The PERI Foundation at the Fifth International Cultural Forum in Saint Petersburg

The PERI Foundation at the Fifth International Cultural Forum in Saint Petersburg

The Ziyavudin Magomedov PERI Foundation held a round table entitled 3D Era: New Cultural Revolution.  The Use of Advanced Technologies for Museums and Preservation of Cultural Heritage  that was led by Mikhail Piotrovsky at the main headquarters of the Hermitage Museum on December 2nd as part of the Museums and Exhibition Projects section of the Fifth International Cultural Forum.

At the Foundation’s invitation, specialists with a worldwide reputation in digital technologies attended the session in order to engage the professional community in a fruitful discussion of the technological revolution in culture and its consequences.

The moderator of the round table was the PERI Foundation’s executive director Polina Filippova.  She opened the meeting by noting that one of the Foundation’s basic missions is to make young people more aware of the cultural heritage and involve them in preserving its assets.   She pointed out that personal identity depends on having a cultural identity.

Using the latest technologies to preserve the cultural heritage is an important task that must be undertaken by today’s society.  We are now witness to the rapid destruction of original objects of cultural and architectural significance by ecological problems, mass tourism and terrorism.  Society is also faced with extremely complex questions arising from modern means of copying and reproduction, questions that have still not been addressed by the world’s professional community.  To mention just a few of them, what is the symbolic, ethical and legal status of copies?  Where exactly is the dividing line between replicas and fakes?  Will digital copies undermine the drawing power of museums?  The PERI Foundation’s round table is a first step toward understanding this technological revolution in culture.  At the close of 2017 the PERI Foundation together with the Victoria and Albert Museum will be conducting a major conference at the Hermitage devoted to these issues, including the virtual reproduction of cultural monuments that has become particularly urgent in light of the destruction by combatants of the part of our cultural heritage located in Syria and Iraq.

Bill Sherman, head of research and collections for the Victoria and Albert Museum, noted that 2017 marks 150 years since the ratification of Henry Cole’s Convention for Promoting Universal Reproductions of Works of Art for the use of museums, which is an agreement on cooperation among museums related to copies.  He discussed the major efforts needed to produce an updated convention that will take into account modern capabilities for digital rendering and 3D printing.

Adam Lowe is the founder and director of Factum Arte, a heavyweight in the digital rendering and reproduction of world-famous cultural and architectural monuments, and he offered next some examples of what his team has accomplished.   In cooperation with the PERI Foundation, the ancient Islamic village of Kala-Koreysh located in an inaccessible mountain area of Dagestan has already been rendered digitally.  Scanning of the frescoes by Dionysius at Ferapontovo is currently in preparation while the actual work is scheduled for spring of 2017.  On a commission from the PERI Foundation, specialists at Factum Arte are also building a special scanner that will permit digital copying of precious manuscripts without endangering them.

The pilot project for digital copies of manuscripts is to be undertaken by the PERI Foundation and Factum Arte at the Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography at the Dagestani Scientific Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences.  Makhach Musaev, director of the Institute, gave a dramatic illustration of the distinctive features of Arabic writing and the difficulty of reading epigraphs where a single ‘dot’ can change the meaning of what is read.  Therefore, it is very important for the researcher to have access to a three-dimensional image with all the advantages it offers, among which is the opportunity to study the object in relief without being distracted by images it may bear.   Working with digital copies of manuscripts and 3D scans permits more detailed study of objects by the scientific community and allows collaboration among specialist colleagues without travelling to wherever the objects are located.

William Owen, founding partner and strategy director at the Made by Many company, brought up the issue of museum holdings in storage, a great resource of museums that is usually not accessible to the visiting public.  He also discussed the benefits brought about by exchanges and cooperation among the world’s museums.

At the conclusion of the round table, Professor Ilya Doronchenkov, dean of the department of art history at the European University in Saint Petersburg, put forward the fundamental ethical problems that are only beginning to be discussed.  May we simply reproduce anyone’s art, or are there ethical considerations about 3D copies similar to the ones attached to cloning living things?  In this connection he observed that many architectural monuments have come down to us only because of copying, such as  Roman copies in marble that took the place of the originals for Renaissance Europe and replicas of the miraculous images of Byzantium and Russia.  This means that the situation with replicas is much more ambiguous than is customarily thought.  A closer look reveals that we accept as authentic originals things that are nothing of the kind—the Cologne cathedral, three quarters of which was constructed in the 19th century, and Peterhof and Pavlovsk which are recent constructions bearing only a passing resemblance to the originals.

For over an hour and a half at the session, an audience exceeding 200 heard the opinions of experts on the future development of culture and the challenges facing the professional community in preserving the cultural legacy.