"Migrating facsimiles: When copies disappear from conservation control" by Alison Norton

Conservator, Alison Norton discusses a 2014 exhibition of Merc Ringborg at Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden; she examines issues such as identity and belonging, involved in the making of facsimiles.

In the paper the author highlights that Moderna Museet, the National Museum for modern and contemporary art in Sweden, has a certain connection with reproductions. The museum holds some reproductions in its collection and usually these remain in the control of the museum along with its relevant documentation. However, this was not the case for the Becoming European exhibition of Meric Alun Rinborg. This collection included museum objects, temporary exhibition material, artist owned work and the unfortunate letters.

Facsimiles were made for the original letters which were to be used in the display. This was done in agreement with the artist who did not want the envelopes and letters to be touched or moved. Yet, before the installation of the exhibition she added two originals and a plastic sleeve making the exhibition a culmination of facsimiles and originals. Even with all these efforts the exhibition layout required regular reorganization by conservators and museum hosts after handling by visitors. However, the facsimiles did protect the originals that were present in the exhibition and allowed the visitor to view what the artist wanted them to see.

After the exhibition permission was granted by the curator for the artist to take the facsimiles along with the documentation. There were concerns raised about handing over the facsimiles as they were not created to be used again as they were replicas but not done to perfection. The issues of responsibility and ethics as it relates to conservators in this scenario were highlighted.

The issues of ethics, responsibility and copyright are things we sometimes grapple with in the conservation and library fields. Questions of what to lend, what to duplicate and how much to give, makes for serious discussions and well thought out decisions that should be mutually beneficial for clients and the organization. But this does not always happen as highlighted in this paper.

Many times, as a head of a conservation department, advice given is not always followed through when it comes to using original materials in exhibitions. Sometimes persons in the institution and outside are of the opinion that the originals should be used, and not facsimiles because using the originals bring authenticity and life to the display. In some cases depending on varying factors such as: condition of item, duration of display, lighting, this can be done. But a general rule should be to avoid using originals in this context unless really necessary.

Question and Answer Session:
Question: Do you see yourselves as co-producers?
Alison: No, I don’t see myself as a co-assistant. I was more of a co-assistant.

Post by: Nicole Prawl