archaeological & time-based media art conservator


The Enfolding Object of Conservation: Artwork Identity, Authenticity, and Documentation

In Conservation of Contemporary Art: Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Practice, eds. R. van de Vall and V. van Saaze, 59–86. Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-031-42357-4_4

Abstract: Conservation approaches for contemporary artworks have increasingly turned to a work’s identity as the object of conservation and perpetuation. Within the “performance paradigm” of conservation (van de Vall, Revista de História Da Arte 4, 7–17, 2015a) authenticity is often predicated on a manifestation’s compliance with an artist’s explicit directives. In practice, this paradigm is challenged by works of art that unfold in protracted states of creation and accrue new modes of presentation. This chapter reads notions of artwork identity, authenticity, and documentation for conservation purposes through poststructuralist, feminist, queer, and agential realist discourses. It troubles the assumption that conservators have access to a “view from above” (Haraway, Feminist Studies 14(3), 575–599, 1988) and that the boundaries or properties of an entity are determinate prior to and separate from our observation and description. Within Karen Barad’s agential realist framework, the documentation of artwork identity is reframed as a perspectival and partial representation of significances, which are made determinate through—and therefore entangled with—the specifics of our measurement or observation. This chapter shows how, through both our investigations and the documentation we create and leave behind, conservators and conservation researchers are enfolded with the entities we seek to know and care for, and how their boundaries and properties are continually enacted and reconfigured through these material-discursive practices. The objective referent of conservation documentation is therefore refocused as and around the phenomena produced through conservation research and practice. 

In the Shadow of the State: Collecting Performance at IMMA and Institutions of Care in the Irish Context

Co-authored with Claire Walsh. In Performance: The Ethics and the Politics of Conservation and Care, eds. H. Hölling, J. P. Feldman and E. Magnin, 147–168. London: Routledge. DOI: 10.4324/9781003309987-10

Abstract: This chapter presents a set of ideas and questions around collecting and care in relation to a body of performance-based artworks newly acquired by the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), the first works in this medium to enter its collection. It focuses on the acquisition of The Touching Contract—a collaborative performance-based artwork by artists Sarah Browne and Jesse Jones that confronts the reach of statehood from the perspective of the female body—in relation to the historical specificities of IMMA as a national collecting institution established within Ireland’s postcolonial context, and against the backdrop of the highly contentious legacy of institutions of care in Ireland. Given the social and political specificities of The Touching Contract and the strong desire by both artists for it to be understood as a work with a distributed and delegated authorship and its own ethics of care, this chapter details how the principles embedded in the work guided our collaborative and slow approach to its musealization. As this work entered the IMMA collection in parallel to the development of our acquisition policy and processes around collecting performance, this chapter discusses the ways in which the acquisition challenged and reconfigured sedimented thinking and practices around acquisition, ownership and care.


Co-authored with Stephanie Auffret, Hélia Marçal and Renata F. Peters. In Dictionary of Museology, ed. F. Mairesse, 37–41. Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge. DOI: 10.4324/9781003206040

Conservation (Preventive)

Co-authored with Hélia Marçal, Stephanie Auffret, and Renata F. Peters. In Dictionary of Museology, ed. F. Mairesse, 90–94. Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge. DOI: 10.4324/9781003206040

Conservation (Remedial)

Co-authored with Hélia Marçal, Renata F. Peters, and Stephanie Auffret. In Dictionary of Museology, ed. F. Mairesse, 94–97. Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge. DOI: 10.4324/9781003206040

Instantiation, Actualization, and Absence: The Continuation and Safeguarding of Katie Paterson’s Future Library (2014–2114)

Journal of the American Institute of Conservation, Volume 4, Issue 2-3, 145–160. DOI: 10.1080/01971360.2021.1977058

