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