Are you an emerging conservation professional who wants to advocate for the issues that matter most to you and your peers? Do you want to help AIC develop resources and programs specifically for early-career conservators, conservation scientists, and collections care specialists? If so, please consider applying for one of the Emerging Conservation Professionals Network’s (ECPN) open officer positions! To learn more about the network, please visit the ECPN page on the American Institute for Conservation website. Our Network description, charge, and current leadership can be foundhere.
ECPN is currently accepting applications from pre-program individuals, graduate students, and recent graduates for the following positions:
Professional Education and Training Officer
Please see the following document for position descriptions: 2018-ECPN_Open_Position_Descriptions. All positions will serve a two-year term beginning June 2018, just after AIC’s 46th Annual Meeting.
The Vice Chair is expected serve a one-year term, transitioning to Chair for an additional one-year term. No previous ECPN experience is necessary to apply. The current ECPN Vice Chair, Kari Rayner, is available to discuss this position over email or the phone.
Please direct questions to Kari Rayner at email@example.com. To apply for an open officer position, please submit a brief statement of interest and your resume to Kari by April 13, 2018.
If you attended the AIC Member Business Meeting at last year’s 45th Annual Meeting in Chicago, you learned about some of the initiatives our colleagues have been involved in to increase diversity in the field. Last year, ECPN became directly involved with one of these initiatives, a collaboration with WUDPAC, Yale, and the Alliance of HBCU Museums and Galleries (HBCU = historically black colleges and universities).
Just to provide some quick background to ECPN’s involvement – in the winter of 2016, members of the HBCU Alliance of Museums & Galleries, AIC, ANAGPIC, the Smithsonian, WUDPAC and Yale University, met to propose ways of engaging underrepresented students in the field of cultural heritage. This meeting was initiated, organized, and led by Dr. Caryl McFarlane, an independent diversity consultant, and strongly supported by Dr. Jontyle Robinson, Curator of the Tuskegee Legacy Museum and CEO of the HBCU Alliance of Museums and Galleries.
Mentoring was identified as an important component for these initiatives, so the HBCU program leaders reached out to ECPN, and ECPN identified and solicited mentors for a pilot mentoring program. Based on recommendations from ECPN and a survey of the mentors, matches were made to pair the 11 TIP-C students with conservation professionals. ECPN also created resources for both the mentors and the 11 TIP-C students, which included useful links and resources and a suggested reading list. The mentoring period began at the end of last summer, and is wrapping up this spring.
ECPN is currently working with Dr. McFarlane, Yale, and WUDPAC to facilitate the TIP-C students’ attendance at the 2018 AIC annual meeting pre-session: “Whose Cultural Heritage? Whose Conservation Strategy?”. This pre-session, taking place on May 30th, is AIC’s first symposium on diversity, equity, inclusion, and access in cultural heritage preservation. Students will also be encouraged to attend the Untold Stories “Storytelling as Preservation” program, which immediately follows the pre-session.
Attending these programs at the AIC annual meeting this year will not only be an opportunity for the students to learn more about conservation and to experience attending a large professional meeting, but it will also allow some of the students to connect in-person with their mentors for the first time! It has been a privilege for me to be involved in this program, both in my role as a mentor as well as in my role as the AIC Board Director of Professional Education and the Board Liaison to ECPN.
We hope to feature at least one student from this program on the blog later this year, so stay tuned for more information.
This blog post series will look at United States citizens who trained abroad and are currently practicing conservation in the US. The goal of these interviews is twofold: to provide pre-program students with a starting point for understanding international training through a range of student perspectives and to bring awareness of overseas conservation training programs to conservators practicing in the United States. It is the hope that the discussion of international training will answer questions and start an open dialog of the challenges and benefits of training abroad.
This blog series takes the form of interviews with established and emerging conservators who have trained abroad. Each interviewee offers their personal and professional perspective. So, while themes are apparent throughout these interviews, no single interview can summarize all the challenges and rewards of international training.
These interviews do not reflect the opinions of AIC or the training programs being discussed. The series has been created to reflect a range of experiences, and the personal accounts will not reflect the views of all students from any specific program.
What is Your Name, Specialty and Current position?
