Conserving Active Matter draws together the main lines and interim conclusions of a five-year research project embedded in a ten-year effort to reimagine the relationship between conservation knowledge and the humanistic study of the material world—Cultures of Conservation. The effort to conserve things is 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. The field of conservation developed in Europe and the United States and then spread around the world. Today’s conservator uses a variety of tools and categories developed over the last 150 years to do this work. But in the next decades, new kinds of materials and a new scale of change will pose unprecedented challenges. Thinking through the lens of “active matter,” as understood by philosophers, historians, materials scientists, conservators, and those who work on Indigenous artifacts, this project raises questions and establishes new lines of inquiry for the future rethinking of conservation and the human sciences of the object.

The exhibition Conserving Active Matter is on view at Bard Graduate Center Gallery from February 25 through July 10, 2022.

Peter N. Miller is dean and professor at Bard Graduate Center.

Soon Kai Poh is a conservator and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Postgraduate Fellow at Bard Graduate Center.