30 Jun 2021 | Diana Gabler
In-between spaces: Creating a ‘thoughtful’ conservation approach
In addition to navigating an existing ‘absence’, a sense of being in-between is manifesting itself for me personally: I am currently a contract conservator for the MARKK, while moving towards a permanent position at the same institution (starting this summer). And, as part of my PhD research, I set out to analyze the museum’s practices towards collaborative conservation. The Aby Warburg project is part of my research aimed at exploring the concept of collaborative conservation (developing conservation treatment approaches in collaboration with Indigenous stakeholders). Since I am still a contract conservator, naturally, I am not part of the institution’s broader discussions on fundamental requirements for such a collaborative approach. Nevertheless, I am part of lively discussions with MARKK’s curator of the Americas department, Christine Chávez, and head of conservation, Farideh Fekrsanati, regarding treatment decisions for the ceramics: As we are trying to create a ‘thoughtful conservation approach’, discussions led us to address the ‘absence of the community’ in a newly created ‘mission statement’ and ‘conservation guiding principles’ that will frame treatment decisions for this particular project in its current condition. This was a major outcome of a discussion held in June 2021 with Dr. Nancy Odegaard (head of preservation and director of Arizona State Museum’s conservation laboratory; emerita) who has extensive experience in working with communities, e.g. on topics of ceramic preservation.
The outline of the guidelines includes some of the following guidance: All measures are supposed to stabilize the ceramics so that they can be handled, packed, transported, and displayed. In addition, measures should be designed to ‘improve’ the legibility and overall aesthetic impression of the ceramics, based on the notion of ‘cultural pride’, letting the ceramics represent Pueblo culture in the upcoming exhibition as best as possible with the information we have. Finally, all measures must be selected in a way that keeps all possibilities open for future discussions with Indigenous actors and require a sensitive handling while treatments are being carried out.
The entire ceramic collection will be examined, documented, and treated using the guidelines above, such as surface cleaning, addressing previous (museum-made) restorations, and assembling fragmented ceramics. Nevertheless, the question remains: Are we moving toward a collaborative museum environment or are we stuck in a space in-between ‘community absence’ and ‘normative approaches to collections care’?
The restoration of a selection of ceramics from the Aby Warburg Collection is funded by the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung.
1 Indigenous communities located in the Southwestern United States, such as Pueblos of Acoma, Cochiti, and San Ildefonso.