My name is Sean Belair. I am an Assistant Conservator in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Department of Arms and Armor. I am an objects conservator, but I have primarily specialized in the conservation of arms, armor, and related material.
Why did you pick your specialty?
My specialty picked me. Since I was a child, I have always had an interest in the Middle Ages, material history, and archaeology in general. I also loved making things and working with my hands. Until I discovered conservation, I always thought those would be separate pursuits. Arms and armor conservation combines my greatest passions into a single profession.
Can you describe your training pathway?
I went to college to study Medieval and Renaissance history. While searching for history internships for my sophomore summer, I came across a pre-program internship in the conservation of arms and armor at the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts. On day one of this internship, I knew conservation was the career for me.
The conservator I worked with at the Higgins had started twenty years prior and trained on the job; many people he had worked with during that time had not gone through a conservation program, either. Believing the ‘apprentice’ route was the best way to achieve my goals, I continued to pursue pre-program internships. By the time I realized that you could no longer become a conservator without an MA, I was already into my junior year. As a history major, there was no way I could meet the course requirements for the US programs without essentially getting another BA. Another conservator, who now happens to be the Met’s Armorer and my direct supervisor, recommended I look into programs abroad, as he had received an MSc in archaeological conservation from University College London.
When I was looking at programs in England, the University of Lincoln jumped out. Lincoln focuses on the conservation of historic objects, as opposed to archaeology or fine arts, and they take hands-on training very seriously. Students start treating objects their first week.
The general philosophy of the program is that graduates will probably go on to work in, or for, the historic houses of the UK and should be prepared to work on every type of material inside the house, including the building itself. Lincoln has a commercial wing that specializes in historic interiors. While I wanted to focus on metal objects specifically, arms and armor, like many museum objects, are mixed-media. All programs address mixed-media, but I felt that at Lincoln it was a major part of the curriculum.
The Lincoln program was also a two year program. Lincoln has a BA program, so the MA is only one additional year if you have done the undergraduate training. For people who received a BA in other fields, like me, they offer a one year Graduate Diploma course to catch you up with the MA. So, in two years (1 year GD + 1 year MA) I walked away with an MA in objects conservation, whereas similar programs required three years. In my mind, I was able to enter the workforce a year earlier, with a year’s less tuition. As I had hands-on pre-program experience and had taken the “Chemistry for Conservators” correspondence course, I didn’t feel like I would be overwhelmed by the condensed program or unprepared after graduation.
After Lincoln, I worked on outdoor sculpture for the New York City Parks Department, first as a summer intern, then staying on for another major project. It was during this time I applied for a Summer Graduate Internship in Arms and Armor Conservation at the Met, which I was awarded.
After a year of semi-employment and volunteering, I was awarded a Met Fellowship in Arms and Armor Conservation, which was subsequently renewed for another year. Just before the end of my second fellowship, our senior conservator (The Armorer) announced his retirement after 43 years with the museum. His retirement created an opening in the department, which I gratefully filled.
What were the advantages of your program of choice: Personal/Professional
I feel the ‘historic house’ approach, stressing mixed-media objects, has thoroughly prepared me for my career. In my work I have come across some very unusual combinations of materials and conditions, and I have never felt unprepared. I can’t say I’ve always known the right treatment or course of action, but I’ve always known where to start, and more importantly, when to stop.
While Lincoln wants you to be prepared for everything, they are very accommodating of specialties. One student, for example, chose to specialize in restoring ship models, and the lecturers found models for him to treat; another classmate decided she wanted to focus on textiles, so one of the lecturers built her a suction-table out of Cor-X, duct tape, and a vacuum. Both students went on to work in their chosen specialty.
The program did a particularly good job of preparing students to deal with display and storage environments. The course anticipates students will be working in unideal conditions with limited resources and teaches the students to find creative solutions to stabilizing environments. To reinforce the lectures and readings, all MA’s must do a survey of a historic structure in Lincoln including monitoring temperature, humidity, and light-levels through changing seasons, and make recommendations on improving the stability of the environment.
