42nd Annual Meeting – Architecture and Objects Specialty Groups Joint Session, May 29, "Luxor Temple Fragment Conservation Project: Case Study" by Hiroko Kariya

Hiroko Kariya, in her role as conservator for the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago (Chicago House), discussed the site preservation and management of the Luxor Temple in Egypt, a site built mostly between the 14th and 13th centuries, BCE. In only 25 minutes, Hiroko discussed the nearly two decades of treatment, site preservation, the opening of an open-air museum, emergency planning, and changing roles of management with Egypt’s unstable political climate. A big task.
Her talk began with a brief background history of Luxor Temple and the Chicago House excavation of the site in the 1950s and 1960s, which included uncovering over 40,000 inscribed sandstone fragments. From antiquity to modern times, stones from the temple had been cut down and reused in other buildings. About 2000 of these fragments were surveyed in the 1970s and 80s, and on-site treatment and site preservation were at last begun in 1995. The impetus to treat the fragments came when archaeologists discovered that many stones, which had been placed directly on soil in the back of the temple, were essentially turning back into sand due to contact with soluble salts.
The sandstone suffered from granular deterioration, which was essentially the disintegration of the stones. It was difficult to take samples out of the country to be analyzed and for treatment experimentation, but eventually the team came up with a tetraethyl orthosilicate (TEOS) as the best consolidant. One reason this was chosen was because it was locally available – a serious consideration given the number of stones requiring treatment, as well as the difficulty in bringing supplies over from the U.S.. TEOS requires certain parameters to be effective, however, such as the need to be applied withing certain temperature and RH ranges. To achieve this, the conservators set up canvas “cases” around the stones, making microclimates to more effectively meet the parameters of the consolidant. They used the consolidant only on those fragments that would be reconstructed, and fragments were monitored annually on their database. The downside to TEOS was that its working time was slow and often multiple applications were necessary. Still, annual inspections have proven the treatment to be successful.
A larger scale treatment involved reinforcing walls on the temple site. One of the walls near the Ahmenhotep III colonnade was unstable. To stabilize the wall of 48 sandstone fragments, brick and mortar were chosen. These materials helped to lighten the weight of the original fragments, and were also able to be used by the local staff who helped in the reconstruction/stabilization project. All work was completed manually so as not to risk damage to the site and neighboring stones from heavy machinery.
In addition, a period of construction near the site revealed thousands of additional fragments. This discovery led to another phase of Luxor Temple site preservation and management: the creation of an open-air museum on the temple site. Chicago House field staff consulted other conservators, structural engineers, local residents, curators and others to create this new exhibit space. In the new setting, about 300 fragments that could not be matched elsewhere in the temple, were displayed chronologically outdoors in about 200 meters of paths. These paths helped guide visitors around the site and, importantly, created better flow in and around the temple, reducing overcrowding. The fragments were also illuminated at night. Whenever possible, they used local materials and trained the locals about the museum, fragments and history of the pieces. The fragments, as a result, became better valued once on display. This created the potential for increased looting, however, and many fragments are now displayed with metal bands around them.
An interesting factor in the new museum was the discussion of creating an audio-guide. Staff had thought to create them for self-guided tours, but many locals protested, saying that they’d lose money if not allowed to lead tours. Chicago House ultimately did not follow through with the plan, and instead provided more thorough training for the locals to provide the tours. This is definitely something often not taken into consideration in the U.S, and was, to me, an interesting insight into site management.
During the protests of 2011, the staff, who were in Egypt for their working season, initially had no idea what was going on in Cairo. In Luxor, the time was mostly peaceful, and many Chicago House staff chose to remain at Luxor. Ultimately, though, the political upheaval had a direct impact on Luxor Temple: decreased site security, delayed funding for projects, difficulty planning, and lack of general resources. Visitation decreased from 14 million in 2011 to 9.4 million in 2013; tourism dollars decreased from 18 billion to 5.9 billion (in Egypt overall). Hiroko showed many images from other ancient sites in Egypt showing the damage and looting – many we have seen before, but were nonetheless astonishing.
In reaction to the unstable political climate in Egypt, the biggest development in management policy, perhaps, is that Chicago House is creating plans for the site to be maintained without US staff. They keep suggestion boxes and have checklists in English and Arabic so that locals can keep up with inventory, tasks, and other maintenance functions. They’ve increased training in the locals in how to care for the site, and are actively working on this aspect of site management as we speak. Future years will determine the success of these plans, so we’ll have to wait until another talk from Hiroko to find out.
Because there was so much to cover in a relatively short time, I would have loved to hear more details about the discussions leading up to their decisions to build the wall the way they did, how they managed local staff and volunteers, more detail about the museum, and , finally, what hinted at a very interesting conversation about the political instability in Egypt and how that affects site management. Hiroko did a fabulous job summarizing Chicago House’s efforts – and now I want to know more.

