Day Two - Digital Ethics: The Display of Sacred Devotional Objects in the Online Museum

An interesting topic for discussion this, for it brings up many questions about the meaning and nature of objects. In her presentation Alex shows us how her research, currently in its final stages, stands at this present time. She hopes, through it, to advocate an ethical approach to digital items which dehomogenises the way in which they are usually displayed by online museums. It is a really considered approach to her work, thoughtful and provocative, for it discusses the value of objects and how they change from sacred space, to museum setting, to rendered image, to online display, and the ethical implications of each of these statuses.

For this case, she presents a study of the issues surrounding the online display of a particular Buddha image. She has conducted much research with the Buddhist communities, and found that there were very differing viewpoints upon the nature of the online image of Buddha. Some groups are prepared to worship the online image, viewing it as a simulacra of the Buddha, in much the same way as the physical manifestation of the object is. (Indeed, Alex notes, Baudrillard's discussion was seminal for her work.) Other groups, conversely, considered the worship of the online object a problem. Images displayed online, some worry, may not be accorded the same respect as those in a physical space. The replicative and networked nature of the web can 'objectify' the image, making it seem ordinary and leaving it open to crassness which damages its purity.

What does this mean, though, for the online display of sacred objects by museums? It is a question which they have to address. How do they code and describe the objects in their care? They must remember that practitioners of the faiths which their obejcts represent will never see them purely in artistic terms, and they need to be able, somehow, to acknowledge this.

Indeed, should such images be displayed at all? It is an interesting and provocative question to ask, and one to which I do not know the answer. Indeed, Alex herself admits to having to think hard about whether to include images in her final submission - she does not include many in her presentation. It's a conundrum with which I wish her luck! Thank you for a wonderful, thought provoking presentation Alex.


Thryn said…
This reminds me of the discussion in an online Jewish community to which I belong (Second Life Synagogue, or Beit Israel) about group worship online. There are various prayers that can only be said in groups of ten or more (Jewish adults, or traditionally, men). In practice, we simply don't say those online. There are also blessings for the performance of commandments, so some people say the real blessing over virtual candles and others use a modified version, which offends a few people, especially, I think, those for whom the weekly candle lightings are their only access to a Jewish community. And can one work after starting the sabbath over virtual candles, or does that not count (a serious issue because we come from several time zones and some people even log in from their offices).

I'm always fascinated by the new questions the web brings up.

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