Pandora’s Box

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The oval hatch door opened to a parched, cloudless sky. Our 2-prop bush plane had pulled alongside the bleached customs building, where exhausted passengers and loose luggage from an earlier flight to Djibouti were still waiting in a sliver of shade to have their luggage inspected. Off came our gear with a thud, including the almost mandatory stickered and tattered Pelican cases holding our scanners.

We arrived in eastern Ethiopiasummer of 2012. Landed in Dire Dawa, on our way to Harar, Jugol Citya UNESCO World Heritage sitewhere the local mayor, his appointed engineers, and a contingent of security men waited for our much-anticipated arrival. We were to scan the historically significant but crumbling city gates slated for restoration by the local governorate. The data was to be parsed both for its use in a legal construction dispute, as well as the development of a proactive repairs plan. What ultimately resulted from that effort was a lot more than the price of admission.

The scene of dusty fieldwork may be a familiar one to those involved in the hit or miss world of scanning archeological or historic sites for research, NGO’s, institutions, public agencies or universities. It’s a sketchy niche, like many others, which have found a thin and viable home of utility, using the laterally applied technology of the scanner. More valuable than the use of the resulting data towards restoration and the dry scientific application of geomatic content, the scans opened up an unforeseen door to a world for which I am eternally grateful. The end product and effort splayed wide our understanding of the value of nascent technologies still in flux. Methods and technical means, which frustratingly so are without defined limits and prone, in efforts to generate some sort of viable economic basis, to flights of fanciful applications.

The Ethiopia scans, their lives as data sets and monetized products exhausted, were creatively re-envisioned by necessity towards the printing of fine art reproductions.

Painterly, almost photo realistic records resulted from the process, showing the ghosted people and places of Jugol against the hollow black field of virtual space. Their mysterious and ambiguous appearance, lying somewhere between a trace of ether and a 19th century glass plate reproduction, was brought forward by a 2 year long process of curating and careful blocking by our teammaking visible to gallery goers the value of scanning as a tool to make art in a series of successful exhibitions.

The thought of hipsters, combing over the blood, sweat and tears of a multiyear expedition to East Africa, initially frustrated my sensibilities. But a note of caution here to all scanning professionals: the gold you thought was in them there hills of pragmatic applications may in fact be somewhere else. And the strength of scanning as a vehicle for other related uses and technologies should be considered with wisdom even under the duress of trying to make a living.

As an example, the fine art world seen from afar is a no man’s land of ill defined and ambiguous proclivities. In reality, and up close, it’s an essential aspect of civilized society within its practice as a discipline and a lucrative commodity market for the knowing and well heeled. Art is for the ages and denotes erudition, patronage as well as status to those who covet it. Think of the deep well of patrimony of countries like Italy, France or Egypt, where art acts as the civic pillar, identity and cornerstone of our global society. What are now historical works were at one time the cutting edge-expressions and aspirations of that era. We benefit directly in the present from that experiment of culture generated in the past.

Recently, the successful multi-millionaire businessman/producer, husband of Beyonc Knowles, Jay-Zwho has built a media and product empire within the world of pop musicexperimented with the production of a fine art gallery installation. In a white space, he exhibited himself in an act of performance art. A man steeped in popular media crossing over into the realm of culture and fine art. By putting himself in a gallery, which demarcates the lines of experience between the mundane world and the world of Art and ideas, he bridged the gap between the value of what we might perceive as necessary or pragmatic and the world of though, experimentation and ultimately culture. All the while, he shrewdly and keenly commented, by his act, on the world of ideas in art as commodity. The business of putting yourselfor allowing others to put themselvesout there is for the benefit of all.

Consider the invention of the smartphone device and the unforeseen explosion in technological application and development of apps for those instruments. In parallel, scanning as a profession against scanning as discipline, where the unknown, long-term application of what in fact is possible has only just been arrived at. In addition, in the world of commodity, the leverage of the value of an object or act that is materially worthless, against the astronomical resale value of significant thoughts and cultural ideasexpressed by the fine art market, is worth considering carefully; a Picasso or Andy Warhol work sells for millions and gains value exponentially.

Now we can possibly refrain from chuckling under our breath at the sometimes-unfathomable results of scanning experiments rampant in all quarters of the Internet. We may think twice at judging prematurely the seemingly useless applications of tangential flights-of-fancy, carried out by inexperienced or idealistic participants in this field. For all that we may know about the secure technical parameters of our scanning products, huge potential is always latent in the unpredictable, for the benefit of all in the cutting edge, and especially in the mysterious realm of the human imagination.

Project Credits
Harar Jugol Gates Scanning Project Charles Matz, Jonathan Dillon, Bishara Abdul-HamidLead research scanning team
Harar Jugol Fine Art Prints and Images Copyright: Crucible Press, LLC. California USA

Charles Matz is a Registered Architect, Certified Interior Designer, principal, executive producer, and educator. Mr. Matz brings his extensive experience in the fields of architecture, interiors, manufacturing, and multi-media technology to the service of owners, leaders of companies, civic organizations, cultural institutions, and universities to manage and visualize new projects.
Mr. Dillon is an author, educator and architect working to integrate new digital technologies into architectural practice and to maintain, explore and expand architecture’s critical and artistic traditions.
Bishara Abdul-Hamid is an E-Learning Designer and Information Technologist, experienced in the development of training courses structured to provide materials and systems for leaders and groups in corporate, higher & K-12 education. Designer and developer of self-paced e-learning modules, simulations and mobile learning. He is an Implementer of tech marketing initiatives, e-newsletter, blogs, web content, LinkedIn updates, webinars, and social media.

A 6.361Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE