From Exhibited Past to “Inhabited” past

Digital humanism is the result of a hitherto non-experienced convergence between our complex cultural heritage and a technology that has produced a social sphere that has no precedent.”(Milad Doueihi)[1].

Considering this ‘non-experienced convergence’ reflecting on AFF622 “Digital Heritage: Theories, Methods, Challenges” module, I will try to illustrate in a series of posts my own understanding and critically appraise the theoretical implications of applying digital heritage practices. In the ensuing discussion, I will use as example the case of an activist-project to argue the significance of unrestricted dissemination thus the reconceptualization of cultural heritage.


Morehshin Allahyari, Material Speculation, Gorgon, 2015-2016.

In the 3D printing project ‘Material Speculation: ISIS’, a revival of destroyed artifacts  into 3D translucent printed models implanted with flash drives containing biographical information about pre and post object, Morehshin Allahyari critically comments on the preservation of cultural artifacts through their repurpose signifying them as “time capsules”. As part of the project Allahyari has made all files used in the creation of the work publicly available such that any person could reproduce them. This dissemination of data fuels debate arising from questions over cultural property legacy or what Phyllis Mauch Messenger calls “The 3R’s(e.g., rights of ownership, rights of access, rights of inheritance)”[2]. This matter of unowned reproducibility-reusability of cultural content brings up a problematic perspective inherent in the long-lived interrelation between cultural industries and the appropriation of public domain resources and how this reshapes the way we are embodied within cultural heritage.


Morehshin Allahyari, Material Speculation, Venus, 2015-2016.

In fact, the inefficiency of the right-holder domain to be “the place we quarry the building blocks of our culture“[3] narrows the reutilization and thus redefinition of heritage in a contemporary societal context. According to Kenneth Hanna by monopolizing both the physical and digital cultural artifacts, cultural institutions marginalize the interpretative potential through public experience each context may offer (2005).  By restricting access to cultural data in the name of protection, cultural institutions ignore how structural changes in the digital era has transformed the way medium and recipient societies interact. Conversely, considering disownership to be pertinent in digital cultural heritage, the transformation of both function and context through 3D disruptive technologies tends to be manifested by various formats in any spatio-temporal context. As a tool, such technologies permit us access not only to personalize our experience through reusage of cultural content but to be the agent in such a dynamic concept as heritage. Being “the potential for a tabula rasa of meaning-networks”[4], additive manufacturing has promoted a new focus on how we conceptualize and interpret artifacts when the actual craftsmanship is absent.

Recalling David Lowenthal’s phrase “We refashion antiquities most radically, sometimes altering them beyond recognition…But without adaptive reuse most old artifacts would soon perish[5]”, it’s worth thinking how through readaptation we can reveal culture’s memories. In Morehshin’s project the basic concept refers to “repatriation of memories” through a preservation in a specific context with a certain aim the dissemination of data as remnant of the destroyed heritage. Taking the initiative to bringing together the pre and post substance of the artifact, the creator  focuses on the replication as “hybrid state of being and non-being [wherein]… the CAD model bridges an ontological gap between presence and disappearance—a multiverse of digital cenotaphs”[6].

To conclude, it is of growing importance to wonder and ponder about the profound implications stemming from the asynchronous communication between the existed ownership of cultural property and the emerging principles of digital heritage.

Referenced works:

[1] Doueihi, Milad, 16 July 2013, About Digital Humanism“, Translated by Peter Moss. InaGlobal, [Autour de l’humanisme numérique], Web. Accessed: 16/10/2016.

[2]  Messenger, Phyllis Mauch, 1991, The Ethics Of Collecting Cultural Property: Whose Culture? Whose Property?,  2nd ed., Univeristy of New Mexico Press Albuquerque, p. 1.

[3] Carlos, De Martin Juan, and Dulong de Rosnay, Melanie, 2012 The Digital Public Domain: Foundations for an Open Culture, Cambridge: OpenBook, Web. Accessed: 16/10/2016.

[4] Jennifer Rickert, Printing the Past: 3D Imaging Technologies and Archaeology, Thesis, p.17., Web. Accessed: 16/10/2016.

[5] Lowenthal, David, The past is a foreign country, Cambridge University Press, 1985, p. 288.

[6] Soulelis, Paul, The Rhizome, The Distributed Monument, Web. Accessed: 16/10/2016.

Further Reading:

Benjamin, Walter  in the Age of Digital Reproduction: Aura in Education:
A Rereading of ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, Journal of Philosophy of Education, Vol. 41, No. 3, (2007).

Cohen, E. Julie, “Creativity and Culture in Copyright Theory”. UC Davis Law Review, vol. 40, pp. 1151-1205, (2007).

Corbett, Susan, and Mark Boddington. “Copyright Law and the Digitisation of Cultural Heritage.” SSRN Electronic Journal, doi:10.2139/ssrn.1806809, (2011).

Cronin, Charles Patrick Desmond, 3D Printing: Cultural Property as Intellectual Property, Legal Studies Research Papers Series No. 15-14, (2015).

Cronin, Charles, Possession Is 99% of the Law: 3D Printing, Public Domain Cultural Artifacts and Copyright, 17 Minn. J.L. Sci. & Tech. 709, (2016), Web. [Accessed on: 6/07/2016]

De Lusenet, Yola and Wintermans, Vincent, Preserving the digital heritage Principles and policies, Netherlands National Commission for UNESCO,2007

Hamma, Kenneth. “Public Domain Art in an Age of Easier Mechanical Reproducibility.” D-Lib Magazine 11, no. 11, (2005).

Neil A. Silberman. “From Cultural Property to Cultural Data: The Multiple Dimensions of “Ownership” in a Global Digital Age” International Journal of Cultural Property Vol. Forthcoming (2014).

Sally M. Foster & Neil G.W. Curtis, The Thing about Replicas—Why
Historic Replicas Matter,  European Journal of Archaeology, 19:1, 122-148, DOI:10.1179/1461957115Y.0000000011, (2016).

Material Speculation: ISIS (2015-2016)