Sunday, February 20, 2011

Final "Durability and Change" Notes

This is my last post of responses to the book Durability and Change: The Science, Responsibility, and Cost of Sustaining Cultural Heritage. All that follows is little more than some intriguing quotes and a couple comments from two chapters.

Ch. 19 “Sharing Responsibility for Conservation Decisions”
Author Stefan Michalski writes that he has spent 13 years understanding why paintings crack, “Now that I understand cracking, I am not sure how it matters.” (p. 241)

Also, in his study of collections care he has come to the understanding that “(a) artifacts vary enormously in value and (b) not all deterioration decreases artifact value, some even increases it.” (p. 241)

In discussing the value of artifacts, he suggest that rather than using a medical analogy to discuss the work of conservators, a better analogy would be found in the field of veterinary medicine. “Objects range from thoroughbreds to earthworms. … Note that whereas earthworms are not precious as individuals, as a species they probably have more significance to Gaia than all the higher mammals combined.” (p. 252)

I think this earthworm analogy has interesting relevance to libraries which are built around collections. A single book is, in and of itself, not that significant, but a whole lot of books can make a vital library. This seems to be one of the core library/museum differences. Libraries are filled with millions of earthworms, some invertebrates and a handful of mammals, and a thoroughbred or two, and museums have a lot of higher mammals, several throroughbreds, and a handful of earthworms.

“We must realize that to say we have a responsibility to the object is only a parable. Our responsibility is to our biological inheritance as perceptive, active, emotional beings and our social inheritance as knowledgeable, cultural being, as influenced by objects.” (p. 257) I’m still not quite sure I understand what that means - but it seems worth noting.

Ch. 20 “Should we take it all so seriously? Culture, Conservation, and Meaning in the Contemporary World.” by D.E. Cosgrove.

“I place in question the stability of meaning implicit in ideas of conserving art objects, cultural materials, and artifacts in the face of change.” (p. 260)

“These contemporary perspectives force the primary question of what, if anything, we are identifying, conserving, and preserving in the “material objects of the European canon,” beyond a set of artifacts selected according to values established by an acquisitive bourgeoisie which reached its apotheosis in nineteenth-century Europe and sustained by the market ever since.” (p. 260)

With libraries the questions is what objects do libraries collect, and therefore preserve. Whereas museums collect mostly non-commercially produced objects, libraries collect primarily commercially produced objects. We collect and preserve, what the markets have deemed potentially profitable products.

(My next book is A Place, Not a Place by David Carr, but this will not be a big reading/posting week, so don't expect anything from me for a bit.)

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