Adapt & Evolve

By Ong Fang Zheng

ICON Book & Paper Group organised the conference Adapt & Evolve 2015: East Asian Materials and Techniques in Western Conservation in London earlier on in April, and I was all charged up to learn new things and meet new people! The event kickstarted with studio tours from museums, archives, to private studios.

At the Museum of London, Clare Reynolds and Rose Briskman took turns showing us their studio, the nature of their duties, projects, and programmes they are running. Besides the Integrated Pest Management, benchmarking their inventory really helped the facilitation and allocation of projects and scheduling. A Collection Cleaning Course targeted at staff from smaller museums, students, and volunteers not only increases the awareness of conservation, but also equip them with skills such as object handling, condition reports, and basic cleaning. Clare and Rose both work part-time, dividing up time at the museum between long-term projects, such as improving the stores, and also supervising volunteer and student projects. Working hand in hand, freelance conservators are engaged on short-term contracts in preparation for large exhibitions when necessary.

My second studio tour was at the British Museum, where I managed to visit the the Hirayama Studio (ありがとう Matsuda sensei) twice! The Hirayama Studio specialises in the conservation of East Asian paintings on paper and silk, and resides in a special historical building on the museum site. The central working area is raised on a platform and covered with tatami mats, with both low-working tables and karibari boards (Japanese mounting studio style), and red lacquered tables (Chinese mounting studio style). The studio has a huge stock of Japanese kozo papers, Chinese xuan papers, and the prettiest silks!

The ceramics students have been raving about the renovated conservation studios so there's no way I was giving it a miss, right?! I really like the departments being concentrated, with access between each other, facilitating exchange and interaction of ideas and techniques. I also talked to the Davids of Mounting (Green and Giles; I hope you like your new titles) on the challenges of mounting which they adapt accordingly to the requirements of the object and or exhibition. They also referred me to the mounting bibles which I am adding to my wish list!

The Welcoming Reception was opened by Alison Richmond, CEO of ICON, and the witty Sir Peter Bazalgette, followed by a very happy Japanese classmate whom I followed around as she greeted fellow Japanese attendees. I must confess Sakura-chan's presence was of utmost importance while I shamelessly recite my favourite Japanese sentence "This entire conversation you've just had, I only understood 5% of it!" with a sheepish grin over the next 2 days. I shall spare myself of further embarrassment with regards to my Japanese (in)efficiency for another day…

Every talk was awesome to say the least, but I will restrain myself and reluctantly single out some highlights from the conference. Papermaking! From Japan, China, and Thailand, to other parts of Asia, the manufacture of paper and its fibre harvest was explained and compared. Megumi Mizumura listed the main factors to consider while choosing paper for conservation: its use, origin of fibre, fibre preparation, alkaline cooking, bleaching, sheet formation, and drying, etc. Minah Song gave a compelling presentation on her learning experience and research findings, while Claude Laroque shared with us their exciting research and a very (bookmark-worthy) informative database on Asian papers.

If I may add, Dr Masato Kato was very illustrious in explaining the advantages of the karibari board, which would require further adaption for use in countries with seasons different to Japan's. Conservators of Asian scrolls would no doubt value what Noriko Hayakawa had to share with us on furunori as well. Besides the insightful posters on display, I was particularly impressed by the level of attention dedicated to wheat starch paste by the British Museum-a material so essential and fundamental in our conservation work.

I must end with my itinerary booklet that our blog editor insisted on showing, and a pleasant surprise from sitting next to our last speaker. I cannot express enough how enriching and enlightening attending the conference had been, and I thank all who have been a part of it in any amount, any way: thank you!

Acknowledgements: Thank you NADFAS for sponsoring the attending of this conference. Special thanks to Rose Briskman of Museum of London, and Joanna Kosek from the British Museum for editing my post and the approval of photographs.