In the fields of digital heritage, digital humanities and big data visualisation, Sarah Kenderdine is considered as a pioneer. An award-winning maritime archaeologist who works as Adjunct Professor of Art & Design at University of New South Wales, she is known for her innovative works that preserve history. In her career, she has done over 50 unique works with over 90 installations worldwide, and created many interactive installations at UNESCO World Heritage sites that include PLACE- Hampi, a permanent museum at Vijayanagar. The scholar is also known for her other Indian projects LookUp Mumbai and The Eye of Nagaur.
She is currently in India working on the upcoming Atlas of Maritime Buddhism. “We are working in 12 countries (from India to China through SE Asia and across the South China sea to Japan and Korea) and 100s of sites to create the Atlas of Maritime Buddhism,” says Sarah. “We are working across 24 ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) monuments in India and are shooting the project with a very rare stereoscopic film camera to make high-fidelity 3D panoramas of all these sites. These images will be augmented with a series of photogrammetric models of important Buddhist iconography from statues and artefacts from right across the Atlas region.”
A significant project, the exhibition will tour to prominent museums across the globe. A permanent installation will be set up at the Fo Guang Shan monastery in Taiwan, which gets about 10 million visitors a year. “In India, it will be located at many significant sites (some quite difficult to access), mostly related to maritime of Buddhism. Some of these sites are inland; some of them are old university sites like Nalanda, a World Heritage site, and also a place visited by many monks from far-away China. We also include places such as Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh; Junnar caves, Pune district; Pitalkora caves and Ajanta caves; Aurangabad district etc. The project is possible by the permission granted by the ASI,” says Sarah, whose projects follow a peer reviewed research practice. “We always seek the correct endorsement to undertake our work and work closely with custodians of cultural heritage before it begins, during the process and after the project reaches fruition.”
She says her projects are a conjunction of research ideas and opportunities that exist to bring these ideas to the world. It is, then, presented to the world through a suitable mode of narration. “While all the works we do are scalable, they are often conceived specifically for one display paradigm or another (e.g. 360-degree screen 3D; fulldome; augmented reality etc.) This helps us choose technologies of data capture such as the 360-3D photography we are currently undertaking in India for the Atlas of Maritime Buddhism. The Atlas is an enormous project and it’s important to realise that there is always more to do, but we must bring the project together in a timely way so it can go out in the world,” she says.
Sarah began her career as a maritime archaeologist and curator at Western Australia Maritime Museum. In 1994, she designed the first website for a museum in the southern hemisphere. “After building a few cultural portals at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, we were invited to build a website and interactive installation for the Olympic Games. This re-introduced me to museological space again and I went on to design and build large scale installations for museums across the world,” she recalls the journey.
What excited her was the process of combining the traditional scholarship with the emerging technologies in a creative manner. She is impressed by the stunning collections seen at museums in India. “The ‘Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya’ was undoubtedly wonderful to work on. I also have a very good relationship with the National Museum and the NM Institute in Delhi. In my relationship with museums, it is important to work on our research projects in a collaborative way,” she says.
For her project LookUp Mumbai, Sarah has used fulldome technique. “The work was originally conceived to be projected into the dome of the ‘Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya’ because the building has its own 60-foot domed ceiling. Later on, we realised that the dome I had created in Australia would be a perfect and easily achieved solution so we shipped it out. It’s a very high-resolution dome; actually the highest resolution touring dome system in the world and we were able to bring it here.”
The artwork is based on a series of gigapixel images of many important heritage buildings and, some contemporary buildings including Terminal 2. “It uses a computer vision algorithm that selects any image randomly and creates a unique transition between that image and the next every time. So, the idea is you could lie and look up all day and you will never see the same image again,” says Sarah, a firm believer of digitising culture.
“Digitisation serves an important role in preservation and conservation practices. “It has been thrust to the forefront in issues such as heritage at risk. It is also hugely important to providing access to collections and sites,” she signs off....