The tragic destruction of cultural artifacts at The Mosul Museum last year was the catalyst for the creation of several new works that give a digital update to artifacts from around the world. Mosul is a series by Montreal-based artist Pierre Chaumont, in which 3D scans and software are used to make whimsical and relevant modifications to virtual representations of famous sculptures and artifacts.
Fortunately, many of the artifacts that were destroyed in Mosul were probably reproductions, but as Chaumont tells The Creators Project, “these attacks sparked the creation of a global archive consisting of 3D scans of these lost artworks and were made available for free to anyone who has access to the internet and a computer.” The global archive that Chaumont is talking about are websites like My Mini Factory’s “Scan The World” project and Autodesk’s 123D, where 3D scans of pieces of cultural heritage are compiled and distributed. Upon discovering these collections, Chaumont saw an opportunity to make new works from them.
The Beginning (Winged Lion Of Mosul)—the first work in the Mosul series—is a digital print that Chaumont made from a 3D scan of an Assyrian sculpture of a protective deity similar to the ones that were destroyed in Mosul. Using the open-source 3D software Blender, Chaumont depicts shards of the stone sculpture frozen in mid-air, memorializing the instant it was smashed by ISIS supporters as the rest of the world watched. “I try to learn a lot about the scans I use to make my works,” explains Chaumont, “I single out in each one aspects that aim at changing our way of looking at or accepting them.”
The works in the Mosul series have taken on multiple forms. After producing digital prints, Chaumont moved on to video and animated GIFs, which he’s displayed as holographic projections. Chaumont says that the various iterations of the series are “like an onion,” because the concept can simultaneously function at multiple levels.Data Is Not History, HD loop video, 600 x 600 pxl, 2016.
Recently, Chaumont started making kinetic versions of his manipulated artifacts in the form of what he calls “push puppets.” Power Only Exists If You Accept It consists of a 3D-printed sculpture that is attached to a lever mechanism made from an axe handle. Pressing on the handle causes the sculpture to fall apart and then spring back to its original form when it’s released, simulating the act of smashing the sculpture over and over again. Chaumont admits, “it's quite an easy trick but it's quite addictive once you start playing with it.”
Power Only Exists If You Accept It, sculpture, 60 x 12 x 12 inches, 2016.
Considering that many of us may only ever experience the world’s great cultural artifacts through images on the screens of our digital devices, Chaumont’s work presents a thoughtful take on the preservation of cultural heritage in the digital age. Rather than simply lamenting the damage that’s been done, Chaumont celebrates the dramatic events that have become part of the history of these artifacts. Although some invaluable cultural artifacts may have been reduced to abstract fractions of their former shapes, Chaumont reminds us that we can still appreciate them for the fascinating events that sculpted their current form.