Damage, Decay, Conservation

Few human-made things last in their original form. Things change. Some are inherently unstable, whether physically or chemically. Some have been purposefully modified. Some have been damaged by human action, either accidental or intentional. This seminar focuses on issues arising from human intervention in changed artifacts of many kinds from many societies and time periods. We shall investigate Western conservation practice in various contexts, including museums, the art trade, and sacred sites. How do changes to tangible things occur, and what are those changes? What forms of examination facilitate intervention? What are criteria for intervention? Whose values affect the definition of these criteria? Whose values might be in conflict with those that promote intervention? What agendas (such as nationalism, tourism promotion, reconstruction after armed conflict) affect conservation and restoration decisions? How responsive are conservation institutions to theoretical and ethical concerns? We shall pursue these puzzles through theoretical texts, case studies, and—if pandemic circumstances permit—visits to conservation laboratories. We shall make extensive use of the items gathered in the spring semester BGC Gallery exhibition, Conserving Active Matter, and its accompanying publications. 3 credits. Satisfies the pre-1800 requirement.