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Conservation within the multicultural context

Ekaterina Pasnak

Résumés

Les musées d'art constituent aujourd'hui une arène dans le domaine des échanges multiculturels. Par conséquent, le restaurateur et la restauratrice modernes doivent être conscient-e-s de leurs propres présupposés, notamment ceux de l'institution, et apprendre à les adapter aux suppositions culturelles de l'audience, de manière à accroître l'appréciation et la participation de celle ci. Dans ce document, les valeurs de l'identité et les points de vues sur l'art  sont discutés à partir d'exemples de l'Asie du Sud, la Norvège et la Russie.

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Every person inherits from his ancestors not only his body, but his mind also.

Hazrat Inayat Khan, Gayan (Khan 1997: 49)


…it could be argued that the conservation process is as much about producing objects that match perceived ideas about the world as they are about producing objects that reflect truth or authenticity. (Cane: 167)

Introduction

1In the last two decades many publications on conservation theory and methodology have suggested a shift in approach; systems are being developed to determine what values should be emphasised in conservation and museology, respecting not only the original intent of the artist but the present context of objects within the society and the people they have served in the past and at present (Muñoz Viñas 2011; Appelbaum 2010; Stovel 2005; Kosek 1994). “Conservation is currently re-evaluating itself in relation to society and acknowledging both its role in assigning and perpetuating cultural value, and its need for greater dialogue outside of the profession” (Bracker and Richmond 2009: XV).

2 Whom do museum professionals actually serve? Western institutions traditionally have espoused European values, while a growing number of museums in the East strive to promote their own ideals. Nevertheless, there is now a greater appreciation of the mutual responsibility for world heritage, as humanity is seen more as one family. The hard division of ‘mine’ and the ‘other’ is being eroded, an exciting and challenging process.

3 Globalisation, through internet, world commerce, increasing tourism, the economic rise of Asia, and a growing immigrant population in Western countries, accentuates the necessity of bridge building between countries and cultures. With the rise of individualism and the decline of traditional religious values in the West, public cultural institutions like libraries, archives and museums serve as arenas where the values of the society are presented and promoted.

4   Historically, and still today, museums have served in “a ritual of social identification” (Maleuvre 1999: 3).  Dmitriy Likhachov, a scholar of ancient Russian language and literature and a strong protector of heritage, said in an interview for Radio Svoboda that, “A museum is a great indicator of culture. What is valued? We can judge from museums what was meaningful and continues to be valued by people” (Likhachov 1993).  Museum professionals have a responsibility toward the society and its future, as the ideals they collectively promote help shape people’s way of thinking, their values and the view of oneself within a larger world. This was well understood in the nineteenth century, less recognised in the second half of the twentieth century, but is again on the rise as museums try to shift from being houses of historical and artistic rarities to living institutions of positive experience, where exchange and interaction play a significant, enriching role (Black 2005).

5 This change has forced museum professionals, particularly conservators, to address the issue of value. Conservation theorists observe that objects are conserved and exhibited because they have meaning.  Barbara Appelbaum develops a methodological approach for defining a specific meaningful aspect of the object that needs to be stressed during conservation treatment (Appelbaum 2010). Salvador Muñoz Viñas groups meanings for conservation objects in four broad categories: high culture, group-identification, ideological and sentimental objects (Muñoz Viñas 2011: 51).

6 This paper will mostly address the second set of meanings, i.e. group-identification, the deeply held values that determine a sense of identity and belonging within a certain social unit. They form the cultural assumptions upon which we act almost unconsciously, and perhaps recognise only when we come in contact with a different culture, language or religion.

7This recognition of basic assumptions is crucial when designing exhibition spaces. What curators assume might not necessarily be shared by conservators or even visitors if they belong to a different cultural background. Since a museum purpose is to build cultural bridges, these assumptions must be made clear before constructive dialogue can occur between a museum and the community it serves.

Group values or national values of identity

8 Conservation and museum practice uphold values held both by museum professionals as well as those to whom the work is presented.  This is elaborated in detail by Salvador Muñoz Viñas:

  • 1  By ‘indexes’ in the Peircean sense Muñoz Viñas refers to the theory of signs by the father of semi (...)

