Author: John Bryden
In February 2016 I was tasked with digitising a large number of mosaic pieces which once comprised an Eduardo Paolozzi mural, previously installed in Tottenham Court Road Tube Station, London in 1984. The work of the Scottish artist was acquired by the University of Edinburgh Art Collection in October 2015 following its removal from the tube station arches by Transport for London.
The dissipate mural consisted of approximately 500 fragments spread over 42 boxes and 4 pallets. Dependent on what percentage of the original mural we had actually acquired, the initial long-term plan was to reconstruct the mural and install it within the university campus, giving it a new life. From the outset however, it became clear that piecing it all back together again would be challenging. We decided to attempt to digitally reconstruct the mural first to give a better idea of the potential for physical reconstruction. This would also help us establish what percentage of the whole mural was represented among the pallets and boxes….an unusual, but exciting, project to say the least!
On a technical level, I used a Hasselblad-H4 camera and professional, Bowens studio lights within my digitisation process. To begin with, I captured several mosaic fragments in one shot and then went on to crop, and edit, each piece individually before saving as a separate, new file. The tricky part came in ensuring that the scale of each fragment would be represented correctly with every image produced. I, therefore, set the camera at a distance from the mosaics that would represent a 1:1 ratio in scale, placing a ruler within each raw image capture in order to make minor adjustments at a later stage if necessary. The result meant that, when using the images in image processing software, the pieces would be of a relative size to one another. If the size of the fragments was incorrect then this would only cause problems further down the line when trying to complete this very large digital jigsaw puzzle. Further, the faces/upside of the mosaics had to be perpendicular to the focal plane of the camera and, collectively, the mosaics had to be of equal distance to focal plane. The same principles applied for the positioning of the ruler itself. This confirmed that perspectives would not be distorted and that the relative size of the mosaics would remain consistent throughout the project.
The image management process for this project involved saving the final cropped images as both tiff and png files. Having cropped directly around the edges of each fragment (i.e. with no background around the mosaic itself), the png files would then allow the fragments to be arranged edge to edge where possible. This process was key regarding the next stage of the project.
The images of the mosaics were then transferred to Professor Bob Fisher of the University’s Informatics Department. This cross departmental work seems particularly fitting as Paolozzi had close ties to the Informatics department and this relationship is visible in the form of several Paolozzi sculptures dotted about the Informatics buildings. With the help one of his PhD students, Professor Fisher used image recognition software, that he had developed, to digitally piece back together the fragments so to reflect the original design of the mural as best as possible. Professor Fisher had access to original images of the Paolozzi Mural in situ at Tottenham Road Tube Station which served as a vital reference point. To give a simple analogy, these original images would act as the cover image you would see on the box of a jigsaw puzzle, with the images of the individual mosaic fragments representing the pieces inside the box.
Art Collections Curator, Neil Lebeter, and I produced a short video interview with Professor Bob Fisher and Phd student, Alex Davies, where they discuss their work process, the challenges, and uniqueness, of this particular project and the results they have found to date. It is an interesting watch!
Since the making of this interview the project plans have developed in light of Bob and Alex’s findings. In August 2016 the University employed a Public Art Officer, Liv Laumenech. As well as caring for, and developing the public art collection, she also has the responsibility of figuring out what to do with the fragments. Given that a large portion of the arches are missing, to reconstruct the arches now seems an unlikely option. The next step that has been taken is to organise an interdisciplinary symposium in February 2017 that will bring together Paolozzi experts, conservators and mosaicists to brainstorm ideas for redisplay and use of the fragments with students. Until such time as a decision is made regarding their redisplay, the mosaics have been used in teaching and as part of visits by researchers and the general public to the art collection.
Having completed my side of the Paolozzi Mosaics Project, I have been lucky enough to get the opportunity to digitise a large number of Paolozzi maquettes which are also part of the University of Edinburgh Art Collection. The collection encompasses a wide range of weird and wonderful pieces. Among his maquettes we can see where he began developing his ideas for what became his piece, The Manuscript of Monte Cassino (also known as the ‘big foot’), situated outside St Mary’s RC Cathedral here in Edinburgh.
Digitising the mosaic fragments involved a more consistent photographic approach in terms of camera positioning and lighting, whereas working with the maquettes has offered slightly more freedom in this regard. I have been lighting and positioning each maquette in a way that best exhibits the physical attributes of that particular object. Here are a number of the maquettes pictured below.
We have also had Digital Heritage specialist Clara Molina Sanchez in the studio carrying out 3D work on one of the maquettes. This should render a high quality 3D visualisation of the object. Currently we are looking at ways of delivery such 3D images online. Here, Clara has kindly allowed us to show an interesting behind-the-scenes shot of her setup.
Digital Imaging Unit
University of Edinburgh