Photo by Mike Lovett

Daniela Dimitrova '16


Senior creates the next picture show

Daniela Dimitrova '16 uses new methods to enhance a historic exhibition

Daniela Dimitrova '16 scrolls through her iPad, looking at archival images of a 1967 Louise Nevelson retrospective at the Rose Art Museum. “These pictures don't do the exhibit justice,” she says. She stops at one of Nevelson's signature sculptures. "This is a monumental, beautiful sculpture, and all we can see in the image is a black rectangle."

Nevelson is best known for her large-scale monochromatic sculptures, typically painted black to focus on their form. Because of their size and density, her work is best appreciated in a three-dimensional context. How to bring these exhibition images to life using technology is the question that has consumed Dimitrova, an art history major and computer science minor, for the better part of a year. Her road to discovery began, however, with an artist from the previous century.

Building an online exhibition about John Singleton Copley for a history class was inspiring at first, but Dimitrova soon became frustrated by the limits of the static on line template. Her professor encouraged her to take computer science classes to learn the tools that would allow her to create virtual exhibits in which artwork could be better seen and appreciated.

With courses in programming and 3-D animation, Dimitrova began to connect the dots between her love of art and her desire to make it seen. She discovered the Farber Library's MakerLab, the founded in 2014 to support the use of 3-D printing and digital imaging technology in courses and research.

"Computers are being used in remarkable and sometimes seemingly strange ways, sometimes by people who never thought they would be interested in coding or creating using these tools," says Deb Sarlin, digital teaching and learning designer, who teaches out of the lab and works with faculty and their classes to integrate 3-D technology into learning.  

“When I heard that the Rose Museum was planning an exhibit honoring its 1967 showing of Louise Nevelson's work, I came up with the idea to re-create it virtually and with 3-D printing, and give viewers a more realistic experience," says Dimitrova. She received funding from the Hiatt Career Center's World of Work program to intern at the Rose during the summer of 2015.

Virtual reality and 3-D re-creations are emerging as valuable teaching tools for expanding accessibility and connecting with new audiences. Museums such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston have online virtual exhibits that allow viewers to connect with re-creations of past exhibits. Last year, the Prado Museum in Madrid debuted a “Touch Me" exhibit with 3-D re-creations of famous sculptures.

Curator Jennifer Bedford had been grappling with logistics for the Rose's Nevelson exhibition, scheduled for spring 2017. Because Nevelson had a practice of dismantling her sculptures and using the pieces in new works, many of the artworks from the 1967 exhibit no longer exist. Others were dispersed all over the world. Virtual reality and 3-D printing turned out to be ideal methods for re-creating what was missing.

"I'm proud of Daniela for expanding the parameters of her initial idea; it has grown into something quite wonderful, especially when I consider that the 3-D-printed version of a sculpture can be touched by the visually impaired and the virtual reality experience will exist after the show closes," Bedford says. “The challenge is to use technology thoughtfully and expansively. I believe this comes about best with the kind of collaboration I've experienced in working on this project.”

For Dimitrova, digital technology has brought a new sense of purpose to her love for the arts. "Working in the humanities, it can be tough to feel hopeful. There is a strong sense that there is nothing new we can create that hasn't been done before,” she says. "Getting into new technology and combining it with art has been such a jolt of energy. I feel like I can really do some groundbreaking work.”  

— This story, which was originally published in the spring 2016 issue of State of the Arts magazine, appears here courtesy of the Office of the Arts. It was written by Noah Steinberg-Di Stefano, a graduate student in the Heller School of Social Policy and programs assistant in the Office of the Arts.