Conservation of Art in Public Spaces (CAPuS) project and its outcomes

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Conservation of Art in Public Spaces (CAPuS) was a three-and-a-half-year project devoted to the development of guidelines and protocols for the protection and conservation of contemporary public art and of education and training opportunities in that field. Funded by the European Commission through the Erasmus+ Knowledge Alliances Program, the project was jointly carried out by 17 partner institutions from five European countries: Italy, Spain, Croatia, Germany and Poland.

The CAPuS project ended in June with a two-day online conference (4-5 June 2021) that featured presentations of the key results by members of the project partnership. The program also included talks by invited speakers, experts in the field of public art conservation (Lydia Beerkens, Marco Ciari, Francesca Modugno, Elena García Gayo, Rosa Gasol, Antonio Rava and Maria Chatzidakis). This article will focus on the presentations delivered by CAPuS team members and will provide an overview of the main outcomes of the project.

In the conference’s opening talk, project coordinator, Dominique Maria Scalarone (University of Turin), explained that the CAPuS project was driven by the need to tackle two issues: the lack of specific initiatives for the conservation of contemporary public art and the underrepresentation of the subject in university study programs. Higher education institutions, businesses/enterprises, research centres, cultural institutions, NGOs and public bodies came together to offer solutions. The partners broke the work into four stages. First, they selected a number of artworks (almost one hundred murals and sculptures) and thoroughly explored their socio-cultural context. Program partners then examined techniques, materials and condition of each artwork and tested products for specific conservation treatments. Next, they defined a conservation methodology for public works of art. In the final stage the team devised models for the transfer of the acquired knowledge and experience to students, educators and professional conservators.

During the project the CAPuS team collected and produced a wide range of information and documentation on the studied artworks. This documentation is openly and freely available through the CAPuS Digital Repository, which is available on the CAPuS website under Resources. In this online database, which was presented at the conference by the author of this text, each artwork has its own data sheet containing general information about the piece as well as technical and conservation documentation. This information serves as a basis for future conservation interventions on the studied artworks but can also be useful in the study and treatment of other pieces. Other scholars can use it to continue the research carried out by the CAPuS partnership. The repository can support teaching and learning and raise public awareness and understanding of public art. Its structure, functionality and content were presented in a three-part Zoom event series that took place in May, the recordings of which can be viewed here.

José Santiago Pozo Antonio (University of Vigo) and Josipa Bilić (Metris Research Centre) discussed the technical study of the artworks that the CAPuS team worked on including the non-destructive and minimally invasive methods they used to examine the stratigraphy, analyse constituent materials and identify degradation products. An extensive report on this research is available on the CAPuS website, under News > Project updates (this part of the website provides access to the final report of each work package).

A large part of the project effort was dedicated to identifying the products and methods that can be used for specific conservation treatments. The testing was performed on mock-ups, both outdoors and in a laboratory setting. Michela Berzioli (An.t.a.res srl) discussed the testing of products for consolidation, cleaning (dirt and overpaint removal) and surface protection of murals. Neven Peko (Sisak Municipal Museum) talked about research focused on finding the best method for the removal of aged coatings from painted steel sculptures and identifying the most suitable coating system for their repainting.

During the CAPuS project, an illustrated multi-lingual glossary (English, Italian, Spanish, Croatian, German, Polish) was produced. The first part includes terms related to street art and graffiti, while the second part encompasses conservation terms. The glossary was presented by Paola Croveri (La Venaria Reale Conservation-Restoration Centre) and Marc Mascort i Boix (Montana Colors). They stressed that categorizing the complex and diverse subculture of street art and graffiti was extremely challenging as it required dealing with related jargon and because the terminology is constantly developing and growing. Terms that have a negative connotation in common language, and that could implicate a different and subjective attachment, were not included in the glossary. One such example is the term vandalism.

One of the main project outputs were the guidelines for conservation of public artworks. As Arianna Scarcella (La Venaria Reale Conservation-Restoration Centre) explained, the guidelines focus on two major issues: the study of the artwork in order to understand what needs to be conserved and why and the determination of suitable strategies for the preservation/conservation of the piece. The CAPuS workflow diagram includes eight steps. The guidelines provide an explanation of the objectives of each step and present the activities, results and reflections of the CAPuS team members related to that specific step. They also include practical questions and case studies. The guidelines do not offer ready-made solutions; the conservation approach and the practical intervention on the artwork must always be case-specific.

CAPuS partnership was keen on providing training opportunities for professionals wishing to specialize in public art conservation and on developing open and free educational resources for students and teachers. Ilaria Saccani (CESMAR7) presented the webinar for professional conservators “Materials and Methods for Public Art Conservation. Strategies for contemporary murals”, which took place in April 2021. Its recordings can be accessed here. Monica Gulmini, Floriana Vindigni and Tina Lasala (University of Turin) presented the CAPuS e-learning platform which serves students and university teachers. The self-paced learning course is intended for master's degree students but can also be of interest to professionals who wish to expand their knowledge in this area. As for the educators, the platform provides materials and resources for teaching an entire course on public art conservation. One can, of course, include the whole course or select the units in what he/she already teaches.

Under the auspices of the CAPuS project, several master’s—and one doctoral—thesis projects were carried out. Three projects were presented at the conference. In his inspiring talk, Enrique Manuel Alonso Villar (University of Vigo), who researched the deterioration of murals in Galicia, Spain, provided an insight into the CAPuS project from the perspective of a doctoral student. Jelena Hudinčec (University of Split) discussed her art historical research related to the Sisak Steelworks Fine Artists’ Colony, and Giulia Pellis (University of Turin) presented her research on the cleaning of street art and graffiti.

It is worth noting that an educational documentary was produced with the CAPuS project funds, Time Has Not Helped (authors: Sagita Mirjam Sunara, Dragan Đokić). The film discusses the scientific and practical research that must precede any conservation work on outdoor sculptures. The film can also be accessed both through the e-learning platform and through the Digital Repository.

I encourage the readers of News in Conservation to explore the CAPuS website, especially the Resources section. The CAPuS team members hope that the materials and research data they have openly shared will be used by conservation students, university teachers, professional conservators and even artists. We also hope that the work we have done will help advance the protection, preservation and appreciation of contemporary public art.

Author Byline

Dr. Sagita Mirjam Sunara is an associate professor at the Conservation Department of the Arts Academy, University of Split (Croatia) and vice-dean of Arts, Science, International Cooperation and ECTS credits. She has been teaching for over 15 years, including a semester as a visiting teaching fellow at the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (USA). Also while at the university, she worked at the Croatian Conservation Institute Section for Stone in Split for five years.