9“For something to be considered as a conservation object, it has to convey this type of ‘abstract’ meaning, though it may also have more precise meanings, as they also may be ‘symbols’ or even ‘indexes’ in the true Peircean sense, from which the diffuse, abstract meanings often derive” (Muñoz Viñas 2011: 47).1

10 Every nation has proud traditions that shape identity and help to unite all levels of society. These values also shape people’s thinking and affect cultural, social and economic spheres. Three principal values with which nations identify themselves are:

  •  Identity with the law and order of a country, and with the rightful government representing the interests of its citizens.

  • Religion, religious ideals, philosophical ideas or spiritual beliefs

  • Cultural tradition in general, including language and literature, art and architecture, and music and decorative arts.

11All of these may be important for a particular country or group, but some are more socially prominent. These accented internal valorisations in turn affect the attitude towards art, its perception and the sense of what is important to preserve. For Scandinavian countries, proud of their social values of equality and democracy, identity lies first with the ideal of correct government. In India, where many religions and spiritual teachings can be found, it is membership in a religious group that first defines one’s identity. In Russia, which has rarely enjoyed just and good government, and whose religious and ideological basis was shaken in the last century, the unifying factor that defines identity is predominately the Russian language and culture.

12 This distinction of value systems can be observed in what some people choose as a symbolic object for attack when wanting to attract the nation’s attention. In July 2011, the Norwegian citizen Anders Behring Breivik bombed government buildings in Oslo and shot youth members of a political party. In India, a long lasting conflict around the mosque in Ayodhya, supposedly built on the birthplace of the lord Rama, and destroyed in 1992 by extremist Hindus, reflected growing tensions between Muslims and Hindus. In Russia, one example is the vandalism of the painting of Danae by Rembrandt in the Hermitage, when a mentally unstable person threw sulphuric acid on one of the most valuable objects in the collection.  That these acts are done by the mentally unstable or by simple people influenced by extreme ideologies indicates that the objects chosen by them carry symbolic value not just for the elite of the society but for high and low alike.

Values of identity reflected in attitudes towards art

13 In Norway, socio-economic values have much higher priority than art and culture. The traditional crafts, like rosemaling or decorative painting on furniture and wooden utensils, traditional textiles used in costumes (bunad) and jewellery that accompanies bunad are considered Norwegian, while art in the form of paintings, sculpture or graphics is seen as superfluous objects bolstering the status of the elite. Thus, for the egalitarian Norwegian society, art seems almost opposed to its democratic values – an attitude that affects funding, political will and the view of aesthetics and conservation.  For example, the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch is represented by the museum of his name in his native Oslo. In 1994, when the museum needed rebuilding, the municipality of Oslo could not sponsor the construction, and the Japanese company Idemitsu Kosan came to the rescue. Now, in a similar situation, the museum needs a new building. The foundation was built, but the project aroused strong debate (Brady 2013). In June 2013, it was announced that the municipal government would build the museum on the waterfront in Bjørvika, but on the condition that the state government supports social projects in Tøyen, the area where the present Munch museum is located, since there is fear that moving the museum will cause the socially unstable area to deteriorate. Thus, an art museum is seen primarily as a social, not a cultural enterprise.

14 In South Asia, art, music and dance historically played an important role as aspects of religion; the European concept of art for art’s sake was unknown. Art is not a goal in itself, but expresses ideals. B. N. Goswamy, in his article on exhibiting Indian art abroad, talks about the concept of rasa, or deep aesthetic experience to know the greatness of the Creator and the wholeness of Creation. He quotes John Dewey in an epigraph, saying that through a work of art, “We are carried out beyond ourselves to find ourselves (Goswamy 1996: 188).

