IMA Annual Conference

2018 Irish Museums Association Annual Conference

Collecting The 'Now'

10 and 11 May, Dublin

  • Contemporary Collecting in the Dock:

    - Cross-examining Our Practice

    In a rapidly changing and uncertain contemporary world, collecting the now is both essential and somehow reassuring, allowing us to get a grip on, analyse and record our present. But how well do we really understand this practice, and are we working it for all it is worth?

    Taking a step back from and interrogating contemporary collecting, this paper will pose and seek to answer various charges against the practice. From its sustainability, to its importance, to its public relevance, all will be scrutinised and cross-examined, with reflections on what this means for our collections development activity and strategic direction at National Museums NI.

    Hannah Crowdy is head of curatorial at National Museums Northern Ireland

  • A Byte of the record: collecting the now in digital form

    The National Library of Ireland (NLI) holds Ireland’s documentary and creative heritage. To develop this living record the library has to respond to the challenge of collecting and preserving it as it appears today – in digital form. From the tweets of politicians to the websites satirising them; from the blogs of writers to their first drafts written on laptops we don’t have a choice about collecting digital if we want to collect the ‘now’. This creates new challenges but also provides new opportunities to develop library collections both at much greater scale than ever before and also with greater public and community participation.

    This presentation explores three stands of digital collecting in the NLI in terms of how they enable preservation of the contemporary record of Ireland. It will look at the ongoing development of the openly available Selective Web Archive of curated collections on key events and themes in Irish life; the 2017 national domain crawl which is Ireland’s largest born-digital collecting project and will also examine how the latest strand, focusing on unique born digital collections, can help preserve contemporary Irish documentary and creative output.   

    Joanna Finegan is assistant keeper of Digital Collections at National Library of Ireland.

  • Emerging Modes of Collecting

    The manner in which museums and galleries are adapting and responding to the collection of new forms of artistic practice elicits a number of critical challenges. These include keeping up with technological advances, future-proofing efforts in relation to conservation, engaging effectively in the collection of various forms and expressions of performance art and site specific work.

    How does IMMA, as the National Cultural Institution responsible for the collection and preservation of modern and contemporary art, fulfil its remit to collect the art of now for the future, to reflect key developments in visual culture and to keep them in the public domain for future generations?

    In recent years, preservation concerns were directed mainly at conserving ephemeral material such as berries, faxes, newspaper and even bread. Without an in-house conservator, we have become increasingly concerned about the preservation of our plastic and audio-visual collections. The challenges surrounding changing display technology and the move from an analogue image to a digital image is prominent in the Collections strategy. We are about to embark on a digital audit of the complete AV collection which includes a preservation plan and the digitisation of all video works in close consultation with the artists.

    The presentation will highlight some case studies, where technology has outpaced the artwork and conservation efforts must work to keep up and indeed future proof the collection. The collection of such site specific work requires a set of questions to be posed, moving beyond answers beginning with “did you plug it out and turn it back on again…”   

    Johanne Mullan is collections programmer at the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

  • Minor Histories, Major Rewards:

    -The Importance and Benefits of Collecting Marginal Histories at Cork Public Museum 

    Cork Public Museum has been acquiring material since it opened in 1945, amassing a large historical collection of about 25,000 objects. Yet the initial historical displays and collecting ethos focused on a predominately catholic Irish nationalist view of Cork history that paid little or no attention to the experiences of people and groups who stood outside the desired narrative. Though this approach was very much of its time, it proved highly influential in what the Museum collected and exhibited until the mid-2000s. 

     Over the last decade or so, increased efforts have been made to display more of Cork’s marginal histories but these lacked consistency. However a significant event occurred in 2016 that has already re-shaped future collections and exhibition policies. Cork City’s only synagogue closed in February 2016, ending over a century of existence in the city. The closure prompted the beginning of an unexpected collaboration between Cork Public Museum and the Rosehill family that developed into a new permanent Jewish exhibition and archive.

    Daniel’s presentation will trace this illuminating and often emotional journey and how the Jewish experience served as a wake-up call, underlining the importance in addressing the imbalance of the museum’s collections; to give a platform and voice to the myriad of non-traditional Cork histories. This presentation will also outline the many benefits that this relationship has brought to the museum and how the project offered a new direction and impetus for future collaborations to create a more diverse and inclusive museum experience.

    Daniel Breen is acting curator at Cork Public Museum.

