Thursday, June 4, 2009

Interview with conservator Christian Scheidemann

Earlier this week I posted about the conservation studio Contemporary Conservation. While looking through the archives over at Cabinet Magazine's website, I stumbled across a 2001 interview with the studio's founder and head, Christian Scheidemann. Here he discusses the special challenges associated with caring for the odd materials contemporary artists use - hence the name of the article - "Conserving Latex and Liverwurst".

Scheidemann provides some really great insight into the theory and philosophy of restoration - like who makes decisions on how to restore something, perhaps some works were meant to just decay, and the Code of Ethics. Plus, there are some good little stories and anecdotes about famous artists like Matthew Barney and Paul McCarthy.

here's a peek at the interview:

We once spoke about the time you had to preserve a giant pound cake produced by Matthew Barney. Can you tell me more about that experience?

Yes, indeed, it was right after Documenta IX (1992) in Kassel. Matthew phoned me to ask if I could bake a big pound cake in the shape of an extended pill (Hubris Pill). His cake, which he showed in the instal-lation OTTO-Shaft, had been destroyed by rats in the parking garage, which was the site of the installation. It took us about one year to find a bakery that was willing to let us experiment with paste in their work space. Finally, we found a solution, a tech-nique to build up a pound cake in the mold Matthew had sent. The problem was that either the inside was still raw after an hour of baking time or the outside started to turn black after 90 minutes. So we made a construction with wire mesh containing a void inside and it worked. Eventually, the grease had to be extracted with chemicals and the space of the grease had to be replaced by synthetics. We had acquired the necessary experience earlier with the conservation of Robert Gober's doughnuts.

Do you feel that there are some works that are simply meant to be ephemeral (for instance, leftovers from Fluxus events, certain works by conceptual artists, or props used in performances)? Or should these objects be maintained as historical documents?

Richard Tuttle once stated in a conversation with me that all his works were meant to go with the wind. He said he would never care about his materials and he liked the idea that his objects were so lightweight that they would just fly away and disappear like a cloud in the sky. However, when looking at his elaborate production of artist's books, I cannot take this statement seriously. During the early days of their careers, most artists do not really care about the materials they use; they are not meant to last forever. As interest increases from collectors and museums, they often care very much about proper materials and techniques. This, however, runs the risk of losing all the charm of fragility and ingenuity...

click here to keep reading the full interview with Gregory Williams and Christian Scheidemann