15 Besides being an instrument of higher experience, objects of art and architecture often were created for religious functions. The ideologies in South Asia do not change significantly with time, and many such objects continue to serve their purpose and are not necessarily seen from an aesthetic or historic perspective. India is well endowed with cultural heritage, and recycling of old monuments for new uses has always been common, but monuments associated with sacred purposes or religious figures are often well preserved. Within the city of New Delhi there is an area called Basti Nizamuddin Aulia, a medieval village now engulfed by the metropolis. The basti is associated with the Sufi saint Sheikh Nizamuddin Aulia, who lived there in the late thirteenth - early fourteenth centuries. Very poor people continue to live there, as the shrine provides shelter and food for them, a sacred tradition established by the saint. The mosque from the fourteenth century and the tomb structure from the sixteenth century are well preserved by Indian standards, with no involvement of the Archaeological Survey of India (Fig. 1).

Fig.1 Nizamuddin’s shrine, 16th-19th centuries and Jamaat Khana mosque, early fourteenth century, basti Nizamuddin Aulia, New Delhi

Fig.1 Nizamuddin’s shrine, 16th-19th centuries and Jamaat Khana mosque, early fourteenth century, basti Nizamuddin Aulia, New Delhi

Highly venerated sites, like this shrine of prominent Sufi saint Sheikh Hazrat Nizamuddin, and the mosque where he used to pray, remain well preserved through the centuries.

Photo: William Pasnak

16 In other parts of the world, religious buildings also survive, but in India, even a secular structure connected with a saintly figure remains in use. In the basti, at the end of a narrow lane there stands a small, now strangely proportioned gate (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 A Tughlak period gate, early fourteenth century, basti Nizamuddin Aulia, New Delhi

Fig. 2 A Tughlak period gate, early fourteenth century, basti Nizamuddin Aulia, New Delhi

Even an insignificant secular structure like this gate remains standing due to its traditional connection with the saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia.

Photo: William Pasnak

17The style indicates the early fourteenth century Tughlak period, the time of Nizamuddin Aulia. Over the course of seven centuries, the earth has risen so much that the opening is now less than adult height.  This secular structure has survived because of the strongly held belief that Sheikh Nizamuddin himself regularly walked through it on his way to visit his spiritual teacher. Passing through this gate, the locals feel as if they are walking in the footsteps of their patron saint, while bending one’s head expresses humility before the saint and the Creator.  Although other ancient buildings in the village are altered, this gate remains untouched.

18 The attitude towards art in Russia is similar to that in India, as visual art and music constituted an important component in religious rituals. When accepting Orthodox Byzantine Christianity, the Russian church inherited Hellenistic aesthetics and ideals. Viktor Bichkov, a scholar of Russian medieval aesthetics, writing about the theory of symbols introduced by Pseudo-Dionysius, neoplatonic philosopher of the late fifth – early sixth centuries, says,

  • 2  Author’s translation.

19The Universe appears before a man as a complex system of symbols, images, and signs with the help of which the knowledge of the absolute is passed to man. …Its purpose is twofold –to reveal and conceal [from the uninitiated] the truth, to serve as an intermediary between man and the transcendental absolute” (Bichkov 1992: 38).2

20The theory of Pseudo-Dionysius was developed further with regard to iconic images by St. John of Damascus in the seventh century:

21Man does not have immediate knowledge of invisible things……Therefore the image was devised that he might advance in knowledge, and that secret things might be revealed and made perceptible. Therefore, images are a source of profit, help, and salvation for all, since they make things so obviously manifest, enabling us to perceive hidden things (St. John of Damascus 1980: 74).

22 Icons in Russia were seen as windows to the world beyond and the figures portrayed as living intercessors before God. As the society became more secularised, the Church began to lose its grip on people’s thinking, but the cult of icons did not subside. The most important object in the house was an icon, placed in the sacred right corner. In the event of fire, war or other misfortune, the icon was first object to be saved.

23 The quasi-sacred view of the arts and the artist remained in the culture even after the arts stopped serving the Church alone. One could say that museums replaced the Church, becoming another arena of intense aesthetic and emotional experience, the sacred house of the muses where art is held in high esteem, where the magic connection between reality and the world beyond is created and recreated by the viewer.

