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November 25, 2002

Art is Long, Life is Weird


The Wall Street Journal of November 25 has a column (“Boomtown” by Lee Gomes) on a wrinkle in the art-technology interface known as 3-D scanning or “lidar.” This is a laser scanning system that yields 3-dimensional data of an object. While I’ve been aware of this type of optical scanning for a number of years (didn’t they use something like this back when they were creating the clay-to-animatronic-to digital dinosaurs for Jurassic Park?) I wasn’t aware that it was being applied to our sculptural heritage. As the article points out,

Some of the most interesting laser-scanning work, though, is in the field of cultural and historical preservation. A team from Stanford University runs the Digital Michelangelo project that used a special high-powered laser to scan the statue of David in Florence. The scanning is accurate down to less than 100th of an inch and fills up 20 gigabytes of data.

The article points out that, for art historians, these scans have a variety of worthy uses:

David Koller, a Stanford graduate student who worked on the project, said the David 3D model was used in Florence to help plan the current cleaning that David is getting. He also said that the Stanford model is accurate enough that one can discern the direction of Michaelangelo’s individual chisel marks. With the right sort of image processing software, said Mr. Koller, an art historian could develop new insights into Michelangelo’s sculpting techniques.

Art history almost seems besides the point, however: what really strikes me is that the David has entered a new phase in its life as an artwork. I mean, the darn thing's been digitized (the David’s been reduced to a mere 20 gigs?—that doesn’t seem big enough somehow) and will now go off into thousands of new experiences as a work of art. It will no doubt get “quoted” and inserted into God knows what new artistic concantenations.


While I don’t claim to see this future more than through a glass, darkly, I suppose one can analogize with the ways in which 2-D scanners and the Internet have “democratized” the museum—today, every man can be his own art publisher/image-appropriating digital collagist. And if images have cast off their link to their handcrafted originals today, why shouldn’t this be true for 3-dimensional representations tomorrow?


The mind boggles, but I guess that’s sort of the point.



posted by Friedrich at November 25, 2002


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