For Roman emperors, a commemorative bust must’ve been the rough equivalent to today’s best-selling autobiography: It represented your legacy in the world, a unique document that would last long after you shuffled off this mortal coil into Elysium. Which is why One Good Emperor, a project by U.K. designer Ben Alun-Jones probably would have horrified the average Roman patriarch.
Alun-Jones’s work deals primarily with 3-D scanners. He’s developed a low-cost version that lets him take video of any object and turn it into a 3-D mesh model for editing–a process he likens to remixing. “Remixing is a natural human activity,” he writes on his blog. “We regularly sample words, clothes, even objects to make collections to describe ourselves. What if, rather than forming collections, we could sample elements of real objects to create new ones?”
That’s the idea behind One Good Emperor, which premiered in Milan today. To create the collection, Alun-Jones took 3-D scans of five busts belonging to the so-called Five Good Emperors (Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius), the dynasty that reigned just before the birth of Jesus. After taking scans from the busts at the Getty Museum and the British Museum, he stitched the models together, creating a series of hybrid emperor “mashups.” In Milan, visitors are even invited to create their own versions of the perfect emperor, using Alun-Jones’s tools.
The resulting busts are often deformed with awkward facets and joins, like an experiment in eugenics gone wrong. For Alun-Jones, the project is a meditation on the rapidly transforming ideas about ownership and legacy in an age when anyone can scan and reproduce and object.