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'Reframing the Past' for the Future

A Photogrammetry Experiment

'Reframing the Past', a display curated by Dr Laura Popoviciu in the viewing space of the Government Art Collection, has been shaped into a digital 3D model by Thomas Flynn, Cultural Heritage Lead at Sketchfab. Here Laura reflects on her first encounter with photogrammetry and its application to her curatorial project that offers a new way of visualizing works in the Government Art Collection.

On 16 May 2017 I attended a one-day course 'Photogrammetry and Sketchfab Training for Cultural Heritage' at the Museum of London led by Thomas Flynn and Alec Ward, Museum Development Officer: Digital and Communications. As soon as the different examples of digital models began to unfold, I experienced a sense of wonder before the object-replicas as well as the platform that allowed their visualization. Learning about the process of creating and sharing 3D content online also shifted my perception and positioning in relation to objects. As I set out to make my first digital 3D model of an architectural detail of a cast stone pineapple finial taken from the lower courtyard of the museum, I began to scrutinise the object and its surface from all angles moving around it as if initiating a ritual. This sensorial experience extended through a photography session of the object, making sure there was a sufficient overlap between images and that I had captured all of its facets. The next layer involved a software application that aligned the photographs, meticulously piecing them together before generating the model. Finally, similar to preparing an artwork for display, I added the finishing touches by polishing the texture of my modelled object, adjusting the lighting, and labelling it, ready to be showcased online.

The 'real' gallery space. © Crown Copyright

The training prompted me to investigate the possibilities of photogrammetry and how this process could be applied on a larger scale to the viewing space of the Government Art Collection. I focused on three key points: why the nature of the Collection would invite an experiment of this type; how the result could benefit audiences; and how curatorial practice changes and adapts when a temporary display continues its presence online through a digital model.

For a collection whose artworks travel constantly around the world in order to play an active role as agents of cultural diplomacy, the encounter between particular works in a curated display in the viewing space might happen periodically and often by pure chance. Visitors to the collection may find that while a work returns from abroad and joins the scene, the one next to it departs. Without proposing to substitute the direct contact with the artworks and the space, the digital model facilitates the continuation of the original curated encounter, sealing the associations established between the works. It encourages present audiences, while engaging new ones, to explore a fragment of the Collection in a new and contextualised way.

'Reframing the Past' is a temporary display which follows how motifs from the past developed, circulated and survived throughout time through a selection of modern and contemporary works. Just as the display invites us on a visual journey through space and time, so the digital model responds by allowing viewers to zoom into the space, travel across the rooms guided by the audio feature or follow the preferred paths in order to trace the afterlife of past motifs. Finally, the VR option casts another perspective on the display. The metaphorical frame of the display (i.e. references to works from the past are contained within modern and contemporary works) is now transferred to the VR headset which acts as an alternative frame, adding a new filter for the passage into past.

I am very grateful to Thomas Flynn for all his help in making this project possible.

To find out more about the making the 3D model from Thomas's perspective, click here:
https://blog.sketchfab.com/exploring-virtual-visits-with-uk-government-art-collection/






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