Document details

Embracing transience and subjectivity in the conservation of complex contemporary artworks: contributions from ethnographic and psychological paradigms

Author(s): Marçal, Hélia Pereira

Date: 2012

Persistent ID:

Origin: Repositório Institucional da UNL

Subject(s): Subjectivity; Contemporary art; Conservation; Ethnography


Drawing from philosophy and social sciences, mainly ethnography and psychology, this dissertation explores new roles that conservators often assume, while proposing new methodologies for artist’s interviews. In order to preserve complex artworks, such as installations or performances, conservation theory needs to embrace transience, and therefore suggest new and more adequate methodologies. Several authors already accepted change, and proposed concepts that acknowledge artworks’ trajectories. However, currently applied methodologies do not follow that perspective and endanger preservation of such complex artworks. Through a comparison between ethnographic objects and complex artworks, ethnographic methods showed promise for extrapolation into the conservation field. Examples from Bali’s cremation rituals and the Portuguese artist Francisco Tropa (b. 1968, Lisbon) helped illustrate this question. Ethnographic methods applied for interviewing and analysing the artist’s discourse were of great value, as they provide for validation and data reproducibility. From these methods, content analysis stood out by allowing a better structuration and validation of the artist’s discourse. During this process, conservators’ role was re-considered. Substantially different tasks and decisions are for conservators to make. Ultimately, are they interpreters, performers, executers, reporters, archivists, actants? Inevitably, this study held more questions than offered answers. However, it is by challenging currents practices, placing them constantly under scrutiny, that possibilities emerge. New theories for contemporary art preservation, contemporary in themselves, need to be uncovered in order to, subsequently, being questioned again. It is only through this demanding process that contemporary art conservation can continue to be propelled forward.

Dissertação para obtenção do Grau de Mestre em Conservação e Restauro, Perfil Ciências da Conservação Especialização em Arte Contemporânea

Document Type Master thesis
Language English
Advisor(s) Macedo, Rita; Duarte, António
Contributor(s) Marçal, Hélia Pereira
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