APT8: Behind SaVAge K’lub

 
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Amanda Pagliarino, Head of Conservation and Registration, and Jennifer Blakely, Conservator, Queensland Museum, discuss options for the display of the kahu kiwi / Photograph: Mark Sherwood

In the lead-up to APT8, QAGOMA’s conservation staff have applied their skills and knowledge to several artworks that are on display. We share some background information on one of the exhibition’s major works, which required the collaboration of the Queensland Museum.

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Rosanna Raymond’s APT8 installation SaVAge K’lub is a meeting place, a locus of activity and happenings, set in the scene of a late-nineteenth century gentlemen’s club. She presents ideas about space and activation in response to historical practices of collecting, storing and displaying cultural objects. Ruth McDougall, Curator, Pacific Art, explains that Raymond seeks to redefine museum ‘care’ to incorporate ideas of animation, use and community connection:

Gently, but resolutely, she embarks on a process of educating and enabling curators, conservators, registrars and other staff across three Queensland cultural institutions1 to understand the importance of Pacific people and their bodies in order to ensure the long-term ‘care’ and wellbeing of the tāonga (cultural treasures) of which they are custodians.

The objects and artworks that adorn the space and fill the cabinets have been sourced by Raymond from local museum and university collections, from individuals and from communities across the Pacific region. The volume of objects necessary to compose the installation, along with the logistics required to transport, conserve, and prepare these objects for display, places SaVAge K’lub in the realm of ‘a museum within a museum’.

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Installation views of the SaVAge K’lub / Photographs: Natasha Harth

One of the first priorities for objects and artworks entering the Gallery is planning for their care while on site, in conjunction with the safe management of the Gallery’s Collection. Around 300 objects were borrowed for the SaVAge K’lub installation: on arrival at the Gallery, each of these was assessed, in accordance with the Gallery’s collection management procedures. Objects that came from international lenders were first evaluated by Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service on entry into the country. As part of the Gallery’s preventive conservation program, all plant- and timber-based objects underwent low-temperature treatment before being made available for display. This involves freezing objects at minus 18 degrees Celsius to ensure that they are free of insects that might pose a risk to the rest of the Gallery’s Collection.

A range of objects for the SaVAge K’lub was selected from the collection of the Queensland Museum. Gallery conservators, registrars, designers and workshop officers benefited from our proximity to and relationships with our precinct neighbour. In the lead-up to installation, QAGOMA staff were able to undertake a great deal of preparatory work at the Queensland.

QAGOMA and Queensland Museum staff meet to discuss loans for APT8
The Queensland Museum’s Nick Hadnutt and QAGOMA registrar Tiffany Noyce (left) examining and recording the details of items from the Museum / Photograph: Natasha Harth
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Detail of the kahu kiwi (feathered cloak) / Photograph: Natasha Harth

Museum on objects that had been selected for loan. This included multiple visits to view and document objects, to discuss the logistics of transport, and prepare objects for treatment and display. Two particular loans posed interesting conservation and display issues — a kahu kiwi (feathered cloak) acquired in 1925, and a contemporary waka (outrigger canoe), created for Brisbane’s Warana Festival in 1989.2

QAGOMA sculpture conservator Liz Wild and I worked closely with Queensland Museum conservators Cathy ter-Boght and Jennifer Blakely, to devise a suitable display system for the kahu kiwi, a delicately constructed plant-fibre cloak intricately woven with kiwi and other bird feathers. The mounting system uses a ridged, shaped supporting ring onto which the cloak is attached using a discrete system of magnets. The waka presented interesting challenges due to the scale of the object. The canoe is four metres long, the binding that lashes the outrigger to the canoe has completely failed, and it was necessary to suspend the object high within the installation space. All of these factors needed to be considered in the display of the object. In order to design a safe and suitable display system, it was necessary for several Gallery staff members to view, measure and document the canoe before arranging its transfer to the GOMA conservation laboratory. Artworks such as SaVAge K’lub present a range of interesting challenges for conservators, designers, registrars and installation staff. Connecting with our Queensland Museum colleagues and working together to conserve the kahu kiwi and the waka will be an enduring legacy of this project.

Endnotes
1  QAGOMA, Queensland Museum, and the University of Queensland Anthropology Museum.
2  The Warana Festival, a program for people’s entertainment, commenced in 1961 and later evolved into the Brisbane Festival in the mid 1990s. http://www.brisbanefestival.com.au/about/history

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The kahu kiwi installed in the SaVAge K’lub / Photograph: Natasha Harth

The Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT)
is the Gallery’s flagship exhibition focused on the work of Asia, the Pacific and Australia.
21 November 2015 – 10 April 2016

Exhibition Founding Sponsor: Queensland Government
Exhibition Principal Sponsor: Audi Australia

There’s a soap in my painting!

 

Surely the last place you would look for the soap is in your favourite oil painting? Not so, as over the past decade conservators and conservation scientists have been investigating the peculiar phenomena of soap formation in the rich, oil-laden layers of paint used in the paintings and masterpieces we love to look at.

But let’s be specific – we are talking about metal soaps – the formation of large molecules of fatty acids bound to a metal ion. In the multi-layered structure of an oil painting metals are present in the pigments used to colour paints and the fatty acids are present in paint binders such as linseed oil. The interaction of pigment and binder to form a metal soap is extraordinarily complex but the consequence on the condition of an affected painting can be profound.

Lead and zinc soap formations, the most common forms of metal soap, can lead to extreme changes in the chemical stability of paintings including – increased transparency of paint layers; the formation of insoluble, efflorescent blooms that obscure the surface of the picture (Fig 1); large aggregate formations that push out from below the surface distorting the appearance of the paint layer (Fig 2); flaking caused by accumulation of soaps at the interface between paint layers; and even highly mobile, dripping paint (Fig 3).