Cultural assumptions upheld by a museum professional

24Differences of perception towards visual arts are important to consider when designing an exhibition for a public of varied cultural background, and when restoring objects from various cultures and traditions. When conservators undertake the value analysis of the object so as to understand for whom and for what purpose the work is done (Appelbaum 2010), they should first of all be aware of their own cultural assumptions, based on their country of birth and on subsequent education, which could be in a country of distinct cultural values. In addition, the conservator may work in an institution carrying a third set of values. This analysis would help to see how a certain value system serves the object and its properties.

25 The author spent her childhood at art history classes within the walls of Museum of Fine Arts (the Pushkin museum), an institution upholding the classical European tradition of beauty.  While studying museology at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, another view was presented: the museum as a community centre for aboriginal tribes, where past and present cultures are supported, where objects are held for their meaning for a particular tribe within their own context. Then, while serving a paper conservation internship at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, the author’s value system was challenged. An Islamic miniature in the museum gallery was marked with a large brown stain in the middle of the page. When the author asked why another page was not chosen, or why the stain was not reduced in some way, the answer was that stains are a natural part of life; that the museum is full of objects with damage, and that conservators do not serve the purpose by creating illusions. This provoked a profound internal inquiry. Yes, stains and damage are natural and reducing them is difficult, risky and time consuming. If a conservator were only concerned with the stability of the object and not with its aesthetic, the conservator’s life would be less stressful and perfectly ethical – but should objects in museums reflect the unretouched reality of life? And why were the author’s personal feelings so strong in regard to those stains?

Question 1: is the museum a theatre or a reflection of reality?

26It is generally agreed that, in spite of the primary purpose of educating, museums cannot avoid using ‘stage’ techniques. Simon Knell writes, “We believe that museums contribute to our sense of a knowable and reproducible reality through which we can grow our own personal knowledge. But the museum reality does not come without performance” (Knell 2011: 5).  That ‘but’ suggests something negative but unavoidable.

27 In both South Asia and Russia, the theatrical aspect of the museum experience is welcome, as theatre is understood not as the creation of illusion for entertainment, but as part of a ritual intended to raise consciousness. For example, the Orthodox church service is a complex theatre production appealing to the senses: sacred music and recited prayers, the smell of incense, and abundant visual imagery. The church inherited the tradition of classical Greek tragedy with its notion of catharsis or purification of the spirit through intense emotional experience. As vernacular institutions like museums came to occupy the public sphere, the traditional view of ecclesiastic imagery as the bridge between this reality and the mysterious beyond was naturally transferred to images seen within museum walls. To enable the multi-sensorial experience familiar from the church, regular classical music concerts are often organised within the exhibition halls, as is the practice of the Pushkin Museum.

28 Arts in India are intimately connected with the notion of rasa or delight (Goswamy 1996). That concept is first of all applied to the performance arts of dance, music and theatre, and art in general becomes a natural part of theatre production, providing delightful entertainment with meaning. When analysing the interest of the South Asian public in the museum, Shaila Bhatti writes that love for the marvellous, curious and fascinating is what attracts. The comparison with the temple experience again comes into play:

29“Museums in India needed to foster a ‘museum effect’ similar to that found in shrines and temples - Indian versions of European cathedrals and Greek temples, where curiosities were exhibited to attract and captivate the devotee’s attention” (Bhatti 2012: 191).

30 Thus, from the eastern point of view, the museum is a place of almost sacred performance that should elevate the spirit and produce intense emotional experience. Translating that into conservation practice, it would seem appropriate to present an object in the most ‘spectacular’ and undamaged way possible, that it might excite the senses. Naturally, in northern Europe and North America, inheritors of the Protestant tradition, this appeal to the sensual might not be viewed positively. Rather, the notion of the authenticity of the object with all its imperfections and histories has become the paradigm in classical conservation theory for much of the twentieth century. Once the professional understands within which context and for which public the object is being treated, then this conflict between ‘theatrical presentation’ and ‘true reality’ should be more easily resolved.  

Question 2: Stains or no stains–should we preserve the memory of the past?