  • A contemporary national collection

    The Arts Council of Ireland has been collecting works of art since the early 1960’s and in that time it has acquired over 1,100 objects. Unlike many cultural organisations that collect, The Arts Council have been focused solely on collecting work by living artists and thinking of the collection as a “Museum without Walls”. As the works are displayed primarily in public buildings the types of works acquired historically have largely been wall based paintings, prints and drawings. Yet many contemporary artists work beyond the 2d.

    The challenge for this and other collections is to represent the breadth of artistic practice now and into the future whilst being cognisant of display, storage and conservation issues. There are international models that can provide some solutions but we need to devise imaginative ways of acquiring the contemporary and ensure that taxpayers money is spent wisely. Maybe future collections will collect artists not artworks and properly harness new technology to be focused on the needs of the public and not the institution. This paper will look at how we can cherish the past whilst embracing the future of collecting for The Arts Council.   

    Eamonn Maxwell is a curator and cultural consultant, and works with The Arts Council of Ireland as collection adviser.  

  • The Meaning of Contemporary Artist’s Materials

    -and its Longevity

    Since the departure of traditional materials such as “Oil paint on canvas”, paintings conservators are increasingly aware and concerned about the longevity of artworks. Paint medium changed in their composition chemically, e.g. from water based oils up to various generations of acrylic paints, waxes and many other mediums. The paint support is not commonly a canvas, but maybe a composite wood, metals or the vast group of plastics. While there is a growing knowledge of the chemical composition and physical interaction of new materials, treatment solutions are falling behind the demand to preserve artefacts. 

    Contemporary art can be anything re-positioned or further created to express an artists’ message, but how will this fit into a collection that tries to gather all these different ideas?Is the museum’s idea of guardianship and the maintenance of art works agreeable with contemporary art and the artist’s expression? While viewing the reality of a physical tangible collection, how can we preserve something that is maybe depending more on the idea than on the material?

    Conservator-restorers have started to interact with artists out of the need to intervene with conservation treatments. This conversation is helpful for collections as it establishes how the artist likes to see the future of their creations.

    Ele von Monschaw is the easel paintings conservator-restorer at the National Gallery of Ireland (NGI).

  • Rapid Response Collecting at the V&A

    Corinna Gardner is the senior curator of the Design, Architecture and Digital Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

  • Living more with less

    The success of books like Stuffocation (Wallman:2015)  and Spark Joy (Kondo:2017) indicate the popular movement to de-clutter our lives that is one outcome of our age of intensive consumption. Unless we can master the art of Living More with Less, each of us will pass on to the next generation a home colonised with material burden. Intrinsic to museums’ role to ‘enable people to explore collections for inspiration, learning and enjoyment’ (UK Museums Association, 1998), is their communication of the value of that which they already hold in trust for society. In this, they provide a useful counter-weight to the urge to possess ever more.

    Yet, to compete with wide-ranging contemporary choice, and in a world where those choices are increasingly virtual, museums may need to bridge more gaps between public and domestic spaces, and to be present in the moments where goods are passed on. Should they reach out more to collect the “stuff” of everyday lives? How do collecting policies determine whose and which stuff matters? And how should collaborations evolve to secure the futures of that which is already past?    

    Briony Widdis is a PhD candidate : 'Engaging the Past' Research Group, at Ulster University.

  • Collecting the ‘Now’ by learning from our past

    Although the National Museum of Ireland has not yet fully integrated the idea of contemporary collecting into its collection policy, it has engaged in such collecting both actively and passively in the past. This paper will explore the NMI’s response to the changes and challenges brought about by the 20th century by exploring its collecting practices across the Historical and Irish Folklife Collections, looking at ways in which the contemporary and everyday was accidently acquired through the relics and souvenirs of conflict at home and abroad, and how the objects of traditional, rural Ireland were sought for deposit in the National Museum as relics of a way of life quickly disappearing into the past, such as the household and farm items from the Poulaphuca land clearance. By examining how these objects were acquired, the impetus behind their acquisition and the driving forces behind them all – both internal and external to the Museum - we can assess the successes and problems of these practices to not only inform our own future decision-making, but also strengthen and build on a museum’s relationships with outside bodies and the general public - the source of so many of our objects - for future collecting.   

    Brenda Malone is a historian with the National Museum of Ireland (NMI).

