THE FACTORY OF FAKES: How a workshop uses digital technology to craft perfect copies of imperilled art
Excerpts from this extremely interesting article:
“The Factum Arte warehouse, in Madrid, is filled with copies of treasured art works, including a facsimile of an Assyrian winged lion that once stood in Nimrud—a site, in Iraq, that has been largely destroyed by ISIS.
A winged-lion replica, which was nearly complete, loomed over the workshop. I touched its front paws, and the plaster surface felt craggy, echoing the eroded surface of the original, which stood, for nearly three millennia, on the site of a palace in Nimrud, in what is now Iraq. In April, 2015, soldiers from isis besieged what remained of the Nimrud site. After a few days of hacking and bulldozing, they released a video of the entire archeological site being blown up. They also took a cruel photograph of a winged lion similar to the one being fashioned in Madrid: a militant was obliterating its smile with a drill.
The British Museum wasn’t the only Western institution that owned precious objects from Nimrud. Many treasures were spirited out of Iraq during the nineteenth century, the heyday of imperialist archeology. After the Iraq War began, Lowe contacted curators at five museums that own pieces from the throne room of the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II and secured permission to replicate them. The British Museum’s lion was scanned, at night, in the course of five weeks. (Recording at a resolution of three hundred microns takes time.)
Lowe’s initial plan was to help Iraqi curators partly “reassemble” the throne room in a library in Mosul. Facsimiles of the winged lion, and of reliefs depicting a lion hunt, were completed in 2014. High-density polyurethane is expensive, so the milling alone cost four hundred thousand euros. “We got them all through Turkey, through Kurdistan, through Erbil, down though Iraq into Mosul,” Lowe said. Then isis ransacked the library. The facsimiles were likely destroyed.Fortunately, Factum saved its molds. “The beauty is that we can send another set,” he said. The winged lion being finished by Beyro, then, could be a replacement for a replacement.
Now that ISIS has laid waste to all of Nimrud, Lowe has conceived an even bolder proposal. He told me that Boris Johnson, the British foreign minister, had announced plans to help reassemble the Nimrud fragments remaining from the recent destruction, following the model of the Acropolis, in Athens. This struck Lowe as foolish nostalgia—fetishizing stone shrapnel that was likely too ruined to conjure the monuments’ beauty. A smarter way to honor Nimrud’s past, he told me, would be to “scan all the known fragments”—he gestured to a wall that held copies of Nimrud friezes that are in the Pergamon Museum, in Berlin—“and have copies erected on the site.” He planned to start a campaign to promote his idea, presenting his latest lion to potential donors as a proof of concept.”