• Tonya Nelson

    Arts & Culture Policymaker & Consultant

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    Factum Arte:Space for Digital Exploration and Innovation

    I had the privilege to visit the Factum Arte production facility in Madrid last week. The huge industrial space that spans a full city block allows for artists and arts institutions to explore the potential for digital technology to produce high quality replicas of great art and create new works of art. According to founder Adam Lowe, the objective of Factum Arte is the use technology to conserve and preserve, not replace. The range of projects that Factum Arte takes on are endless because they can invent (by rigging together cameras, lights and frames) a machine to tackle any digitization challenge presented.

    I was most impressed with a piece Factum Arte produced for Marina Abramovic’s Five Stages of Maya Dance. This piece is not new — it was made in 2013 — but remains a very intriguing use of 3D printing. Some photos and video from me — the website has many more. A scan of Abramovic’s head was made and printed a relief in alabaster. The effect is that from far away the work looks like a series of photographs, but as you move closer you see it is actually an alabaster block with a cut outs of Abramovic’s facial expressions.

    What is wonderful about the Factum Arte space is that it brings together artists, craftsmen and technologists in a space for explorations and innovation. It is not an assembly line-type manufacturing centre, nor a lab. It is a modern day renaissance workshop.


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    International Museums Day: British Council Sina Weibo Event in China

    International Museums Day: British Council Sina Weibo Event in China

    It was an honour to be asked by the British Council’s Director of Arts in China, Rehana Mughal to participate in the discussion about the future of museums on IMD. I was joined by Esme Ward, Director of Manchester Museums and Helen Jones of the Science Museum Group. The event was broadcast by Sina Weibo in China. Clip below.


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    International Museums Day 2020: Diversity and Inclusion

    International Museums Day 2020: Diversity and Inclusion

    International Museums Day is on 18 May 2020 and in celebration of the theme equality and diversity, I curated an online exhibition on the topic – Diversity, Inclusion and Innovation – for ArtUK’s new Curations platform. A selection of works from the exhibition below. ICOM UK is hosting a series of activities in partnership with British Council which can be found here.

    Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Condominium

    As a black artist of Ghanian descent, Yiadom-Boakye has said that “race is something that I can completely manipulate or reinvent or use as I want to,”

    This Corner of Limbo 1991 Paul Gopal-Chowdhury (b.1949)

     “For myself, combining two very different images (Indian mythological and urban London) makes a situation which is both exciting and at times unbearable. I want to create an exchange between them so that everyday reality can appear mythic and the mythological part can become real.”

    Aitchison, Craigie Ronald John; Portrait of Chris Ogidih; British Council Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/portrait-of-chris-ogidih-177090

    Craigie Aitchison is quoted as saying: ‘When people ask me why I only paint black people … I always ask them why they only paint white people’ 


  • New Book: Digital Future of Museums, Conversations and Provocations

    I was delighted to be asked to be part of the book Digital Future of Museums: Conversations and Provocations by Keir Winesmith and Suse Anderson. I really enjoyed the discussion I had with Arthur Cohen, CEO of LaPlaca Cohen, the company behind Culture Track, which can be found in Conversation #10. The book also features conversations with Kati Price, Digital Director at the V&A, Tony Butler, Executive Director of Derby Museums Trust, Shelly Bernstein and Seb Chan. To learn more about the book, stay tuned for Zoom book launch in late April.


  • SXSW: Time Machines, Museums and the Future of the Past

    SXSW: Time Machines, Museums and the Future of the Past

    I’m incredibly excited to be attending my first SXSW event. I’ve been working with my colleagues at Art Council England to develop the art programme and a series of panel discussions. I’ll be moderating the session Time Machines, Museums and the Future of the Past in which I will be exploring the role of museums at a time when there is a very real possibility of time travel using immersive technology and artificial intelligence.


