Munch’s “Scream” was frozen in the Arctic ice

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Edvard Munch's painting "The Scream" (1893) in the museum exhibition. Photo: The National Gallery, Oslo

Norwegian technology company Piql AS founded the Arctic World Archive as a “secure repository of world memory.

Norway’s National Museum has frozen its collection in anticipation of opening in a new building in 2022. It has placed a digital copy of its entire collection of some 400,000 objects in the Arctic World Archive, stored in an abandoned coal mine in the permafrost of the Svalbard Archipelago.

The Norwegian technology company Piql AS founded the Arctic World Archive as a “secure repository of world memory”. It is located near the World Seed Vault and is designed to protect digital artifacts and information of global significance from natural disasters, changes in technology, hackers and wars.

Photographs of objects from the museum’s collection, including works of art (including Edvard Munch’s The Scream), architecture and design, were transferred to piqlFilm, an analog film that allows digital data to be safely stored offline. The Arctic World Archive calls the film a “future-proof” medium. According to Rolf Yngve Uggen, director of the National Museum for Collections Management, in theory “you only need light to read it.”

The amount the museum paid to deposit the three groups of digitized artworks was not disclosed. They are now stored together with deposits from UNICEF, Stockholm’s Museum of Modern Art and the Vatican Library. The Arctic World Archive claims to be able to store their data for “more than a thousand years”.

However, storing artifacts and documents underground is by no means a new idea. During World War II, the National Gallery in London sent its treasures to a slate mine in the Welsh town of Manod. But Svalbard is especially remote and safe. “It’s like another planet,” says Uggen, “like the last frontier.

 

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