The workshop PHYSICAL ENCOUNTERS: WHAT DO WE MEAN BY CONDITION? took place on Monday 30 March 2009 and was led by the research cluster Principal Investigator Elizabeth Pye
The workshop abstracts are reproduced below. See also the workshop report by Elizabeth Pye.
(PDF of Programme)
(PDF of Abstracts)
Joel Taylor, UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage
Introduction to condition demonstration
is often defined by observable indicators of change to heritage
objects, such as corrosion. It is a general term that incorporates
various concepts and is not necessarily used or understood clearly.
There are different interpretations of the meaning and importance of
these concepts and indicators, so ‘condition’ can be perceived in
various ways. This talk discussed a practical session, held on the
day, where delegates assessed the condition of heritage objects.
Techniques to measure variation in assessment were used to discuss
the extent of, and possible reasons for, difference in the way people
Susanne Kuechler, UCL Anthropology
The materiality and potential of an object
This paper examined the role of materials and materials-based
technologies in artefacts; it surveyed approaches to uncover the
sensory modalities which the materiality of artefacts harbours as
potential, and situated such approaches in an analysis which regarded
artefacts as bodily prostheses and as means to distribute personhood on
extended spatio-temporal networks. This talk concluded with a
consideration of the material-specific aging of artefacts as
intentionally situated, and thus as resources of information about the
‘vehicular’ capacity of artefacts whose potential to elicit and
transmit ideas has been all too often restricted to considerations of
Jonathan Ashley-Smith, Royal College of Art
What is condition?
are several reasons for reporting on the condition of a museum object.
The motive for recording the condition determines the meaning of the
word, leading to several different interpretations. Although it may be
desirable to think of an absolute definition of the current state of
an object, it is difficult to avoid relative interpretations relating
to suitability or fitness for a given purpose.
Frances Halahan, Halahan Associates
Condition and management decisions
presentation provided a brief look at how assessing the condition
of objects can be used to make management decisions relating to the
care and use of a collection. It looked at how condition may be
assessed, at additional information that is needed alongside condition assessments and showed some condition assessment ‘tools’
or programmes. The advantages and disadvantages of condition assessment were discussed.
Ylva Dahnsjő, The National Trust
What is acceptable condition
National Trust provides direct and virtual access to historic and
natural environments. Collections are therefore shown in context,
whether real or constructed. This presentation examined the
parameters for acceptable condition and how they inform remedial and
preventive conservation decisions for objects and interiors.
Deborah Novotny, The British Library
Surrogacy at the British Library
The British Library has a long history of providing surrogates for use to its users. The library has filmed for over 50 years and has extensive reserves of microfilm. This short presentation will give an overview of microfilm production, the priorities for filming - why newspapers? the move towards digital production and the hybrid solution that the library is currently pursuing.
Deborah Novotny is Head of Preservation at the British Library, in which role she has responsibility for many of the activities which support the care of the collections: salvage planning, collection handling, preservation priority setting and surrogacy. Deborah joined the library in 1989 where she managed a new book conservation studio specialising in the conservation of important heritage items. Previously Deborah worked in the private sector and ran her own business in book and archive conservation.
David Howell, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford
Digitisation and the demand to see ‘real’ objects
collections within libraries with special collections has some
fundamental differences to digitisation in museums. Some material
within a library will be of interest simply for the words it contains
and in an ideal world this material can be made available digitally
without the need to resort to the physical object. This talk
highlighted examples of information discovered in the Bodleian Library
that may never have come to light without the Google digitisation of
nineteenth century material.
David Prytherch, Birmingham City University
Touching ghosts in museums: how real is a virtual object?
The main points of this presentation were:
Irit Narkiss and Helena Tomlin,The Manchester Museum
10 year olds crack the ‘Catch-22’
Using the recent project ‘The Museum of Me’ as a case study, this talk explored
the process of engaging children with the real-life dilemmas of museum
professionals. A class of Year 5 children from Manchester worked with Manchester Museum staff to explore how they might
interpret, display and care for objects in their own classroom; these
included the children’s own prized objects, and artefacts made with a
group of artists. The presentation analysed what frameworks and
resources were required to develop skills to successfully resolve the
dilemmas created by the access/conservation Catch-22.
Andrew Lamb, Bate Collection, University of Oxford
Why do we play historical musical instruments when we have perfectly good modern ones?
talk explored why there is a demand from musicians and researchers
to play historical musical instruments in public collections.
Currently the presumption is that these objects should only be played
in very special circumstances and not simply to hear ‘what they sound
like’. However, despite recent technological advances, there is still
no universal method of describing or quantifying the first-hand
experience of playing an instrument. So what does the visiting
researcher get from the experience?
Paul Sullivan, Bristol Museums
Towards a Touch Policy for Bristol’s Museums, Galleries and Archives
The main points of this presentation were:
Julie Dawson, Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge
The close-up look
the Antiquities’, an informal gallery programme of the Fitzwilliam
Museum’s Department of Antiquities, was described and discussed.
The aim of the programme is to offer individual visitors a close
encounter with an object. Often, this is a piece that is under study or
treatment by the curator or conservator who is hosting the session.
Detailed visual examination, discussion and the handling of associated
materials are all encouraged, but the visitor is not permitted to touch
Francesca Monti, University College London
Collections for people
Francesca Monti discussed, on behalf of Suzanne Keene, some findings from the
‘Collections for People’ research project (UCL). Drawing from the
results of a survey of 181 museums in England and Wales, the talk focused
on how much stored collections are currently used by members of the
public, the way in which they are used, and what promotes access and what
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