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5. General Session [clear filter]
Thursday, May 31


Opening General Session - Welcome and Awards
avatar for Margaret Holben Ellis

Margaret Holben Ellis

Chair; Eugene Thaw Professor of Paper Conservation, Conservation Center, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU
Margaret Holben Ellis received her Bachelor’s Degree in Art History from Barnard College, Columbia University (1975) and completed her Master’s Degree in Art History and Advanced Certificate in Conservation at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University (1979). In... Read More →

Thursday May 31, 2018 8:20am - 9:00am
Texas Ballrooms A-D Marriott Marquis Houston


Materiality and Immateriality in Conserving Contemporary Art
Conservators of contemporary art have responded to conceptual, ephemeral, and time-based media with new theoretical models and strategies for practice. Along with the need for new approaches to manage variability and change on a conceptual level, material matters persist in the new objects of contemporary art. Collected materials include deteriorated plastics, desiccated food, and obsolete playback equipment. Following artist expressions about their work, these objects may be conserved in a traditional manner or may be allowed to deteriorate over time. They may also be replicated or be migrated to new technologies.
 An examination of recent literature reveals tensions in discussions of materiality and immateriality for contemporary conservation objects. Often these tensions derive from artist statements, or directives regarding the future disposition of their work. Some authors write about the language of materials, with concern when unintended alteration communicates new meaning to the viewer. Others point to patina that develops on material manifestations of conceptual art that were meant to be ephemeral but were nonetheless collected. Interviews with artists expose complex responses to the status of these accidental testaments from past installations.  Time-based media conservators face similar dilemmas, for example with commercial monitors purchased somewhat randomly by artists such as Nam June Paik. They accrue historic value over time and are seen as important evidence of the past, regardless of the artist’s original intentions.
Some recent models for understanding materiality and immateriality in contemporary art are adapted from theory across the humanities and social sciences. Nelson Goodman’s distinction between autographic (object-based) works and allographic (performed and re-produced) helps us understand authenticity in variable works that radically change through migration and replication.  Similarly, the model of object biography was adapted from anthropology to conceptualize both physical changes and the layering of social meanings that artworks accrue over the course of their lives.
Conservators of contemporary art also draw from theory, practice, and professional ethics developed for traditional conservation objects to help them navigate new issues around materiality and authenticity. Recent attention has been given to the likes of Ruskin, le-Duc, Riegl, and Brandi to revisit earlier questions of preservation vs. use, noble and vile patina, and aesthetic reintegration in conservation. Notions of risk, sustainability, and minimal intervention also influence recent thinking about the materials of contemporary art.
This presentation will trace how material and immaterial matters are treated in contemporary art conservation literature and emerging models for practice. Through analysis of the literature, an argument will be made that the values and professional ethics developed for traditional conservation objects serve new models for objects of contemporary art that are less bound by traditional material concerns.

avatar for Glenn Wharton

Glenn Wharton

Clinical Professor, Museum Studies, New York University
Glenn Wharton is a Clinical Professor in Museum Studies at New York University. From 2007-2013 he served as Media Conservator at the Museum of Modern Art, where he established the time-based media conservation program for video, performance, and software-based collections. In 2006... Read More →

Thursday May 31, 2018 9:00am - 9:30am
Texas Ballrooms A-D Marriott Marquis Houston


Practicing what we preach: An argument for the recognition and preservation of a material culture of conservation
Though we often think of modern conservation as a “young” field, the truth is that our history becomes longer with every passing day. The importance of establishing a historical record for our field has long been recognized. Substantial progress has been made through efforts such as the establishment in 1975 of the FAIC Oral History Project and more recent scholarship that considers the history of key figures, institutions, and events. Some important aspects of our history, however, have still received little to no attention. This presentation argues that, in addition to the development of a historical record, it is important to recognize and preserve the material culture of conservation. As exemplified by the theme of this year’s AIC meeting, the conservation field is partly defined by materials: those that we preserve, but also those that we use in our work. So, too, is our history. Examples of this material culture range from those objects which are already symbolic of conservation, such as Edward Forbe’s pigment collection, to historical treatment records and photography, to previously conserved objects that now serve not only as an example of the history of their own genres, but also as an indication of conservation's past and development. The preservation and future study of these objects in the context of the history of conservation will be integral to the success of ongoing scholarship in the history of conservation and of closely allied fields such as museology and art history. Study of field-specific material culture has long been an important aspect of the history of medicine, science, and archeology. This presentation will use examples of this scholarship and its effects to argue for the importance of recognizing the existence of a material culture of conservation, identifying which artifacts may fit into this category, and taking steps to preserve them now. After all, if we do not preserve our own history, who will?