While I attended Lincoln, we were in an 18th century former hospital turned seminary, turned lab. It was atmospheric, but cramped and poorly laid out. The program has since moved into a brand new building shared with the art department. The lecturers were able to custom design the conservation space before construction even began. I was able to visit a couple of years ago, and it is a beautiful facility. The students also have access to the new art studios and have designated times where they are encouraged to practice manufacturing techniques like jewelry making and carpentry.
The tuition for the program is less than at other universities, and the cost of living in Lincoln is low. Additionally, Lincoln is only a two-year program instead of three, further reducing cost.
What were the disadvantages of your program of choice: Personal/Professional
I would say that one disadvantage is that Lincoln is a young program. Most conservators have heard of it, but it does not yet carry the cache of University College London or New York University. Being a young program also means there are fewer Lincoln alumni to network with, particularly in the US; where, to my knowledge, I am the only Lincoln alum.
While the two-year program worked for me, it might not be right for everyone. The structure only provides the summer between the GD and the MA to have a placement/internship before graduation. If you do not have any pre-program experience, then you are putting a lot of pressure on that one summer for building your resume and portfolio.
Of course, two years studying in England is two years away from friends and family. I was fortunate to have a very supportive girlfriend, now wife, and things like Skype and FaceTime make the distance easier, but it is still distance. That said, away is away, regardless of the country. I can’t say attending Buffalo, at the opposite end of my home state, would have been much easier than Lincoln.
There is, of course, the financial component. Going to school in England is not free and flights are expensive. It made sense for me because I wouldn’t have been eligible for the endowed American programs without spending significant time and money continuing to take undergraduate classes.
What advice do you have for pre-programmers considering a similar path
Picking a program is an important decision; you will spend several years there, after all, but it will not make or break your career. Your career will be defined by equal of parts hard work and dumb luck – comforting, I know. So my advice isn’t about picking a program, but planning ahead.
Start working on your portfolio as soon as possible. This will be what defines you to a potential employer. Get a good camera if you can and learn to take well-lit, in-focus pictures (though I’ve gotten good pictures with just my iPhone). Take lots of photos of everything you work on, and have other people take photos of every type of activity you perform. A portfolio or website is only as strong as the images it contains, and it is very easy to forget to take them or inadvertently get bad photos; either way, you will be pulling your hair out when you’re trying to put your material together.
A potential employer will Google you, so having a website and/or a ‘curated’ social media feed is a great way to promote yourself. I never made a website, but I believe it will be a must-have going forward.
AIC Sustainability CommitteeSeeks New Professional Member
Term: June 2018 – May 2020
The Sustainability Committee seeks a new professional member to join our dynamic, interdisciplinary team. The position is open to anyone in the profession including interim year members, Associates, PAs, and Fellows from any conservation specialty.
Provide resources for AIC members and other caretakers of cultural heritage regarding sustainable approaches to all aspects of the conservation practice. Resources may be provided via electronic media, workshops, publications and presentations.
Define research topics and suggest working groups as needed to explore sustainable conservation practices and new technologies.
Note: The SC is working to expand our focus to include economic and social sustainability, whereas in the past we have focused on environmental sustainability.
The committee is comprised of 8 voting members.
Members serve for two years, with an additional two-year term option.
One member is a conservation graduate student.
One member serves as chair for two years.
During the second year of the chair’s term, another member serves as chair designate, assisting with and learning the chair’s responsibilities.
As needed, corresponding (non-voting) members and non-AIC experts will be invited to guide research on special topics.
Monthly telephone conference calls with the committee members.
Participate in researching and writing group presentations, publications, blog posts, and social media posts.
Contribute to development and planning for the Sustainability Session at the AIC Annual Meeting.
Initiate and support committee projects to increase awareness of sustainable practices in the conservation community.
Collaborate with related committees, networks, and working groups.
Please submit a statement of purpose (1 page maximum length) and resume by March 1, 2018 to Geneva Griswold, Committee Chair, at sustainability(at)conservation-us.org with “Call For Members Application” in the subject line.
I’m delighted and excited to introduce Untold Stories, a project aimed at pursuing an art conservation profession that represents and preserves a fuller spectrum of human cultural heritage. With generous funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Untold Stories’ mission is “to expand the existing ethical framework for art conservation by engaging new voices and hearing new stories that transform our understanding of the preservation of cultural heritage. We seek to recognize and conserve a broader range of cultural heritages; embrace a more diverse set of conservation practices and practitioners; and affirm the deep emotional connection between objects and sites of cultural heritage and the communities that claim them.”
Untold Stories will pursue this mission by engaging the voices of visionary leaders and thinkers within the arts, cultural heritage and allied fields whose work offers transformative approaches to storytelling, representation and preservation. Between 2018 and 2020, Untold Stories will hold public events at each of the next three annual meetings of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works featuring thought-provoking conversations with artists, arts administrators, activists, poets and scholars. All events will be professionally videographed and made available on the project site soon after they take place.
The 2018 AIC meeting in Houston will feature a panel discussion on “storytelling as preservation” with Deana Haggag, President and CEO of United States Artists, MacArthur award winning artist Rick Lowe, and queer migrant poet and cultural organizer and activist Sonia Guiñansaca. This event is free and will be held on Wednesday, May 30th, 2018, from 4:30 to 6pm at the conference hotel. (For more information, please visit https://www.untoldstories.live/houston-2018/). This event is also now listed in the AIC Program.
Another key component of Untold Stories is to create paid opportunities for emerging professionals to assume leadership roles in the development and implementation of the project’s programming. The project is currently seeking two assistants for 2018. Any interested conservation students or recent graduates of a program are invited to apply. The deadline for applications is January 20th.
Thank you all for your support, and see you in Houston!
Two teams of FAIC’s National Heritage Responders are wrapping up a week of work in Puerto Rico. This is the second wave of team members to visit collections on the island affected by Hurricane Maria.
Mold growth continued to be the primary issue facing most of the institutions visited. With such lengthy power outages, many collections faced exposure to extremely high temperatures and relative humidity. Even as power is restored for some institutions, assessing any incursions of mold remained a priority task. Team members continued to stress the importance of personal protective equipment for staff members working with collections, providing guidance on how to safely address the mold.
While site visits made up the bulk of the work completed by the teams, one group held a workshop for local artists and institutions on salvaging works. The Museo de las Américas, a museum in San Juan visited by the first deployment team in late November, graciously offered their space to host the workshop. Over thirty individuals attended to learn about how to handle their affected objects.
FAIC will continue to work with affected collections and provide resources. You can learn more about our emergency programs here http://bit.ly/2okwlX1 and see previous updates on recent emergencies here http://bit.ly/2AErjb5. Stay tuned for more information about this group’s deployment and the team members who participated!
The Journal of American Institute for Conservation (JAIC) seeks submissions for a special issue on the topic of “Reflectance hyperspectral imaging to support documentation and conservation of 2D artworks.” Two-dimensional artworks include paintings, works on paper, tapestries, and photographic materials. The focus of this special issue is on hyperspectral systems that provide continuous reflectance spectra over the portion of the spectral range from the UV to the Mid-IR. Specific areas of interest include:
Description of the best methodologies and acquisition parameters of workflows for operating hyperspectral imaging cameras under museum conditions or in non-controlled environments such as when studying outdoor frescoes or murals;
Hyperspectral image cube processing workflows to mine datasets for useful information such as pigment or binder maps, or visualizing compositional changes or revisions;
Defining, testing, implementing, and developing specific criteria for optimizing the format of acquired data and processing procedures for analysis, storage, usage, and dissemination of hyperspectral imaging data and results;
Case studies on the identification of artists’ materials using reflectance hyperspectral imaging, mapping distribution or improving visualization of compositional paint changes or revisions.
Authors are invited to submit an abstract and article outline to the special issue organizers by January 31, 2018. Complete article submissions are due April 30, 2018. JAIC guidelines and its style guide are found at www.conservation-us.org/jaic. Articles selected by the guest organizers should be submitted through our online portal at jac.edmgr.com. Datasets can be included as supplemental information.
To promote awareness and a clearer understanding of different pathways into specializations that require particular training, The Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN) is conducting a series of interviews with conservation professionals in these specialties. We kicked off the series with Chinese and Japanese Painting conservation, and now we are focusing on Electronic Media Conservation (EMG). These conservators work with time-based media, which is characterized by artwork with durational elements, such as slide, film, and video, analog or born-digital materials, performance, light or kinetic art, sound or software-based art. We’ve asked our interviewees to share some thoughts about their career paths, which we hope will inspire new conservation professionals and provide valuable insight into these areas of our professional field.
