Online discussions: The Art Newspaper and Factum Foundation

In collaboration with The Art Newspaper and Il Giornale dell'Arte

Three 80-minute online discussions brought together contributors to Factum Foundation’s book ‘The Aura in The Age of Digital Materiality. Rethinking Preservation in the Shadow of an Uncertain Future’, with other experts from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds. Held during the COVID-19 pandemic, the discussions considered the increasing prominence of high-resolution recordings of cultural heritage and their place in the display spaces of the present and the future.

The crowd at the Louvre in 2006, with Veronese’s Wedding at Cana on the far back © Factum Foundation

We have all become profoundly more digital over the last weeks. We are ready to live a digitally changed life, and digital change is rushing into the heritage and museum world too. This is not a matter of some slightly cleverer didactic material or off-site experiences, but the material itself of the works of art and monuments, their presence or absence, their uniqueness, their very survival.
Anna Somers Cocks, Founder editor, The Art Newspaper
Read the full article

Before Covid-19, 15 million people visited the Forbidden City every year; every day tourists packed into the Sistine Chapel, and crowds jostled in front of the Mona Lisa. What will happen now to museums and heritage sites? Will we see changes over the coming months and years to the ways in which we share, enjoy and learn from the material evidence of the past? What role will technology play in allowing access to collections and keeping attention focused on vulnerable heritage from across the world?

At a time when we were all being forced to think hard about what we value, how, and why, Factum Foundation and The Art Newspaper launched a series of discussions on the role of digital technologies in the preservation of cultural heritage. The discussions focused on the potential of new technology to influence the nature of access, ownership and understanding while addressing fundamental questions about originality and authenticity, relics and replicas, context and movement. In the shadow of the Covid-19 crisis, new technologies have the potential to transform the way we preserve, document, monitor, study, re-create, disseminate, share and display the world’s cultural heritage.

You can read the article on the panel highlights, written by Anna Somers Cocks, here.

Museums must not be Renaissance palaces with the common folk tilling the fields outside.
Bonnie Greer, playwright, author and critic, former Trustee of the British Museum

Discussion 1 – 1 May 2020 – Watch on Youtube
Rethinking the role and value of culture in the shadow of an uncertain future

The role of the museum as a repository of physical objects that give access to collective memory is changing. New digital recording technologies that, among other things, allow exact facsimiles to be made, are providing access to a global audience, while new display technologies are inviting us to look at the nature of the object with new eyes. This panel discusses the purpose of a museum, its role, what should it show, how and to whom. It will look at the way technology is making a ‘museum without walls’ possible and realigning the relationship between the original and the authentic. Is the “aura” of originality now an obsession that is constraining what can be displayed, how it can be seen and how it can be effectively preserved?

Chair: Sir Charles Saumarez Smith, CBE, former Secretary and Chief Executive, Royal Academy of Arts

Sir Mark Jones, Former Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Former Chairman of the National Museum Directors’ Council
András Szántó, Author and Cultural Strategy Advisor, Founder of Andras Szanto LLC
Mari Lending, Professor in Architectural Theory and History at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design
Marina Warner, DBE, Writer of fiction, criticism, and history, Professor of English and Creative Writing, Birkbeck College, London; President of the Royal Society of Literature
Neil MacGregor, Former Director, The British Museum; Founding Director, Humboldt Forum Berlin (2015-2018)

Discussion 2 – 2 May 2020 – Watch on Youtube
Creating a cultural economy based on sharing skills, technologies and knowledge

For museums and other cultural heritage institutions, digital technologies open up unprecedented possibilities for sharing and collaboration, but they also give rise to new responsibilities. This panel asks how the international heritage community can best work to create accurate records and share both objects and knowledge with audiences across the world.

Chair: Simon Schaffer, Professor of History of Science, Cambridge University

Anaïs Aguerre, Cultural Strategy Advisor and Founder of Culture Connect Ltd, ReACH Project Director
Jerry Brotton, Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary University of London
Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum
Richard Kurin, Smithsonian Distinguished Scholar and Ambassador-at-Large
Bonnie Greer, OBE, playwright, author and critic, Former Trustee of the British Museum

Discussion 3 – 3 May 2020 – Watch on Youtube
Compiling, analysing, presenting information in an age of machine learning

This discussion focuses on the technologies that are creating new knowledge about cultural heritage – on where we are now, and where we go next. Among the subjects to be discussed are new possibilities for image and information analysis, new technologies of display, and the problem of long-term digital archiving.

Chair: Sir Ian Blatchford, Director and Chief Executive of the Science Museum Group

Brian Cantwell Smith, Reid Hoffman Professor of Artificial Intelligence and the Human, Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto
Sarah Kenderdine, Professor of Digital Museology, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne
Frédéric Kaplan, Professor and Digital Humanities Chair, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne
Carol Mandel, Distinguished Presidential Fellow, Council on Library and Information Resources and Dean Emerita of New York University (NYU) Libraries
William Owen, Founder of Made by Many