“What should we record now? Everything, but in the right way! How should we storeit? Safely and with metadata tags. How should we access it? Freely and at high-resolution.”

‘A World of Fragile Parts’ | Venice Architecture Biennale 2016


The treasures contained in Factum Arte Warehouse (Image from The New Yorker)

As Part of this Year’s Modern Gazetteer we were asked to consider what it could mean to be able to transfer original physical form into a digital state through 3D scanning, and what possibilities could be facilitated by the generation of this Digital information. The ability to disseminate this information, and to preserve the scanned data as an historical archive, of works at risk of being lost forever, is a tantalizing prospect.

If we hope to preserve digital information in this way, then surely of paramount importance is the method of its capture. For such information to hold intellectual weight, it demands a robust methodology which seeks to avoid editing out information which may initially be perceived as extraneous by ‘The Collector’. Even the recreation of lost artifacts requires a period of thorough research and understanding, to faithfully capture the essence of the re-creation. It is an unavoidable fact, however, that all digital information is, at its heart, an interpretation. Its authenticity could be said to relate to a specific point in time – both spatially and temporally, and it is this which eventually distinguishes the copy from the original.

In an article for The New Yorker, Daniel Zalewski spoke with Adam Lowe, of Factum Arte, about their recreation of the Tomb of Tutankhamun. The title of Zalewskis’ article ‘The Factory of Fakes’, seems to play on the negative cogitations associated with reproduction, and the oft citied notion that the recreation of historic works in akin to an act of ‘forgery’. Indeed one is minded of Sam Jacob’s text which was included as part of our initial reading – The forger is a shadow figure of modernity, one whose work attempts to pass among the authentic and the provenanced’ (Jacob, 2016)

The notion of reproduction as deception or trickery, designed to confuse seems in stark contrast to the original intention to the Casting Courts which rose to prominence during the 19th Century – as a way of spreading an aesthetic appreciation. The casts were obviously separate from the originals, yet possessed a power of their own.

The capture techniques pioneered by Lowe, and made available to the wider profession (indeed Lowes Plan is for every museum to begin a digital catalogue of their Displays), is so comprehensive, the replica so convincing, that Lowe , when discussing reproduction, shuns that label, preferring instead ‘to call them “rematerialized” walls’(Lowe in Zalewski, n.d.). This attitude perhaps suggests an air of intellectual authority – that the reproduction is now produced with such fidelity, that is to be viewed as authentic as the original. Indeed, in recreating the Tomb, the team at Factum Arte found that previous repairs to had resulted in the distortion of the pigmentation of the existing paintwork – a situation which his team ‘rectified’ in their reconstruction. Interestingly this is not the first time such a reconstruction has taken place. Hand replicated tombs have been attempted before  – but Lowes view is that these ‘record only the details that the copyists notice, [and therefore] have no scholarly value.’  (Lowe in Zalewski, n.d.)

One could, however, assume the opposite point of view. For example, the repairs ‘corrected’ within the reproduced tomb, are in fact a product of attitudes to history at the time they were carried out, and are arguably as much a part of the overall historical narrative embodied in the artifact, and should have therefore been reproduced with as much vigor as the rest. In carrying out a process of ‘editing out’ one could suggest that the criticisms levied against the former hand painted replicas are just as appropriate.


Multiple Copies in various Materials (A Fragile World Exhibition)

The ‘A World of Fragile Parts’ exhibition sought to raise awareness of the emerging ability of digital scanning and fabrication techniques, to both create accurate digital representations of Historical artefacts, but also to create physical replicas- driven in part by the loss of cultural heritage occurring, through destruction in the Middle East. The Arguments which emerged polarized between those that feared the preservation of ruins ran the risk of fetishizing destruction, or to reproduce the original fabricating a lie of omission, replacing what has been lost as if nothing has happened.

The Themes of reproduction, authenticity, authorship and preservation are complex, and our work towards the Expanded City have only served to raise more questions. Lowe seems to dream of future in which high quality, digital information is freely shared by all. The reality is that such information is inherently temporal in nature, a snapshot of values and ideas of the time it was deposited.


Matt M

%d bloggers like this: