A Steep Learning Curve: Developments in the Field of Time-Based Art Conservation in Australia

Asti Sherring
The Electronic Media Review, Volume Five: 2017-2018


In recognition of the significant historical, cultural and financial value of Australian time-based art collections, conservation, registration, and curatorial departments have been working inde­pendently to develop policies, procedures, and programs for time-based art. These efforts are not moving quickly enough, however, to meaningfully reduce the risk of losing important twentieth and twenty-first century time-based artworks. The past efforts of individuals working in an ad-hoc fashion, while adequate to resolve minor issues at hand, does not adequately address the ongoing challenges of time-based art conservation as a discipline. Consequently, many Australian institutions have fallen behind in the development and specialization of time-based art conserva­tion. This lack of participation can be attributed to geographical isolation, a lack of financial investment and resources within Australian institutions, very little expertise, a lack of training programs for specialists in the field, and an absence of upper level advocacy within the sector.

Australian institutions are approaching the precipice of a breakthrough regarding the way we embrace and manage our time-based art collections. To achieve a broader vision for the future of Australian time-based art collections, national institu­tions need to focus on the following goals:

  • The implementation of comprehensive new policies and procedures for time-based collections in Australian institutions
  • Education and advocacy for the management of time-based art collections in Australia
  • A shift in institutional culture and the traditional demarcation of roles when seizing opportunities to create new streams of museum practice and collaboration
  • Contribution to the greater dialogue surrounding the end of life strategies applied to time-based artworks
  • The development of training programs in the field of time-based art conservation

While the efforts of institutions such as The Art Gallery of New South Wales have begun to facilitate a shift in thinking—combined with tangible momentum from conservation professionals working towards addressing the needs of Australian time-based art collections—much remains to be done to ensure this progress can be both consolidated and built upon to bring about lasting, comprehensive change at a national level.

Asti Sherring
Time-Based Media Conservator
The Art Gallery of New South Wales
PhD Candidate
University of Canberra