Abstract: Over the last two decades, the conservation field has developed new frameworks for works that recur in multiple manifestations, such as many time-based media, installation, and performance artworks. Within these frameworks, authenticity is gauged primarily on a manifestation’s perceived compliance with the artist’s directives or specifications for the work. Such models have proven difficult to apply in practice when faced with artworks in protracted states of creation, that have an existence outside the walls of the collecting institution, and whose manifestations are dispersed and distributed in space and over time. This article examines how Future Library (2014–2114) – a century-long public artwork by the Scottish artist Katie Paterson – confounds the two-stage model of an artwork’s creation, and the conventional understanding of the artwork instantiated and made present in discrete, physical objects or events. Drawing upon Deleuze's philosophical writings, I characterize the varied ways in which an artwork or object of cultural heritage may be made present and may undergo change, while forever remaining partial, deferred, and absent. This article considers how the scope of what falls within the conservator’s gaze might be widened, and how an artwork’s conservation and creation might be understood as interdependent and concurrent acts of safeguarding and continuation.

Variants of Concern: Authenticity, Conservation, and the Type-Token Distinction 

Studies in Conservation, Volume 67, Issue 1–2, 72–83. DOI: 10.1080/00393630.2021.1974237

Abstract: Over the last 20 years, the conservation literature around installation and performance artworks has increasingly relied on concepts and analogies from the philosophy of music to reformulate the concept of authenticity for artworks that recur in multiple instances. Within these frameworks, authenticity is often framed as a quality ascribed to a manifestation on the basis of its compliance with the artist’s explicit directives or a precision of formal resemblance with past manifestations. This article resituates the concept of authenticity invoked in fine art conservation within a wider discourse in analytic philosophy on the type-token distinction and artworks as abstract entities that are instantiated in time and space. Given the intersubjective nature and situatedness of authenticity judgements pertaining to a work’s manifestations, this article considers the limitations of authenticity frameworks predicated exclusively on score compliance and considers how a type-token ontology is more capacious. This article demonstrates how this distinction already underpins existing frameworks and discourses, how it aids in conceptualising the relationship between an artwork’s potentially multiple versions or variants and their manifestations, and how it accommodates the ways perceptions of an artwork’s identity are socially mediated through time and may differ across its viewership.

Object Trouble: Constructing and Performing Artwork Identity in the Museum 

ArtMatters International Journal for Technical Art History, Special Issue 1, 12–22.

Abstract: The collections of many private and public art institutions today contain a significant number of contemporary artworks that involve or combine live performance, technology, and an ephemeral or replenishable materiality. Existing acquisition, loan, and collection care policies – conceived around ‘traditional’ artworks that exist as contained, relatively static physical objects or assemblages – have been challenged by this ever-increasing category of ‘other’ artworks that do not conform to established frameworks and protocols. In response, new frameworks and approaches devised in the last 20 years have focused on artwork identity as the object of conservation, as part of efforts to render such works collectable within a museum context, and to preserve them for future generations. In this article the notion of artwork identity is examined through a lens of queer theory and poststructuralist criticism to consider how an artwork’s seemingly fixed and singular essence is constructed, reified, and at times fractured within the museum space. This paper examines how the ongoing display and enactment of artworks – reframed as performatives – may either perpetuate the illusion of a fixed and stable artwork identity or subvert and queer that singularity through deviation. Artwork identity is reconceptualised as a perspectival impression of significance that may vary between individuals, contexts, and over time. Artworks previously characterised as ‘unruly’ actors in the museum sphere (Domínguez Rubio 2014) are positioned as entities that queer not only notions of artwork identity and essence, but also entrenched museum conventions, policies, practices, and larger institutional norms. With this in mind, this article proposes that the focus of conservation might be reoriented away from a univocal essentialism at the level of identity towards a processual and constructivist understanding of a work’s multiple, socially produced and negotiated grounds and centres.

Always Already Fragment: Integrity, Deferral, and Possibility in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage

Co-authored with Hélia Marçal. In Das Fragment im digitalen Zeitalter. Möglichkeiten und Grenzen neuer Techniken in der Restaurierung, eds. U. Schädler-Saub and A. Weyer, 63–78. Berlin: Hendrik Baßler Verlag.

