Malaysian gallery preserves art collection for 1,000 years in an Arctic vault


  • Arts
  • Wednesday, 13 Oct 2021

Artemis Art has deposited a series of Malaysian and regional artworks at the Arctic World Archive (AWA), which is located 300m inside a decommissioned coal mine in Svalbard, Norway. Photo: Piql AS

It might be hard to imagine what the world will be like in a thousand years, but here’s something we do know now: a number of artworks from the private collection of Artemis Art’s co-founders S. Jamal Al-Idrus and U.C. Loh will be safe and sound in a repository in Svalbard, Norway.

Artemis Art has signed up to be a part of the Arctic World Archive (AWA), a safe repository for world memory and collections.

It is located 300m inside a decommissioned coal mine, and designed to withstand natural and man-made disasters.

Data here is stored on long-term archival technology developed by Norwegian-based digital storage company Piql AS. It can withstand extreme electromagnetic exposure and can last for centuries with guaranteed future accessibility.

If the reading technology is no longer available, the data can be extracted manually with a camera, a light source and a computer.

“It is all about the preservation and security of valuable or irreplaceable information. Adding context to valuable, it refers to an event of loss which has an effect of severe consequence – individual, organisation, country alike. AWA is the final step in ensuring the security and safekeeping of our digital data.

“The criterion is simple: memories, objects or information which is deemed irreplaceable can, and should, be stored on piqlFilm (a 35mm, ultra-high resolution nano-film) and deposited into AWA,” says Jamal.

Data preservation

Representing the first Malaysian contribution, this deposit from Artemis Art celebrates South-East Asian art culture as seen through the eyes of emerging artists. The selection of works from Jamal and Loh’s collection includes regional works from Ajim Juxta, Michael Chuah and Umibaizurah Mahir from Malaysia; Erica Hestu Wahyuni and Gabriel Aries Setiadi from Indonesia; Charlie Co and Yeokaa from Philippines right to Chihiro Nakahara from Japan and Li Wei and Liu Zhiyin from China.

Ajim Juxta's 'Penghuni Distopia Tugu' (ink and coffee on paper, 2015), a work from the Artemis Art collection that has been deposited in the AWA. Photo: Artemis ArtAjim Juxta's 'Penghuni Distopia Tugu' (ink and coffee on paper, 2015), a work from the Artemis Art collection that has been deposited in the AWA. Photo: Artemis Art

“This selection covers a broad range of styles, mediums and artist nationalities, reflecting the general nature of our personal collection, as well as what Artemis Art does as a gallery, which is to promote young and emerging artists,” he adds.

These art pieces have been digitised using hi-res photography.

This deposit from Artemis joins a growing repository of digital treasures from around the world, including Edvard Munch’s The Scream, manuscripts from the Vatican Library, scientific breakthroughs, political histories, Github’s open-source code repository, famous films and contemporary cultural treasures.

A digital art collection from US artist Sean Snyder and London’s Natural History Museum’s “Britney” fossil are recent additions to the vault.

In the beginning, depositors included Norwegian heritage institutions, art collectors, historians and business representatives, before many others joined virtually from around the world.

Jamal recalls how this AWA journey started in late 2020, when the Kuala Lumpur gallery was introduced to the principals of Piql Malaysia and discussed ideas on how Piql technology can be applied to the world of art.

“The idea of preserving a digital copy of an art collection together with its provenance was considered given the importance of both items as proof of ownership and authenticity for the art collector.

“Both Artemis Art and Piql Malaysia crafted further services around the idea and subsequently developed a range of provenance archival solutions for private art collectors and institutions to establish a secure and immutable digital repository for their artwork and provenance collection,” elaborates Jamal.

Beyond the gallery space

Is this one of the ways forward in archiving artworks from gallery and private collections?

“As we (Artemis Art and Piql Malaysia) continue to fine-tune our suite of solutions, our hope is to see the collections of private collectors in Malaysia and the region, as well as institutional collections, to be deposited at AWA in the near future,” he says.

Artemis Art has clearly been busy in recent months, following the closure of its physical space at Publika KL in January this year.

Umibaizurah Mahir’s 'New Kids In Town #3-5' (2015-2016) is part of the AWA vault archive. Photo: Artemis Art Umibaizurah Mahir’s 'New Kids In Town #3-5' (2015-2016) is part of the AWA vault archive. Photo: Artemis Art

In 2020, the gallery was closed for around six months in total due to the movement control order and related restrictions.

“Looking back at how 2021 has panned out so far, we think we made the right call to close the physical space. We have kept ourselves busy despite not having a physical gallery. Among them has been working with Piql to develop art provenance archival solutions.

"We also continued what we have been doing in recent years, like collaborations with galleries outside of Malaysia, notably with those in China, the Philippines and Taiwan. This is something we will continue to do moving forward,” says Jamal.

The gallery participated in Art Central Hong Kong in May. Next month (November) will see a collaboration with Richard Koh Fine Art to participate in ART021 Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair.

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