I’ve been to the symposium "Archiving Intangible Cultural Heritage and Performing Arts" (6-7 August, 2018)


"The documentation, reproduction and presentation of immaterial cultural forms (ICH) pose significant theoretical and technological challenges. Ephemeral traditions (e.g. performances or rituals) require cultural scholars, technologists, artists and scientists to work together with communities to develop new methods for sustaining and enlivening ICH. The symposium examines strategies for encoding, retrieving and re-enacting intangible heritage in ways that allow these archives to be ‘alive’ in the present, bringing together historical materials with creative visualizations derived from advanced documentation processes including motion capture, motion-over-time analytics, 3D reconstruction, and panoramic and high-speed video. Exposing the potential to revivify cultural heritage, these digital archival materials also form the basis for new curatorial opportunities and public engagement strategies. These ‘living archives’ may be re-interpreted and re-performed through the mediums of augmented and virtual reality and interactive media art, utilizing new immersive and interactive display paradigms to perpetuate the performances for future generations."

Website of the conference

Sarah Kenderdine, newly appointed professor at the EPFL (Director of ARTlab and Laboratory for Experimental Museology) with Nicholas Croft (International Olympic Committee, ICOM-CIDOC) managed to set up a very stimulating and stunning international conference, helped by Lia Costiner as organiser. Museum professionals, chairs of international cooperation programme, researchers and experts engaged in discussions for two days, following the aims of the conference:

"The aims are to:

  • explore new models for data curation of intangible cultural heritage and tools for its dissemination
  • engage with new strategies for the ‘re-enactment’ of living archives for public audiences
  • create innovative tools and opportunities for technology transfer
  • stimulate the network of digital intangible heritage practitioners across Switzerland and the world."

The conference took place in Lausanne (EPFL), alongside two exhibitions/research projects, which are directly connected to the core issues of the symposium. The mind-blowing exhibition Kung Fu Motion (currently on view at Artlab, EPFL, Lausanne, until the end of the month) engages with different visualisation strategies for martial arts, involving advanced digital technologies (see my review). The Montreux Jazz Digital Project pioneered the video recording of one of the most important jazz festival. We had the opportunity to have guided tours of both exhibits and presentations of the research endeavours behind these projects, given by their leaders.

That was however only the icing on the cake. We enjoyed highly relevant presentations delivered by different actors directly involved in ICH implementation (for research, curatorial or communication perspective) in India, China, and several European countries. This broad range of presentations was incredibly stimulating for me, especially since it touched upon the three facets of my work: academic research, museum practice and martial arts. I was particularly interested in the theoretical, ethical and pragmatic issues created by the encounter of new technologies for documenting and visualising ICH with the duties of museums and academic research to create high-level standards. The new trends presented opened a wide range of new possibilities both for academic and museum practice.


I was most satisfied with my humble contribution, introducing European martial arts to the conference. My own paper, combined with the one of Sixt Wetzler, the demonstration of HEMA (Opera Nova, Botticino) and the viewing of the original fight books (Roberto Gotti) gave the audience a good overview. I presented a case study bringing together material studies, sport sciences and martial arts studies (European Martial Arts: Documenting and quantifying lost embodied knowledge out of books). Sixt Wetzler brought up questions of methodology, ethical approaches and dimensions of meanings of martial arts documentation as Intangible Cultural Heritage (What ICH is the right ICH. Methodological Problems in Archiving and Representing Martial Arts as ICH). Roberto Gotti brought four original fight books from the sixteenth century for viewing and martial artists from his school (Opera Nova) demonstrated forms and sparring out of Achille Marozzo, Opera Nova, 1536.

In the same session, we had the pleasure of hearing about Chinese martial arts studies. Notably by Hing Chao (Documentary Strategies for Chinese Martial Arts as Living Heritage in Hong Kong: Perspectives from the Field). He gave us an extensive background of the development of martial arts in China, with pioneering documentation processes, which features in the exhibition.

All in all, this was a mind-blowing conference and the Laboratory for Experimental Museology will be kind enough to provide full recording of all the proceedings on their website. If you have missed it, stay tuned for the upload of the presentations!