In the first interviews for this series, we spoke with emerging conservators starting in the early stages of their careers working in time-based media, which included Alexandra Nichols, Nicholas Kaplan, Brian Castriota and Yasmin Desssem. In this interview, we hear from Christine Frohnert, a conservator who graduated in 2003 from the University of Arts in Berne, Switzerland, where she majored in the Conservation of Modern Materials and Media. Prior to establishing a private practice for Time-based Media (TBM) with colleague Reinhard Bek, Christine served as chief conservator at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany for twelve years and as chair of the AIC Electronic Media Group from 2008-2012. In 2012, she was named the inaugural Judith Praska Distinguished Visiting Professor in Conservation and Technical Studies at the Conservation Center at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University (CC/IFA/NYU), where she now serves as the Time-based Media Art Conservation Curriculum Development Program Coordinator.
ECPN: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your current position.
Christine Frohnert (CF): I am a conservator of contemporary art with a specific focus on technology-based art. Reinhard Bek and I founded Bek & Frohnert LLC in NYC in 2012- a conservation studio in private practice specializing in the conservation of time-based media (TBM). We are both German, have been trained in Europe, worked in leading positions in museums, and have been involved in international research projects.
Bek and I focus on the conservation of artworks with a durational element in our practice—such as sound, moving image, performance, light, or movement, that unfolds to the viewer over time via slide, film, video, software, or the internet. Since the studio’s inauguration, we have responded to individual needs for both TBM conservation treatments and consulting requests. However, over the last several years, we have experienced a rising demand to serve as consultants for different U.S. institutions without time-based media conservators on staff, as well as for collectors and artists. As many TBM art collecting institutions are facing rapidly increasing needs to adequately acquire, preserve, exhibit and store TBM works, we are responding to this development and our work is more geared towards long-term collection care and the development of preservation plans, as well as education.
ECPN: How were you first introduced to conservation, what contributed to your decision to specialize in time-based media, and why has been your training pathway?
CF: As with most of my colleagues, I started conservation being exposed to more traditional media such as paintings and sculpture. About 20 years ago, I realized that technology-based artworks can be seriously harmed or lost without a new conservation specialty being established. I became fascinated with TBM, and I learned about the newly established program ‘Conservation of Modern Materials and Media’ at the University of Arts, Berne, Switzerland. I graduated from there in 2003.
ECPN: Are there any particular skills that you feel are important or unique to your discipline?
CF: A complex range of skill sets are needed, which should be solidly grounded in the conceptual framework of contemporary art conservation as a whole. It requires knowledge in electrics/electronics and programming, and an in-depth understanding of each media category, technology and its preservation, documentation and digital preservation needs. As our profession is highly collaborative by nature, soft skills are equally important to collaborate with all the stakeholders in the institutions involved, as well as with affiliated external professionals such as engineers, computer scientists, and technicians. This is important when defining, communicating, and verifying goals with vendors.
As many museums recently formed or are currently forming ‘Media Teams’ in their respective institutions to tackle their individual TBM collections needs, we have witnessed a rapidly increasing need for skilled labor, dedicated TBM lab space, equipment, and the trustworthy storage and management of huge amounts of born-digital or digitized artworks.
ECPN: What are some of your current projects, research, or interests?
CF: Currently our recent projects include consultation with several institutions to analyze their TBM collections and develop custom-designed conservation strategies according to their individual collections needs and skill sets of staff. These consultations may include surveys, assistance with media acquisitions, exhibitions and artwork documentation, storage, and migration. Bringing in external expertise often provides the bridge that many museums and their TBM stakeholders do not find in-house or do not have the capacity to coordinate. This work helps to identify and structure these needs more clearly and often provides the basis for institutional development and the implementation of larger collection care projects.
Recent and current treatment-based activities range from analyzing the ‘mechanical’ programming of a light-based work, the conservation of a seven channel-video wall from 1998 consisting of 207 Cathode Ray Tube monitors, digitization of analog video, and the reverse engineering of custom-designed large format slide projectors, to name a few.
