What’s so special about physical things? Why not digitalise the collections and lock the stuff away?

In a review of British Museum’s exhibition on Indian paintings (‘Faith, Narrative and Desire’) in London Review of Books (20 September, p. 27), Peter Campbell gives a reason why we shall not over-rely on digitalisation. After having leant over the glass cases to get a close view of the craftmanship in the small and delicate pictures on display, he comments on the restricted diet offered by digital images of ‘things’:

Of course, we sit for many hours in front of screens scanning images. But those images are not also things. One butts eagerly against the glass cases in which this exhibition is housed partly because one’s pleasure in the density of the pigments, the delicacy of the brush-marks — everything that makes them things as well as pictures — tells of an element missing from our own visual diet.

The hunger for “an element missing from our own visual diet”! Nice wording that reminds us of the side-effects of the hegemony of the visual (see, e.g.,here). Things as nutritional supplements to the contemporary over-visualised diet!

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