Losing Our Cultural Heritage? Bringing Art Conservation in to the 21st Century with Digital Intervention and the iPad

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Collaborating with Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) conservation photographer Yosi Pozeilov, Indigo Arts Alliance seeks to revolutionize workflow in the art preservation field with the development of the app, ArtCR designed for the iPad, making use of technology at the forefront of everyone’s day to day lives.

ArtCR in Action!

The iPad has helped us move condition reporting into the digital world, joining the ranks of all the other digital assets used widely by art conservators

On the 4th of July, 1776, the Declaration of Independence, a statement of of some significance, from the 13 colonies of America whom were then at war with Great Britain, was ratified and announced to the world that America considered themselves an independent entity no longer under the rule of the British Empire. The document was signed and forevermore the populace of America would celebrate their day of freedom. The sentence; “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, has become known as one of the best known sentences in the English language.

It took 127 years before someone fought for the document itself. One of the most important documents in the history of democracy, deserved preservation. Previous to 1903 it had been rolled up and toted around, tacked to the wall of the US patent office and exposed to the elements. And not until 1953, almost 200 years after its creation, were the efforts of conservation taken seriously enough to find the document encased in bullet proof glass in the National Archives building in Washington. Today, thanks to monitoring by camera equipment developed for use with the hubble telescope, conservators were finally able to monitor and detect even the most minute signs of erosion. Now, you can find the document preserved in a titanium case, filled with inert argon gas, that is lowered 22 feet into a vault each night. Similar efforts are made for the Bill of Rights and the American Constitution.

For 372 years, Michelangelo’s “David” stood in the open Palazzo della Signoria in Florence, Italy, before the sculpture, that monumentally symbolized the defense of civil liberties of a nation, was moved to a more permanent and safely guarded location in the Accademia Gallery, where it is no longer at risk of decay. On “David’s” 500th birthday the statue was carefully cleaned by conservators whom had the unenviable task of painstakingly preserving something so iconically heroic.

Conservators face the same threat to our cultural heritage here at home, and from around the world--artistic treasures that are threatened every day with disappearance. They fight to record and preserve the roots, the very essence, of our journey, our joys and tragedies, the lessons we learned, the battles we fought and lost, and the reasons we keep moving forward.

“Who can imagine our world without the evocative paintings of our ancient past recorded in the caves of Africa, Tutankhamen’s iconic golden mask, the dead sea scrolls, or our earliest of photographs? Each of these priceless treasures would have been forgotten, or lost, if not for art preservation,” says Elizabeth Chayes, President of Indigo Arts Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to transmitting the importance of art conservation through outreach and education programs while partnering with institutions who endeavor to support cultural heritage preservation.

“While most people recognize that the preservation of cultural heritage is of great importance, few outside the field of conservation are aware of the complex challenges that art conservators face in their day to day work. Professionals, extensively trained, try to balance science and art, and are passionately dedicated to the preservation of all forms of art that can inspire and educate future generations. To lose that link, that tells the story of who we are and where we came from, is a sadness and tragedy of monumental proportions.” Chayes says, “It is time to bring art preservation in to the modern era.”

Collaborating with Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) conservation photographer Yosi Pozeilov, Indigo Arts Alliance seeks to revolutionize workflow in the art preservation field with the development of an app designed for the iPad, making use of technology at the forefront of everyone’s day to day lives. The app, ArtCR, takes condition reporting of an object to a very simple, portable and efficient level.

Pozeilov reports, “In principle the use of the iPad would allow for a direct transfer of well established methodology in the physical world (analog) into a purely virtual (digital) environment, with a lot less adjustment required than if a non multi-touch device was being used. All this information could then be transferred on the fly via email or sync to a stationary computing system with very little secondary manipulation required.”

ArtCR, the first technology of its kind, is a revolutionary new tool for conservators, helping to preserve art for future generations. ArtCR provides conservators with a method of digitally recording the condition of art objects, which has traditionally been an entirely analog process, by using a simple, easy to use, and accessible interface that records the structural condition of an object by superimposing layers of marking tools and custom text, that guides the user through the process and allows the information to be easily distributed to other devices. Pozeilov remarks, “The iPad has left the door wide open for allowing us to change practices that have been stagnant for a long time. It has helped us move condition reporting into the digital world, joining the ranks of all the the other digital assets used widely by the conservation center.”

“Museum and cultural institutions embark on the very busy and fast paced borrowing and lending of art works for the production and curation of exhibitions all over the world. A key element in the communication among institutions is the documentation generated regarding the condition of an art object at the time of arrival and/or departure while on an exhibition tour,” Chayes explains, “Traditionally, condition reporting of the artwork, through narrative and image documentation has been produced on paper using photographs, or image facsimiles like photocopies, to mark and map areas of interest on the object so that the two parties, the lending and the receiving, can agree on the artifacts current state. With the growing digitization of images and documents, as well as with recent enhanced electronic communications, the traditional way of condition reporting has become outdated. ArtCR aids to revolutionize and simplify this aspect of the borrowing experience, we have developed a protocol using an iPad, and third party apps, to carry out the condition reporting task in a fully digital environment that mimics its analog counterpart.”

Unfortunately, as is true with all aspects of conservation, development of new practices and preservation techniques themselves, depend largely upon constant fundraising and donations. The dedication and work of art conservation is held back, artwork is lost or destroyed, while the dedicated parties await the necessary funds to do the job they have spent the better part of their lives training to do.

Indigo Arts Alliance, together with Yosi Pozeilov, seek the support of the public to help fund this very essential path to develop the future of art conservation. More information can be found, and donations can be made at ArtCR’s kickstarter page:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/indigoartsalliance/artcr-for-the-ipad

For more information about ArtCR, please contact:

INDIGO ARTS ALLIANCE is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to informing and positively inspiring its audience; art conservators and the cultural heritage preservation sector, empowering professional growth and strengthening the ties of our global community. Founded by a group of art conservators in 2008, INDIGO ARTS ALLIANCE is dedicated to transmitting the importance of art conservation through outreach and education programs while partnering with institutions who endeavor to support cultural heritage preservation.

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Liz Chayes
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