Interviewing David Monberg: digital preservation of cultural artifacts
Today we would love to introduce you to an artist who was able to transform Scan The World cultural artifacts into something completely new and unexpected. It’s surprising to see how many possibilities hide behind 3D technologies when associated with open data and cultural artifacts. This is one of the many reasons why, we at Scan The World, love to share art and make it free and accessible to everyone who is willing to get inspired by it!
The artist we are talking about is David Haack Monberg. David is a Danish visual artist living in Copenhagen who stumbled across Scan The World in the search of a specific 3D printable and openly available object. The object we are talking about is the reconstruction of the Monumental Arch of Palmyra.
With his project "Icons Made Without Hands", he explores the stages in which ruins travel, from dust to data and back again. The main question he tries to investigate through his work is: "If cultural heritage is the beating heart of a society, what happens when its representatives are replaced by surrogates?"
There is a lot to tell about his art and there is a lot to tell about David. So, without further ado let’s dive into the mind of David Monberg!
Introduce yourself to the community. Who is David Monberg?
I am David, a Danish visual artist living in Copenhagen. I graduated from The Dirty Art Department at the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam in 2019 and Funen Art Academy in 2017. In the last couple of years my work has mainly focused on the technological replacement of cultural artifacts and the implications this has had on the way memory is preserved and perceived.
Icons made without hands, Installation view, OK Corral, 2020 - David Monberg
How and when did you find out about Scan The World for the first time?
Scan The World really only appeared on my radar in 2017 when I was looking into the Islamic State and especially their destructive crusade through the cultural Syrian landscape. With its destruction its most renowned asset, the Monumental Arch of Palmyra, Arch of Triumph, a world heritage monument, had fallen.
One year later, it was yet again unveiled proudly on Trafalgar Square, London. In defiance of the destruction had Boris Johnson, then mayor of London, collaborated with Oxford’s Institute for Digital Archeology to reproduce a 3d model of the Arch though photogrammetry.
It was really in my search for the model I learned that Scan The World had travelled to Trafalgar Square where the arch currently resided to finally scan and upload an open-source version onto My Mini Factory.
What is that mostly inspired you of Scan The World?
It was through the lack of an open-source version from the Institute of Digital Archaeology my interest sparked. When I saw the video of Boris Johnson unveiling the arch I quickly started to search the web for the uploaded model. I somehow expected the model to be widely available seeing that the project was initiated as a collaboration between The British Council, Institute of Digital Archaeology, UNESCO and the fact that this specific structure was considered world heritage. But it wasn’t.
Who actually owned the new original? We don’t have to visit many museums to acknowledge the fact that when it comes to monuments and artifacts, the buildings that harbour them are sheer showcases of tomb-robbing and looting and the idea of ownership is long-gone.
Nowadays, fortunately, with the introduction of digital preservation and a myriad of open-access and free-culture movements, artifacts became digital artifacts. This of course opens up new discussions of originality, if cultural heritage is the beating heart of a society, what happens when its representatives are replaced by surrogates?
"Hellgate"- David Monberg
What is the common ground between STW and your project?
The work done by STW really is the perfect example of an open-source museum. Here, in this museum, information and culture is shared enabling new encounters. As an image-maker it is interesting to follow these artifacts and their travels within their newly formed democratised reality. The inherent hope in my project is that the digitization of our identity is done with caution and for the right reasons, initiatives like STW enable this.
"Icons made without hands"- David Monberg
Tell us more about your project. Which part do you find most interesting to share with the community?
My interest in the Arch finally resulted in the exhibition Icons Made Without Hands at OK Corral in Copenhagen. In the exhibition I explored the stages in which ruins travel; from dust to data and back again. The focus really was the transformation it went through, from the grounds of Palmyra to the 60MB encapsulating its travels onto the MyMiniFactory archive.
Having gone through numerous digital translation processes like photogrammetry, cnc, 3d scanning etc. a fair amount of image corruption was expected in the surface of the model, image glitches one might say. It was almost as if every time the object was transformed, small traces of the process would be woven into its surface.
The title of the exhibition Icons Made Without Hands comes from the medieval greek word Acheiropoieta which means “made without hand” or “Icons Made Without Hands” a term that defines religious icons who miraculously appear without the touch of human hands. To me these digital traces of previous edits and transformations represented something new and original, something otherworldly - almost metaphysical.
An interesting aspect that came up in my research, was the fact that the Arch had continuously been mistaken for an arch affiliated with the Temple of Bel also located in Palmyra. This temple is most commonly referred to as the temple of Baal, Baal being described in folk-lore as a hoarsely-voiced demon lord. Suddenly the Arch became the centrepiece in an alternative online conspiracy where it was believed that the leaders of the west had conspired and intentionally opened up a direct portal to hell unleashing demons into several capital cities.
Icons made without hands "Exo Exo Exo Exo"- David Monberg
Are there any future plans you want to tell us about?
At the moment I am looking into the devastating fires that ravaged the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris last year. What this will become I still do not know!