avatar for Carrie McNeal

Carrie McNeal

PhD Student, Brock University
Carrie McNeal is a student in the Interdisciplinary Humanities PhD program at Brock University in St. Catherine, Ontario. Her current research explores the history of conservation in the museum setting. She is the former Director of Conservation at The Strong in Rochester, New York... Read More →

Thursday May 31, 2018 9:30am - 10:00am
Texas Ballrooms A-D Marriott Marquis Houston


Preserving Innovation: Considering the Treatment and Materiality of 3D Printed Objects in Museum Collections
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

Objects Conservator, Science Museum, London
Vanessa Applebaum is an Objects Conservator at the Science Museum in London. Her research interests include the conservation of modern materials, Byzantine art, ethnographic and medical collections, as well as the public understanding of the field of conservation.

Thursday May 31, 2018 11:00am - 11:30pm
Texas Ballrooms A-D Marriott Marquis Houston


The Physical Nature of Digital & What it Means for Conservation
In working with digital collections, we are often asked, “What is digital? Where are the collection materials actually held? What does digital collection’s storage look like?” In an increasingly wifi-bluetooth-mobile-data world, digital can seem invisible to us as end users, however the digital world is highly dependent on technology that has material form- physical hardware, network wiring, and often entire buildings of carefully monitored and controlled infrastructure. What does this mean for art conservators? The material science of digital files held in our care is important to consider: how a file is constructed and how it tells us how it needs to be opened, played, or understood. However, equally important is the storage that those files are held on, how they are transferred from one place to another, and how they are handled at each stage of this move. What are the physical aspects that make up the storage environments of digital storage? And which of these aspects are critical for us to understand as conservators? The NDSR Levels of Digital Preservation provide a nice one-sheet listing tiered guidelines for storage, integrity, security, etc. for a digital preservation system, and the OAIS reference model gives us a framework from which to build out our digital preservation storage. But what is digital preservation storage, anyway? Is it specific hardware that is different than other digital storage that we purchase for our personal lives? For the past 10 years, the Library of Congress has been convening an annual “Storage Meeting” to discuss digital storage for collections material among collection holders and storage technologists. And out of the iPres2016 workshop, and now in draft form, is an initiative to create guidelines for collecting organizations on Preservation Storage Criteria. These are a good start to understanding digital preservation storage and may lead us towards a conversation on digital conservation practices When we understand the material nature of the digital world around us and the physical components that make up our digital ecosystem, we can more effectively care for our digital collections through the lens of the conservation field, create policies and assess risks in digital care and handling, and work productively and in partnership with our IT colleagues.

avatar for Crystal Sanchez

Crystal Sanchez

Conservator, Smithsonian Institution
Crystal Sanchez is a media archivist at the Smithsonian Institution on the Digital Asset Management System (DAMS), working with digital collections from across the Smithsonian’s diverse Museums, Archives, Libraries, Research Centers, and the Zoo. She has Masters degrees from New... Read More →
avatar for Lauren Sorensen

Lauren Sorensen

Consultant, Self-employed
Lauren Sorensen is a consultant specializing in digital preservation and conservation, project management, independent media, and artist archives. Concurrently a PhD student in UCLA's Information Studies program, she has held positions at the Library of Congress, Bay Area Video Coalition... Read More →

Thursday May 31, 2018 11:30am - 12:00pm
Texas Ballrooms A-D Marriott Marquis Houston