31From the perspective of museum as spectacle, leaving stains untouched would be undesirable. However, something even deeper can be at stake, which became clear one day while standing in front of Munich’s Alte Pinakothek (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3 Alte Pinacothek, Munich

Fig. 3 Alte Pinacothek, Munich

The gallery of ancient art in Munich (1826-1836) damaged during the bombing of 1944-45 was restored after the war (1953-63), leaving the rebuilt section visible.

Photo: from Holiday check website  http://www.holidaycheck.de

32The reconstruction after the war has been left visible, without the detailing of the original wall. This unobtrusive distinction seems to say that the memory of the war should not be forgotten. This attitude begs comparison with Peterhof (Fig. 4), the extensive palace of Peter the Great outside of St. Petersburg, modelled on Versailles to proclaim Russia’s imperial ambitions. During the last war, it was heavily damaged, but was fully restored by the tireless efforts of many restorers and craftsmen. This Russian restoration, in places a total reconstruction, creates an illusion of perfection with no history of destruction; the past is a forgotten dream.

Fig. 4  Peterhof. The palace and great eastern cascade with Samson fountain

Fig. 4  Peterhof. The palace and great eastern cascade with Samson fountain

The palace, built by Peter the Great  (1714-1727), was almost completely destroyed during the second World War and fully restored in the post-war period as a symbol of renewed glory.

Photo: images in public domain http://imagespublicdomain.wordpress.com/​2010/​03/​16/​cia-world-factbook-photos-12-russia-estonia-ukraine-poland-czech-republic/​

33 While in Germany the regard for the past can be still felt, Russia has never undergone its Nuremberg trials, and ‘de-Stalinisation’ has never been completed. As Russian history is generally rather traumatic, erasing the past has become a long-standing national tradition. Tim Benton points out: “Just as amnesia may follow trauma in the individual, so may societies try collectively to forget unpleasant aspects of history. Some of the practices of collective amnesia, such as political amnesties or the discontinuing of commemorative practices may backfire.” (Benton 2010: 126). It has been said in the liberal press that the main issue in Russia is actually that same amnesia, where society only remembers or remakes the glorious past and removes any reminders of the undesirable.3 Thus, the monuments of Russian imperial glory like Peterhof are restored or reconstructed from scratch, while memorials to victims of the Stalin regime are few and modest: crosses, memorial plaques and just one museum in all of Russia, in Tomsk, Siberia.4

34 Issues of restoration surrounding traumatic history should not be seen as something remote and rare. Recently, the conservation department within the Museum Centre in Hordaland, western Norway, restored Hanna Ruggen’s We live on a star, from 1958 that hung in the government building in Oslo, which was bombed in 2011 (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5 Hanna Ruggen. We live on a star (Vi lever på en stjerne), 1958

Fig. 5 Hanna Ruggen. We live on a star (Vi lever på en stjerne), 1958

This tapestry hung in the vestibule of the government building prior to the terrorist attack in July 2011.

Photo: Nordenfjeldske kunstindustrimuseum.

35Luckily, the integrity of the object was mostly preserved, with only a big tear on the lower right side from the attack (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6 Hanna Ruggen. We live on a star (Vi lever på en stjerne), 1958

Fig. 6 Hanna Ruggen. We live on a star (Vi lever på en stjerne), 1958

Detail of the tear caused by the bombing. The bombing of the government building on 22 July 2011 caused the large tear in the bottom right quadrant. The extent that the rewoven edge remains visible is decided in consultation with government authorities.

Photo:Anne Eriksdatter Bye, Bevaringstenestene, Museumssenteret i Hordaland.

  • 5  Inger Raknes, private correspondence, 2.10.2013

36After washing the object and removing the debris of glass, tile and gypsum dust from the threads, the tear had to be mended. Conservators said that their intention in restoration was to make the repair unobtrusive, so that it is not the first thing that is seen, but they left it up to the Government authorities to decide how much the damage should be left visible (Bye 2012: 14). Later the government decided to hang the tapestry again. Chief textile conservator Inger Raknes Pedersen wrote in private correspondence that to do so they had to sew the damaged part to the lining fabric to provide support and secure loose and damaged fibres. Due to colour difference between damaged and undamaged areas, this scar remains visible.5

37 Perhaps one could say that a healthy attitude towards scars and stains should be similar to psychological scars: they should be healed, they should not be emphasized by undue attention, but they should also not to be forgotten so that the mistakes of the past may not be repeated.

