Thursday, May 31 • 11:00am - 11:30pm
Preserving Innovation: Considering the Treatment and Materiality of 3D Printed Objects in Museum Collections

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As of 2018, it is now possible to 3D print a vast array of object-types including art, jewellery, clothing, medication, bones, and human organs. 3D printing also has an emerging presence in the cultural heritage and museum sectors: there have been 3D printing exhibitions at various institutions, with an increasing number of 3D printed objects accessioned into the permanent collections of museums. Despite the increased popularity of 3D printing and its use in the museum world, it is curious that greater consideration has not yet been given to the conservation of 3D printed objects. There seems to be no academic information or journal articles that describe the correct handling or treatment of 3D manufactured objects, with most literature focused on 3D scanning and printing as methods of digital preservation and replication. Due to the dearth of information on the conservation of 3D printed objects, this presentation will attempt to begin a dialogue on the matter. The intent is to demonstrate the complexity and scope of knowledge required for the conservation of 3D printed objects, as well as how conservators should understand and subsequently approach their unique and varied materiality. In 2013, London’s Science Museum put on a temporary exhibition entitled “3D: Printing the Future.” The exhibition included approximately 600 3D printed objects, which were composed of many different materials (including plaster, plastic, metal, ceramic, and animal cells) and were manufactured through a wide range of 3D printing processes. In 2015, close to 10% of the objects were accessioned into the permanent collection. Conservators at the museum must now devise a treatment plan with no information or precedent to guide them, as they confront the possibility of future degradation or damage to the objects. This presentation is based upon research and work as an objects conservator at the museum, and the contention that in order to provide optimal care and implement appropriate treatments upon an object, or group of objects, there must be a basic understanding of the object-type. The Science Museum’s exhibition “3D: Printing the Future” is an ideal lens through which to view the potential for conserving 3D printed objects as they are produced today. Expanding upon the exhibition, the paper discusses the applicability of existing conservation guidelines and practice when considering 3D printed objects. As new materials are developed, and 3D printed objects become more integrated into contemporary culture and manufacturing, they will undoubtedly become increasingly accessioned into museum collections. It will, therefore, become essential to understand how to ensure their longevity. This presentation confronts many issues, including the need for adequate documentation, the possibility of replication, the extent to which 3D printing presents new conservation challenges, and, significantly, how can and should these objects be conserved?

avatar for Vanessa Applebaum

Vanessa Applebaum

Director of Conservation, Toledo Museum of Art
Vanessa Applebaum is an accredited conservation manager and objects conservator, currently working as Director of Conservation for the Toledo Museum of Art. She previously served as Conservation Operations Manager at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Her research interests include... Read More →

Thursday May 31, 2018 11:00am - 11:30pm MDT
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