By the seaside


Some of you might be reading this on a tablet whilst on holiday somewhere delicious - perhaps by the sea. And if that sea is a great ocean you might notice the fractal nature of the coastline as you sip your iced drink. It is jagged because the sea is doing its best to devour it and the coastline is fighting back where it is strongest. I was on the Atlantic coast recently - not lounging with a cold drink sadly but discussing how the sand dunes can be productive - in fact how these particular arid sand flats were very productive. We were looking at a 500 hectare (about 1,250 acres) farm whose irrigation system was intricate but very efficient and allowed for two crops a year of tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, melons and also supported nut bearing Pinus Pinea (the base of pesto so deeply important especially had we been in Italy). The farm was a example of a technology that is creating remarkable results - the sea tries to eat away the coast but the farm goes on producing.

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Take Care


A glibly said and clichéd throwaway over the shoulder as we leave that we don't really pay attention to - and that is very much the case with the history of our custodianship. Over the last few days we have been working on a number of projects (some of which appear in the newsletter - which I recommend) which remind us of many things, but amongst the most serious is the number of lost art works that we know of - that we know have been lost though they were valued (not always by all). We exhibit an extraordinary lack of care in our custodianship of great works, those works that represent a fundamental component of what makes us all human - our history and our culture. We were evaluating all the various ways that we 'lose' objects of such importance - and if we examine these reasons for loss we realise just how ashamed we should be.

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Dinner at the Soane


The recent dinner at Sir John Soane’s Museum that both Adam and the Foundation hosted was a wonderful experience - the excuse was to celebrate the last day of the Piranesi exhibition but actually we wanted to increase awareness of what the Foundation stands for and what we are planning..... and to ask for help.
The dinner took place in the Pompey red Dining Room/Library - after drinks in the Yellow Drawing Room and tours conducted by John Bridges - a really marvellous setting for any dinner but especially one where conservation and preservation of our heritage was a key topic.

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The Valley of the Kings - next steps


Being on the West Bank for the installation and attending the opening of the facsimile of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber and its exhibition area has been a thrilling, tough, interesting, exciting but ultimately an incredibly successful process. And we stayed in the shadow of the hills where the nobles are buried and a quiet evening’s walk from Madinet Habu - so we felt very lucky.
On the night of the opening the team were entertained in the company of 27 Ambassadors from Europe, South America and the East as well as a press corps of ninety and archaeologists and interested parties making up an audience of three hundred. The hosts were the Ministers of Antiquities and Tourism and the location was the Luxor Temple - with its powerful pylons and a new lighting display that makes the cream stone bright but not livid. The music was provided by the Cairo Symphony Orchestra - it was a lovely, balmy evening and we were delighted by the reception and response to the facsimile.

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Signing in Lebanon


I was in Beirut earlier this month to sign an accord with APSAD - the Lebanese Heritage Organisation  - in a ceremony hosted by the Minister of Culture, Remon Areiji in the National Museum.  To those who know what Lebanon holds and some of its history signing such an accord will be completely understandable. This crossroads of the world - the Levant, which witnessed the trade between the Orient and the Occident - the Eastern Mediterranean littoral, the end of the Silk Road. It saw the first spring of civilisation and is made up of regions of what are now countries that include Jordan, Cyprus, Syria, Turkey and of course, at the centre, Lebanon. But, as one arrives in Beirut the most obvious initial image is of highways and massive construction. 

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From rabbit skin glue to point mapping


The last Opinion piece was about seasons and the Solstice - it was hard, when that was written, to anticipate what is happening now, just a few weeks later. Spring has arrived and the seemingly endless Winter is behind us. You can feel the re-birth in the air. So it wasn't a coincidence that last week saw the opening of an exhibition at Sir John Soane's Museum in London of work by the Factum Arte workshops - work in materialising concepts that the extraordinary Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) designed but rarely realised except in wonderful and evocative prints. In doing this work - and I really urge you to visit the exhibition which is on until late May - Factum Arte developed techniques and processes that are now part of the workshop's repertoire. The porphyry altar, bronze and gilt tripods, the impossible silver coffee pot computer modelled from various living and still objects, the extravagant, shimmering, chair - all of these required the application of old and of completely new artisanal skills.

