Day Four: Modeling and Models

At a textile study day a few years ago, the discussion transitioned from technique to the functions of these textiles in late antiquity. They were not created as art objects, but as furnishing. Unlike how they were exhibited in museums, the textile would have been situated against a architectural backdrop, one with multiple textiles and objects within it. One professor remarked on a study that had looked at Byzantine icons under different light conditions, mimicking the candlelit environments they would have been originally viewed under. Someone had an idea, let’s dim the lights in the room. Suddenly, the splotchy coloring of the textile blended. The face gained a greater sense of dimensionality, and it morphed from a idiosyncratic textile fragment into a complex, nuanced composition, a testament to the skill of Late Antique weavers.  So much of our analysis of art is based on the conditions we view the object, but modeling allows us to manipulate how we experience art.

When we work directly with a piece of art, we have to privileged its conservation and preservation needs before our research. It’s impossible to see some objects out of their vitrines or flip through manuscripts numerous times. However, by digitally scanning object, we can think about them differently. At the most basic level, models allow for greater access and readability.  The Freer|Sackler’s digital model of the Cosmic Buddha sculpture allows for the intricate carvings that cover the sculpture to come to life. In the galleries, visitors routinely pass by the 6th century headless sculpture, but the model allows for the opportunity to enlarge these narrative scenes and heightens the contrast between the carvings.

Modeling also lets us think of the user of the object. What is actually visible when the object is in use? How could people interact with these buildings and objects? Acoustic studies let us think of buildings as inhabited spaces and as platforms. Light studies remind us that color is essentially a matter of lighting. We rarely think of buildings as single buildings, but as in dialogue with their environment and setting. However, plans and maps are only two-dimensional.

Modeling is a tool that allows us to ask more questions and better probe the historical context of objects. We can never reconstruct the past and all it’s intricacies. Nor do we want to replace the actual object with a model.  However, a model can function as an educational tool, a tactile and visual way to represent an object as an object and reduce the flattening inherent in two-dimensional representations and photographs.





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