On Creation and Conservation: Neil Clements and Brian Castriota in Conversation

In Fellow Traveller, edited by Dominic Paterson, np. Glasgow: Hunterian Art Gallery.

Ringing From the Darkness: On Lithophones

In Pala Issue 1: Dark Matter, eds. A. Sutcliffe & K. Timney. 72–81. Glasgow: Pala Press.

Fifty-Plus Years of On-Site Metals Conservation at Sardis: Correlating Treatment Efficacy and Implementing New Approaches

Co-authored with Emily Frank. In Transcending Boundaries: Integrated Approaches to Conservation. ICOM-CC 19th Triennial Conference Preprints, Beijing, 17–21 May 2021, ed. J. Bridgland. Paris: International Council of Museums.

Abstract: In the last sixty-one years, the Harvard-Cornell led excavations at Sardis, Turkey, have produced over 5,000 copper-alloy and iron finds. Since their excavation, these finds have been stored in on-site depots, which provide only minimal buffer against seasonal fluctuations in relative humidity (RH). A condition survey conducted in 2016 and 2017 detected signs of chloride related deterioration in roughly 40% of these finds. Conservation records since the 1960s document evolving stabilization treatment methods as new conservation research was put into practice. This paper describes a computational approach informed by network analysis that was used to correlate the history of copper-alloy stabilization treatments at Sardis with deterioration phenomena encountered during our survey. Our newly implemented approach to rehousing unstable metals in low-RH and/or anoxic Escal enclosures is discussed along with our justification for maintaining certain treatment protocols in light of our findings and procedural shifts.

Authenticity, Identity, and Essentialism: Reframing Conservation Practice

In What Is the Essence of Conservation? Papers from the ICOM-CC and ICOFOM Session at the 25th General Conference Held in Kyoto, 4 September 2019, eds. F. Mairesse and R. F. Peters, 39–48. Paris: ICOFOM.

How Sustainable is File-Based Video Art? Exploring the Foundations for Best Practice Development

Co-authored with Sophie Bunz and Flaminia Fortuanto. Electronic Media Review, Volume 4.

Abstract: The acquisition of file-based video artworks into collecting institutions, charged with ensuring their long-term viability and accessibility, presents conservators and collection caretakers with many new challenges. This paper explores issues observed in daily practice at the Time-Based Media Conservation Laboratory of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and is the product of a research consortium that was formed as part of a collaboration between the Guggenheim Conservation Department and the Master’s degree program in Conservation at the Bern University of the Arts, Switzerland. The authors of the paper employed a research methodology that included literature review, practical tests, and interviews with internationally-recognized experts engaged with codec development, software engineering, archiving, and digital video preservation. This study highlights specific areas of consensus around the many factors affecting a video file’s sustainability and playback consistency; considers some of the preservation options currently available, including normalization; and offers suggestions around the development of a basis for best practice in the acquisition and conservation of born-digital, file-based video artworks.

Securing a Futurity: Artwork Identity and Authenticity in the Conservation of Contemporary Art

Ph.D. thesis, Univeristy of Glasgow.

Mediating Meanings: Conservation of the Staffordshire Hoard

Postmedieval, Volume 7, Issue 3, 369-77.

Abstract: Since the Staffordshire Hoard’s discovery in 2009, soil removal has been
carried out over several years by conservators working with the Staffordshire Hoard
Conservation Project at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. As a case study, this
essay examines the practical and philosophical considerations that arose during the
author’s cleaning of object K1195, a gold and garnet cloisonne´ sword pommel cap, in
2012. Cleaning – understood as a culturally determined intervention that enacts permanent change on an object – is a frequent subject of debate within cultural heritage
preservation. This essay considers the cleaning of an archaeological object with respect
to its ontological status, borrowing concepts employed in the conservation of modern
and contemporary works of art.

Philisophical Issues in the Conservation of Contemporary Art

Co-edited with Glenn Wharton and Rebecca Gordon. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute (2024)

© brian castriota 2020–2024.