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From feasts to palimpsests


We have just passed through the intense period of holidays around the World and are back facing the year now well under way. We might even have contemplated the beliefs and historic celebrations that mark the Winter Solstice, the re-born solar year and this week Lupercalia - the Roman end of winter (hard to believe in freezing Europe) and how we know of them. This cycle is a clear indication of how our culture has not only historic depth but also undergoes processes of capture and usurpation and, simple reality.  Festivals, punctuation marks give clarity to a calendar.
They graphically and physically define the passing of time and they also, by their constant and increasingly profound absorption into our cultural cycle - define that culture. When we celebrate something, tradition and culture have a place in that process - the talismans we use, the images we remember, the ideas that define are all passed down to us and as we increase in numbers and skills so does the variety of the media and interpretation we use. Imagine if we stripped away some of those images, ideas - or if they were destroyed and they no longer existed - we would have lost not just the comfort and pleasure they bring but also the history that makes them so important to what we are - to what we call our culture. Facing a new year would be more bland, more bleak.

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Faded glory


The damage that may be suffered by objects that are important to us - us as individuals or as the human species  - is often gradual and almost imperceptible. This is what makes it so easy to accept - even prefer.
Many, if asked, would admit a predilection for faded glory - for the subtle and smoothing effects of time. That's natural as it shows us the object has a career, a biography which we are still part of. It is that continuum that makes the objects so important to us, just like an institution such as a monarchy, for instance - if it´s managed well and skilfully, has a purpose in quietly aligning the future with the past. We can see the various world religions in that light too - bringing comfort that things are ordered and in place and the proof of that is their longevity - they've been here since time immemorial and their changes are vast but, individually each change is generally slight.

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It's a traditional activity at the end of a year to review, reflect - and then look forward. 2013 has been a year of transformation at the Foundation in many ways - not least, it now has its own space - albeit as yet un-adorned with the wonders that are to be hung on its walls and placed carefully to divert and interest visitors. The space is within the new workshops of Factum Arte and it is exceedingly hard to describe these without reference to a medieval artist's workshop - but with computer aided designers and digitally controlled routers and high resolution scanners taking the place of some more recognisably artisanal objects and processes. But the people in all the workshops are artisans just the same

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Read all about it!
15,000,000 m2 of paintings preserved!

18 -11-2013

A great deal of newsprint columns (and social media texts) were devoted over the last few days to the extraordinary prices achieved at auction by the Bacon and Warhol paintings - and the prices are truly extraordinary if one uses any reference in the real world. But that is why it is so beyond the normal, extraordinary. These are unique and iconic works that can never be re-created by the now dead artists - they represent a time, state, culture, taste and society that we can only experience through objects like this. They carry the code. 

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Now you see it!


When we visit places and things that we think of as beautiful or important we think less about how they may have looked in the past - or may look in the future - but of what we see now. What we see is an object solidly in front of us. Well, if we look a little harder we will realise that it's not just an object, it's a subject - it is susceptible to forces and influences and changes just as we are. Of course, we know that many artefacts from our cultural heritage are damaged by some intervention , some accident, some change in the environment, some act of desecration, some seemingly benign restoration.  

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From Tutankhamun to Martian relaxation pods via Veronese


Suddenly last week our relationship with Egypt came alive again - the Egypt that directly concerns the Foundation. In November last year Baroness Ashton, the European Union High Representative handed the facsimile of the Tomb of Tutankhamun, which had been carefully recorded in extraordinarily high resolution in Luxor and then recreated in the Madrid workshops of Factum Arte, as a gift to Egypt. In her speech she said "The gift of the facsimile is a metaphor for the relationship between Europe and Egypt - the skills and technology that have been developed in Europe to create the facsimile are going to be transferred to Egypt where the local workers will be trained and those very skills and technology will become Egyptian". We heard last week that the process is now under way, that the installation is imminent and that we can plan new recordings in the tombs of Seti I and Queen Nefertari. The facsimile will allow the original tomb to be preserved without the constant damage it is suffering from visitors for which it was never designed. 

