Newsletter Issue Number:
AICCM National Newsletter No 161 August 2023
Eliza O’Donnell

From 3 to 5 July, the Asia Pacific Tropical Climate Conservation Art Research Network (APTCCARN) held the 6th APTCCARN forum in Bali, Indonesia, addressing the theme ‘Creative conservation initiatives: Collective approaches for material culture and living heritage’. Co-organised by Institut Konservasi and the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation, APTCCARN 6 welcomed 80 participants from nine countries for a three-day program focusing on sharing creative conservation initiatives and ‘learned’ practices drawn from the tropics. Visiting seven museums and memory sites from Ubud to Denpasar, the forum brought together ‘conservation and heritage professionals from the Indo-Pacific region – including heritage and museum workers, artists, makers, knowledge holders and collectors – to engage, exchange and create conservation initiatives’ (APTCCARN 2023). APTCCARN 6 in Indonesia builds on previous meetings held in Malaysia (2008), Melbourne (2009), Thailand (2012), Taiwan (2015) and the Philippines (2017) and contributes to APTCCARN’s mission to ‘link researchers, intergenerational knowledge-holders, and heritage professions by providing a platform for sharing regionally relevant conservation practices’ (APTCCARN 2023).

Day 1 of the forum commenced in Ubud at the Balai Pelestarian Kebudayaan Wilayah XV (Region XV Cultural Preservation Centre). Mr Abi Kusno, Head of Office at the Balai Pelestarian Kebudayaan Wilayah XV, and Dr Nicole Tse, APTCCARN Founder, delivered the opening lectures, which were followed by a tour of the Gedong Arca Archaeological Museum (Figure 1). The afternoon session was hosted by Ibu Rika Kiswardani at Tampaksiring Presidential Palace, one of six presidential palaces of Indonesia, which is home to a historically significant collection of artworks by some of Indonesia’s modern masters acquired by Indonesia’s first President Sukarno in the mid-1950s. Following a gamelan music and dance performance, tour of the Palace collection and afternoon tea, we were led down the hill to the Tirta Empul Temple, a UNESCO cultural heritage site and holy mountain spring in the village of Manukaya (Figure 2). Day 1 concluded with a dinner reception at Museum Puri Lukisan and a keynote lecture from historian and writer Dr Jean Couteau who presented an inspiring talk focusing on change within Indonesian cultural production drawn from his 30 years of living in Bali.

The following morning, we returned to Museum Puri Lukisan for the first panel discussion, focusing on ‘Modernist practices of conservation in Indonesia and beyond’. Chaired by Dr Sandra Sardjono from the Tracing Patterns Foundation, the four panel presenters included Mr Ade Alamando Hamanto from UP Museum Kebaharian Jakarta, Anne Carter from Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, Associate Professor Sutinee Girdthep and Dr Jitnapa Siririak from Slipakorn University, Thailand. The speakers addressed a diverse range of modernist practices of conservation in the Asia Pacific region and discussed how various modes of artistic production, documentation, archival research, conservation and restoration have evolved over time, and how they can translate to practice in the global south. Themes raised during the first panel session paved the way for discussions of challenge-led conservation experiences, which were explored in Panel 2. Chaired by Dr Diana Tay, the second panel responded to the theme ‘Challenges and ambiguities: conservation in the tropics’ and interrogated the issues that arise in our work and practice when expectations, principles and understandings are challenged. Panel 2 speakers included Sandra Yee from the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Yuting Huang from Cheng Shiu University Taiwan, Michaela Anselmini from Art Restoration Studio in Jakarta, and me. Our panel addressed a range of conservation issues grounded in painting forgery, sustainability, temperature and RH impact on silk-based works, and conservation-grade material availability, highlighting some of the diverse and practical challenges conservators are facing, and responses to such challenges. Following the morning of panel discussions, we enjoyed a tour of the Museum Puri Lukisan conservation laboratory with I Wayan Sumadi and a visit to the Museum Puri Lukisan collection before making our way south to Denpasar for the remainder of the APTCCARN program.

