Information systeme and cultural heritage: What is preventive conservation ?

Berlino, Duomo
“Next to a wrinkle, a scar.”
It is, perhaps, Victor Hugo, who best summarizes the stigmas of Time, and Men, on heritage. In this case, the writer refers to Notre-Dame de Paris, but more broadly, this maxim is the observation of this immutable and constant consequence.


Many recent events (fire at the Rio National Museum, floods in the Loire Castles, destruction of the Mausoleums of Timbuktu, etc.) bear witness to the fragility of the heritage in the face of cases of force majeure, in particular. In parallel with these disasters, it is important to stress that the primary cause of deterioration of works comes from continuous sources. Climate, pollution, exposure to visits, so many factors transforming conservation conditions. These external influences will subject the piece of arts to conditions for which they have not been prepared.
Today, this observable fragility gives rise to a visceral fear: is there a way to strengthen the preservation of cultural heritage through preventive methods? How can we save what is unique, sometimes meaningful for a community before it degrades?
By making a global synthesis of current action plans for the protection of works in museums, it is possible to observe that in an almost systematic way: protecting the work is synonymous with restoration. It is therefore not really a question of protecting, but rather of rehabilitating the heritage once it has worn out.


However, as part of its Horizon 2020, the European Union is launching a project unique in the world concerning heritage protection. The SENSMAT project (Preventive Solutions for SENSitive MATerials of Cultural Heritage), spread over three years (2017-2020), is the meeting of different actors from the social sciences and new technologies sectors.
This project is based on the sharing of knowledge and techniques in the field of the preservation of tangible cultural heritage.
Its objective is to build an information system capable of proposing personalised strategies for the conservation of cultural heritage, based on information collected by intelligent sensors installed as close as possible to the objects to be preserved.

This mission is based on a triptych of criteria: low cost (<20 – 30€ for the basic platform), eco-innovation and collaborative space. The solution is logically intended primarily for small and medium-sized museums, which, thanks to multi-scale modeling, data management systems, collaborative platforms, and sensor-based communication networks (IoT), will be able to define real-time alerts of possible dangers for works. Based on expertise in knowledge transfer, training and practice recommendations will facilitate the standardization of procedures. Thus, the definition of new policies then reduces the risk of degradation and costly conservation treatments.This project brings together no less than 18 partners from 7 European countries, including heritage conservation research institutes, national and regional museums, working in collaboration with companies of all sizes in the field of connected objects.


Within this project, BASSETTI will create a knowledge base on cultural heritage conservation strategies and a decision-making support system through a mobile application dedicated to museum curators.
In this respect, the project manager in the company confides: « Our expertise in the organization and enhancement of data, combined with the processing of signals monitored by sensors, allows us to contextualize the information in order to define potential action plans. These can then be shared between different museums, because in a preventive conservation issue, communication must take place through the sharing of good practices. »
Based on the interconnection between the monitored objects, structuring the information into a centralized repository makes it possible to make the information accessible to those who need it and thus increase reactivity.
Therefore, the know-how of the project stakeholders is a significant condition for the success of the project. But to do this, the SENSMAT project intends to develop a methodology combining the decompartmentalization of technical knowledge and the sharing of good practices.
With this project, preventive conservation is fully integrated into the field of predicting the degradation of cultural objects. Indeed, in this type of system, preventive conservation is based on the capitalisation and enhancement of information. Thanks to the knowledge built up by the sensors’ data, it is possible to build action plans and then predict, more than prevent, the degradation of the tangible cultural heritage, taking into account environmental conditions.

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