Image Archeology – a project by Anton Lamberg and Sacha van den Haak – was exhibited in Eindhoven at Dutch Design Week (DDW) 2018. “Image Archeology is the live-generating archive that collects the images uploaded to Instagram or Flickr and compresses these images into layers”, Anton and Sacha explain. “Images represent historical earth layers – in the same way as they are seen by archaeologists, bearing the traces of human activity but made up from digital contemporary media. Image Archelogy is the active exploration of what is saved and what is forgotten.”
The original Image Archeology installation was set up in a purpose-built mirror structure but in Eindhoven, it was placed in Sint-Catharinakerk. “We chose Sint-Catharinakerk because we wanted the place of the installation to reflect the surroundings – the church provided us with the context of a historical background. Placing our installation in a church also helped us raise the question to our visitors: what is and what is not important in their lives, thus bringing our installation to a hopefully more philosophical level. However, it depends on how the people “read” the installation because everything is in the eyes of the beholder.”
Regarding the obvious contrast between the historical heritage building and the DDW project that it was housing, the authors of Image Archeology say: “We didn’t want to have a discussion between the past and the contemporary design here. We adjusted our project to the location to make sure that the balance between the historical place and the contributed images was maintained. Hopefully in a way that provided enough room for interpretation for the audience but didn’t leave them completely empty-handed.”
The creators of Image Archeology encourage the visitors to participate in the project by actively submitting their images to the installation. “Everyone can add their own image by adding a hashtag #imagearcheology to their Instagram posts or by uploading them to the website http://imagearcheology.nl/. The images will appear in the installation almost instantly. Through this, the ownership of the project is transferred to the audience”, says Sacha who has been working with the concept of ownership for several years. “To give the sense of ownership to our visitors is important to us, we create a structure that enables people to reflect on what they do in their lives.”
Sacha and Anton use AI for “Image Archeology” installation as a tool: “With AI we define how the images interact with each other and how they mix. AI also serves to classify the images submitted to the installation.” But technology was not the most difficult part of Image Archeology project. “The hardest part was to engage people in participating in the installation. People put lots of images online but when they can participate in an installation by submitting their photographs, it is rather difficult to activate them. But once people start sharing images with the installation, they continue doing it. The shortest way to make people start submitting images into our project is to give enough context of the installation. When people know that they can add something to the installation, they can anticipate and appreciate the result – their image appearing on the top of the installation.”
Image Archeology is about constant progress: “An image submitted to the installation will be on the top of a huge compressed stack of digital images then it slowly gets compressed and fades into the layers and another image appears on the top”, says Anton. “This is how it is going to continue through all days of the installation. In Utrecht, Image Archeology installation has been doing this for six months continuously. You see a small fraction of a long history when you visit it and the rest is missed.”
The theme of DDW 2018 was “If not us, then who?” When asked about the relation of Image Archeology to this theme, the authors say: “In Image Archeology the visitor is encouraged to actively take part in the creation process. So by participating the visitor becomes the designer and questions the ‘us’ and the ‘who’ in this year’s theme.