Critical analysis of how oral history is used and can be used in conservation research and museum practice is crucial to understand how it can influence the way in which artworks in museum collections are understood and mediated through time.
The Interviews in Conservation Initiative is part of the research programme of the Amsterdam School of History, Memory and Material Culture (AHM) and operates on the cross-roads between the research groups Oral History and Contemporary Art Conservation, Materiality in the Study and Conservation of Cultural Heritage and Conserving Wax-Resin Lined Paintings.
The aim of the Interviews in Conservation Initiative is to support various outreach activities in order to promote the value of oral history methodology in conservation research. All research team members are contributing to the field with their publications and conference contributions, looking critically at the function of this material in research and the way interviews are or can be used to inform decision-making in conservation and museum practice. Some titles can be found in UvA’s Digital Academic Repository.
The book The artist interview. For conservation and presentation of contemporary art. Guidelines and practice, is the result of a collaboration between the SBMK, RCE and UvA to mark a conclusion of the research project The Artist Interview.
The aim of this handbook is to equip conservators, curators, art historians and students with tools to retrieve a wealth of accurate information from the artist and to allow the interested public a view behind the scenes of the conservation, preservation and presentation of modern and contemporary art. A second edition of the book is now available with the publisher.
The Interviews in Conservation Initiative has started an oral history series in kM, a Dutch professional journal for visual artists and conservators about artist materials to demonstrate the way in which this research method helps capture the creative process and concepts of artworks through artist interviews, and analyse the conservation history of works of art through conservator interviews, revealing how material change has been dealt with in the past.
Adhering to oral history standards and enlarging research potential good research data management, data archiving and data re-use are important. Whereas the opening up the behind the scenes of artworks is interesting to both researchers and the larger audience, it is a rather complex undertaking. This subject, connecting the museum perspective and open science, is highlighted in a contribution to the Open Day on Open Science in 2020.
The Interviews in Conservation Initiative aims to catch up the backlog in archiving existing interviews and to further develop theory and practice of oral history in conservation by initiating research, workshops and dissemination of the results.
Oral History – Stories at the Museum around Artworks’ (OH-SMArt) is a long term initiative to significantly improve the digital research chain around using Oral History and spoken narratives, with research into artworks and museums as a use case. Holding unique audiovisual recordings about artworks in their archives, museums have a severe backlog in disclosing and sharing this information, because of the laborious workflow of storing and transcribing, the sensitivity of some of the material, and the lack of tools to use and reflect upon the content. These are generic problems for all researchers engaging with spoken narratives. An improved and user friendly deposition workflow that automatically connects to an automatic speech transcription service will resolve a significant part of this problem.
Artworks in museum collections are managed and shaped by institutional policies and personal viewpoints. Oral History methodology can help to assess this socio-cultural perspective. However, the tools to facilitate this in conservation research are still lagging behind. The project ‘Artwork Biographies and Institutional Memory’ (Art_Bios_In_Me) is designed along two research lines addressing this problem. One explores obstacles and pitfalls in archiving and disclosing interviews to improve the museum workflow, while the other fosters technological advancements in transcribing this unique source material and disclosing it, preparing the material for digital humanities research.
STUDIOTOPIA is an European initiative that seeks to inspire transdisciplinary innovation in addressing the ecological implications of the Anthropocene. In the Art & Science Residency programme, UvA scientists Sanneke Stigter and Sven Dupré collaborate with artist Ciprian Muresan to work towards improving the sustainability of conservation. They have collaboratively created a residency programme tailored to how their individual research and practice can converge and includes participatory research and oral history methods.
The Dutch Foundation for the Conservation of Contemporary Art (SBMK), sixteen museums, the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and the Cultural Heritage Agency of The Netherlands (RCE) will join forces in a large-scale collaborative project titled ‘Project Collection Knowledge 2.0 / Photography’. The goal of this three year project is to sustainably preserve photographic works of art in Dutch collections for the future, and as such, to make them accessible to the general public. Applied research will be used to develop a method whereby collection managers, conservators and others charged with collection care learn to identify and monitor their 20th and 21st Century photographic collection and if necessary, carry out preventive conservation measures. This includes oral history methods to learn from technical experts in the photographic industry.
This project aims for an integral approach to the use of oral history for conservation research, and seeks to reflect the use of interviews as a dynamic process. This project aims for an integral approach to the use of oral history for research in art conservation in a responsible way, using case studies from the Rijksmuseum and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands. The goal is to design an overarching model for museums, heritage institutions and freelance conservators, which reflects the use of interviews as a dynamic process and thus to create a living archive with room for interpretation of users, so that our insight can be deepened and knowledge is not lost, but rather enriched. This research is funded by NWO as a Creative Industry - KIEM programme.
New Approaches in the Conservation of Contemporary Art (NACCA) was a EU-funded Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network (2015-2019), initiated and coordinated by Renée van de Vall and Vivian van Saaze of Maastricht University, and collaboratively designed with special emphasis on research methods from the social sciences, including oral history. As one of the partners, the UvA organised the first NACCA Summer School in Amsterdam, which included an interview training. One of the PhD projects that we designed was aimed to answer the question on how interviews and artist participation could be used as research tools in conservation and art technological research. Conservator Aga Wielocha has taken on this project, resulting in her dissertation Collecting Archives of Objects and Stories (2021).
The Artist Interview project, a long lasting collaboration of the Dutch Foundation for the Conservation of Contemporary Art (SBMK) and ICN, currently Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE), initiated a Pilot Project Artist Interviews as a direct result of the seminal conference Modern Art: Who Cares? Based on the experience of the project researchers, including members of this initiative, a book was finally published in 2012 ‘The Artist Interview. For conservation and presentation of contemporary art. Guidelines and practice’.
On the lives and futures of contemporary art at the museum
This doctoral dissertation focuses on this gap between the fast-developing theory of contemporary art conservation and the rigidness of institutional practice. Its vantage point is the triangle of mutual relationships between artist, a museum, and a contemporary artwork as collectible, investigating how contemporary artworks are collected, documented and conserved in today’s institutions. Through research on collaborations between contemporary art institutions and artists, with a special focus on the artist interview, it looks at how (and if) new methods developed in the field of contemporary art conservation are incorporated by museums, and attempts to identify factors undermining their effectiveness. The study aims to offer a solution that respects the central position of the collection for the museum, while also posing more profound questions about the nature of contemporary artworks in relation to traditional museum structures. By tracing the discrepancies between these two notions, it works toward a theoretical model that might help to bridge them.
Working with Conceptual Art: A Conservator’s Testimony
This study focuses on the challenges, practices and dilemmas of working with conceptual art through the lens of conservation. Conceptual art challenges the traditional idea of art conservation. Critical of its own material form, conceptual art negates the unique material object in art, celebrating the idea in art instead. But how to preserve a concept when you have material to work with? Central to this study is the artwork in physical transition, studied by close observations of practices at the work floor in a combined approach using ethnographic research methods, including oral history, archival research and detailed analyses of the works of art. The aim is to both define the role of the contemporary art conservator in safeguarding conceptual art and to develop a reflexive approach in conservation, introducing an analytical view towards the constructed nature of decision-making expressed in a conservator’s testimony.