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News Student Blog: Documenting contemporary art

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​Left: Natalya Swanson presenting on her experience working with staff at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation at the Artist Interview Workshop led by Dr. Sanneke Stigter at the University of Amsterdam. 9 October 2019. Right: Natalya Swanson and Lihi Levie examining "Listen to the Light-Score for J.B. (Joseph Beys)" by Peter Heynen at the UvA Contemporary Art Conservation Student Symposium "Re: New Media Art." 7 October 2019. Images courtesy of Sanneke Stigter.

What factors guide conservators when making decisions? Many conservators will point to practical and rational factors such as the scope and timeline of the project and the condition of the artifact. Others may reference the subjective nature of our practice and cite factors such as experience and training. All conservators have, at one point or another, answered the above question with, “It depends..” which can be rephrased as: “[The answer] is relative.”

During the month of October, I spent much time reflecting on the relative nature of conservation practice during a work-placement at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). My time at UvA was dedicated to researching decision making in the documentation of contemporary art. I began this research while interning at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in Summer 2019 and continued it while assisting Dr. Sanneke Stigter, Assistant Professor in Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage and Program Director of the Contemporary Art Conservation specialization, on the grant-funded Interviews in Conservation Research project through the UvA.

The Interviews in Conservation Research project aims for an integral approach to the use of oral history in conservation research and focuses on reflecting on the use of interviews as a dynamic process. Assisting on this project allowed me to gain practical experience in conducting, transcribing, and annotating oral interviews, while learning about the conceptual framework of the practice. During my work-placement, I transcribed an artist interview from 2005 between artist Marta Pan and conservators Sannneke Stigter and Lydia Beerkens. The interview was conducted to learn more about the Sculpture Flottante, Otterlo (1961), a polyester kinetic sculpture that floats on a pond at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands.

​Left: Marta Pan, Sculpture Flottante, Otterlo (1961), Kröller-Müller Museum. Image by author. Right: Participants practicing interviewing techniques during the Artist Interview Workshop led by Dr. Sanneke Stigter at the University of Amsterdam. 9 October 2019. Image courtesy of Sanneke Stigter.

Transcribing oral histories is a timely process, made even more difficult when the quality of the audio recording is older, of poor quality, or between individuals speaking in non-native languages. This is the case for the interview with Marta Pan, where all participants were speaking English rather than their Dutch and French native tongues. The transcription step is just one of many in the acquisition, digitization, archiving, and accessing of oral history, and is not as straightforward as one might imagine. Fortunately, my time at the UvA coincided with several relevant workshops related to oral history interviews, from conducting interviews to software that can aid in the transcription process.

My time in Amsterdam expanded my perspective on contemporary conservation practice while exposing me to a variety of tools available to conservators who use oral history in their research. I am indebted to Sanneke, as well as all staff and students at the UvA Conservation and Restoration training program, for being so generous with her time and resources; the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the Dr. Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Foundation for financially supporting my research; and my Winterthur/University of Delaware faculty supervisors for being endlessly supportive and encouraging. 

— Natalya Swanson, WUDPAC Class of 2020, Digital Platforms Co-Officer 2019-2020 (Emerging Conservation Professionals Network, American Institute for Conservation)

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In this blog post, WUDPAC Class of 2020 Fellow Natalya Swanson discusses her studies in conservation decision making and artist interviews at the Rauschenberg Foundation and the University of Amsterdam.

In this blog post, WUDPAC Class of 2020 Fellow Natalya Swanson discusses her studies in conservation decision making and artist interviews at the Rauschenberg Foundation and the University of Amsterdam.

12/5/2019
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  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489
  • art-conservation@udel.edu