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.