ECPN: In your opinion, what is an important need in your specialization?
CF: the most pressing need is education. Technology-based art is considered to be very sensitive to damage, loss, misinterpretation, and incorrect installation, due to its very specific and sensitive relationship to time, space, and concept. Damage or loss of a TBM work cannot be seen by simply examining the physical material and may not be immediately apparent unless the individual has received specialized training.
TBM conservation has been identified as a priority by many museums, collectors, and funding agencies. However, the educational opportunities are still limited, and there is currently no U.S. graduate program offering a degree in this specialty (but this will change soon!). As a result, a huge amount of our most recent cultural heritage is at risk, in an unknown condition, and/or not sufficiently integrated into museums’ missions of collecting, exhibition, conservation, research, and education.
However, thanks to the generous funding provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Conservation Center at the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU, started the TBM art conservation curriculum planning project in 2016.The new TBM specialization will be integrated within its current curriculum starting in fall 2018. This will be the first conservation program offering this specialty in the U.S. and the graduates will receive a dual degree: an MS in the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works and an MA in the History of Art and Archaeology.
ECPN: Have you been involved in any advocacy, outreach, teaching or professional service roles in your specialization?
CF: During my time as EMG (Electronic Media Group) board Chair from 2008-2012, we received numerous request from the membership to offer continuing education opportunities, and in response EMG launched the conference series entitled TechFocus in 2010. The series is designed to provide hands-on guidance and systematic education on different media categories (TechFocus I: Caring for Video Art, Guggenheim Museum, NY, in 2010; TechFocus II: Caring for Film and Slide Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC, 2012; TechFocus III: Caring for Software-based Art, Guggenheim Museum, NY, in 2015). In addition, the first periodical worldwide that focuses on TBM art conservation was launched by the EMG in 2012, The Electronic Media Review.
At the (CC/IFA/NYU) I have offered instruction in TBM conservation art in different capacities, including the course Art With A Plug: The Conservation of Artwork Containing Motion, Sound, Light, Moving Images and Interactivity (Fall 2012 and Spring 2015).
Several professional organizations and initiatives have created additional targeted educational opportunities and collaborations. However, despite all these good developments, further training is needed at the graduate level, as well as in continuing education for professionals, to address the fast-increasing demands of TBM conservation.
Under the leadership of Dr. Hannelore Roemich, Professor of Conservation Science and TBM program Director, I have also served as TBM Program Coordinator to assist in identifying skill sets and core competencies of TBM conservators that translate into the educational needs to develop a TBM curriculum. In the fall of 2016 the Conservation Center offered the course and public lecture series Topics in Time-based Media Art Conservation, which included ten lectures by leading art historians, artists, computer scientists, and conservators. These events were an important outreach component of the curriculum development project, and they created the opportunity to promote the field, foster the dialogue between TBM professionals, and build a community.
We are now organizing the upcoming symposium It’s About Time! Building a New Discipline: Time-based Media Art Conservation to be held in May 2018. The two-day symposium will provide a forum for educators, artists, art historians, museum curators and directors, collectors, gallerists, engineers, computer scientists, and conservators to promote TBM art conservation as a discipline on an international level and will conclude the TBM curriculum planning phase.
ECPN: Do you have any advice for prospective emerging conservators who would like to pursue this specialization?
CF: While I am not comfortable issuing general advice, I can say that I personally appreciate working with students and colleagues in our field, and that this has shaped and enriched my professional life. If you are a strong communicator who is interested in the intersection of art and technology, art conservation, and art history– and maybe you even have a background in one or more of the related media fields–why don’t you join the EMG sessions at the AIC annual meetings and/or attend the upcoming NYU symposium to engage with the TBM community and find out if this specialty may be just the right fit for you?
ECPN: Please share any last thoughts or reflections.
CF: We currently see an extremely high demand for trained TBM conservators. This can be measured by the exponentially increasing job offers worldwide and the challenges many institutions face to find qualified candidates. So, it is safe to say that this is the best moment in time for becoming a TBM conservator in this country. If you are interested in pursuing a career in TBM conservation- check out the new TBM curriculum page at the Conservation Center, Institute of Fine Arts at NYU.