Attitudes towards conservation in different contexts

38 The Russian tendency to erase and remake the past, upheld by officialdom and silently supported by many people, has naturally been reflected in the Russian tradition of restoration, tending to fully reintegrate the image and make everything as new. From this perspective, one can better understand the Russian inclination to see the art museum as a theatre of idealised beauty, where only good memories are presented. Objects with damage might allude to suffering and poverty, and this almost instinctively is avoided.

39 In western countries, the evidence of damage generally does not have as strong a connotation. With the abundance of physically perfect, identical merchandise, used one day and discarded the next, value is rather placed on objects with marks of history. These ideas were first developed by John Ruskin during the period of industrialisation (Ruskin 1995), and later were succinctly formulated by Austrian philosopher Alois Riegl in his article of 1903, The Modern Cult of Monuments: “Age value is revealed in imperfection, a lack of completeness, a tendency to dissolve shape and colour, characteristics that are in complete contrast with those of modern, i.e., newly created, works” (Riegl 1995: 37).

40 Expanding further on the western taste for damage, David Lowenthal writes that it is too potent to be disregarded: “Age and decay gained cult status in Western civilisation with the Romantic taste for ruins and fragments. The diffusion of once elite aesthetic fashion makes the taste for wear and tear today more widespread than ever before” (Lowenthal 1994: 39). In the same vein, patina was seen as an indication of antiquity, i.e. authentic old age, and objects that display true patina demonstrate that their owner “is no newcomer to the present social standing” (Clifford 2009: 126).

41 These ideas lay the basis for classical conservation theory, and the western worship of authenticity recently has been seen as an example of material fetishism:

42“The implicit scientific theory of conservation that emerged between 1930 and 1950 ... mandates that conservation should avoid, as much as possible, the elimination, alteration or concealment of original materials” (Muñoz Viñas 2011: 87). “Placing value upon the material components of an object is neither a modern nor a scientifically founded attitude. Rather, the opposite is true:  this belief, which Petzet aptly called “material fetishism”, is what provides support for modern scientific attitudes in conservation”(Muñoz Viñas 2011: 87). The western practice of minimum intervention is based on this principle, that imperfection or incompleteness of the work adds to its aesthetic appeal. Therefore, some stains might even be welcome.

43 However, writers of a different cultural background challenge that view. Sri Lankan heritage specialist Gamini Wijesuriya, justifying the full restoration of sacred stupas of the third century CE, calls on the west to accept that this notion of conservation cannot be applied in the Buddhist religious context since damage equals imperfection and decay, while religious buildings or sacred art should inspire the ideals of divine perfection (Wijesuriya 2005). Discussing the restoration of Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka and Thailand, Béatrice Byer Bayle follows the same line of thought:

44“The idea of authenticity, not defined as such at the time, was and still is connected with the spiritual and heuristic power of the sacred images than to their materiality. Repainting of the mural painting was done in the studios not only as a technical skill, but as a form of spiritual training” (Byer Bayle 2012: §14).

45 These statements can also apply to other religions where art plays an important role, such as Hinduism, Jainism and to some extent the Orthodox Church and others.

Application of the theory to conservation practice

46Herb Stovel, in the introduction to the ICCROM publication Conservation of Living Religious Heritage, points out, “The effectiveness of conservation treatments depends on our ability to define clearly heritage values and to design treatments around respect for the values” (Stovel 2005: 2). This should be seen as applicable not only to “distant” countries like Sri Lanka, India and Russia but also to the daily situation of western institutions. In the last two decades, much research has been done into ways of attracting people of varied ethnic background and making their experience in the museum enjoyable and enriching (Smithsonian Institution 2001; Arts Council England 2008).

