Contexts in Conservation: The Future Conservator

“Peak Conservation: Is there an inevitable end to the institutional conservation department?”. David Thurrowgood from the National gallery of Victoria in his paper delivered at the AICCM National Conference (2013) convened at the Science Exchange in Adelaide, drew on the philosophy of Shakespeare to question the role of future conservators:

“Thou are not for the fashion of these times, where none will sweat but for promotion”

The inevitable consequence of declining resources for government institutions is declining staff levels. David suggests that conservators need to expand their perspectives to gain relevance leading to constructive conservation outcomes.

In the AICCM outgoing President’s lightening talk, Kay Soderlund suggested the AICCM appoint a community conservator with a view to expanding the role of conservation.  Community consultation is already occurring. Samantha Hamilton liaised with an indigenous community during the Bunjelaka Re-development project at Museum of Victoria in which indigenous elders were involved in the hands-on conservation of artefacts. The AIC Angels community engagement project is another instance where conservators are working with local communities to preserve local heritage. In the “Museum Workshop” at the National Museum of Australia, a curator/conservator collaboration between Anne-Marie Conde and Vicki Humphries made conservators the exhibits by exposing the logistics of preparing an exhibition and the generally behind-the scenes work of the conservator to the public, resulting in greater understanding and appreciation of the role of conservation, the dynamics and funding required to prepare exhibits for display. Anne Carter proposed the development of an Asia Pacific forum for the International Network for Contemporary Art (INCCA) to gain a greater understanding of technologies to devise conservation protocols and installation instructions using artist interviews. These community and global interactions are expanding our role as conservators.

A more futuristic view of conservation was expressed in the incoming AICCM President’s presentation in which Mary Jo Lelyveld used causal layered analysis (CLA) to define different levels of understanding of conservation across time. Using a four tiered pyramidal structure to map hidden structures such as emotional and intangible conservation values at the base of the pyramid to more visible social and political structures and trends at the apex incorporating the lateral depth of stakeholder beliefs. Even more futuristic was the concept of space as an orbital museum! Alice Gorman from Flinders University, in her paper entitled “The impacts for the space environment on terrestrial materials used in the spacecraft industry and the future prospects for curating what is, effectively, an orbital museum” explored what is culturally significant in space junk and the logistics of conserving more significant objects in the environment of space. There are four options related to environmental and heritage management in space: The first option is in-situ management, conserving objects in their current orbit. The second option is removing objects to a safe location. The third option is relocating the object to earth. the fourth option is destruction of insignificant objects. In-situ management requires an understanding of how metal alloys, pure metals, ceramics and poly-matrix composite materials behave in a high atomic oxygen environment with the added complexity of cosmic, ultra-violet and x-radiation prone to thermal cyclic effects (300-100 C) and coronal mass ejections. The possible impact of meteoroids and space debris adds another conservation risk to the care of space collections. Case studies have shown that aluminium corrodes faster in a high atomic oxygen environment than glass and paint finishes and that low earth orbits cause more damage. Where cultural value lies in the location, setting and relationship of the object in orbit, this field poses a new dilemmas for future conservators.