Conserving Active Matter
March 25 – July 10, 2022
Conserving Active Matter explores the science, philosophy, and art of conserving objects. The exhibition examines four central questions: "What is Conservation?" "How are Things Active?" "Who Acts on Objects, When and Why?" and "Where is the Future of Conservation?" The exhibition provides visitors with an appreciation for conservation as a subjective practice that has been performed in different ways across time periods and cultures, but remains a common thread throughout human history.
Featuring more than 100 objects from five continents, Conserving Active Matter looks at different philosophies and traditions of conservation, and the variety of ways that objects change over time, whether by natural or human intervention. Objects examined include items such as: a Korean shaman painting, a paleolithic hand axe, baseball cards, the IBM Leapfrog (a prototype for a touchscreen tablet dating from the 1990s), works by Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Neri Oxman, and Hopi "living clay" ceramic canteens. With objects that display the conservation efforts of prior generations, the exhibition examines how scientists, curators, and collectors value--or resist--changes in objects.
The exhibition offers insights into new scientific and philosophical questions that are emerging in the field as conservators wrestle with threats to cultural heritage, the properties and life spans of new materials, the surprising impacts of climate change on conservation, and evolving conceptions of the very definition of preservation. Ultimately, the exhibition asks visitors to reflect on their own practices of preservation of their everyday possessions.
Conserving Active Matter is the culmination of BGC's ten-year-long "Cultures of Conservation" initiative funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Since 2012, the initiative has been connecting the perspectives of conservation to an interdisciplinary notion of the "human sciences." The exhibition is a collaborative curatorial effort among BGC faculty members Peter N. Miller (dean), Ivan Gaskell (professor), Aaron Glass (associate professor), Meredith Linn (assistant professor and director of master's studies), Jennifer Mass (Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Cultural Heritage Science), Soon Kai Poh (project director and Conservation as a Human Science Fellow), and Ittai Weinryb (associate professor).