to replace it. I also did not expect that the exhibition would receive no press whatsoever. Those have both been very exasperating things to deal with in the course of the project.