The aim of this chapter is fourfold. First, to explore the history, identity and appearances during different installations of Dibbets’ All shadows…. This is carried out by comparative research, following the artwork’s manifestations and relations in time. Second, to illustrate how cooperation with the artist during installation can be used as a research tool for technical art history. The act of installation and the final result are the only moments for art technological research for variable conceptual artworks, allowing not only data gathering of the materialised artwork but also research into the dynamics that take place while producing it. Third, to introduce the practice of re-installation as a contemporary form of art conservation - necessary to insure the artwork’s continuation in time. After all, most conceptual art needs to be presented in a certain form for it to be perceived at all. Recognition of this unique moment in the artwork’s life immediately raises awareness of the importance of having a conservator involved who is able to understand and negotiate the artwork’s manifestations and is equipped to manage material particularities and discover telling details in the constant interplay between concept and material, between documentation and final - or temporal - form, i.e. while ‘doing’.
Fourth and final aim, to problematize of the role of the conservator, and/ or curator, as co-producers in the materialisation of conceptual art today. This is put forward by reflections on my own role as an art conservator, responsible for the artwork’s conservation and continuation in time. Although the theoretical aim in art conservation, based on minimal intervention and an objective approach, avoiding the plausibility of interference with the artist’s intention, in practice true comprehension of an artwork is always a matter of subjectivity. The challenge with variable artworks without clear instructions and a high degree of liberty in their execution, as with All shadows…, is then to parallel the artist’s way of thinking during installation and to be conscious and transparent about the choices that are made, in an attempt to intervene as little as possible. It may be self evident that it is not really feasible to install a complex artwork in a completely neutral way, given the fact you are making choices, steering the artwork’s production. Nevertheless, when the artwork is installed as sensitively as possible, within certain parameters, it could be considered conserved for that moment in time, even when this is in a different constellation but still according to what Pip Laurenson calls the ‘work defining properties’. Translating these properties into material manifestations implies that a subjective approach is incorporated in conservation practice, whereas this is never really clearly articulated. This study aims to address this personal involvement in particular, revealing how All shadows… is being shaped in a continuous and collaborative creative process, making it an extra challenging artwork for an art conservator.
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