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Fig 1 showing surface bloom caused by zinc soap efflorescence which obscures the vibrant underlying colours / Photography: Gillian Osmond
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Fig 2 (x50 magnified detail) showing paint surface disrupted by lead soap lumps erupting from within / Photography: Gillian Osmond
Before conservation treatment, part b
Fig 3 showing active drips from reliquefying paint / Photography: Natasha Harth

Through the Centre for Contemporary Art Conservation, Dr. Gillian Osmond, QAGOMA Paintings Conservator, has been researching zinc soap formation in paintings by contemporary artists. Gillian’s significant contribution in this important field of research was recently acknowledged when she was invited to speak at the forthcoming international art conference, Metal Soaps in Art 1 organised by the Netherlands Institute for Conservation, Art and Science and the Rijksmuseum. She will also participate as a representative on the Scientific Committee for the conference.

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Dr. Gillian Osmond, QAGOMA Paintings Conservator

Gillian has said,

I am excited to be collaborating with a group of respected international peers on the scientific committee for the Metal Soaps in Art conference. Together we will work to compile and share the most recent and significant findings in this area of research with our colleagues more broadly, and consider implications for collections worldwide.

We congratulate Gillian and know that she is looking forward to this opportunity that will bring together art historians, scientists and conservators from across the globe to share ideas and experiences on this challenging issue.

Endnote
1  Metal Soaps in Art, https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/nl/nu-in-het-museum/symposia/metal-soaps-in-art

 Continue the conversation online with #QAGOMA @qagoma

There’s an app in my artwork

 
Natio'nal New Media Art Award 2012' Installation view
George Poonkhin Khut, Australia b.1969 / Distillery: Waveforming 2012 / Custom software and custom heart rate monitor on iPad and Mac Mini Signal analysis software: Angelo Fraietta and Tuan M Vu; visual effects software: Jason McDermott, Greg Turner; electronics and design: Frank Maguire / The National New Media Art Award 2012. Purchased 2012 with funds from the Queensland Government / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

At the recent Born Digital and Cultural Heritage Conference (June 2014), organised by the Play It Again research group, artist George Poonhkin Khut and QAGOMA’S Head of Conservation Amanda Pagliarino presented their perspectives on the Gallery’s acquisition of Distillery: Waveforming 2012, the winning entry in the Queensland Art Gallery’s 2012 National New Media Award.

Distillery: Waveforming is a biofeedback controlled interactive experience conceived as an iOS 5.1.1 application for the third generation Apple iPad. This prototype artwork is an ensemble that presents unique conservation challenges, made up of iPads loaded with a software application called BrightHearts; heart rate monitors; Arduino microcomputers; Apple Mac mini computers; and a WiFi networking system.

The biofeedback aspect of Distillery: Waveforming uses electrical monitoring of the autonomic cardiovascular system. The artwork captures bio-input of a user’s real-time heart rate and this data is then processed via computer and sent on to an iPad as animations and audio. As the user engages with the artwork they can induce changes in the mandala-like animations through subtle changes in their state of relaxation.

Visitors sit down at iPad stations, then don headphones and clip on a heart-rate sensor and begin to see oscillating circular animations on an iPad screen. These animations reflect the visitor’s state of excitement or relaxation. As the visitor reflects on the animations and slows their breathing the animations change from warm colours to cool blues and greens. The sound of the visitor’s pulse, resynthesised through electronic sound design, is fed back as chime-like sounds, producing an immersive, meditative experience.

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George Poonkhin Khut / Distillery: Waveforming (Portrait of Lian, January 2012) 2012 / HD video: 24 minutes, 9:16, colour, stereo Camera: Julia Pendrill Charles; styling: Troy Brennan / The National New Media Art Award 2012. Purchased 2012 with funds from the Queensland Government / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

Distillery: Waveforming is one ‘iteration’ of the biofeedback project begun by George 10 years ago. Since the artwork came into the Collection George has continued to develop BrightHearts with data analysis and processing now imbedded in the app software and the app available for download from iTunes.  The BrightHearts app that was acquired as part of Distillery: Waveforming is a developmental version, requiring data analysis to be performed by external computers.

At the conference, George was pleased to have the opportunity to reconnect with Distillery: Waveforming and to see the developmental version of BrightHearts. The superb quality – the richness and depth – that was achieved in the animations is yet to be realised in the downloadable version.

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George Poonkhin Khut in the GOMA Conservation Laboratory with some of the technology of Distillery: Waveforming

The Gallery places significance on Distillery: Waveforming as a prototype and intends to maintain it in its original configuration for as long as is functionally possible. To enable this, the iPad devices were jail-broken to provide long-term access and management of the BrightHearts app. The Gallery has digitally archived the software to run the various devices; source code, which is the computer instructions interpreted for programming; and supporting video documentation. Two, third-generation iPad devices have been stored as back-up replacement technology.

Audio visual artwork conservators usually find themselves working with electronics and technologies that have in some part been modified, altered, patched, manipulated, rewired, reconfigured, refabricated or completely repurposed. Conserving audio visual artworks requires different conservation approaches and tailored strategies that respond to each individually.

What sets this artwork apart from others is the interest the artist has in its preservation. George has provided the Gallery with invaluable materials for the archive including the source code; copies of all the software programs with descriptions of their modifications and patches; documentary and support material; and a comprehensive user’s manual.  Building an archive of this quality with the artist’s assistance provides the Gallery with an extraordinary resource for the future.