IIC 2014 Hong Kong Congress, An Unbroken History: Conserving East Asian Works of Art and Heritage

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by Sarah Foskett, University Teacher.

Sitting in Dubai airport awaiting a connection to Glasgow gave me ample opportunity to reflect on IIC 2014 Hong Kong Congress, An Unbroken History: Conserving East Asian Works of Art and Heritage. It had hardly seemed a week since I was doing the reverse journey out to Hong Kong, such was the whirlwind of events. It was the first time IIC had been held in China and both the conference programme and the array of cultural activities and social events made the most of the potential for an engaging exchange, on both a professional and social level.

The programme for the technical session was rich and diverse in addressing the conservation, investigation and analysis of East Asian works of art. The multi-disciplinary nature of the conference was, for me, one of its strengths – some of the papers I enjoyed the most had ostensibly nothing to do with textile conservation and yet were engaging because of a shared material, transferable technique or fresh perspective.

What was also notable was not only the presentation of recent advances in research and practice but also a focus on understanding and acknowledging different approaches and methodologies. There is great value in such dialogue, not least the mutual recognition that there is much more to be gained from collaborations based on shared concerns than the pursuit of dogma, either cultural or professional. Dr Jixiang Shan, Director of the Palace Museum, Beijing, set the tone for this in his Forbes Prize lecture. Using four case studies he demonstrated how through engagement with the community, acknowledgement and utilization of local expertise and valueing of local loyalties and opinion, far more can be achieved in both the short and long term than from the imposition of a preservation solution from ‘on high’. A certain symmetry was achieved as these sentiments were echoed in a different context in the last presentation of the congress by Lisa Bengston of the Royal British Columbia Museum, Canada whose project The Conservation in Public of a Chinese Freemason Lantern won the Keck award.

The Preventive Conservation and the Environment session focused on the particular challenges posed by a sub-tropical climate, an issue of great concern to many of those attending. A special feature of this congress was a panel discussion session which focused on environmental standards for the safekeeping of cultural heritage objects and the responsible and sustainable management of environmental conditions within museums and other buildings. Following on from a similar dialogue at ICOM-CC in Melbourne, from which many of the delegates had just come, the panel outlined the current situation and the need for the conservation profession to move forward and agree a position on environmental guidelines. A lively and productive dialogue followed and the draft declaration, agreed at ICOM-CC, was broadly accepted. The declaration was formally accepted at the closing ceremony on Friday – a defining moment perhaps.

Discussion panel for the Preventive Conservation and the Environment panel
Discussion panel for the Preventive Conservation and the Environment  session

The programme of visits and evening receptions was equally enjoyable and managed with the same great attention to detail and unwavering good spirits by the local organizing committee as the technical programme. Three receptions, an afternoon of cultural tours and a conference dinner provided ample opportunity for networking with colleagues and making new friends whilst at the same time experiencing the delights of Hong Kong. I was also particularly pleased to meet up with former CTC students Kate Blair and Michelle Oh (below right) and to meet the textile conservation team from the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, Bangkok (below centre, enjoying Dim Sum at the City Hall restuarant) , Thailand. Despite how it looks in the images I didn’t spend the whole time eating!


At the closing ceremony it was announced that the 2016 IIC Congress will be held in Los Angeles, hosted by the Getty Conservation Institute in association with the International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary Art (INCCA) and will take a closer look at contemporary art. Although the audience didn’t need much persuading, Jerry Podany, IIC’s President Emeritus, gave an enthusiastic ‘pitch’ which had us all fixing the dates in our diaries.

I am extremely grateful for the financial support I received from The Clothworkers’ Foundation CPD bursaries and the Tru Vue /Icon Continuing Professional Development (CPD) fund without which I would have been unable to attend this event.

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