Open structure exhibitions

Jan Nikolai Nelles

“An infrastructure for the reproduction of cultural objects and associated knowledge can only be an open structure, not owned by any institution or company.”

Jan Nikolai Nelles is a German artist who works closely with another artist we have been researching, Nora Al-Badri. The pair are infamous – especially with the Berlin museum – for 3D scanning the busk of Nefertiti in order to return the busk to Cairo where it is was removed from over 100 years ago.



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Jan Nikolai Nelles is a firm believer that cultural artefacts and items of heritage should be showcased on a public stage through an open structure, there can be no ownership of culture as this removes context from the items and authenticity. When questioned on the motives of scanning the bust of Nefertiti, and supposedly violating copy right laws, Nelles was quick to state “The Berlin museum monopolises the bust and thus continues an imperial practice, instead of allowing open access to Nefertiti, especially for Egyptians.” This is reiterated when an Egyptian would need to pay a €6 concession in order to view an artifact that was removed from Egypt in an act of ‘conservation.’ Since the bust of Nefertiti has been returned to Cairo and displayed publicly for the first time in history, in the form of the Nefertiti Hack bust, locals flocked to see the artifact and thousands have downloaded the digital copy. The cultural artifact, and the history it represents have been displayed for the first time in Egypt in a public forum where ownership has been given over to the people.

Through the Modern Gazatteer project we were offered the opportunity to make known buildings that had been lost to the regeneration efforts Birmingham is so famously known for. We had the ability to reverse, and freeze time in order to capture architectural artifacts that have been, or could be lost as a consequence of Birmingham’s ever shifting urban landscapes. The use of Scan the world ensured all work we produced would be in keeping with the ideals of Nelles, and readily available and accessible by all. The models we produced were however intended to be imperfect replications, in order to address and overcome issues of authenticity – we intentionally left blemishes in the scanned models, and could not replicate true details of models generated from archival records – thus making it apparent and known that the artifacts were duplicates of an original and opposing the notion expressed by Sam Jacobs when he discusses the indistinguishable features of the original and copy “The copy is fundamental to the production of the original, the original indistinguishable from the copy.” (Jacob, 2016)

The installation/ exhibition we hosted as an output of the modern gazetteer project was a further dialogue and open platform for the public. Ownership was not dictated, and everyone who experienced the replicas took temporal ownership while they questioned the artifact. Originally we had intended to take this idea and multiply the impact and access by hosting the installation in Fletchers walk, with circa 2000 artifacts displayed and a monthly footfall in the high hundred thousands – This would have been a true open structure for the display of architectural artefacts.


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