National Museum of Australia conserving Australia's art

My name is Jennifer Brian and I'm an
object's conservator at the National Museum of Australia.
Conservation is a really interesting field because it draws upon all
different kinds of knowledge. I like to think of it in terms of a Venn diagram
where you have science the arts and history and conservation sits right in the
middle there providing a crossover of knowledge from those three disciplines.
And then we use our historical knowledge to help inform the decisions that we
make around the treatment of our objects. I don't think there really is a typical
day for an object's conservator. On one day we could be condition reporting,
photographing ,documenting and treating a bark painting on another day we might
be installing Playschool in rural Australia. We actually are constantly out
and about in the museum working on exhibitions, working on loans, preparing
objects for the permanent galleries and doing all sorts of different things. When
we receive a bark painting into the lab the first thing that we do is we carry
out a condition report, photography and documentation. Bark's are a little bit of
a tricky object actually. They're really exciting to work on. So a lot of these
are new losses. The cracking is actually relatively stable that hasn't changed a
huge amount. That bark base layer that the paint is placed on the surface of
constantly moves and shifts so even in what you might think is a very stable
environmental condition a bark will still continue to curl and move in
response to those changes in the environment. So you end up with the
pigment lifting or flaking off the surface of the bark or tenting where the
substrait shrinks a little bit and the pigment pops up like this in the shape
of a tent. So we try to control those environmental changes and make sure that
there's minimal change in humidity and temperature but we also carry our
interventive treatments which is where we might re-adhere those lifting paint
flakes to make sure that we don't experience any more deterioration or
loss of the surface of the paint. In conservation we're really fussy about
the sorts of adhesives that we use to carry out treatments. So we use a special
adhesive called Tri-Funori, a Japanese red seaweed derivative. So it's highly
refined seaweed that is water-soluble and we can apply it with a very tiny
brush and wick that adhesive in underneath the paint flakes which then
sucks the paint flakes down to the surface of the bark to make sure that we
don't lose those flakes. At the Museum we have a method of
mounting our box on strapping frames so that the bark have little lips that it
sits upon like this and it allows the bark just enough movement so that it can
move and shift on display without contributing to any deterioration. But it
also means that we can efficiently hang them on the wall or transport them for a
loan or exhibition without putting the barks at risk. So my role as an object's
conservator I feel is quite important because our job is to preserve the
material history of Australia and at the National Museum we're all about telling
Australian stories and sharing our understanding of Australia and we do
that through preserving the objects that tell those stories.

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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