By António Cardoso
The desire to uncover all the secrets of a painted surface in the attempt to know it better is a common goal among most, if not all, art conservators. This need to understand, in a more profound way, a specific piece of history that we may have in front of our eyes has a deep impact on the way we perceive the world around us.
Art conservation as a profession is always searching for new and interesting innovations that could help to improve its key tasks. Since the beginning of the profession, new technology and methodologies have always been welcomed into our field. There are even some technologies that had applications in art conservation almost simultaneous to their original applications, such as the use of X-rays.
The technological revolution we are experiencing today is introducing more innovations to our field in the areas such as artificial intelligence (AI) and neural networking, just to name a couple. The application of AI and neural networking, when used to acquire data through user-friendly programming, will change how art conservation is practiced and perceived.
The XpeCAM project (xpecam.com) is the result of almost ten years of research. More than just providing a portable spectral imaging system, the XpeCAM X02 project aimed to develop an integrated and collaborative platform utilizing both hardware and cloud-based technologies. These new technologies are coupled with the analytical methods which extract data from both the visible and the invisible light spectra on any colored surface. This project began as a search to make analytical research more easily accessible to art conservators, allowing for more streamlined technical research and less dependence on an external analytical team or lab.
By integrating the Internet of Things (IoT) within the XpeCAM Platform, it will be possible to connect any XpeCAM device online and exchange multiple types of data, and in the near future even other spectral imaging devices will be able to operate inside this platform (from https://xpecam.com/).
With this technological approach, we are bringing four new outcomes to the art conservation world:
-A virtual assistant to every art conservator that will help in the everyday tasks
-A fully automated friendly user data acquisition solution
-A technological web platform that will be able to connect to any data acquisition device
-Using the latest artificial intelligence and augmented reality solutions, it brings new perspectives on the way art conservation is implemented and perceived.
Although spectral imaging technology is at the core of XpeCAM applications, the real innovations are seen in the AI aspects of these new tools. We are foreseeing, in the near future, the ability to create a real virtual assistant for the art conservator. XpeCAM solutions will not only help users to better understand each art piece thanks to its analytical possibilities and features, but it will also help the user to find the best approach to all the challenges that the user will face in daily tasks, always in a complementary mode. XpeCAM web solution was also created considering all the latest security and RGPD issues, in a way to guarantee that all the user data and knowledge is safely protected from outside access and manipulation, a reality that was considered as a key factor for the future success since the beginning of the project.
Right now the first version of the XpeCAM platform, as an outcome of the XpeCAM X02 Project, is being beta tested with several of our key partners in the UK, France, Portugal, Italy and Greece. These tests will also help improve all the collaborative features implemented inside the XpeCAM platform, which will enable conservation communities to work in a closer environment and obtain better and more efficient results.
Soon any type of conservation practice—be it at a university, a company, a group of museums or an in situ project team working half-way around the world—will be able to perform and follow key analytical conservation operations on their own.
With these new tools come new and unexpected ideas for possible application. XpeCAM can not only help to better inform the conservator, but can also be used to educate the general public as well as cultural stakeholders in a more efficient way. This new realization is pushing our team onto new paths that we did not perceive at the beginning of this journey, but a challenge that we have embraced as part of our mission.
In the end, the application of such novel technologies brings a new set of questions and challenges that need to be considered. With the XpeCAM platform now running, new perceptions and opportunities for use in the conservation field have appeared and deserve to be considered. Our team is committed to implementing improvements and passing this knowledge to all our partners and potential end users.
António Cardoso has been an IIC member since 1997. With a master’s degree in art conservation and an MBA in marketing, he has been, for the last 20 years, CEO of Signinum – Gestão de Património Cultural in Portugal. As a cofounder of XpectralTEK in 2015, he has devoted his time to the R&D of new products and applications that can help every art conservator to be more efficient and productive in their daily work.
Read the entire article and see the amazing images in the October-November 2020 "News in Conservation" Issue 80, p. 26-29.