When I wrote that I began this weblog halfway through my residency, this was officially true. However, during the six months that I waited for the formal approval and funding confirmation, I had already started to make regular visits to the Paper Conservation Studio. The studio has remained one of my two main points of contact in the Museum, the other being the Prints and Drawings Room. It has provided me not only with a workspace but something even more valuable: both the freedom to consult the conservators on all manner of methods and materials, and to gain some insight into their day-to-day conservation work.
Should I describe the studio? It always strikes me as very still and quiet despite the intense activity sometimes being undertaken by several people at any one time. But then I suppose if one observes anyone completely absorbed it what they are doing, they appear to operate within a timescale separate to that of those around them. As you walk through the space, which is very light and airy, you begin to realise that each person is working on different projects – it might be a series of Indian miniatures, a 17th Century model for a stage set, a Sicilian poster advertising a travelling theatre company, a fragment of wallpaper from a house in Dorset, a silverpoint from Florence, a folding screen from Japan. As new projects are begun and others completed, the studio is in a state of flux. Works are brought together within the space for the first and only time in their existence. A by-product of these totally random combinations is that connections and comparisons can be made between the works being conserved – some of which can be surprising, revealing.
Differing timescales are therefore brought together in oblique ways – not only through the disparate and constantly changing combinations of works dating from different points in time, but also through the timescale ‘created’ by the conservators absorbed in their work. This work in turn often involves reapplying an area of pigment or mark in place of one painted or drawn in the distant past. A kind of revitalisation of an image, ground or support by means of re-enacting a process.
Strange… time, absorption, revitalisation – these have been central to my own work for several years now. Perhaps that’s why I felt so intrigued by the Paper Conservation Studio from the moment I first stepped through the door.
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