It has been quite an academic year for all students and staff, especially as on top of navigating post-graduate learning and teaching during a pandemic we also managed the additional upheaval of relocating to Kelvin Hall over the Easter break. By way of acknowledgement of our fortitude and flexibility the Textile Conservation Foundation (TCF) generously funded our attendance of the 19th ICOM-CC Triennial Conference held virtually from Beijing, China from May 17-21 2021. The theme of the conference was: ‘Transcending Boundaries: Integrated Approaches to Conservation’ and aimed to “bring together, exchange and discuss knowledge, traditions, and skills with conservation professionals from both East and West.” This ethos was certainly reflected in the programme which was diverse in both content and authorship across all disciplines with wrap around events such as technical visits and keynote speeches offering participants a fascinating insight into China’s intellectual and practical approaches to cultural heritage conservation.
Live broadcasts could be viewed up until 17th June and as I caught up with the last few sessions on my list, cruising effortlessly from a tour of the China National Silk Museum in Hangzhou to Sarah Benson’s sitting room for the Textile Working Group planning meeting, I thought it would be interesting to gather together experiences of the conference from staff and students on both the Textile Conservation and Technical Art History programmes.
Signe Thøgersen – 2nd year student Textile Conservation. Attending the Conference in Beijing was a very positive experience and made me reflect on the accessibility of international conservation conferences, and how the pandemic in many ways has brought us closer together as a profession. As an undergraduate student in object conservation (The Royal Danish Academy, Copenhagen) I had the opportunity to attend the 18th ICOM-CC Triennial Conference in Copenhagen in 2017. At the Annual Meeting, concerns about accessibility of the conference were raised: how do we make the conference accessible to members from all over the world, and not only those who have the means to travel to the destination and making arrangements for accommodation? The world was different back then, online accessibility was not commonly used by the general public, and no definite solutions were established. Now we have all been accustomed to online webinars and events, and hosting the conference virtually allowed all members of ICOM-CC to ‘Transcending Boundaries’ and attend the conference. I enjoyed attending presentations from various groups – including textiles, leather, metal, scientific research, modern materials and more – and I am still making my way through all the interesting preprints easily available to download online. In the future I hope that we will see a hybrid of virtual and physical conferences – making them more accessible and bringing us closer together as a profession than ever.
Alexandra Earl – student, Technical Art History. I thoroughly enjoyed attending the ICOM-CC online conference as it was valuable in extending my knowledge of conservation practice, the role of documentation and current debates in the field of conservation. I particularly enjoyed the presentations on Reynolds and Munch – both of which provided an insight into artists’ techniques and materials as well as the challenges faced during the treatment of complex artworks. Overall, the presentations were incredibly informative and especially influential to aspiring painting conservators such as myself.
Katica Laza – 1st year student, Textile Conservation – Attending an online conference for the first time was an intriguing experience especially as the new format allowed you to plan which panels you wished to watch in advance as well as pause videos to better understand images while the chat function also allowed you to engage with fellow attendees in real time. Furthermore, attending presentations from various groups other than textile conservation was informative as it widened my perspective to the large variety of research and debates taking place within conservation and the heritage sector.
Anita Quye – Senior Lecturer, Conservation Science. This was the largest online conference I’ve attended, and it was a positive experience, with focused time to absorb recorded talks for modern materials, preventive and scientific research with no session clashes, although a loss was real-time Q&A. Other highlights included updates by Jian Liu and colleagues at the China National Silk Museum, with the keynote from the CNSM’s Director, Prof Zhou Feng, and the virtual tour offering a better shared view for the Centre in exploring collaboration with CNSM. It was especially good to see Dr Jing Han’s Getty post-doc research of lacquer analysis and also the Textile Museum archive in Tilburg, Netherlands. As an emergency situation, ICOM-CC 19 was a tremendous feat, the bonus being China as host to showcase their conservation research, and enabling it allowed many to attend what is normally the preserve of a lucky few, but hopefully not a long-term format as vital connections for the global profession risk being lost, especially for early careers. The generosity of the TCF to enable us to attend and reflect as a collective of students and staff is greatly appreciated.
Melanie Graham, student, Technical Art History. I found the conference very interesting, being able to delve into many different areas of conservation was really interesting and furthered my knowledge in ones that hold interest in technical art history as well as others. Being on a virtual platform allowed access to the presentations, at times that were more convenient, and also gave me the opportunity to listen to more of them over a greater time period. A few of the presentations were on subjects that I had recently been researching, such as the authenticity of rebuilding Richard Deacon’s work ‘Never mind’ at the Middleheim Museum.
Camille Lafrance – 1st year student, Textile Conservation. The opportunity offered by the Textile Conservation Foundation to attend the ICOM-CC 19th Triennial Conference held in May has been incredible. I feel spoiled to have access to all these presentations, posters, and publications. I was thrilled about the different research related to historic textiles but also in other specialities. I have particularly enjoyed the presentations on the theme of conservation ethics, more precisely the presentation of Heidi Swierenga ‘A subtle shift: The care and use of indigenous belongings after the calls to action’. She concluded her presentation with a similar remark made by the guest lecturer Alison Brown on the Material Cultures course this past semester. Both underlined the remaining power imbalances between institutions, museum professionals and originating communities during projects working on improving access to aboriginal collections. It gave a lot of inspiring insights for further reflection on the subject.
Asgrimur Einarrson – 2nd year student MPhil Textile Conservation. Being able to enjoy the conference experience at one’s own leisure has been interesting, allowing for deeper reflection on each paper individually. I enjoyed Mia Ishii’s paper, feeling a sense of kinship in having been a foreigner at both my conservation training programme, and becoming more aware of the power dynamics between our Western philosophy and foreign cultures. To me, the most exciting paper was Karin Hindborg’s paper on Pleco pens and electrolytic cleaning of silver threads. I was very glad to hear that she will continue her research on the topic.
Tess Visser, PhD student. While I most likely would have been unable to attend if it had been in person in Beijing, due to the conference being virtual and the generosity of the TCF I was able to do so. With the wide variety of conservation disciplines and topics to choose from, the virtual format was ideal for quickly switching between talks. Jumping from one presentation to the next, it was possible to listen to presentations in fields other than my own, expanding my horizons. Being able to come back to a presentation after the conference had ended was wonderful as it allowed me to return to those sessions that I found most interesting or that I wished to understand better. Despite the conference experience being different than a ‘normal’ conference might be, it was certainly enjoyable and informative.
Sarah Foskett – Lecturer, Textile Conservation. I am still weighing up the pros and cons to ‘virtual’ conferences. I certainly appreciated being able to attend presentations in concurrent sessions without having to make a mad dash across a conference venue, but equally missed the serendipitous ‘bumping into’ someone whilst half way there. I enjoyed the freedom of being able to construct my own timetable for watching the presentations but also regretted being ready with my questions long after the Q&A sessions had finished. I learnt much from the presentations, especially because I could replay, rewind and pause them, but need to work on ringfencing enough time to do the full programme justice. But overall I would say it was a very worthwhile experience and that I have many ‘take-aways’, both practical and conceptual.
A huge THANK YOU to the Textile Conservation Foundation from all of us for the opportunity to attend.