The Library of Pulau Saigon

An “un-forgetting” machine attempts to “resurrect” archaeological ambiguities from a list of artefacts recovered from the site of a former island in the Singapore River. Studying representations of objects via Google Images, the machine performs cultural craftsmanship on our behalf, using shape interpolation and generative CAD modelling to produce a library of mutating cultural objects.

 

As I am interested in ways of knowing, Debbie Ding’s project is interesting because it depicts a way to relate to artefacts only through their form. It questions the meaning of abstraction processes as the computer looks for patterns amongst thousands of versions of the same object to come up with a generic form.

Are monuments are meant to die?

 

I am wondering if the processes of knowledge gathering do in fact say a lot about our society’s ideology. Vast collections of artefacts translate imperialism and the ambition to dominate through observation and enrichment from other cultures. While 3D printing shows the dependency of algorithmic understanding and prediction so inherent to capitalism that tends dismiss the social, cultural intricacies.

 

There seems to a conflict between the general consensus that we must preserve our heritage. We regularly get appalled by the destruction of ancient structures to make room for progress as evidenced in China for example. (And yes, our western countries did that too not so long ago). The question is do we preserve it in a meaningful way? Does it need to be tangible? What is important to remember and can digital technologies offer a means to give back agency and facilitate appropriation of our collective heritage at a local level?

 

I remember thinking of this when confronted to Ai Weiwei dropping a 2000 year old Han Dynasty Urn (1995) and the emotion it provoked. There were talks of it being unethical. But it did ask: Are we preserving our heritage properly? What is the point of preserving/reconstructing these artefacts and what is the quality of the associated knowledge. In a talk I mentioned previously, the curator Ozge Esroy mentioned a tribe that built a totem out of wood. 20 years later they would destroy it and build it again. When asked why they didn’t just build it one and preserve it they responded that the most important part was the process and the transmission of the technique to the younger generations acquired while building.