By Sarah Middle and Stephanie Grimes
Back on Day 3, in addition to our main groups of Geographies, Provenance and Visualisation, we identified a collection of ‘other’ themes that applied to all groups, including usability, accessibility, inclusivity, interoperability and sustainability.
We returned to these themes this morning in a discussion around what our proof of concept should be, and what would be most beneficial to the field of Digital Art History. The group discussed the possibility of developing guidelines, perhaps in the form of an interactive digital ‘publication’, rather than a new digital tool. To provide some focus for this potential new direction, we explored the idea of using a series of case studies based on well-documented objects in the institutions we have visited over the past two weeks. When we broke up into new groups, this provided a framework for our discussions.
Our assignment was to focus on:
- Research questions and rationale
- Definitions, concepts and parameters
- Example objects
- Specificities, sustainability and futures
Group 4 based our example object selection around the idea of how the objects related to the locations in which they were displayed. We decided to choose one object that had been taken from its original location (the Ephesian Artemis at the Soane Museum), one object that had been taken and then returned to its original location (Lord Frederic Leighton’s Clytie painting at Leighton House), and one object that had never left the creation of its location. For the third example, we chose the Roman Amphitheatre located beneath London’s Guildhall Art Gallery, and decided to spend some of our discussion time visiting this space.
At the Roman Amphitheatre, we spent much of the time discussing the significance of viewing the physical object in its current place and the value of representing digitally its narrative through space and time. Although these concepts are present throughout, there is often one that pervades over the others. For example, at the amphitheatre, space had clearly been given much thought. The square in which the Guildhall is situated contains a tiled circle that outlines the footprint of the original amphitheatre, providing an initial indication of its extent. Visitors then enter the amphitheatre itself through a dark tunnel, causing sensory deprivation, before entering the original amphitheatre space. There, parts of the original building are made clear while the ‘gaps’ are reconstructed digitally. No attempt is made for this digital reconstruction to be naturalistic; therefore the actual and conjectural spaces are clearly demarcated.
We also spoke about how the concepts of place and time related to our other two objects. The Clytie painting was focused on place, as it originally moved from Leighton House but has now returned to be displayed in the very room in which it was first created. Additionally, the Artemis sculpture relates to time, as the displays in Soane House convey a ‘snapshot’ in time of how Soane wished his collections to be presented to the public. The idea of time also relates to how the sculpture has changed over time (its head and feet were reconstructed), whereas the Clytie painting was not altered during its changes of location.
Yesterday’s blog post on Leighton House mentioned the notion of the ‘Grand Tour’, where people would travel throughout Europe to visit sites of historic interest. This encouraged us to look at London as a ‘mini Grand Tour’, albeit one which has been democratised by multiple tour guides advocating the ‘Top 10’ must-see sights. Reflecting on this, we realised that none of the locations of our objects (the Soane Museum, Leighton House or the Roman Amphitheatre) would have appeared in this list as the major national museums would have been more prominent. We felt this gave us more agency in the ‘discovery’ of these collections and the objects within them.
After returning from the amphitheatre, the whole group met up again to discuss our findings and particularly our example objects. Each group had chosen a different set of objects, with varying but overlapping rationales. Themes included reproduction, and how copies of an object could be digitally related back to their originals as well as the site(s) of their own production; representation, e.g. where the object appears in other artworks such as paintings, and the ideas of deconstruction, reconstruction and restoration.
As our time in London closes, we are looking forward to moving onto the next stage of our project. This will include developing our proof of concept further in a way that supports the foundational principles that we have developed around Digital Art History. As we move into the practicalities of project development, it will be important to continue discussions around usability, while incorporating practical methods of user experience design, to ensure not only that we are producing an outcome but also that our project is effective.