Monday, 30 October 2017


As we work our way through the themes of the course, most recently encountering 3D artifacts, I am continually interested in the idea of authenticity. If our theory course has taught me anything, it’s that the staggering human propensity for imposing order is surpassed only by the actual complexity of things, which undermines our attempts at coherence and comprehensiveness the more we pay attention to what’s actually going on “in the seams.”

In the interest of exposing my paradata, I explored the topic of authenticity further by searching “3D printed artifacts authenticity” into Google News, which returned an article on an artist deliberately distorting artifacts in museum collections to “imagine” artifacts of her own design.

It’s an interesting and contrary impulse to the readings on 3D printing for analytical purposes, which seek ever finer and closer reproductions of the original models. Even as we approximate “accuracy” in 3D models with analytical intent, the readings make clear that there is interpretation, modification, and smoothing in the production of this knowledge. I see value in ever finer levels of accuracy in the models, but I do wonder if we will reach a level of approximationm (or "authenticity") that causes us to overlook, forget, or disregard the fact these are reproductions with some (however small) level of imagining. By contrast, the artist in this article indulges the imaginative component of her work, even exaggerating it. I’m not suggesting archaeologists pursue this in interpretation, but rather recognize imagining is its own kind of paradata.

I’m interested in your perspectives on this; acknowledging the benefits of 3D printing and modelling for analytical purposes (much less “engagement” purposes) is there a danger in getting too close to reproduction?


Afterthought: alternatively, perhaps in time we will reach the 3D printed version of the Uncanny Valley and be weirded out instead!


Arwen Johns said...

I also find the idea of authenticity in this context to be quite interesting, especially because I believe it can refer to multiple aspects of producing and interacting with 3D printed and digital artifacts. Are we referring to the authenticity of the original artifact, whether people engaging with the object find it to be authentic, or something else all together?

As part of next week's readings Jeffrey (2015) suggests that original artifacts are viewed as authentic because of their "biographic chains" associated with their particular use histories. Clearly 3D printed artifacts have no such histories (unless we consider the act of creating reproductions, which can also be a fruitful avenue for investigation and theorizing) which is why so often their authenticity is questioned by those who experience them. Involving communities in the production of such objects is one way to impart a sense of authenticity to these objects while also promoting necessary engagement and outreach.

I would also argue that the ideas of objectivity and accuracy in 3D printing and modelling are mere illusions, ignoring the fact that at all stages, people are making choices about what is "worthy" of representation. Jeffrey (2015) also talks about the "suspension of disbelief", where if the engagement with narratives associated with artifacts is strong enough, people become more willing to forgive deficiencies in effects, and I think this is important to keep in mind when discussing authenticity and accuracy.

Jeff Grieve said...

Thanks Trevor for this post.

The one obvious issue that comes to mind for me in creating "exact" replicas that are indistinguishable in every sensory way from their originals is how to control such a process to avoid unknowingly contributing to the illegal forgery and sale of artefacts etc.

In thinking further about this, I consulted the library resources and came across this very recent article on authenticity and accuracy in 3D printing.

Jones, S., Jeffrey, S., Maxwell, M., Hale, A., & Jones, C. (2017). 3D heritage visualisation and the negotiation of authenticity: the ACCORD project*. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 7258(November), 1–21.

The authors in this article have adopted an interesting perspective on the issue of authenticity and accuracy - that our "pre-occupation with the virtual object – and the binary question of whether it is or is not authentic – obscures the wider work that digital objects do." They suggest that digital replications can also actively mediate and contribute to the authenticity and status of their original counterparts.

This perspective does not address the question you asked in your post ... but it does offer a different way to view the issue ?


Alex Gregor said...

Hi Trevor,

I think this is an interesting topic of discussion. I do not think we will ever reach a point where recreations are forgotten to be reproductions. I do, however, think that a point will be reached where recreations are convincing enough that people can be persuaded of their authenticity. Authenticity is fundamentally a matter of perception, and in that way, perception I think represents a form of paradata. Our perspective and cultural paradigm always influence how we interpret and interact with artifacts and data. When archaeologists are excavating a site, they can never fully understand the context of the artifact because they were not there. Consequently, there is always going to be an imagined aspect. Thus, imagination is also a form of paradata, as you stated.