Challenging digital aura?

In “Challenging Heritage Visualisation: Beauty, Aura and Democratization”[1], Stuart Jeffrey addresses the challenges by considering digital cultural heritage seen through interpretative (post-processual) archaeological theory lens that “privileges interpretation over information and affective experience over representation[2]. Jeffrey points out that by facilitating new platforms of multivocal engagement utilizing 3d heritage recreation techniques gives rise to a reconception of an “auratic quality” of these 3d representations (sites and objects) which can be seen to be accompanied by community engagement and co-production. Such emerging technologies thus, enable citizens’ access in cultural heritage transforming the consumption of culture into active engagement as a manifestation of democratization of heritage through co-creation and re-creation of the past.

dd                    Cantli, Mario Padilla, 3D printed model and original artefact from the National Museum Cardiff;                            2014 © Sarah Younan [3] .

Reconsidering Walter Benjamin’s initial idea of aura[4], Michael Betancourt paraphrasing Hans Abbing, stresses that the duality of aura is manifested as “a function of the reproductive process itself” [acquiring] a symbolic relationship[…]to the tradition that produced it[5]. Considering such relationships to be apparent in digital heritage wherein the immateriality demands a symbolic value to be defined, the means and factors by which these interrelations are conceptualized end up being decisive to the formation of a new concept of digital aura. Questioning the “tyranny of purely technical engagement” within digital heritage to be the mechanism that can encapsulate the aura of an original, Jeffrey seeks to define authenticity through a relational process between the social value that heritage generates and the means by which such value is authenticated by individual multilayered interpretations. Such engagement initiatives additionally, except the participatory role that augment heritage discourse, are  considered to be a research resource raises questions regarding how the transformative aspect of co-production impact on social values, authenticity, potentialities resulting by such co-operations[6].


                 Screwed Up, Flemming Tvede Hansen, 3D printed models and original bonbonnière, 2014 © Sarah                          Younan.

Such 3d disruptive technologies could not be excluded from the documentation and preservation of endangered antiquities (sites and objects) through re-creating them. The ever-increasing demand for protecting and preserving cultural heritage can be seen in countless recording practices, multiple projects focus on preventative conservation such as Factum Arte for instance, that through recording and providing digital information ensuring the future existence of sites when the original materials are absent [7]. The ultimate objective of such projects tends to be the dissemination of cultural content contributing through “critical reconstruction” as Robert Bevan noted in the same article. Such initiatives demonstrate the role of 3d recording technologies to operate as a mechanism to sustain or augment cultural heritage datasets through community engagement and participation, allowing cultural resources to be manipulated by different perspectives and interpretations in their contemporary context.  Assuming digital aura can be identified in its function of the reproductive process, as stated above, then all these participatory systems that incorporate digital technologies in order to appropriate a cultural value, they are consequently becoming part of the formation of this aura. Democratising heritage, therefore, comprises the involvement of constructing meanings, cultural significance, and interaction mechanisms that allow citizen to redefine its cultural identity into a societal context where these interactions are practiced.

Referenced works:

[1] Jeffrey, Stuart, 2015, “Challenging Heritage Visualisation: Beauty, Aura and Democratisation. Open Archaeology. 1.1, Web. Accessed on 28/10/2016.

[2] Flynn, Bernadette Mary, Digital Knowledge as Archaeological Spatial Praxis, Online Proceedings of the13th International Conference on Virtual Systems and Multimedia: Exchange and experience in space and place, 2007,  p. 85, p.1, Web. Accessed on 28/10/2016.

[3]  Younan, Sarah, 2015, “Towards a digital dream space: how can the use of digital 3D scanning, editing and print technologies foster new forms of creative engagement with museum artefacts?”, Phd Thesis, Cardiff Metropolitan University,, Web. Accessed on 28/10/2016.

[4] Benjamin, W., “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” In Illuminations, 217-51. New York: Schocken Books, (1936), 1968, Web. Accessed on 28/10/2016..

[5]Betancourt, Michael, “The aura of the digital“, Critical Digital Studies: A Reader, edited by Arthur Kroker, Marilouise Kroker, University of Toronto Press, 2013, 2nd ed, p 435, Web. Accessed on 28/10/2016..

[6]Jeffrey, Stuart, Alex Hale, Cara Jones, Siân Jones and Mhairi Maxwell. 2015. “The ACCORD Project: Archaeological Community Co-production of Research Resources.” In Proceedings of the 42nd Annual Conference on Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology, CAA 2014, edited by François Giligny, François Djindjian, L. Costa, Paola Moscati and S. Robert, 1–7. Paris: CAA.

[7] Sinclair, Mark, Should Museums Be Recreating The Past?Creative Review, 2016, Accessed on 28/12/2016, Web. Accessed on 28/10/2016.

2 thoughts on “Challenging digital aura?”

  1. Your interpretation of Jeffrey’s argument is very interesting. To consider the fact that interpretation and the experience of artefacts trumps the information about them and the representation of heritage is a point of view that reconceptualises the idea of ‘the aura of the original’ completely. Much like my own argument, you make the point that the aura is not lost, but is reimagined through the involvement of patrons and community engagement, but rather than see it as a new concept of the original, you make the very interesting point that the aura, rather than experiencing a shift from its original form to a reconceptualised but highly individual idea of the aura (which differs depending on each person’s experience of the aura), instead is soon through the lens of duality.
    This argument that sees aura as a dual concept is somewhat problematic, however. It is difficult to believe that somebody may appreciate the ‘aura of the original’ and be able to reconceptualise the artefact through the patron’s own medium without some type of shift in understanding taking place. You argue that the immateriality of the new concept demands a linked symbolism, and while I do not disagree, it is very difficult to imagine that the aura of something exists in two forms. The original holds all manner of historical symbolism and community appreciation and engagement, but the reconceptualization of the original, whether it exists as a replica or in the form created by a patron’s own engagement, such as a photograph for example, still holds that symbolism for the patron, because they experienced the original and the created their own interpretation of it. From the point in time that the copy is created, the patron has a new conceptualisation of the same artefact, but the aura of the original is not diminished.
    Therefore, while I agree that the conceptualisation of the original changes, I do argue that it cannot exist in duality, but rather, is reimagined from the original form by the acts of community engagement.

  2. At first, I would like to point out that in your post mentioned some very interesting things regarding the community engagement and co-production in heritage. This shift towards democratization is very important and, somehow, “modern”, as today more and more people have access to knowledge through the internet and the various tools developed. Individuals receive many stimuli daily. Depending on the way that leverages everyone, is able to develop their own concerns. Some of them may seem highly creative and to spawn the need for participation and contribution.
    A representative example of such participation of creative people in the cultural domain is the web platform MicroPasts ( It is collaboration among academic researchers, volunteer societies and other people interested pitch in research in archaeology, history and heritage. Experts have taken the role of guiding and people offer their help, thus participating in a heritage project. The MicroPast seems to have a great response in individuals and this is something very encouraging for the future efforts.
    This positive attitude of people towards participation in matters related to culture should not displace or devalue. If we use it in the right way, having our eyes in the future, we could create many things that will work to promote culture and to contribute to the renewal of the relationship of either modern man with it.
    To sum up, as Jeffrey Stuart underlines at the end of his article “Challenging Heritage Visualisation: Beauty, Aura Democratisation”, “These approaches (of community participation), if successful may have a profound effect on the relationship between heritage professionals, the broader community and our engagement with the past.”

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