March 2020 was to be a significant month in the story of Factum Arte and the Factum Foundation, the digital pioneers and producers of works of art and facsimiles of historical objects. But because of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Factum’s two exhibitions at the Palazzo Fava in Bologna—one uniting the paintings of the 15th-century Griffoni Polyptych for the first time since 1725, the other focusing on the foundation’s technological preservation of cultural heritage—did not open. But the book accompanying the second show, The Aura in the Age of Digital Materiality: Rethinking Preservation in the Shadow of an Uncertain Future, has now been made available for free as a PDF on Factum Arte’s website.
The publication explores Factum’s technological advances in cultural heritage from a practical and philosophical perspective. The basis of the foundation’s work is recording objects and spaces through surface not just volume and in exponentially higher resolution than had previously been possible. “Factum’s interest has always been the surface of things,” says Factum Arte’s co-founder Adam Lowe. “Because it’s in that level of data that you understand what they are.” The company’s 2001 project in Egypt, using a scanner pioneered by Factum’s other co-founder Manuel Franquelo to record the tomb of Seti I, remains the bedrock of its activities today.
The book reflects the breadth of the foundation’s activities. Case studies explore some of its most important projects, including the preservation of ancient Dagestani documents, the recording of rock-cut inscriptions in Al-’Ula, Saudi Arabia, and the creation of facsimiles of Old Master paintings. As well as harnessing and developing technical approaches, an important element is its work in democratising these and putting them in the hands of people local to historic sites. But as the book title suggests, several texts also ponder what preserving heritage means in the age of digital technology and how it might shift attitudes to the care of historic materials.