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Let's save Shakespeare's folios


Jerry Brotton wrote an insightful article for the Guardian this week (read article here) concerning the Shakespeare Folios at the Senate House Library, which we heartily welcome - it is written at a time when the use of digital technology in the conservation of our cultural heritage is becoming widely accepted (but not yet universally, clearly). Museums and other custodians are realising the importance of high-resolution digital recording and this is starting to be integrated into professional protocols - our work in the National Gallery in London we mention in the header to this webpage is a good example of its acceptance. By coincidence another article appeared in the Financial Times also this week - concerning  the British Library and the loss of audio records which highlights a similar tragedy that can be avoided if only we can all embrace and support the idea. (read FT article here)
What Jerry's article highlights is the very recent inflexion point which we have now passed in our ability to conserve using this harmless, contactless, permanent and flexible medium. He is right and we should listen. 

Dürer to digital mediation


We are about to move the workshops and operations in Madrid to a single, integrated space where everyone can work together - exchanging views, explaining developments, seeking help, providing input, participating in teams and groups in all the various projects that are going on. Exciting.

Factum is a workshop, a group of artisans led by Adam Lowe whose tools include digital technology and other wonders of the machine age.  All those tools will now be available for the various teams to share, in one place - those tools are products of our age. They and the changes they bring to the outcomes is similar in scale of change and importance to the late C15th introduction in Europe of printing.

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Candide meets Star Trek


If we believed the  press we would be feeling that the light at the end of the tunnel is getting larger, the idea is that all our troubles are over and that we can now slip back into a comfortable existence where nothing is lost and we are content - art galleries will exhibit the same paintings and objects, museums will contain the same artefacts, nothing has changed and Dr Pangloss is that strangely dressed man strutting, with a little limp, down the steps. 

We are allowed to feel that perhaps the press might have a bias that is about something other than reality. But then sometimes we are surprised - as we were by the Financial Times last week in a piece entitled Factum Arte remaking history - knowing that nothing in any gallery, any vault, any exhibit - in fact anything - is the same now as it was last week - we are, and all things are - changing and the sooner we understand this the better . ...........well we do, of course, otherwise our world’s personal focus on genealogy and ageing would not be so intense and profitable for the providers of salve.

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Heritage and Minitrue


Though Governments are feeding stories to the press of flickering recovery and use local stories to bolster their claims we are, all of us, still living in an economic turmoil of historic proportions. Some are lucky - they were in the right place or positioned themselves, some were unlucky or made a mistake. But we had little knowledge of where to be or how to react, whose fault it is is not my subject.

The economy does a lot more than create wealth or poverty, it is the way we deal with each other, not just commercially - it is a social and moral issue. To try to get it right we need to understand how it works. Adam Smith helped us to open our collective eyes after the warlord/kingdom years in the west and the C18th and C19th which played out as we began to understand what industry was and what the shift from rural to urban living meant and what intervention could do depending on the instruments and methods used.

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This week I'm going to Bologna to visit the new office and to see the work of the Factum Arte team. Most visible are Pedro Miró and Bianca Marchioro who are on the front of the basilica of San Petronio every evening, under the shrouded scaffolding (evening because of the vibration of the visitors below during the day) - recording the great door. I say most visible - in fact they are invisible under their shrouds so I should say, most immediate. This is work that was envisaged in 2011 where white light scanning was successfully demonstrated on the statue of Saint Petronius and the present project has resulted from that. The three great doors, with the vast and magnificent porta magna in the centre, carved around 1430-45 are the immediate focus. 

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Technology finds a way


As usual we are starting the new week with a menu of opportunities and projects that are both exciting and also daunting. But because there is a vein running through everything we do and that vein is technology the horizon is always more biased to the exiting as opposed to the daunting. The 'let's find out' as opposed to 'oh, no, how?'

This week Factum Arte's tree is being unveiled in London at the Connaught, whose tree it is to become - under the eyes of landscaper Tom Stuart-Smith in whose garden design it is to live and it is a symbol of a thing we forget sometimes. There is always a way to do something and it doesn't need to be harmful or too difficult. 

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