47 The conservation profession should be included within this visitor-oriented approach; it should be able to participate in “the process of reaching new audiences and retaining repeat visitors...” (Waltl 2006: 24). Christian Waltl speaks about the requirement of “perfect ‘Zusammenspiel’ of departments such as marketing, education, curatorial and visitor services to offer varied experience, and an environment for learning as well as enjoyment” (Waltl 2006: 24).  However, he overlooks the role of the conservator preparing an object for exhibition. Traditionally, a curator selecting an object to exhibit sees a particular meaning within that artifact, and consults with designers to make the exhibition and objects attractive and engaging.  If, as is often the case, it is assumed that there is one standard conservation procedure, of simply cleaning and mounting the work, then the meaning is not explained to the conservator, who is omitted from that mutual decision making of Zusammenspiel. During an open table discussion, the conservator could learn which audiences are being targeted and what their cultural assumptions might be, and be able to make the object more meaningful within the specified context; in other words, find an appropriate presentation format and aesthetic approach in harmony with the particular value system. That would in turn attract more visitors, a significant goal of increasingly market-oriented museums (Renimel 2006).

48 Thirty years ago, in 1984, ICOM-CC formulated a definition of the profession of the conservator-restorer, stating: “Interdisciplinary co-operation is of paramount importance, for today the conservator-restorer must work as part of a team. … Like that of the surgeon, the work of the conservator-restorer can and should be complemented by the analytical and research findings of scholars” (ICOM-CC 1984). Yet, it still requires effort to implement this team approach in actual museum work. Six years ago, in the art museum of the city of Bergen, where the author is presently employed, there was almost no contact between curatorial and conservation departments; lists of works for exhibition were simply sent by mail. Now, much closer co-operation has developed and many aspects of object presentation are being discussed. This teamwork has led to greater success of exhibition production and visitor appreciation.

Conclusion

49 Having understood the origins of certain attitudes towards conservation, it would be easier to find appropriate solutions in particular cases, and develop tolerance towards other cultural assumptions. There is no one way and no one approach to conservation; each project is unique.  It is not an either/or choice between stability and aesthetics or between the museum as a place of factual truth or as a theatre of illusions; paradoxically it is both at the same time. These are two ends of one continuous line, and each case is somewhere on this line, closer to one end or the other (Fig. 7).  

Fig. 7 Diagram of the continuous line between conservation and restoration

Fig. 7 Diagram of the continuous line between conservation and restoration

Between these two extremes lies the compromise between stability and aesthetics.

50How much one moves in one direction or the other depends on the condition and history of the object, the requirements of the curator, conservation principles and the intended audience.

51 Value systems and aesthetic preferences of those to whom a particular exhibition is directed should be analysed by museum staff, so that suitable compromises might be achieved to widen the audience of the museum.

52 Conservation practice should be as an integral part of the museum that can help influence the number of visitors. The professional museum staff should understand that conservation is not a simple technical operation but is dependent upon the synthesis of various ideas that constitute the exhibition.

53 For further understanding of the influence of conservation on the public experience, special surveys could be devised. In the last two decades this tendency in conservation to discover the tastes and values upheld by the community has already started. This is not an easy process, as was shown by a survey on the restoration of wall paintings in Denmark (Brajer 2008). There might not be consensus among the public and their interests might be in conflict with the ethics of the conservation profession, as for example the desire of the majority of the churchgoers to see all the paintings fully restored, with an easily readable narrative. Nevertheless, it is crucial to initiate an iterative process of mutually enriching dialogue, of recognizing public expectations, widening their knowledge of conservation, and eventually arriving at mutually acceptable compromises between the values of preservation and access. This will also improve the museum’s image in the eyes of the public, so it may be seen not as a remote elitist organization but as reflecting the interests of the community. If through this research and dialogue it can be shown that conservation does contribute positively to public appreciation and helps accommodate varying cultural expectations, then the role of conservation would be better understood and respected: not something frozen in time but something living and actively contributing to the vibrant life of the museum.

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Notes

1  By ‘indexes’ in the Peircean sense Muñoz Viñas refers to the theory of signs by the father of semiotics, Charles Peirce. According to him, an ‘index’ is a communication that exists between the sign and the meaning (a column of smoke, for instance, means fire) (Muñoz Viñas 2011: 45).