41st Annual Meeting – Objects Session, May 30, “Establishing Conservation in an Unconventional Venue in Okinawa” by Anya McDavis-Conway

Ms. Conway’s paper presented multiple themes: the establishment of a new conservation lab, brief history of Okinawa, and cultural materials and their subsequent materials research and treatment. What is particularly different about the first theme is that the Conservation Laboratory was begun without a museum collection. The laboratory was established within the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) – a new, international research university staffed with 50% Japanese and 50% international staff. OIST applies advanced technology while using an interdisciplinary approach to higher education, and includes giving back to the Okinawan community in its mission statement. OIST President Jonathan Darfan was interested by the merging of art and science and wanted the conservation lab to be an important part of community engagement. Thus, with the establishment of the conservation laboratory, it was incumbent upon the conservator to find her museum collection partners.
Anya described this process as “setting up conservation in reverse”, and stated that the Okinawans were rather suspicious of her. I can believe their skepticism: “why would I want to had over my collections to a non-Okinawan” (prevalent in an island with a history of occupation) or: “Why are you doing this for free?”. Anya took time to visit the museums, got to know the only Okinawan conservators, a paper conservator named Toma-san and his son. She learned from him and other museum staff that all other treatments would either not get done or would be sent off the island (likely to Japan). Occasionally there was someone on Okinawa who would do lacquer repairs, and I wondered if they would be the gold repairs that we see on Asian ceramics sometimes.
Eventually Anya found two partners in the Yomitan Village History Folklore Museum, a small historical museum focusing on the small port of Yomitan. The other was the Tsuboya Pottery Museum. In the Yomitan museum, there was a definite need for collections improvements and conservation. The museum is located next to Zakimi Castle, which meant that there were also archaeological finds, in addition to historic, in the collection. There is also a traditional house, which was presented kind of like a period room (but house).
Tsubo means pottery in Okinawan (the Tsuboya Museum), and the curators there are very interested in pottery technology. Anya’s lab and connections in OIST are a perfect fit for their interests, and she discusses, later, the pottery research project they begin together.
Once Anya began getting treatments, she quickly realized that she needed more space than her 1/2 counter in OIST’s biology lab that she was given initially. I must think that they intended to provide more space, but perhaps wanted to wait until the projects actually came. OIST ultimately provided a decent lab space and some analytical equipment. Anya worked with the physicists to obtain such equipment: a Raman with a horizontal exit so objects can be placed next to it for analysis without sampling them, FTIR with ATR and, coming soon, a p-XRF. Jennifer Mass, the scientist from the Winterthur program, was also able to consult, in person, in the analytical set-up.
Interesting investigations were discussed. The first described looked at the leather on sanshins, which are three-stringed instruments that look a little like a banjo. They were originally played at the Royal Court, but now are played by more and more people. The sound box of the sanshin is usually covered in python skin, which is imported from the mainland. The two that were brought into Anya’s lab, however, were not made with python. Their origin was not easily detectable, so Anya worked with Sasha Mikayav, a scientist at OIST, to look into DNA sequencing for identification. The skins were ultimately too contaminated to provide good data, and Sasha recommended liquid chromatography – mass spectrometry instead. They prepared a sample from a cowhide from a music store as a control/test, and this was successfully identified as bovine. They will analyze other types of skins as they obtain them, and then test the sanshins after. But the fragile leather could wait no longer, and losses were filled with Japanese tissue toned with Golden acrylic emulsion paints and tacked in place with methyl cellulose. She made appropriate storage boxes and mounts for the sanshins after treatment because she thought it would begin a conversation about collections housing. I am curious if this worked, as it was an interesting decision.
The other major project begun is the pottery analysis project undertaken by Anya, OIST and the Tsuboya Pottery Museum. They are beginning to characterize pottery – both individually and as a group – using pXRF and XRD. They will be working with an Okinawan geologist to look at sources, tempers and inclusions using thin sections and traditional petrography. This project is the beginning of a long collaboration, as Okinawa has a long history and tradition of pottery making, and it has never before been systematically analyzed. Importantly, Anya wants to know if anyone in the audience had Okinawan pottery in its collections. If so, she wants to know! Please contact her if you have information on Okinawan pottery and/or specimens in your collections. Her information is in the AIC directory.

