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Leiden PhD candidate new face on ‘Faces of Science’ blog site

External PhD candidate Liselore Tissen (Leiden University/Delft University of Technology) has been blogging on the Faces of Science website since March about her daily work as a researcher. ‘Academia is anything but stuffy.’

‘I once sat on a train with a 3D copy of “Girl with the Pearl Earring”. A few people were a bit taken aback.’

Liselore Tissen (Leiden University Centre for Arts in Society) blogs about her daily life as a researcher on Faces of Science. Her work is interdisiciplinary between humanities and science, and she wants to find out more about the impact of new technology on how art is valued. She explains further: ‘With a regular printer you can print images of famous paintings, but the young generation in particular is already used to the fact that with a 3D printer you can reproduce such a work to the finest detail. I’m researching what the rapid emergence of new reproduction techniques means for how we see works of art. What do people think of such a plastic 3D print? Do we still attach so much value to the original work, even if it is increasingly easy to reproduce? I am trying to answer this question through workshops and interviews in which I ask participants questions about how they value art. I’m also taking a scanner to museums to scan paintings there and to investigate further the possibilities for reproducing such a work.’

On the Faces of Science website, launched by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and Young Academy, young researchers give an impression of their daily life. The blogs are of interest to anyone who wants to know more about science. And they help secondary school pupils gain a realistic idea of research.

A full 3D reproduction of ‘Saul and David’ by Rembrandt van Rijn (photo: Liselore Tissen)

Just how good is a 3D copy of a painting?

‘Anybody who isn’t an expert would find it difficult to distinguish it from the real work. For fun I once made 3D copies of famous works and hung them up in frames at home. People thought they were the real paintings. The technology is already really advanced. You can print to the micrometer and even reproduce the cracks in the paint, for instance. And we can collect data with scans about the painting and see what the colours were once like. If you make a 3D print of the painting using that data, you then make a version of the painting as it was when it had just been painted.’

Close-up of the 3D reproduction of 'Saul and David' by Rembrandt van Rijn (photo: Liselore Tissen)

But didn’t your visitors ask: ‘Did you steal The Nightwatch?’

‘Ha ha, no, they didn't. I once sat on a train with a 3D copy of Girl with the Pearl Earring, in bubble wrap, which meant the work was visible. A few people were a bit taken aback and started asking questions, even though it was fairly unlikely that I would have stolen a painting and taken it on a train with me.’

What are your Faces of Science blogs about exactly?

‘The first thing I try to do is to make it easier for people to understand the discussion that is now raging in the art world about the reproducibility of works of art. And I mainly hope to make it clear to secondary school pupils and students that scientific research is anything but stuffy or boring.’

Is ‘stuffy and boring’ the biggest misunderstanding among students and schoolchildren about scientific research?

‘Definitely! When I was as school I too thought that research mainly involved archive work. But research can also be really practical. You need to be bold. You’re also doing research to reach a wide public and convey a message to the world. “Science” may sound lonely, but by giving a peek into my life I hope to show that the work is not lonely at all and that you can do really amazing things with a subject that interests you.’

‘You are also doing research to reach a wide public and convey a message to the world.’

Isn’t the work lonely now with the pandemic?

Laughing: ‘To be honest, this period is actually good for my work because it’s easy for me to make an appointment at any museum for me and all my equipment.’

Are the museums pleased to see you if you say, ‘I want to come and scan your works’?

‘Some do need a bit of convincing first. The smaller museums are definitely immediately enthusiastic because, for instance, they have little money to have research done on a work that needs to be restored. My scans and 3D reproduction of that work provide them with a lot of useful information. And the discussion about the use and value of 3D reproductions is interesting for them because it’s a discussion that so far has barely been held.’

Liselore Tissen’s research will continue for the coming three years.

Text: Jan Joost Aten

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