Held at Melbourne Museum, 20–23 November 2018, the AICCM Book and Paper and Photographic Materials Symposium brought together conservators from Australia and overseas to engage in talks and workshops about changes, challenges and innovations in conservation. This year marked the 10th symposium of the biennial event organised by the Book & Paper SIG and the Photon SIG. As a result there was a strong feeling of reflection on the first book and paper symposium, and how the profession and discipline continues to grow and adapt.
Leading up to the symposium, several conservators were approached to write a series of letters. Letters to New Conservators gave conservators a chance to reflect on their own profession including the changes in conservation over the years, and provided advice for emerging conservators. These letters were distributed to AICCM members in the lead up to the conference and set a wonderful tone for the event. They highlighted the collaborative and explorative nature of the profession.
After a fantastic Welcome (Womenjika) to Country by Perry Wandin on Day 1, each day started with an engaging keynote speech highlighting the interdisciplinary nature of conservation and the necessity to collaborate with the wider community. The three days of presentations covered a broad range of topics, curated into thematic sessions: Communities and Collaboration, Revisitation, and The Anthropocene.
Associate Professor Elizabeth Leane had us wanting to travel south with White noise: Archives, Asylums and the Transmission of Australian Antarctic Heritage. Elizabeth’s research adds a key player back into the history of Antarctica, Sidney Jeffryes (b. 1884) an Australian wireless telegraphy operator; her presentation outlined the importance of access and tools needed for the archive within the context of her own research on Australian Antarctic heritage. Dr Andrew Hazewinkel presented From Limbo to Mashup and The Spell of The Fake, which looked at contemporary photographic practices in relation to archival collections. Professor Libby Robin gave us food for thought with Curating the Anthropocene: What do we need for the future? asking ‘whose stories are being told and by who’. Libby pointed to innovative ways of storytelling including The Anthropocene Slam, and Sharing Stories by the Museums and Climate Change Network.
The first session of the conference was titled “Communities & Collaboration”. In this session, speakers highlighted the importance of collaboration with various communities to ascertain the cultural significance of collections. Jodie Dowd and Hollie Gill’s paper Custodianship and conservation: Considering the intangible significance of cultural materials discussed the importance of respecting types of access (restricted, culturally sensitive, open access) to collections belonging to Indigenous communities and the necessity of consultations with knowledge holders. In The Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives: A conservation tour Alexis Townsend emphasised conservation’s role in practicing and providing continual access to cultural material, collections and stories of communities that were previously silenced. This was followed by Shing Ishikawa’s discussion of two institutions collaborating their collections for the show Starstruck. Lastly, Victoria Pearce discussed a potential new method of mould remediation using UVC globes.
The second session of day 1 was dedicated to book treatments. Peter Mitchelson and Libby Melzer discussed an impressive conservation treatment of a Book of Remembrance which contained parchment pages. The book was recovered from a fire and arrived at the labs sooty and sodden. Mitchelson and Melzer discussed the treatment steps, including freezing the pages, application of Wolbers’ gels and resewing the textblocks and reattaching the covers. This was followed by Robin Tait, who discussed a traditional Japanese book treatment. The book was damaged as it was mishandled by being handled like a western book. Tait discussed the importance of understanding the book’s construction, with its accordion fold, and need to restore the action of opening the book through a rotating clockwise action. Lastly, Bronwen Glover discussed her results from her thesis, which was a comparative investigation of three brands of EVA and PVAc adhesives regularly used in book conservation.
The last session of the day was titled “Revisitation”. It began with Carolyn Murphy’s discussion about the installation of Sarah Hughes’ Torpedo, an artwork comprised of approximately 950 sales tags. Titled Is this the original? Murphy discussed ideas of authenticity, artist’s intention and ideas about object’s “original state”. This was followed by Emily Keppel’s discussion on Nineteenth-century Indonesian Islamic manuscripts and how attending an Islamic Bookbinding Workshop facilitated her understanding of condition reporting and treating the Islamic manuscripts at the State Library of Victoria. Finally, Kate Hughes presented a paper titled High Significance high anxiety: Proposing a treatment for a high-value item in a collection. Hughes discussed the introduction of a new decision making procedure introduced for objects classified as the top 100 items of high value in the State Library of New South Wales.
After the first day of the conference, the AICCM 2018 awards were announced.
