This past March 20th, the Bard Graduate Center hosted an inaugural symposium in the Cultures of Conservation initiative—“Extreme Conservation.” Seven distinguished panelists presented research that highlights a conservation extreme. BGC’s Dean Miller framed the day’s presentations by noting that paying attention to the extremes enables understanding about the commonplace. The questions that conservators ask when working within extreme circumstances can help them understand more about the nature of their work. The symposium gave humanities scholars, conservators, and conservation scientists yet more opportunities to build relationships and further the goals established by the Mellon Cultures of Conservation Initiative.

Matthew Battles, Associate Director of metaLAB at Harvard University, opened the symposium with his presentation entitled “The object in Extremis” in which he explored the materiality of the digital and its implications for conservation.

Friedemann Hellwig, Professor Emeritus at the University of Applied Sciences in Cologne,
Presented, “Death Camps: The Example of Auschwitz.” In his talk, Hellwig spoke about how his work as a conservator at Auschwitz could serve to enact justice for the memory of those interned.

Malcolm Collum, Chief Conservator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum,
focused on the challenges that the scale and materials of objects used in space exploration pose for conservators. His presentation was entitled, “Unexpected Trajectories: Tracing the Evolution of Hardware Used in Space Exploration to Revered Museum Artifacts.”

Stephen Rustow, Professor of Architecture at the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, presented a talk entitled, “Conserving the Container: The Museum as Museological Object.” Rustow spoke about his work in the architectural expansion of the Louvre in Paris, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He examined the ambiguity between conservation and curation in the expansion of museum buildings.

Petra Lange-Berndt, Lecturer at University College London, shared a talk entitled, “Uncanny Materiality: The Spoiled Trophies of Taxidermy”, examining how the taxidermy-work of contemporary artists can inform future conservation practice and the value of decay.

Matthew Siegal, Chair of Conservation and Collection Management at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, discussed the history, the current advantages, and the unexpected outcomes of the “Conservation in Action” program that he initiated at the MFA Boston. His presentation was entitled, “From Back of House to Front: The Performance of Conservation as Public Programming.”

Isabelle Brajer, Senior Research Conservator at the National Museum of Denmark, presented, “Mistakes and Controversial Treatments on Wall Paintings” to open a discussion about how mistakes, oversights, and miscommunications in conservation work can lead to best conservation practices.

This day long symposium was full of extreme case studies, stimulating discussion, and experimental inquiries that pushed the boundaries of conversation-centered discussions of the current day. It was an absolute success and we look forward to more such gatherings in the future. Until then, over the upcoming weeks, we will be honored to feature guest blog posts from each of these Extreme Conservation symposium speakers. Stay tuned.

Video of the conference can be accessed on the Bard Graduate Center Extreme Conservation symposium event page (link here).

Post by Gabrielle Berlinger and Summer Olsen.