ICOM/CC 17th Triennial Conference, Melbourne, Australia – a review by Hakim Abdul Rahim

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ICOM/CC 17th Triennial Conference was held from 15–19 September 2014 in Melbourne, Australia and NiC asked some of the delagtes to report back and give their views on the event. The first account comes from emerging conservator Hakim Abdul Rahim
The banks of the Yarra River in Melbourne, Australia provided the backdrop for an exciting exchange of ideas for the 17th Triennial Conference of ICOM-CC. The theme for the triennial event was “Building Strong Culture through Conservation” – a theme that was explored throughout the conference with presentation of the papers and interactions between delegates.
The conference opened with a ‘Welcome to the Country’ by Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin, a Wurundjeri Elder from the Kulin Nation who graciously welcomed the delegates, overseas and local, to the land of her ancestors. It was then followed by keynote addresses by Honorary Professor at Queensland University Lyndel Prott, Professor Ma Xiao Lin and Dr Shao An Ding.
While Prof. Prott spoke of “Comprehensive Conservation” in which conservation not only concerns itself with the research and analysis of the materials but also with different aspects of the culture and society that the material culture originated from, Prof. Ma and Dr Shao both spoke of their work in China in the preservation and conservation of China's vast cultural heritage and archaeology.

The conference then proceeded with the separation of the delegates into various groups that reflected the diversity of the conservation profession.
These working groups presented over 150 papers over five days, with themes based on preventive conservation, metals and graphic documents just to highlight a few. Some personal highlights were “The Conservation of Chola Sahib Ji” by Namita Jaspal in which she talked about the conservation of a holy Sikh relic in a public setting and how she consulted and dealt with the local community to achieve the desired outcome for the garment. Rachel Barker presented a fascinating paper on “The Construction of a Representative Sample for Mark Rothko's Untitled (Black on Maroon) (1958)”, an interesting insight into the processes, method and materials that the artist used in the creation of his artwork together with the research, analysis and application to produce something as close to what the artist created. All this was to gain an understanding of the work and develop the best treatment plan for it.
Another interesting paper was “Photograph Conservation Globally: Educational Needs, Milestones and Challenges” presented by Nora Kennedy and Debra Norris. The paper notes the evolution of photographic conservation from the late 80s to the present day and changes in values, skills and direction in education.
In addition to paper presentations there were also poster sessions that were held throughout the day. Over a hundred posters were on display, with topics ranging from a survey of museum collections to the effects of cellulose nitrates on paintings.
This is but a small glimpse of the interesting, though-provoking and intellectually stimulating range of papers and posters that were presented at the 17th Triennial ICOM-CC Conference in Melbourne.
In between papers and posters sessions there was a plenary session that hosted two engaging panels around the themes of “Conservation, Communities and Risk” and “Environmental Standards for Exhibition and Storage for Museums”. The event provided a platform for a spirited ‘question and answer’ session where ideas, thoughts and concerns were discussed among peers. Dr Noboyuki Kamba also gave a moving paper on the conservation and rebuilding efforts that were taking place in Japan after the March 2011 tsunami that devastated many areas.

Another highlight of the conference was visiting various museums, collections and cultural institutions in Melbourne where institutions opened their stores and laboratories for theconference participants. Delegates had the chance to experience Melbourne using its tram network to get to their destination. Spoilt for choice, delegates could visit places like the Abbotsford Convent and the Royal Botanic Gardens Library & Herbarium or for connoisseurs of colour, visit the Langridge Artist Colours’ factory to see how professional grade oil paints and mediums are made.
Besides intellectual activities there was also a busy social aspect to the conference. Several nights of the five-day programme were filled with social and cultural events.
A welcome reception was held at the RMIT Gallery where delegates could also check out two current exhibitions: “Warlayirti: The Art of Balgo” and “Garnkiny: Constellations of Meaning”. During the event delegates had the chance to mix, mingle and also meet the artists whose works were on exhibition.
The cultural evening on Wednesday brought us to the National Gallery of Victoria where Boonwurrung Elder Carolyn Briggs graciously welcomed us to her country and told the story of her land and culture. The evening proceeded with two indigenous women elders from the Warmun Arts Centre sharing a beautiful dreaming story with the delegates. Members of the Walayirti Artists from Balgo also shared aspects of their culture with the delegates through song and dance. The conference dinner took place on a crisp Thursday evening on the South Wharf at the Cargo Hall where attendee could sample the best of Victorian food and wine. The conference dinner also allowed delegates to “let their hair down” and relax after some long but engaging conference days.
To sum it all up, the conference was, for me, a wonderful experience especially as a recent graduate and emerging conservator. The papers, presentations, panels and posters truly reflected the theme of building strong cultures as conservators not only conserve culture through research and analysis but also play an active role in building and preserving traditions.

Another heartening aspect of the conference was engaging with fellow students and emerging conservators from Australia but also from all over the world, sharing stories and ideas, knowing that there is a passionate future generation of conservators to continue the wonderful work of present and past conservators. And for me and fellow young conservators, the chance to engage with other professionals (some of whom have worked in conservation longer than some of us have been alive) was an invaluable experience. The advice they gave us is something from this conference that I will take home and treasure. This is also another aspect of building a strong conservation culture!
The 17th Triennial ICOM-CC conference was an eye opener and a wonderful experience and I'm looking forward to the next one!