Dr. Hazewinkel’s keynote speech From Limbo to Mashup, was followed by Samantha Shellard’s presentation titled Albert Namatjira’s Legacy: A survey of indigenous Arrente watercolours which discussed the treatment of 119 water colours. This was followed by the session “Materials and Techniques”. This session was dedicated to objects comprised of non-traditional material types and issues of identification, storage, display and treatment of these objects. In Midawarr/Harvest: Materials, techniques and display, Jess Wignell, Kerry Wagg and Nick Zihrul discussed their decision making process of installing and displaying an artwork comprised of overlapping water colour papers when magnets resulted in dents. This was then followed by Cancy Chu’s discussion on the characterisation of stone paper. This paper is calcium rather than cellulose based and deteriorates significantly quicker under UV light. Alice Cannon then discussed the characteristics of Metallic memorandum books and how fake metallic notebooks exist. Lastly, Cancy Chu presented Dr. Petronella Nel’s paper on Managing malignant plastics in collections which discussed the current research undertaken by the Grimwade Centre on materials comprised of plastics.
The second session of Day 2 discussed treatments of photographic materials. Katy Glen discussed the treatment of a 19th century painted photographic panorama that depicted Williamstown. Issues caused by the photographic base and painting over this base, were resolved by Glen’s application of Richard Wolbers’ gels, specifically solution B in Xantham. Next was Lang Ngo and Catherine Thomson’s talk Revisiting Holtermann’s triumph: From plate to pixel based on a giant glass broken plate found in storage. This glass plate was 8mm thick and held a negative panorama image of Sydney Harbour prior to the iconic Sydney Harbour bridge. As the plate couldn’t be held for long, overlays were taken and the images were recreated to jigsaw the image together. Lastly, Belinda Gourley presented An Introduction to the George Wilson Bridges Collection at Museums Victoria which included a collection of paper negatives of the enigmatic/eccentric figure of George Wilson Bridges.
Day 2 wclosed with the session “Black and White”. This session started with Freya Merrell’s presentation titled Bound to be shades of grey: determining book conservation approaches at the National Library of Australia which provided an overview for emerging conservators in book conservation techniques. Following on from Merrell, Alexis Townsend discussed the usage of Significance 2.0 to base significance on the collection of Brücke catalogue within the collection’s context and the wider collection. Lastly, Jennifer Loubser wrapped up this session with her presentation on the establishment of a sustainable thangka conservation centre in Bhutan. This presentation was then followed with the evening event of a film screening of 1000 hands of the Guru: Saving Bhutan’s Sacred Arts.
The final day of the conference began with the discussion of the “Anthropocene” which followed Libby Robin’s keynote speech and Analiese Treacy’s presentation Not Made to Last. Robin and Treacy were joined by Associate Professor Gavan McCarthy, and their discussion was highly stimulating and informative. This was followed by the session titled ‘Outside the Box’. These presentations looked at innovative teaching methods for teaching conservation to both emerging conservators and the general public. Diana Coop, after visiting various paper conservations labs in China, talked about the work processes of Chinese conservation in order to better understand how best to loan from and to China. This included learning about the separation of restoration and conservation in China and also their apprenticeship system which sees an expert teaching a student. This was following by Rachel Spano’s Caring for Collections that discussed the various initiatives undertaken by The State Library of Queensland to inform and engage the general public about conservation. These included workshops, roadshows and a series of short and engaging videos about collection care. Lastly, Nick Baylart and Albertine Hamilton shared their experience of the mentorship program initiated in 2017/2018 by the Grimwade’s Student organisation SC@M which paired students with professionals to help with a student based conservation treatment.
The next session was dedicated to paper treatments. Denyl Cloughley, Libby Melzer, Briony Pemberton and Peter Mitchelson discussed the collaborative nature of the conservation project of the 1663 Blaeu map. This was followed by Sarah Bunn’s discussion of cataloguing and installing Chinese Bible– an artwork comprised of 3000 diaries. Lastly, Lois Waters discussed how collaboration with screen printers can aid in the development of treatment strategies for print workshops.
The last session for the conference was titled “Preservation and Collection Management” and Kate Holloway and Leah Williams presented on the State Library of Victoria’s extensive collection of letters, photographs and other memorabilia of Marion Page and the challenges and solutions to preserving and providing access to this collection. This was followed by Lucilla Ronai’s discussion about the Cellulose Acetate and Nitrate (CAN) project. Lastly, Daniel Burge introduced a new guide for correct storage, display and labelling of photographic material.
Each session ended with a lively Q&A between the audience and presenters. It was heavily emphasised that everyone was welcome to engage in the discussion and that no question was too silly!
Big thanks to the organisers for this stellar symposium, and to Archival Survival and Preservation Australia for supporting three student places at the event. The morning and afternoon teas were divine, Alice Cannon impressed with her microphone wielding, Kay Sunderland for her enthusiastic spruiking, and all for their presentations. For an emerging conservator, the conference was a welcoming and engaging environment that presented a strong sense of community. From this event, we take away many new ideas, practical information, and the strong sense of collaboration present in paper conservation.