FAIC has been an important resource for many institutions in the aftermath of the 2017 hurricane season. Following deployment of a National Heritage Responder (NHR) team in Texas and site visits in Florida, this past week, a team of NHR members were able to provide assessments and training to institutions in Puerto Rico. Due to the extent of the damage caused by Hurricane Maria, response from a NHR team was necessarily delayed so resources could be directed to life and safety issues. While there are still significant infrastructure challenges facing residents, the recovery process now includes assessment and salvage of cultural heritage. FAIC had also provided remote support prior to this trip and will continue to work closely with national and local organizations throughout the recovery process.
Last week, our NHR team visited institutions across the library, archives, and museum field in Puerto Rico. Water damage and resulting mold growth were intensified by power outages and lack of air conditioning, and are the primary concerns at many institutions, less so structural damage due to wind. Mold is a health and safety issue, and NHR members helped provide instruction on proper handling of affected materials and use of personal protective equipment (PPE). In the image above, NHR members evaluate a collection of Puerto Rican artists’ catalogs.
FAIC will continue to provide assistance and support recovery efforts. For more information on our emergency programs, visit our website, http://bit.ly/2okwlX1, and see previous updates on recent emergencies here: http://bit.ly/2AErjb5. We will also continue to provide updates via our social media and member publications.
Even as we continue to respond to Hurricane Maria, we are also monitoring the devastating wildfires in California. Institutions can reach NHR members via phone (202.661.8068) and email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
To promote awareness and a clearer understanding of different pathways into specializations that require particular training, the Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN) is conducting a series of interviews with conservation professionals in these specialties. We kicked off the series with Chinese and Japanese painting conservation, and now we are focusing on practitioners in AIC’s Electronic Media Group (EMG). These conservators work with time-based media, which can include moving components, performance, light or sound elements, film and video, analog or born-digital materials. We’ve asked our interviewees to share some thoughts about their career paths, which we hope will inspire new conservation professionals and provide valuable insight into these areas of our professional field.
Previous posts in ECPN’s EMG blog series include interviews with Yasmin Dessem, Alex Nichols, and Nick Kaplan. In this installment we hear from Brian Castriota, a conservator specialized in the conservation of time-based media and contemporary art. Brian holds a Master’s degree in Art History and a Certificate in Conservation from the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU where he graduated in 2014. He worked as a contract conservator for time-based media artworks at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and was a Samuel H. Kress Fellow in Time-Based Media Conservation at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. He is currently a Research Fellow in the Conservation of Contemporary Art at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and is pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Glasgow within the research program “New Approaches in the Conservation of Contemporary Art” (NACCA) – a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network.
ECPN: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Brian Castriota (BC): My name is Brian Castriota, I’m a conservator of time-based media and contemporary art. I’m currently working on a Ph.D. at the University of Glasgow within the EU-funded research initiative “New Approaches in the Conservation of Contemporary Art” (NACCA).
ECPN: How were you first introduced to conservation, and why did you decide to pursue conservation?
BC: Both of my parents are art historians and my mother worked as a museum curator and director for many years, first at Duke University and later Amherst College. I spent a lot of my childhood backstage in museum storage around artworks and artifacts from all periods, which I think was probably a very formative experience for me. Something resonated with me in the kinds of interactions I observed conservators have with museum objects, their unique expertise about the material fabric and production history of these objects, as well as their profound sense of responsibility in ensuring their continuity.
ECPN: Of all specializations, what contributed to your decision to pursue electronic media conservation?
BC: I think I have always felt a draw towards “obsolete” equipment, media and technologies; I was an avid record collector in my adolescence, studied color darkroom photography in college, and I have a small collection of vintage analog synthesizers. I first became aware of electronic media conservation as a sub-specialism of art conservation after starting in the conservation masters program at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts. Christine Frohnert was of course a big inspiration for me – her enthusiasm and passion for time-based media conservation was absolutely contagious, and she really gave me the confidence to pursue this pathway and specialization. Joanna Phillips was also instrumental in providing me with the practical training to become a time-based media conservator in my fourth-year internship and subsequent fellowship at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
ECPN: What has been your training pathway? Please list any universities, apprenticeships, technical experience, and any related jobs or hobbies.
