Collective Collection: Sistine Chapel

Despite the strict camera prohibition in the Sistine Chapel, approximately 30 images are uploaded per day to the hashtag #sistinechapel. These photographs are merged using photogrammetry and clearly shows the perspective of the public – only the ceiling is reconstructed, while the floor has been completely left out.

Material: Digital print on vinyl, fibreglass
Year: 2019
Displays: Palazzo Michiele / Venice Art Biennale (2019), Galeria e Bregdetit (2020)

Commissioned for European Culture Center to be displayed at the 58th Venice Art Biennale (2019).

In a time when the experience of the physical world often happens first through images circulating on the Internet, the digital image has significantly gained value. As Hito Steyerl stated in Politics of Post-representation (2014): “Social media makes the shift from representation to participation very clear: people participate in the launch and life span of images, and indeed their life span, spread and potential is defined by participation.” Within this condition the ‘crowd’ determines the force of the image, not the professional.

Social media platforms such as Instagram can now be seen an open-source, digital archive of public space; collectively gathered, shared and remembered by the public itself. The visitors have transformed from passive spectators to virtual storytellers, as they upload the narratives of their experiences onto social media.

The Sistine Chapel is part of the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the pope, in Vatican City. The chapel is home to many pieces of art including statues, tapestries, and paintings by Michelangelo Buonarroti. One of the most famous attractions is Michelangelo’s ceiling paintings including the Creation of Adam, as well as The Last Judgment behind the altar.

Despite the strict prohibition of photography inside the Sistine Chapel, the number of images on Instagram are increasing rapidly. Digital categorising systems such as hashtags—a word or phrase used on social media to identify images on a specific topic—these images can easily be gathered. At the time of the production of Collective Collection: Sistine Chapel, the hashtag #sistinechapel had accumulated 118.615 images. Each day, approximately 30 new images are added to the hashtag.

What is the collective memory of the Sistine Chapel? Collective Collection crowd-sources one day worth of images (i.e. 30 images) from Instagram and re-constructs the chapel through photogrammetry. Mimicking a three-dimensional scanner, the public collectively present a fragmented, digital paraphrase of the original space. Simply explained, photogrammetry works better the more images are available: Areas of the chapel which were photographed frequently become clear and detailed, meanwhile areas such as the floor is completely missing.

The method works in a forensic way, which allows us to trace back a moment in time and space, through the lens of social media.

Images by Mikaela Steby Stenfalk
Selected press: tre-05-06-2019/ tions-in-venice



© Mikaela Steby Stenfalk