Curatorial insecurity : the impact of 3D scanning and printing on curatorial practice

KNOWLSON, Amelia (2019). Curatorial insecurity : the impact of 3D scanning and printing on curatorial practice. Doctoral, Sheffield Hallam University.

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This thesis is situated in the field of digital cultural heritage and uses 3D scanning and printing as both a method and a provocation to reveal the curatorial process while simultaneously examining how the technology affects museum practice from the perspective of the museum curator. 3D scanning and printing (henceforth 3DSP) has become a keen area of interest among museum practitioners and researchers. The ever-increasing accessibility of 3D technology opens up new possibilities for audiences and curators alike, with the potential to establish new structures of practice and engagement. Yet despite the growing interest in 3DSP, very little is known about how integration of 3DSP does and could affect museum practice and its traditional methods of working. This thesis will investigate how and why 3DSP is affecting the practices and traditions of the museum from the perspective of the curator, a member of staff who is arguably the first and primary engager with museum objects. The research undertaken for this study will focus on two museums, Museums Sheffield and The British Museum, to provide an account of how 3DSP affects curatorial practice when it is first introduced and an account of cases where 3DSP is already in operation. The reader is first introduced to the concept of the 3DSP and its surrounding literature in the contextual review. The chapter acknowledges that 3DSP is relatively new within the museum sector and that such a novelty impacts on the breadth and depth of heritage sector literature on 3DSP. The contextual review thus provides a background to museum discourse before discussing the changing role of the museum curator. The literature concerning 3DSP in the museum is positioned and examined as a tool for simultaneously frustrating and supporting the role of the museum and its curators. With the above arguments in mind, the thesis then moves on to discuss the methods and data used to examine 3DSP in the museum. Drawing on curatorial museum-based methods conducted over the past 3 years, this thesis details the perceived effect of 3DSP on museum practice and traditions. Daily tasks, such as planning exhibition concepts, accessioning and object research are reinterpreted as methods for this study, with the aim of understanding not only the role of the museum curator, but also how 3DSP impacts on the practice of museum curators. By situating 3DSP at the heart of this study and working with pre-existing 3DSP projects, this study provides real-world practice examples of how the integration of 3DSP affects the museum. At the centre of this thesis are three discussion chapters which examine the data gathered from an Acclimatisation Study and two curatorial residencies at Museums Sheffield and The British Museum. The chapters examine the curatorial positionality of 3DSP, where 3DSP sits with the museum structure and politics, and finally the digital implications of introducing 3DSP into the museum. Across all three chapters there is an attempt to position 3DSP within the wider narrative of digital cultural heritage, examining, for example, 3DSP’s effect on our current understanding of authenticity and authority. The first of the discussion chapters focuses on the curatorial intention and seeks to understand the perceived role and position of 3DSP in the museum. The chapter examines how participating curators from Museums Sheffield and The British Museum and their curatorial departments have responded to 3DSP and how their curatorial position could either work with or against the framework of the museum. In the second discussion chapter the focus is on where 3DSP objects sit within in the museum. The chapter reveals the changes, frustrations and enrichments 3DSP has brought to curatorial practice and makes comparisons with alternative replicas, which have formed part of museum practice for decades. The material and immaterial properties of 3DSP museum objects are discussed in the chapter and applied to how curators believe this impacts on the object’s sense of authenticity and authority. In the final discussion chapter, the focus is on the digital challenges and benefits of introducing 3DSP into the practices of the museum. The chapter explores how curators responded to the introduction of 3DSP and furthers discussions from the first chapter. Within this chapter are examinations of how 3DSP affects copyright law, debates concerning how to treat data points added by the scanning software, and data storage concerns. The conclusions, detailed in this thesis, reveal complex and shifting perceptions on the role and position of 3DSP within the museum that is interlinked with the museum’s practice and traditions. Preconceptions exist about the use of the replica and its potential frustration of 5 museums’ objects’ authenticity as well as the transformations of digital objects and their use beyond the collection.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Thesis advisor - Shaw, Becky [0000-0001-6835-6044]
Additional Information: Director of Studies: Dr Becky Shaw
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Sheffield Hallam Doctoral Theses
Identification Number:
Depositing User: Hilary Ridgway
Date Deposited: 20 Dec 2019 14:10
Last Modified: 03 May 2023 02:01

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