BC: My training pathway has by no means been straight and narrow. I concentrated in studio arts at Sarah Lawrence College where I did my Bachelor’s degree. During my junior year abroad in Florence, Italy I took a year-long course on painting conservation which confirmed my interest in pursuing master’s-level training in conservation. Upon returning to New York I interned in the Photographs Conservation department of the Met for a summer. After I graduated from Sarah Lawrence in 2009 I worked for a paper conservator in private practice for a year while I completed the rest of my lab science requirements for grad school. During my time at the IFA I specialized in the conservation of objects and archaeological materials. I took every opportunity to work on their affiliated excavations, including three consecutive summers with the Harvard-Cornell Archaeological Exploration of Sardis, and NYU’s excavations at Selinunte and Abydos.
After taking Christine Frohnert’s seminar “Art With a Plug” in my third year I devoted my thesis research to examining the significance of CRT video projectors in Diana Thater’s early video installations. I then split my fourth year internship between the Artefacts Conservation section of the National Galleries of Scotland and the Time-Based Media Conservation Lab at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Upon graduating I was fortunate to work for a few months at the Smithsonian American Art Museum on their time-based media art collection, and afterwards returned to the Guggenheim for a Samuel H. Kress Fellowship in Time-Based Media Conservation before I started my Ph.D. at the University of Glasgow.
ECPN: Are there any particular skills that you feel are important or unique to your discipline?
BC: I find that time-based media art conservation requires a very unique combination of skills: a sound knowledge of modern and contemporary art history and conservation theory, a sensitivity for contemporary artistic working practices, a broad technical knowledge of historic and current audiovisual technologies, a knack for interfacing with many groups of people with diverse skillsets and backgrounds, and an ability to think critically and reflectively.
ECPN: What are some of your current projects, research, or interests?
BC: In my doctoral research I am taking a critical look at how contemporary conservation theory and practice grapple with works of art whose authenticity doesn’t inhere through a fixed or finite physical assemblage, or even a fixed set of rules, parameters, conditions, or properties. There are in existence works whose creation continues after the work is acquired by a museum, works whose rules or conditions change over time or are seen as being variable among stakeholders. This in turn leads to questions about how the continuity of the work’s authenticity can be ensured. I am developing a framework and language to characterize these phenomena and account for them in our practical workflows and protocols.
In conjunction with my doctoral research I am working part-time at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art where I wear two hats. As a researcher, I’ve been examining some of the theoretical and practical challenges posed by particular artworks in and entering the collection. Right now I’m working on an exhibition that includes a number of Susan Philipsz’s complex sound installations involving custom equipment and wireless transmission, which are serving as case studies. I’ve also been lending my expertise as a time-based media conservator to help review their collection care practices around their growing time-based media art collection. Following an initial collection survey and risk assessment we have begun backing-up and condition assessing audiovisual material in the collection, as well as revising and expanding documentation records and acquisition protocols for time-based media artworks.
ECPN: In your opinion, what is an important research area or need in your specialization?
BC: I think one that deserves a bit of focus is terminology. There are a lot of terms that we use in our field, not always with the most consensus about what we mean: emulation, replica, copy, version, authenticity, fidelity, iteration, just to name a few. Some of these terms are borrowed from or have particular lineages within academic discourses in philosophy, ethnography, performance studies, or computer science. In some cases these terms may also have particular meanings in particular industries. These terms also have colloquial usage and connotations. And these are just the English terms. Our field is so international, and there are many terms in other languages that do not have direct translations in English. I have joked for a while that we need to have a “Term Focus” conference – perhaps there will be one on the horizon!
ECPN:Do you have any advice for prospective emerging conservators who would like to pursue this specialization?
BC: Do it, because the need is certainly there. If you are pre-program, the Institute of Fine Arts has developed the first dedicated stream in time-based media conservation training in North America. Also be on the lookout for short Mellon-funded courses and workshops geared towards established conservators wishing to pursue greater specialization in time-based media. Attend digital archiving conferences and workshops, join the AMIA listserv, make use of some of the online resources like Code Academy to learn some programming languages, get a Raspberry Pi or a kit for building a little synth or a guitar pedal. The best way to understand the technical underpinnings of time-based and electronic media is to play around with some yourself. Make something!