The afternoon session in Denpasar brought us to CushCush Gallery where we were welcomed by gallery co-founders Suriawati Qiu and Jindee Chua who introduced us to the Colours of Bali Project, which documented and celebrated traditional Balinese crafts. At CushCush we had the opportunity to further engage with Balinese artists who were exploring Kamasan painting and textiles, Balinese traditional weaving, and the sourcing and production of local dyes and paints. APTCCARN participants were invited to participate in a ‘Make your own ink’ workshop and share our own experiences working in our respective regional locations. This interactive and engaging session allowed us to learn more about the traditional materials and techniques and methods of production using natural resources.

For the final day of the program, we gathered at Museum Pasifika in Nusa Dua for a guided tour and lecture by conservator Susanne Erhards on ‘Conservation at Museum Pasifika’. Susanne introduced us to some of the pests she encounters while caring for the Museum Pasifika collection, and focused on the importance of knowing your building and sites where pests can enter. This was followed by a sharing session addressing the theme ‘your conservation problem’, where the forum participants were invited to note down problems we face in our conservation practice to share with the wider group. Key themes that emerged during the sharing session focused on resources, disaster management, expertise, storage, and bureaucracy, among many other pertinent issues with which conservators working across the region are grappling. In the afternoon we travelled to Ayana Estate where we joined Alvita Chen, Associate Director of Museum Saka, for a tour of the new, under-construction, Museum Saka, which will be dedicated to celebrating Balinese culture (Figure 3). Back at Ayana Estate, a virtual guest lecture from Ana Labrador in New York addressed the topic of ‘The New Museum Definition and its Implication to Conservation in the Asia Pacific Region: Creativity, Decision-making and Moving Forward after the Pandemic’. To round out the panel discussions, the final panel, Panel 3, was chaired by Lia Sumichan from Institut Konservasi and focused on ‘Collection care in the tropics: Collective ecologies, hierarchies of knowledge and for whom’. Speakers on this panel included Christine Ianna, Komang Adiartha from Kulidan Kitchen and Space, Dr Kiki Rizky Soetisna Putri from ITB in Bandung, and Tan Hui Koon from Bali Seni Negara in Kuala Lumpur. During her presentation, Tan Hui Koon impressed the audience with a video and virtual tour of the new Art Hospital at the Balai Seni Visual Negara, a state-of-the-art conservation lab and storage facility for collectors in the region.

The forum concluded with a dinner at Ayana Estate hosted by Museum Saka and a celebration of a successful and action-packed 3-day program. One of the collective highlights of APTCCARN 6 was the interactive aspect of the program, which effectively integrated visits to multiple cultural sites and collections, with panel discussions and scholarly debate on collective approaches for material culture and living heritage. Following its inauguration in 2008 at Balai Seni Visual Negara, Malaysia, APTCCARN is now 15 years old and is part of a maturing discipline centered on caring for cultural collections in the tropics. APTCCARN is one of many localised and emerging initiatives that are addressing conservation on their own terms, with the commitment and energy needed to maintain these critical cross-cultural relationships, over time and across continents. Within the research network, relationships are being supported and nurtured in a safe and collaborative environment, which was the initial intention of APTCCARN from the outset.

Thank you APTCCARN, Institut Konservasi and the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation for bringing us together and making the meeting so accessible and inclusive. More posts and details of the forum program can be found at the APTCCARN website as well as the APTCCARN Instagram.

Eliza O’Donnell is a paintings conservator and PhD candidate at the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation, University of Melbourne. She has recently submitted her PhD, ‘The Painting is Broken: Understanding issues of art attribution and authenticity in contemporary Indonesia’ focusing on issues surrounding painting forgery in the Javanese art centres of Yogyakarta, Jakarta and Bandung, Indonesia.