Francesca Simon Millar, PhD candidate Material Culture, UCL
Image 1: 3D scan of a Sepik Yam Mask, Papua New Guinea from the Ethnographic collection at UCL (Source: E –curator project)
Digital heritage technologies are radically changing the way we engage with material culture and are negotiating new ways of knowing and understanding the object. Realising the importance of digital technologies and new interdisciplinary possibilities, the E-curator project at UCL has been undertaken with the goal of applying two state of the art digital technologies: 3D colour laser scanning and e-science technologies. The research group behind the E-curator project are scanning six objects from across UCL Museums and Collections using an Arius 3D colour laser scanner installed in the Chorley Institute. It is the highest resolution and most geometrically accurate 3D colour scanner currently in the UK. The 3D object scans and relevant catalogue information are stored on an e-science storage system, Storage Resource Broker (SRB). Curators and conservators can then access the 3D object scans and catalogue information via the E-curator website, which displays the records stored at different sites.
Image 2: Aruis 3D scanner which is stored in the Chorley Institute at UCL. (Source: E- Curator project)
The project seeks to: (i) develop a traceable methodology for recording surface detail and colour quality of a range of object types and materials; (ii) explore potential for producing validated datasets to allow closer and more scientific examination of groups of objects, their manufacture and issues of wear and deterioration; (iii) examine how resulting datasets can be transmitted, shared and compared between disparate locations and institutions, for effectiveness in conservation reports and data transmissibility vis-à-vis conservation and object loans; (iv) begin to build expertise in use and transmission of 3D scan data as a curatorial tool.
Image 3: 3D scan of a West African Medicine bundle from the Ethnographic collection at UCL (source: E- curator project)
When users access the E- curator website, a list of 3D scan images from different collections will be displayed. Consider a user who wants to view and analyse the medicine bundle from the ethnographic collection. When he/she clicks on the object, a new window pops up displaying the 3D image and relevant metadata of the medicine bundle. By clicking on the small icons at the bottom of the 3D image, the user can tumble, pan, zoom and rotate the 3D image to analyse the surface of the medicine bundle. He/she can toggle the lighting to examine the differences on the surface. Links to different sets of raw data are provided if the user is interested in examining the 3D images at different scanning and processing stages. Firstly the aligned ‘registered’ version of the point cloud without colour or point processing, secondly a ‘processed’ version with cleaned colours and geometry, and thirdly a ‘presentation’ file with enhanced colours and filled holes. For the use of conservators and curators the second model will be the most relevant since it has undergone the least approximation and processing. Thus the website will function as an interface for object identification and assessment. With an appropriate storage infrastructure, data sets may also be integrated more widely by researchers around the world. Feedback to date has been very good, although great stress has been placed by users on the materiality of the digital image and what has been lost and gained in the replication of the real object.
From an anthropological perspective it is interesting to consider the interplay between the original six objects: how the technician works with the objects, uses the equipment to create digital images, visualises problems and uses specialist software in the post production stage in order to create a better image capture. The technician produces a scan image through the embodied movement of the Aruis 3D system. The scans are stiched together to configure the 3D whole and are cleaned and colour matched through the post processing software thus engendering a notion of visual resemblance.
Image 4: This shows the technicians screen during the processing of the scan data. Scans are stiched together to compile a whole 3D image. (Source: E-curator project)
My initial research with the project has pinpointed a series of research questions, which all centre around the relation between the digital image and knowledge. The first issue I want to explore is the corporeal identity of the digital image. During the scanning process I noticed that the motion of the scanner replicated the movements of the human body. Such practice is highly relevant to current anthropological thinking, particularly with Warnier’s (2001) praxeological approach, and Harraway’s (1991) cyborg manifesto because in the process of laser scanning, the body and machine become interwoven. The second issue I intend to explore is the multi-sensory qualities of digital images. Research has shown within the scanning process that non tactile (light and reflection) and, more importantly, tactile (texture, sensation, feel) can be expressed in the mediation of a good or bad scan result. Initial research revealed that although the technician does not touch the image a tactile response is negotiated through the mouse, through a hand- to- eye coordination. The third issue which I will trace out is the different forms of material knowledge and attachments to the digital image which are consecrated through everyday practice.
Please feel free to browse the 3D images on the E-curator website. In order to view them you need administrative rights as you must install an ACFIVEX viewer. The viewer is not compatible with MAC computers.
Or if you want to read more about the project
The project is jointly funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC).
The members of the E-curator team
Dr Ian Brown, Mona Hess, Sally MacDonald, Yean-Hoon Ong, Dr Stuart Robson, Francesca Simon Millar and Dr Graeme Were.