The conservation project was one of the aspects of the award that I have been most looking forward to, since its an area that I presently have very limited experience of. Today was my first day at the University’s Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation (CCMC), and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
|One of the labs at CCMC|
The conservation labs are exciting places in themselves: characterised by an uncommon mix of artist materials and scientific apparatus. Pigments and potions, swaps, brushes, and specialist machinery are scattered around upturned oil paintings and other dilapidated treasures. The array of materials reflects the impressive scope of the conservators’ skills and knowledge.
My previous experiences of handling artworks and artefacts have focused on the preventative side of conservation, which generally means keeping the objects in stable conditions and minimising physical contact with them. It was therefore amazing to see the conservators confronting (albeit with utmost care) traditional no-go areas, such as paint surface. At the same time, a respect for the original is central to their work. I saw, for example, how any painted restorations were separated from the original paintwork with a layer of soluble varnish.
I was also fortunate enough to accompany the team to a research seminar hosted at the University, which demonstrated how science and conservation issues can directly inform art historical understanding. One paper on Sidney Nolan’s use of commercial paints skilfully compiled biographical information, archival research and chemical and material analysis of Nolan’s paints into a fascinating account of the artist’s use of and relationship with his medium. Another showed how synchrotron technology had been used to reveal an underpainting beneath the National Gallery of Victoria’s Degas work, Portrait of a woman (c.1876 – 80) in astonishing detail and colour! Using elemental maps this incredible technique revealed a work that the artist would have presumed we’d never see – excellent news for the prying art historian!
Also this week: Attended a number of events from the student arts festival, Mudfest, including a (deliberately) disorientating and slightly traumatic performance called Blindness, based on Jose Saramago’s novel of the same name.