This article is an apology to Nora Al-Badri and Jan Nikolai Nelles’. I hope my questioning of your methods doesn’t land you in hot water. Last week, my post There’s Something Fishy About the Other Nerfertiti really blew the lid off a debate that has recently had a lot of chatter in online 3D scanning, printing and art circles. My post debunked the possibility that your art project The Other Nefertiti was scanned using an Xbox Kinect sensor. Immediately after my posting, the internet seemingly exploded with commentary about how the “Nefertitihack” had to be a hoax. At the end of the day, I don’t think it matters whether you scanned the artifact with a Kinect or procured a file from other sources because what you have created is a wonderful dialogue about the provenance of antiquities, ownership, copying and a strong argument for openness and sharing of data. What’s great is that this priceless antiquity is now within reach of anyone who cares to experience it and people are interacting with Nefertiti in unique and personal ways they never have been able to before.
The repercussions of my post began with Hacker News picking up on my post, which produced a ton of traffic and some great comments. The Nefertiti Hack: Digital Repatriation or Theft? was the first press I’m aware of that began to seriously consider that things with the story didn’t add up. Hyperallergic’s Claire Voon then produced some of the most insightful commentary Could the Nefertiti Scan Be a Hoax — and Does that Matter?, and it all culminated with the Times’ Charly Wilder’s follow up Nefertiti 3-D Scanning Project in Germany Raises Doubts (She was aghast that none of the three experts she had spoken to for her original article had picked up on the possibility that the data was too good for their capture method).
So we may never know the truth about the true origin of the file. I tend to think that it is somehow derived from an official museum scan, which was somehow copied in the creation of their 3D printed edition). However, the real conclusion I’ve come to is that it doesn’t matter. What matters is something the internet has taught us all along. From Wikileaks to Nefertiti, information wants to be free. Already, a quick google search will turn up a range of Nefertiti derivative works ranging from interactive art to Lego Minifig and Pez heads, voronoi (swiss cheese) versions, Nefertiti vases and many more. What will be done in the future with her data, only time will tell.
Some Nefertiti inspired works that are already making the rounds. The best is yet to come.
Perhaps the best argument for museums being open with their data is the talk below that was just posted by Cosmo Wenman. Cosmo is an artist who has been active in scanning antiquities from museum collections for several years now. He has scanned a number of famous objects and casts made from objects, including the Venus de Milo and Winged Victory of Samothrace. The talk likens these 3D scans to the 19th century tradition of making plaster casts from classical sculptures and makes a strong case by showing several examples of how people have used the data he shared. This is a position that has been shared by many museums, including the Media Lab of the Metropolitan Museum of Art here in NYC, and I sincerely hope this trend will continue. The promise of the internet is that all of man’s knowledge will be at our fingertips. The Neues Museum would be wise to take note.