In Focus: Conserving Active Matter

This course is the first of two “In Focus” courses where students will actively contribute to and participate in the development of a Spring 2022 exhibition about conservation. The course explores conservation as a professional discipline through its processes, paradigms, and people. The work of conservators is familiar to scholars of material culture, but its formation, practices, and assumptions are less often the subject of comparative inquiry. Today’s conservator uses a variety of tools and categories developed over the last 150 years to do this work, guided by a scientific understanding of materials. The conservator acts upon the lives of things by mediating the ever-changing human entanglement with things over time, in time. We situate the emergence of conservation amidst the broader effort to conserve things as part of the human struggle with the pervasive activity of matter: for as long as people have made things and kept things, they have cared for them and repaired them. If preservation run backward is what we normally associate with conservation so, too, will be preservation run forward. In an age of active matter and changing climates, conservation will play an important role in processes of survival for individuals, communities, cultures, and humanity at large, requiring an expansion of knowledges and collaborating with more constituencies to do this work. In this course, we will look at case studies of conservation through these lenses, centered on objects presented in the exhibition. We will (virtually) visit conservation studios and labs, hearing from conservators and conservation scientists who work on a variety of media and in different institutional contexts. We will also hear from other caregivers who are collaborators for the exhibition, including Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars, collectors, and more. The exhibition (and course) is conceived as a cross-disciplinary project with BGC faculty involved in the Cultures of Conservation: Conserving Active Matter initiative, and they will additionally present cross-cutting thematic essays that will be the subject of in-class discussions. Students will have the opportunity to contribute object catalogue entries and research essays towards the accompanying digital publication and will work on the design and development of a digital media component for the exhibition. 3 credits. Depending on final research project, this course may satisfy the non-Western or pre-1800 requirement.