41st Annual Meeting – Objects Session, May 31, “Intersecting Conservation Approaches to Ethnographic and Contemporary Art: Ephemeral Art at the National Museum of African Art” by Stephanie E. Hornbeck

In this paper, Stephanie discusses similarities between conserving ethnographic and contemporary works of art. She includes previous discussions about the two types of conservation and the variety of viewpoints associated with them, demonstrated, visually, through case studies of treatments of both traditional and contemporary art.
Stephanie briefly discussed her training, which began at the Guggenheim before working at more focused ethnographic collections. She has worked for several years for the National Museum of African Art (NMAA). This museum originally housed just traditional arts, but, in the 1990’s, also began collecting contemporary art. They now have a collection of over 600 contemporary works of art, and I believe she said this is the largest collection of contemporary African art in the United States (or the world?). She and her colleagues Steve Mellor and Dana Moffett have found that these contemporary works, while using materials common to non-African contemporary art, also draw upon materials from traditional African arts.
Both traditional arts and contemporary art are often composed of ephemeral material (sometimes by design, sometimes not) – composite media, repurposed materials, and inherently fragile materials. Conservation is often directly opposed to ephemeral art. While Stephanie proposed that this statement has been addressed many times previously, there are as many different opinions on how to deal with contemporary art and ephemeral materials. The opinions posed in this paper are Stephanie’s own.
Stephanie presented a number of case studies to discuss their approach to ephemeral materials as well as to highlight similarities between traditional and contemporary art. The first examples were of a traditional, wooden artifact by Olówè of Isè, and a contemporary ceramic piece, Untitled 1, by Magdelene Odundo, in 1994. In the former, there was a darkening of the surface of the bowl, which conservators thought might be a resin applied later in its life and might be inappropriate to the artifact. Analysis showed that the dark material was in fact a gum-carbohydrate mixture – one that could have been historic. The artist, Olówè, died in 1938, however, and could not be interviewed about it.
Magdelene Odundo’s Untitled 1 is a beautiful, pristine ceramic vessel with a rich, earthy-red and smooth surface. What soon became apparent, were areas of lime within the clay body that would swell and cause the ceramic above to pop off, resulting in a pit with a white dot in the middle (the lime). [This is exactly what occurs in pottery from Southwest United States.] These areas mar the pristine surface intended by the artist. In this case, as opposed to the wooden figurine, the artist could be interviewed. Popping from lime inclusions can be avoided by different firing conditions and temperatures, but with these different techniques the shape and color of her pieces would change. This was unacceptable to the artist, who decided to accept the consequences of the lime popping in exchange for the color and shape she desired in her works.
In documentation, there are surveys for living artists: Maters in Media Art (Tate Modern), the Guggenheim Museum’s Variable Media Approach, and those available through INCAA. In these surveys, there is an anthropological aspect. For instance, inherent vice (present in both traditional and contemporary arts) can be intentional – or not. In Ghada Amer’s Hunger, from the “Earth Matters” exhibit currently on display until January 2014, “HUNGER” is spelled out on using seeds and plants in the grounds of the NMAA. The letters will change with different plants in different seasons, and will naturally decay.
Artist-Conservator interactions are possible perhaps more easily with contemporary pieces, though the inherent vice can be the same. In Henreique Oliveira’s Bololo from 1991 was destroyed after the exhibit (it was a huge piece(s) of brazilwood installed to appear as if it were growing out of a wall, filling the gallery in serpentine forms). Willem Boshoff’s Writing in Sand from 2005 consisted of white sand spread over the floor with black sand letters forming a text. The public was able to touch the piece, and the artist liked that the public could damage it; still, the meaning of the piece was intent on its words, so they had to be restored. This occurred about once/week, and by the end of the exhibit, the sand was mostly gray.
In the conservation of ethnographic objects, treatments are often conservative, though problems many be similar to those encountered in contemporary works. Berni Seale’s (Searle?) To Hold in the Palm of the Hand is a 2006 installation, and incorporated powdered henna on its surface. Stephanie had to replace this henna (after finding an appropriate source) while on display. Conversely, Powdered pigment would not be replaced on a traditional object, such as a Zulu hat that also had a powdery, red pigmented surface.
Regarding artist intent and conservation treatment, sometimes contemporary materials require more immediate conservation. 1997’s amendment to AIC’s Code of Ethics/Guidelines for Practice were amended with Commentary 23, paragraph D, to provide rationale for greater intervention. Stephanie Hornbeck, however, fells the commentary is too vague and broad, and can be contrary to conservation principles. (Louise Nevelson’s Dreamhouse XLIII, 1993, at the Miami Art Museum is a dilemma for Stephanie.) For contemporary art, how far into the past and future do invasive treatments, such as repainting, apply?
The Getty has a publication entitled The Object in Transition, which is available online for the public and discusses specific examples. Pretty much, pieces must be evaluated on a case by case basis, but the outcomes are truly variable. There is a dilemma between accepted standards and “case by case” bases for treatment, and this is a really interesting point that I think conservators should consider more deeply.
The VARA act came into being in 1990. This discusses copyright law and ownership. VARA 106 A (c) (2) is an important paragraph. In Europe, the future of a given piece is guided by the artist; in the United States, it is guided by the owner. This has a great influence on the direction for conservation in the two continents.

Q&A: there was an interesting discussion about when treatments on ethnographic collections became more restrained. Sanchita Balachandran offered an interesting insight, stating that some of that restraint occurred when museums changed from being “owners” of the collections to “stewards” of the collections.