The AICCM National Conference, Making Conservation, was held in Melbourne from 13 to 15 November. I’d like to thank the organising committee for their hard work, which resulted in three days of excellent presentations and conversations (and some extraordinarily good food). I’d also like to thank the AICCM for the bursary that supported my attendance. I know my Perth colleagues often find attendances at conferences difficult and we are grateful for this support.
Day 1, Making Conservation Connected, began with a keynote from Brett Leavy who uses technology to ‘build a time machine’ by digitally reconstructing Aboriginal cultural heritage, including architecture, irrigation, language and song, in an interactive 3D environment. Brett and his team are developing an interactive map with welcome songs and dances from language groups across the country. For more see: https://www.virtualsonglines.org/
The day included a session on conservation in art centres with a panel discussion by arts workers Michelle Woody, Dora Griffiths, Gabriel Nodea and Lynley Nargoodah, graduates of the inaugural Specialist Certificate in Cross-Cultural Conservation and Heritage at the University of Melbourne. The role of art centres in keeping culture strong, maintaining connection to country and passing culture to the next generation was discussed, with the major challenge identified as a lack of funding. This was followed by an interesting paper on preventive conservation in the storage of deceased estates at art centres, where access is often restricted for some time following a death.
Continuing the theme of connecting conservation, Gerard Preiss spoke about the difficulties caused by vulnerable formats held by AIATSIS (e.g. video and audio collections), their location in Canberra, separated from Aboriginal communities, and the role digitisation plays in the repatriation of this material.
Other presentations examined connecting conservation to communities in Australia and across the world (Shekhawati in India, and Hong Kong).
The afternoon session examined communicating conservation. Kelly Leahey from the State Library of Queensland discussed the process of making the fabulous video series Caring for Collections. We heard of her thwarted hopes to use animation in the videos, so it was a happy juxtaposition in the final presentation of the day to see Nicole Tse’s use of claymation animation to examine conservation decision making in tropical climates.
On day 2, Making Conservation Sustainable, the keynote from MaryJo Lelyveld examined sustainability and what it means for the cultural heritage sector. The talk included thoughts on overcrowding, overcollecting and a reluctance to deaccession and their implications for resource use. A need for discussions around the expected life cycle of an item, and letting things go, was identified. The topic of sustainability is one we need to engage with more actively and the AICCM Sustainable Collections wiki was introduced by MaryJo on day 3.
Rosie Cook presented (via video) using Dr Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation Agenda, and its concepts of resilience, relinquishment and restoration, as a model for looking at conservation and catastrophic climate change.
There were a number of interesting presentations on sustainability (for example cleaning painted surfaces with green chemicals, alternative biocides for specimens in glycerol) and a panel discussion by students for sustainable actions in cultural materials conservation. My favourite session of the morning was a lightning talk from Sheldon Teare discussing composting as a sustainable preparation method for osteological specimens. As a paper conservator, removing bones from animals is (thankfully) not part of my day but I now have a strong appreciation for the benefits of composting over the other methods available.
Amanda Pagliarino and Carolyn Murphy spoke about implementing the Bizot (International Group of Organizers of Major Exhibitions) Green Protocol on behalf of the Council of Australian Art Museum Directors. These guidelines align with the AICCM environmental guidelines and broaden the acceptable environmental parameters of works on loan. It was noted that many institutions use broader parameters for their own storage and display, but revert to the narrower traditional guidelines for loans. In order to broaden these loan parameters there needs to be a cooperative approach across institutions.
The afternoon sessions were followed by a conservation skills summit. Panel members presented short talks on conservation training and education in Australia. This was followed by an animated discussion regarding whether training in Australia is meeting the needs of the profession, and whether graduates have skills in collaboration, critical thinking and a wider industry perspective at the expense of hands-on skills? I’m sure this conversation will continue.
Day 3, Making Conservation Innovative, brought the final keynote from Matthew Butler who works with technology—such as 3D printing, laser cutting, soundscapes and recorded conversations—to make art accessible and exciting for people who are blind or have low vision. Matthew spoke about his work with the Bendigo Art Gallery and the issues around making access to collections truly equitable.
The day included a number of lightning talks. Candice Cranmer spoke about plans for a glass-fronted conservation space at ACMI (opening in 2020) where digital preservation and conservation activities can be viewed by the public. Celia Cramer discussed the use of spectroscopic analysis to identify preservatives in natural history collections, not just from a health and safety perspective but because of the information they reveal about those who preserved and maintained the specimens.
Of particular interest to me was Elizabeth Carter’s (manager of Sydney Analytical Vibrational Spectroscopy Facility at the University of Sydney) presentation on the use of near-infrared spectroscopy for cellulose nitrate identification. Her work uses spectroscopy to rapidly distinguish between cellulose acetate and cellulose nitrate without destructive tests, with work continuing to determine the degree of deterioration in cellulose nitrate samples.
Julianne Bell presented on the PolyMuse project, a framework and database for the conservation of plastic materials in Australian museum collections. Linked to this was Cancy Chu’s work on plastics in archives, where they constitute a significant proportion of the collection, not just as information carriers but also as information organisers (e.g. plastic pockets, components of books, etc.).
While all the presentations have added to my knowledge and provided information for further thought and investigation, the posters have provided techniques that will immediately be incorporated into my daily work. Of particular value was the ‘tips, tricks and favourite tools’ poster prepared following a NSW Division event. After spending some time attempting to construct a solvent chamber larger than a Moccona lid, I’ll be immediately adopting the use of a glass tray and rare earth magnets for this purpose. Perhaps the organisers of the next National Conference, to be held in Darwin, could consider a wall where attendees could post their favourite tips and tricks?