SIGNED magazine #29

32 While a dimension separates them, a 3D object can also be seen as a photograph. It was a thought that stuck in Jon Beck's mind as an undergraduate art student in photography. After coming across Photogrammetry, a method that stitches together overlapping pictures of an object to create a digital 3D model, he realised the smartphone in his pocket had instantly become a 3D scanner. The next stop was finding something worthy to scan. Living in London, famous for its cultural heritage acquired from around the world, it seemed a natural subject matter. In particular, he was drawn to the British Museum for its enormous collection of antiquities, and conservative attitude toward sharing their collection. Many visits, and thousands of photographs later, Beck decided to present the museum with some 3D-printed models of his scanning work. He was promptly banned from the museum. Undeterred, Beck taught some friends how to scan so they could go to the museum in his place. This was the birth of the Scan the World (STW) project. Finding collaborators was no obstacle, and soon groups were teaching each other the basics and holding "scanathons" at various museums; often, these groups included experts who would give secret guided tours while the scanning was taking place. Beck explains the appeal: "One of the nice things about the scanning process, especially for 3-dimensional objects, is that you look at it very closely and from less conventional angles, and you look at the object in different ways, all in an effort to get as much information about the object as possible. Scanathons are a way to slow down and really appreciate the work." This proved a seductive element for the art community, and soon they were getting thousands of submissions. Received scans are uploaded to the Scan the World website as 3D printable files, each artefact includes metadata, accreditation, and any available information about the object. Based on open source software, creative commons licensing, and a community of enthusiastic scanners, the archive rapidly expanded, and by 2014, Scan the World (STW) had taken shape. The final, and defining, element of STW came as a surprise. As contributions mounted, Beck and his small team began to realise that many interconnected stories were being attached to the scanned objects, and these stories were coming from both within and outside the museums, some even related to objects in people's homes. Of course, there were the notes accompanying objects when scanning, and commentary from experts, but more profoundly, there were many stories and observations from amateurs, personal reflections creating connections between people and artefacts. Jon adds, "People also noticed similar attributes between pieces that were geographically distant but had many common elements and shared histories, making it possible to create collaborative stories about a piece of art." Before long, it was apparent that cultural heritage objects in the STW archive were more than just static data defined by expert interpretations. Rather, they were part of a living community, and this community and history are embedded as part of the digital artefact, allowing for a renewed sense of shared knowledge, heritage, and creativity. Breaking free from permanent storage What began as one man secretly acquiring content from one of the world's premier stores of global cultural wealth has grown into a movement that highlights important and long-standing issues confronting cultural heritage institutions. Beck elaborates, "The availability of cultural data, and in particular 3D scanning, has opened access to digital artefacts and stands in stark contrast to, and gives a certain freedom from, the heavily curated exhibits and closed archives we see in museums, galleries, and archives. These traditional cultural institutions come with significant barriers. Of course, the vast majority of items are in permanent archives and seldom see the light of day, but access to museums is also impossible for the vast majority of people living distant lives. In addition, people with specific conditions, such as visual impairment, constantly struggle to appreciate art in its fullness. By taking the object out of the museum, and out of its protective casing, as well as adding more information and context to objects, we can democratise cultural heritage on many levels." Beck had started STW to help break down the walls of the cultural institutions, the gatekeepers of world cultural heritage, and as a way to democratise art. With more than 25,000 scanned artefacts from around the world uploaded as 3D printable files, and an average of 10,000 downloads a day, he is certainly making headway toward this goal. While some people are happy