Last week I went to a talk called Trafficking of cultural goods: 3D modelling and digital colonialism held in the Photographer’s gallery, a venue on Oxford Street I had not yet heard of. The gallery currently hosts the work of artist Morehshin Allahyari. Her work is inspired by the recent trend of the destruction of ancient artefacts by ISIS. In response, our western countries have invested money in the digital construction of these artefacts through modelling and 3D printing. She questions the real motives behind this ambition, suggesting it has more to do with profit than preservation, questioning how we should think about the notion of copyright in the context of the freely shared memory embodied by world heritage artefacts. In “Material Speculation: ISIS” she too uses technology to recreate lost artefacts, then shares the documentation and files of these cultural objects online.

 

The panelists were invited to think about the subject of decolonial practices and the political implications of preserving heritage.

 

The first to speak was Ozge Ersoy a curator based in Istanbul. She is the program manager of a one room gallery called Collectorspace which only hosts one artwork at a time. Through the presentation of 3 of the exhibitions she shared her thoughts on contemporary art collecting practices and the question of ownership.

 

If the artwork is a performance is the owner the collector, the artist who created the act or the performer? Is it important to know which one? All 3 are indispensable in order for the work/experience to exist. This was interesting to me because a similar conflict exists with historical artefacts. Are the owners the institution or the collector? After all they maintain it, maybe without them such an artefact would have been destroyed. Is it the creator from that time? After all he made it, should it not belong to his closet descendants? Or is us all who, as the actor, are providing a new context and narrative within which it finds its place?

 

Another Artwork was a book on a pile of sand. When she exhibited it she had to find the sand and get the book delivered from Amazon. The art existed only as the idea of this book, open at a particular page in a pile of sand. This challenges the idea of the original, instead imagining a relationship to heritage where only the narrative is needed. When we look at artefacts in the British we are made aware of the age of materials, the type, where it comes from. I had a similar impression when I visited Russia. In the Hermitage, impressed by the good condition of the building I asked the guide if the floor boards were of origin. He explained that in Russia, of origin just meant things can be replaced as long as they are made from the same material.

 

She also had interesting perspective on the activity of collection clearly pointing out that choosing what to collect and how was a matter of intent. Collections are a matter of multiple voices arranged around a narrative.