Jun 8, 2016 | By Faith

Documentation takes many different forms. From television programs, books and magazines articles right through to the reimagining of items and environments from times long past, cultural history still stands as a topic to unite people - and 3D printing is helping to this the world over.

As with all such essential practices, technology continues to support the different ways in which we encounter history. Consuming facts and recorded visuals certainly counts for a lot – but what could deliver more impact that actually touching a physical relic of something that might otherwise no longer exist?

Rekrei is an organization that uses a process called “photogrammetry” to produce digital 3D models of cultural artifacts from crowd-sourced photographs. A simple concept – but the implications, discussions and projects that such a process has brought about are extensively complex. Worlds away from the ancient environments in which they first existed, an Assyrian lion carved from limestone (in around 860 BC) perches on the plinth of a gallery in New York. A first-century Nirgul tablet and a statue of a priest from the ancient Persian city of Hatra are displayed a few metres away in the same space (Museum of Art and Design). Visitors stare across at them from all angles, studying them from all sides and considering their story, their history, and the cultural relevance of them being there on that day.

Of course, after a little while, you realise that these figurative models are not the ancient relics that their story explains: they are 3D printed replicas, and after reading the plaque next to them, you learn that the originals no longer exist. In February 2015, Islamic State militants stormed the Mosul Museum in Iraq and destroyed statues and artifacts on display there – some of which dated back to around 800 BC. But the solution to the heartbreak that this caused two Ph.D. students - Chance Coughenour and Matthew Vincent (based in France and Spain) – was the development of Rekrei, as a crowdsourced project aiming to preserve the memory of this lost heritage.

Although it’s a concept that has been around for hundreds of years (and mimics the process of our own eyes), “photogrammery” has only recently been automated by computers. Contributors to the project submit images of the relics which were damaged or destroyed in last year’s raid on the Mosul Museum (in particular), and a small but dedicated group of online volunteers sort the images to create of 3D rendered stitching from all of the visual information. The boys at Rekrei believe that this process could be used across the world to document all kinds of culturally historical artifacts – and although the 3D printed replicas could never replace the lost originals, it’s certainly an opportunity for their stories to live on.

Discussion about ownership and creative responsibility is something that Iranian-born artist Morehsin Allahyari explores within her 3D prints – which take a similar path in terms of recreating lost artifacts. The conversation about culture is changed when certain power structures – like US tech companies or other Western bodies - look to claim a holding on cultures other to their own. Yet the most powerful message from Rekrei project is the new-found accessibility to and coverage of cultural discourse that these 3D prints inspire. In a future-forward world of virtual objects and histories, it could be the only way of holding on to our past.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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