‘Reframing the Past’ for the Future

‘Reframing the Past’ is a virtual display of an exhibition from the past. It follows how art historical motifs developed, circulated and survived throughout time through a selection of modern and contemporary works from the Collection. Just as the display invites us on a visual journey through space and time, so the digital model responds by allowing viewers to zoom into the space, travel across the rooms guided by the audio feature or follow the preferred paths in order to trace the afterlife of past motifs.

Artists include: Roger Ackling / Peter Blake / Achilles Droungas / John Goto / Mark Hampson / Anne Hardy / Dick Jewell / Karen Knorr / Gayle Chong Kwan / Isaac Julien / Tara Langford / Margaret Maran / John Thomas Serres / Bob and Roberta Smith / Philip Sutton

Notes on a digital journey

In 2017 I attended a one-day course ‘Photogrammetry and Sketchfab Training for Cultural Heritage’ at the Museum of London. As soon as the different examples of digital models began to unfold, I experienced a sense of wonder before the object-replicas as well as the platform that allowed their visualisation.

Learning about the process of creating and sharing 3D content online also shifted my perception and positioning in relation to objects. As I set out to make my first digital 3D model of an architectural detail of a cast stone pineapple finial taken from the lower courtyard of the museum, I began to scrutinise the object and its surface from all angles moving around it as if initiating a ritual. This sensorial experience extended through a photography session of the object, making sure there was a sufficient overlap between images and that I had captured all of its facets. The next layer involved a software application that aligned the photographs, meticulously piecing them together before generating the model. Finally, similar to preparing an artwork for display, I added the finishing touches by polishing the texture of my modelled object, adjusting the lighting, and labelling it, ready to be showcased online.

display space showing an exhibition of contemporary works

The ‘real’ gallery space, room 1. © Crown Copyright

The training prompted me to investigate the possibilities of photogrammetry and how this process could be applied on a larger scale to the viewing space of the Government Art Collection. I focused on three key points: why the nature of the Collection would invite an experiment of this type; how the result could benefit audiences; and how curatorial practice changes and adapts when a temporary display continues its presence online through a digital model.

display space showing an exhibition of contemporary works

The ‘real’ gallery space, room 2. © Crown Copyright

For a collection whose artworks travel constantly around the world in order to play an active role as agents of cultural diplomacy, the encounter between particular works in a curated display in the viewing space might happen periodically and often by pure chance. Visitors to the collection may find that while a work returns from abroad and joins the scene, the one next to it departs. Without proposing to substitute the direct contact with the artworks and the space, the digital model facilitates the continuation of the original curated encounter, sealing the associations established between the works. It encourages present audiences, while engaging new ones, to explore a fragment of the Collection in a new and contextualised way.

Written by Dr Laura Popoviciu, Curator (Historical)

‘Reframing the Past’ was an exhibition curated by Dr Laura Popoviciu in the viewing space of the Government Art Collection in 2017. It was transformed into a 3D digital model by Thomas Flynn, Cultural Lead at Sketchfab.

Find out more about the making the 3D model from Thomas Flynn’s perspective here: