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Malm, M., Westin, J., Lindhé, C., Lundin, S., Claésson, D. (2016). Conjuring up the Artist from the Archives: Ivar Arosenius. Digitization and Coordination of Archives for Enhanced Accessibility and Research. In Digital Humanities 2016: Conference Abstracts. Jagiellonian University & Pedagogical University, Kraków, pp. 835-836.
Conjuring up the Artist from the Archives: Ivar Arosenius. Digitization and Coordination of Archives for Enhanced Accessibility and Research

Conjuring up the Artist from the Archives: Ivar Arosenius. Digitization and Coordination of Archives for Enhanced Accessibility and Research

How can our understanding of an artist be deepened and developed through digital materials and methods? How can we develop tools for a better understanding of previous practices in conjuring up, modifying and curating artists and works of art in museum exhibitions, publications and studies? What ideological and practical considerations and presuppositions have governed the presentations that have formed the artist for the public consideration?

These are questions we investigate through a three-year project about Ivar Arosenius, a Swedish artist and writer. His main body of work was produced during the last few years that led up to his untimely death in early 1909, only 30 years of age and within months of his big breakthrough. During the subsequent years and decades, his substantial production earned him recognition posthumously both nationally and internationally, and today he is one of the most renowned Swedish artists.

At the core of the project is the development of a digital archive that collects the digitized material from several sources, both public and private, into a central repository, allowing scholars and the public to view, filter, and combine the entirety in new ways, and, through public APIs that we make available, explore, activate and make use of this rich material on various platforms. In addition to this, the project has also instigated a number of studies of what knowledge and aspects can be added through different technological developments, as well as what knowledge and values are lost or threatened in a digitization process. The poster focuses on two advanced studies; the processes involved in translating a physical archive into a digital, and methods through which to give body, context, and affect back to a digitized material. In the former study, we follow the material as it travels from the manuscript vault into the digitization studio, mapping all the actants involved in shedding it of its physicality. This is a translation process that functions to rephrase the archival material with the purpose of making it mobile and conform to those protocols that define something as being digital. This rephrasing does not only remove physicality, but does also introduce a whole new vocabulary that in many ways replaces the one that art historians, archivists and conservators use to describe the manuscripts.

The latter study explores material pertaining to Arosenius’ home in Älvängen, torn down in the early seventies after decades of neglect. Using the archive as a source, a virtual model is assembled in a game engine where the connection between artist, art and place is investigated to catch the way Arosenius has translated his surroundings and to contextualize the documents of the archive.

As with the digital archive, with this interactive reconstruction we aim to construct a synthesis of a heterogeneous and sometimes conflicting material that can be used both as an access-point to the life of Ivar Arosenius and his art, and as a repository: built on a source material consisting of archival photos, local stories and historic maps, paintings, 3d-scanned artefacts, sound recordings, and inventories of both the belongings of the artist and his family, and of the vegetation on his lands, the digital construction is a knowledge-model containing all the material pertaining to this part of the artists’ life. As such, of central interest for the study is how to communicate interpretative practices to the user, balancing an incomplete source material with the need to create a space that can inspire affect.

Just as the archive contains a translation of Arosenius’ home, first into documents and files, and later, when digitized, into bits, the reconstruction of Arosenius’ home is a translation of bits into context. It is an investigation into both the limits of the archive view, that which the archive lets us perceive, and the produce of activating and giving depth to the archive by bringing it together with the site of its origin. In the study, we frame the act of digitally reconstructing a site as an iterative research method of investigation and translation between different media, that allow a disparate material to be collected, studied, and processed simultaneously. Arosenius’ Älvängen is at the centre of this study as it is the locus of the art, and also the place of the life that the archive tries to represent. As such, it is the archaeo-archival embodiment of the artist’s archive.

The project involves a number of departments and divisions at the University of Gothenburg as well as the Swedish National Museum in Stockholm, and the Museum of Art in Gothenburg.