Digital Methods Help Replicate Artworks
By J. D. BIERSDORFER
As Hippocrates noted, art is long and life is short. But the life of some ancient art is growing shorter, hampered by environmental factors like climate, light, pollution — or by dynamite.
To keep cultural artifacts from fading from view and collective memory, a blend of art reproduction and digital technology is being used to produce precise replicas of original works. But the process is more than just snapping a digital photo of a painting and shooting the resulting file out of a desktop printer.
The Kyoto Digital Archive project in Japan has recently reproduced large-scale art from three temples by this process. The results — and the methods — are on view until Monday afternoon in an exhibit called "Releasing the Spirit of Kyoto" at the Artexpo fair at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
The replicas are of "Tigers," a four-panel work from the Nanzenji Temple painted by Tanyu Kano in the 17th century; "Five Great Guardian Gods of Secret Buddhism," a 13th-century work from the Daigoji Temple, by an unknown artist; and "Landscape of Katata," a watercolor originally mounted as a sliding screen for a part of the Daitokuji Temple and attributed to Mitsunobu Tosa in the 16th century.
Kyoto, a 1,200-year old city tucked into Japan's western mountains, is home to more than 3,500 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. The Kyoto International Culture Foundation, working now with Hewlett-Packard, started the digital archive project to create accurate replicas of the city's religious art over several years.
The subtle aspects of Japanese paintings, which often include fine line work on delicate materials, could be lost or muted during reproduction. So the process involves creating high-resolution images of the originals with a scanner or camera that can capture images with more than 100 megapixels (compared with, say, the 5 or 6 megapixels of most consumer-oriented digital cameras).
Using a combination of software and the human eye, the colors in the digital image are matched to the original work. The image is then printed out on a large-format Hewlett-Packard Designjet 5500 UV inkjet printer with fade-resistant inks. The printer is able to produce the image on washi, a traditional Japanese paper made from the inner bark of trees.
To finish the reproduction with a human touch, an artist applies gold leaf to certain areas of the work. The process can be seen on a documentary at the Artexpo exhibit.
This project is not the only one trying to preserve fading Kyoto treasures through replication. Nijo Castle, which includes Ninomaru Palace, has had numerous 17th-century works restored and replicated over more than two decades. Hitachi, another technology company, used its Digital Image System to help restore some paintings, but before digital technology came into its own in the late 20th century, the castle's artworks were copied by hand.
"For the Nijo Castle project, painted reproductions have been produced," said Gregory Levine, an associate professor of Japanese art at the University of California, Berkeley, who noted that the process was quite different and arguably more culturally rich compared to the high-tech approach used today.
"By having contemporary painters who are trained in traditional painting style and technique reproduce 17th-century paintings," he said, "there seems to be more of an ongoing cultural life story embodied in such a replication."
Preservation and replication efforts are intended to keep ancient artworks vibrant and alive for new generations. Another factor to consider for art preservation, however, is the global impact of the pollution hastening the deterioration in the first place. (Kyoto was the host of the 1997 conference on greenhouse gas emissions that resulted in the eponymous protocol on climate change.)
There is also scholarly concern that in a future world filled with replicas, while original art is safely tucked away, images could be seen out of context and authentic works may be inaccessible to historians. "Many of these objects were created for enshrinement and display within specific architectural and ritual spaces," Professor Levine said of Kyoto's temple art. "If we remove them from their home structures, we can no longer study them in situ, on site, and that's going to transform our understanding of them."
When the art has disappeared, however, technology can be all that's left. Such is the case of the giant 1,600-year-old Buddha statues in the Bamiyan Valley of Afghanistan that were dynamited by the Taliban in 2001. The artist Hiro Yamagata (born near Kyoto in 1948) hopes to use laser holograms to create more than 160 faceless statues across the Bamiyan cliffs, all powered by solar energy and windmills. If the project is approved, completion is scheduled for 2009, and the artist has said that many of the windmills could also provide power to nearby villages.
REAL SIZE TREASURES
Reproduction of Treasures by the City of Kyoto: The subtle aspects of Japanese paintings, which often include fine line work on delicate materials, could be lost or muted during reproduction. Therefore, the new process involves creating high-resolution images of the originals with a scanner or camera that can capture images with more than 100 megapixels, contrasted with the usual 5 or 6 megapixels of most consumer-oriented digital cameras. Using a combination of software and the human eye, the colors in the digital image are matched to the original work. The image is then printed out on a large-format ink-jet printer with fade-resistant inks. The printer is capable of reproducing the image on washi paper, a traditional Japanese paper made from the inner bark of trees. To finish the reproduction with a human touch, an artist applies gold leaf to certain areas of the work. Then we can apply this to make byobu, makimono, Kakejiku, Fusuma, or framing. Also, You may have new ideas such as apply to decorate cabinet, wall, or partition.
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