National Gallery of Jamaica: #askaconservatorday

The National Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ) participated in its second #askaconservatorday on November 4, 2021. This annual international event was created to highlight the conservation practice and give the public an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the profession’s contribution to cultural heritage management. Below are some of the questions the public asked for #Askaconservatorday answered by conservator Ms. Joelle Salkey.

How does art conservation work? Art conservation works through a series of deliberate actions aimed at ensuring the safety and longevity of art. These actions can be viewed in a scientific/ academic capacity or they can be as uncomplicated as good housekeeping. Once a conscious decision has been made to protect art and its surrounding environment, it’s considered a part of the conservation practice. 

Who handles art conservation? Art conservators are trained heritage professionals.  They are really the only ones who should be executing art conservation techniques. 

What does the process involve? Conservation incorporates a myriad of processes all executed with the end goal of preserving (to the best of our capability) the overall integrity of the art object. Some of these processes involve: observation, assessment and evaluation, research, testing/sampling, execution of treatment, monitoring and maintenance. [. . .]

Does the gallery engage in conservation? Yes, but only on works in the National Collection and that is conditionally based on the availability of resources at our disposal.

Are there a lot of conservators in the Caribbean? Unfortunately, there are not enough conservators in the Caribbean. While I’m not certain of the exact number; in Jamaica I’m aware of 5 trained conservation professionals – myself included.

How long does it take to become a conservator? It depends heavily on how far you are willing to pursue the profession and your background. Having a background in Art History, Art making and Chemistry is always an asset and will guarantee a smoother entry into the profession. Technically, a tertiary education in conservation can take you anywhere from 4 to 10 years depending on your areas of specialty and your academic aspirations. 

Why did you choose conservation as your specialty? I, personally, have always had a love for art and art making. I love visiting museums and seeing art and artefacts made hundreds of years ago. When I realized a profession enabled me to merge my love for art and art history, as well as allowed me to physically touch these treasures, I jumped at the opportunity to become a conservator. [. . .]

How would you conserve digital pieces? As you only deal with physical artworks. Conservation is primarily concerned with the preservation of the original object’s tangible culture, meaning things that have a physical form. Digital art presents several challenges to the profession as in addition to lacking a physical form, there is the issue of originality. A file, once saved, exists as a copy or version of the original. Once transferred to another medium – whether by SD card or flash drive or cloud storage or even printed on a physical support – it is still recognized as a copy as multiple versions of the same file exist. If a printed poster is damaged by fire for example, the creator can simply print a new copy using the original file. There is practically nothing a conservator can do, outside of contacting a computer professional if the original file is lost or corrupted. By comparison, if a physical object is damaged by fire – not only can that damage be considered vital to the objects’ history (eg. The melted bottles of Hiroshima – which are significant because they show the damage caused by an atomic bomb), if minimal some of the aesthetical damage can be minimized through restoration. The damage should still be recorded as it will always represent a part of the object’s history and conservation treatment.

The conservation of intangible art is becoming a popular topic in modern conservation. With the rise of NFT’s and the popularity of digital art and social media platforms, we could look out for digital conservation professionals in the future. [. . .]

For full interview, see https://nationalgalleryofjamaica.wordpress.com/author/nationalgalleryofjamaica/

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