  • The Future of film is Bytes-

    The IFI Irish Film Archive a digital case study

    In its role as custodian of the Ireland’s moving image heritage, the IFI Irish Film Archive has developed the expertise, policies, and specialist infrastructure necessary to preserve and provide access to its analogue film and tape collections. However, over the last 5 years, moving image production and distribution, has moved from a predominantly analogue environment to a completely digital landscape. The IFI, along with other moving image archives around the world, has had to respond to this rapid change by proactively addressing the challenge of collecting, documenting, preserving and disseminating this new digital material.

    This paper will examine how the IFI was able to adapt to this massive sectoral shift; not only through the acquisition of new technological solutions, but by reimagining its acquisition, collections management and preservation policies and procedures.  Key to negotiating this period of unprecedented change was the creation of the IFI Archive’s Digital Preservation and Access Strategy, a document that has served as the roadmap for the Archives’ digital evolution. The DPAS takes a long term view of the IFI’s digital development, identifying the short, medium and long-term requirements necessary for the IFI Archive to achieve its goal of becoming a world class Digital Archive; thus ensuring Ireland’s moving image heritage is protected in the long-term, regardless of its format.   

    Kasandra O’Connell is head of the IFI Irish Film Archive.

  • The Contemporary Collection of Design & -

    -Applied Arts in the National Museum of Ireland, from 2000 to present day

    The origins of the National Museum of Ireland (NMI) date to the foundation of its forerunner the Dublin Science and Art Museum in 1877. At that time and up until the early 20th century collecting of contemporary art and design, both national and international was an important aspect of collections policy. Examples of contemporary art acquired by the museum during the last decades of the 19th century include glass by Émile Gallé and François-Eugène Rousseau of France and Louis Comfort Tiffany of the United States. This situation changed on Irish Independence in 1922, and from that decade on the policy of the museum turned almost exclusively to that of historical collecting of Irish decorative arts.

    The Contemporary Collection of Design & Craft was established in 2003 to collect contemporary high-quality works from Ireland’s leading designer-makers for the NMI to preserve tomorrow’s antiques for future generations. This national collection is jointly funded by the NMI and the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland (DCCoI). Work is selected by NMI curators with advice from DCCoI so as to complement and enhance the NMI’s existing collection of Ireland’s portable heritage. Such a joint purchase fund is of great benefit to the artists whose work is acquired, in addition to the resulting status associated with inclusion in the collection of a national cultural institution. To date over 110 pieces have been purchased from 80 makers across all of the above categories, including work from John ffrench, Maria Van Kesteren, Úna Burke and Joseph Walsh.Dr. 

    Audrey Whitty is keeper of the Art and Industrial Division (Decorative Arts, Design and History), National Museum of Ireland (NMI).

  • Collecting through Participation and Engagement

    We’ve heard over the last couple of decades that the task of defining the ‘now’, of what is contemporary, of what should be collected by museums, and how, has been a vexing one. In my presentation, I’d like to challenge the idea of ‘contemporary’; discuss practices in the past that might be viewed today as contemporary collecting; outline some techniques and strategies we have used to collecting the now; provide an update on a drive to collect the Black History of Wales; and investigate the changing role of the curator in reference to collecting through participation and engagement.  

    Owain Rhys is community engagement and participation manager with National Museum Wales

  • Collecting Culture today – panel discussion

    This panel will discuss the collection exercise, responding to questions posed by the theme of the conference by discussing how cultural activity, and the experiences and opinions of citizens, can be collected, communicated and continuously updated and expanded, issues around sourcing, sorting and selecting material for inclusion and engage with the debate around egalitarian and democratic collection processes.

    Charles Duggan is the heritage officer with Dublin City Council

    Dr Linda King  is a lecturer in Design and Visual Culture, Faculty of Film, Art and Creative Technologies, The Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT) Dún Laoghaire

    Dr Karen Logan is a project curator with National Museums Northern IrelandAalia Kamal is the project manager – mapping with Dublin Culture Connects

  • Fatbergs and and other precious items,-

     - contemporary collecting at the Museum of London

    This presentation will look at the history of contemporary collecting at the museum of London, the approaches that are being taking today and the implications for curatorship in future. It will also give some insight into the issues that Museum of London had to overcome in order to collect some of the more unusual artefacts in the collection such as the Whitechapel Fatberg - a sewer blockage which became an international media sensation when it was discovered in September 2017. This item, which represents an section of the urban environment in which we live in, presented unique challenges in curatorship and conservation. 

    Finbarr Whooley is director of content with the Museum of London