Communicating conservation

At the risk of stating the obvious, we are well and truly in the midst of the age of the internet – with its pros and its cons – to which the majority of people have access to and use on a daily basis. Information is shared and can go global, even instantly viral, in the blink of an eye.

Professionally, and with a kind of grass-root point-of-view in mind, the internet is a great invention to try and make the most of. This is one of the reasons I created this blog over 4 years ago. I feel that writing in this manner enables a wider communication about conservation practices, creating a more open profession by revealing to the ‘general public’ small fractions of some behind-the-scenes activities.

Blogging about what you do can of course be rather time-consuming, and some might well argue that the time might be better used in doing what it is you do. In the busyness of the modern workplace, trying to ‘open up’ in this way is therefore not for everyone and admittedly, writing a blog can at times feel like you are simply talking to yourself and/or preaching to the converted. However, I am personally armed with a big drop-down menu of bookmarked conservation blogs and love reading conservators’ musings online – be it about paper, textiles or glass!

Of course the digital also must comes with the analogue… So when the opportunity arose for me to put up a good old-fashioned 3D display about conservation, a different type of thinking cap had to be firmly placed on my head. This chance came up because from the beginning of this year, the Center for Research & Development here at the Grand Parade campus of the University began offering the opportunity for members of staff and postgraduate students to put on small research-based displays in plinths on the Mezzanine floor of the building. This facility is open to individuals or groups within the University and can be used for showing artifacts, digital or text-based items, along with the research question or context that informs them. The conservation display is the first of these mini exhibits.

I am always happy when anyone shows an interest in paper conservation, and could enthuse about it until the cows come home. However, it can be challenging to take a step back from the things you know to attempt to explain these practices to someone wanting to know what it is you actually do. I find this relatively easy to do by writing and showing images online, but struggled with the notion of a showcase within the constraints of display plinths. Hopefully I have managed to do justice to this opportunity!

tracing paper display

The first of the displays is a selection of text panels and sample pieces about the discoveries and mending attempts from attending the workshop about conservation of tracing paper late last year. The text panels draw on what I learnt about the different types of transparent papers, their behaviour in contact with moisture and different tissue repair methods for tears.

tools display

The middle display simply shows my toolbox with a few tools taken out to highlight their use. I have found that people are genuinely fascinated by the bits and pieces used in paper conservation and took this chance to exhibit the tools – even if this means I am not able to repair anything in the meanwhile!

mounting display

The third and final column has a selection of mounting method samples from my portfolio. I felt showing these was a great way to highlight the importance of safe storage and mounting methods of archival materials.

The display, entitled ‘Conservation as Research: Behind the Scenes at the University of Brighton Design Archives’ is up until the 6th of March.

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