“The Other Nefertiti” was an artistic intervention by Jan Nikolai Nelles and Nora Al- Badri done in 2015. “With the data leak as a part of this counter-narrative within our investigative practice, we want to activate the artifact, to inspire a critical re-assessment of today’s conditions and to overcome the colonial notion of possession in Germany’s museums”. With regard to the notion of belonging and possession of material objects of other cultures, the artist’s intention is to make cultural objects publicly accessible and to promote a contemporary and critical approach on how the “Global North“ deals with heritage and the representation of “the Other”. “We should tell stories of entanglement and Nefertiti is a great case to start with to tell stories from very different angles and to see how they intertwine.“
The original intervention work by the artist duo Jan Nikolai Nelles and Nora Al- Badri turns out now to most likely be a hoax. Not the intervention itself or the concept the artists were attempting (and have) conveyed through the work, but the end result. The 3D scan at the heart of the issue was released as part of the protest over the German museum’s possession of the historic and cultural artifact, and the Egyptian Museum’s (and other similar institutions) hoarding of valuable 3D data. It seems now that the scan was most likely no produced out of the artist intervention as the work originally suggested. At the moment there is no accusation that the artists faked the intervention, more that whoever provided the technical knowledge to execute their concept provided a stolen copy of the Egyptian museum’s own high-resolution 3D scan (originally produced by TrigonArt) of the sculpture and not one that was captured during the event.
The original concept and execution and the resulting debacle has brought to light a greater issue about the importance of provenance in an age of digitization and the role museum’s can and should play in providing authoritative context to information as the public puts this data to use. Which brings me to the original purpose of this post, and the wonderful piece published by Cosmo Wenman on this very issue.
As I’ve explained elsewhere, digitizing artwork radically increases the importance of provenance—where artifacts and information come from, who controlled it, and who edited it. Museums are in the best position to produce and publish 3D data of their works and provide authoritative context and commentary about the work, the art, the data, and what it means. I know from first-hand experience that people want this data, and want to put it to use, and as I explained to LACMA in 2014, they will get it, one way or another. When museums refuse to provide it, the public is left in the dark and is open to having bogus or uncertain data foisted upon it.
Museums should not be repositories of secret knowledge, but unfortunately, as I’ve noted elsewhere, Neues is not alone in keeping their scan data to themselves. There are many influential museums, universities, and private collections that have extremely high quality 3D data of important works, but they are not sharing that data with the public.
– Cosmo Wenman
Which brings us back to the unintended consequences of this artistic intervention, and the value 3D models of historic artifacts can have on the creation of new work.
I’m entirely sympathetic to the underlying cause of liberating artwork and making it available to everyone. I believe that with 3D scanning and 3D printing, private collectors and museums have an unprecedented opportunity to recast themselves as living engines of cultural creation. They can digitize their three dimensional collections and project them outward into the public realm to be adapted, multiplied, and remixed, and they should do this because the best place to celebrate great art is in a vibrant, lively, and anarchic popular culture. The world’s back catalog of art should be set free to run wild in our visual and tactile landscape, and whether it turns up lit in pixels on our screens, rematerialized in our living rooms, or embedded in our architecture or clothing, it’s all to the good.
– Cosmo Wenman