2  Author’s translation.

3 Sochenitsyn’s One Day: The Book that shook the USSRhttp://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20393894 . This English language article observes that the process of de-Stalinisation was never completed. Another Russian language article, ‘Stalin’s wood chips’ : the head of NTV answered minister’s letter in poetry"http://www.bbc.co.uk/russian/russia/2012/06/120624_ntv_letter_to_medinsky.shtml, discusses the presentation of distorted history on television regarding the Ministry of Culture’s prohibition to show a drama about Soviet prisoners in the GULAG in 1941 and  an initiative by the Ministry of Culture to create a department to overlook the correct interpretation of history.

4  The list of Russian and Ukranian monuments of victims of Stalin regime can be found in Wikipedia in Russian: http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Категория:Памятники_жертвам_сталинских_репрессий, Tomsk memorial museum site in Russian: http://www.memorial.krsk.ru/Articles/KKIMK2006/03.htm

5  Inger Raknes, private correspondence, 2.10.2013

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig.1 Nizamuddin’s shrine, 16th-19th centuries and Jamaat Khana mosque, early fourteenth century, basti Nizamuddin Aulia, New Delhi
Légende Highly venerated sites, like this shrine of prominent Sufi saint Sheikh Hazrat Nizamuddin, and the mosque where he used to pray, remain well preserved through the centuries.
Crédits Photo: William Pasnak
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3635/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 88k
Titre Fig. 2 A Tughlak period gate, early fourteenth century, basti Nizamuddin Aulia, New Delhi
Légende Even an insignificant secular structure like this gate remains standing due to its traditional connection with the saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia.
Crédits Photo: William Pasnak
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3635/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 76k
Titre Fig. 3 Alte Pinacothek, Munich
Légende The gallery of ancient art in Munich (1826-1836) damaged during the bombing of 1944-45 was restored after the war (1953-63), leaving the rebuilt section visible.
Crédits Photo: from Holiday check website  http://www.holidaycheck.de
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3635/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 68k
Titre Fig. 4  Peterhof. The palace and great eastern cascade with Samson fountain
Légende The palace, built by Peter the Great  (1714-1727), was almost completely destroyed during the second World War and fully restored in the post-war period as a symbol of renewed glory.
Crédits Photo: images in public domain http://imagespublicdomain.wordpress.com/​2010/​03/​16/​cia-world-factbook-photos-12-russia-estonia-ukraine-poland-czech-republic/​
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3635/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 88k
Titre Fig. 5 Hanna Ruggen. We live on a star (Vi lever på en stjerne), 1958
Légende This tapestry hung in the vestibule of the government building prior to the terrorist attack in July 2011.
Crédits Photo: Nordenfjeldske kunstindustrimuseum.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3635/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 76k
Titre Fig. 6 Hanna Ruggen. We live on a star (Vi lever på en stjerne), 1958
Légende Detail of the tear caused by the bombing. The bombing of the government building on 22 July 2011 caused the large tear in the bottom right quadrant. The extent that the rewoven edge remains visible is decided in consultation with government authorities.
Crédits Photo:Anne Eriksdatter Bye, Bevaringstenestene, Museumssenteret i Hordaland.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3635/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 48k
Titre Fig. 7 Diagram of the continuous line between conservation and restoration
Légende Between these two extremes lies the compromise between stability and aesthetics.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3635/img-7.png
Fichier image/png, 25k
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Ekaterina Pasnak, « Conservation within the multicultural context  », CeROArt [En ligne],  | 2013, mis en ligne le 30 octobre 2013, consulté le 25 juin 2016. URL : http://ceroart.revues.org/3635

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Auteur

Ekaterina Pasnak

Ekaterina Pasnak was born in Moscow, Russia, and received a degree in art history from Moscow State University. In Canada, she studied icon painting, chemistry, and museology, before receiving a Master’s degree in art conservation (paper) from Queen’s University (Kingston). She is employed as a paper conservator in the Art Museums in Bergen, Norway. Ekaterina Pasnak, Fjellavegen 238, Fjell, Norway. epasnak@broadpark.no

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CeROArt – Conservation, exposition, restauration d'objets d'arts est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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