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    Art (I)rrelevance Symposium: Academics, Collectors, Funders and Artists Talk Data, AI and Arts

    Art (I)rrelevance Symposium: Academics, Collectors, Funders and Artists Talk Data, AI and Arts

    The inaugural ‘AI and art futures symposium’ (12 September 2019) explored the interplay of art market futures, art and data, and the role of the tangible and intangible artefact. Organised by UCL (Jo Townshend, UCL Enterprise and Innovation) and hosted by Barbican, the symposium considered the following topics:

    • How the democratisation of art is shaping art markets: What are the current themes emerging from the art markets and how is digitalisation shaping future interactions? Great provocation by Adriano Torcello di Picinati, Director, Deloitte Art and Finance, who previewed Deliotte’s 2019 report, but also asked the question: Should we use new digital technologies in finance to create ‘fractional’ ownership in art? The panel, comprised of some of the most prominent voices in digital art, including Bernadine Brocker-Wieder, CEO, Vastari Group; Professor Chris Salter; Artist, Professor of Computation Arts, Concordia University; Mary-Alice Stack, Chief Executive, Creative United; and Kadine James of Hobs3D, argued that the focus should not be on questions of ownership but of access to art. Maybe more interesting were discussion about what is the ‘art’ in digital art – software, hardware, or the interaction that audiences have with it? Also, how do change investment models to allow for artists and arts organization to do R&D like other digital startups? Most intriguing was this idea: should we use visitor numbers and ticket buyers as a method of valuation rather than the less transparent art market?
    • Technological advances and the experience of art: Data driven opportunities and considerations for the collector. Led by Executive Director of UCL Culture, Simon Cane, the session explore all the ways in which digital technologies and data are shaping museum practice. Professor Miguel Rodrigues, Information Theory and Processing at UCL spoke about the opportunities of using digital data contained in collections themselves to support conservation and preservation using AI technologies. He is leading a new research group at the Alan Turing Institute called AI for Arts. Nick Lambert, Director of Research, Ravensbourne spoke about his work around using data visualization technologies to unlock the value of archives. He worked with artist Michael Takeo Magruder on the British Library project Imaginary Cities which used archived map as the basis for imaging future cities. I even had the chance to try his VR work that visualizes Leonardo De Vinci’s perpetual motion machine drawings. Lawrence Chiles, Head of Digital Services, The National Gallery talked about their new immersive exhibition Virtual Veronese and Melanie Lenz, Digital Art Curator at the V&A spoke about their effort to collect digital artworks.

    • Will blockchain save art? Next phase perspectives on blockchain for artists and markets. The panel was chaired by Dr Anna Donovan, Vice Dean (Innovation), Lecturer in Law at UCL and the panel was comprised of Mark Waugh, Business Development Director, DACS; Amanda Gray, Partner, Mischon de Reya LLP; Robert Norton, Founder and CEO, Verisart. DACS is leading the way in using blockchain to protect the rights and income of artists. Waugh spoke about their ‘Bronzechain’ project. Rather than trying to explain this myself, here is excerpt from the DACS press release: Bronzechain combines the use of a hallmark stamp with innovative blockchain technology by creating a digital certificate registered by the artist and foundry to validate the authenticity of the artwork in perpetuity. The Bronzechain stamp will be licensed by DACS to approved bronze art foundries. Each bronze produced will be stamped with the Bronzechain hallmark in the wax before casting and a digital certificate of authenticity recorded by the DACS copyright licensing service and certified on Verisart. The digital certificate of each work will then be generated and certified by Verisart, the world’s leading platform to certify and verify artworks and collectibles on the blockchain. By storing and securing data using cryptography, the blockchain certificate reinforces the physical hallmark by recording technical data specific to each artwork including dimensions, location of hallmark and edition number. As a result, the handling of bronzes will be significantly more secure and transparent.
    • Digital futures, materiality and added value: When data is a medium for artistic expression, is there a future for the material artefact?  Are really fantastic selection of artists, led by Kieren Reed, Director, UCL Slade School of Fine Art, included Phaedra Shanbaum, Lecturer, Digital Art, UCL Knowledge Lab; Professor Jon Thomson, Artist, Thomson and Craighead, Slade School of Fine Art; Alison Craighead, Artist; Professor Deepa Mann-Klerr, Visiting Professor in Immersive Futures, Ulster University and Jake Elwes, Artist. Elwes spoke eloquently about the need for artists to challenge the underlying datasets that drive artificial intelligence and understand how AI could perpetual and exacerbate biases.

    For my part, I gave a short presentation on the Arts Council’s new 10 Year Strategy. Afterwards I was approached by a number of stakeholders from the ‘commercial’ art world who were excited about the prospect of working alongside ACE to support artists using technology and providing access art using new technologies.