Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Priorities in Conserving Community Murals

Excerpt from Priorities in Conserving Community Murals. By Timothy W. Drescher. 2003
Compilation of papers 2004. The J. Paul Getty Trust

The crucial point has nothing to do with the technical aspects of materials, surfaces, and exposure; nor is it a matter of incorporating the visual field, especially architecture, into the design; nor is it a matter of size, but of the “social field.” 
I have seen community “dance murals,” heard “word murals,” and witnessed artists holding up postcard-sized paintings that they called murals. What is going on here? It is this: community murals are primarily social. They exist at the interface of the social and the artistic, but insofar as conservation is concerned, the key fact is to recognize that they are part of an ongoing social process. We use the word community for this social field in which community murals exist. It refers to the daily audience of the mural as well as to its producers and to the painting itself. This combination, whose interests generated the mural (otherwise it is not a community mural), is the most important aspect of any conservation project. However, the fact is that over time people in communities, including artists, change their attitudes, their likes and dislikes. Their murals reflect this variability, this dynamism. This changeability presents unique problems for conservators. So for community mural conservation, the most important factors are the determinant social contexts surrounding each mural, the complex social field of which the mural is a dynamic acrylic symbol. 
Many murals preserve marginalized or devalued histories specific to particular locations that have become recognized as significant to the broader society. It is unclear to me whether or not civic and government agencies, other institutional bureaucracies, or, indeed, the conservation community itself fully understand and share this priority. This situation is one reason that collaboration is essential in the conservation of community murals. For conservators, conservation of murals requires a different approach than usual. The traditional conservator’s job has been to conserve a static object, but community murals are not static—or they are, but only in a very limited sense. 
This observation does not mean that conservators have no role in the restoration of community works. Conservators bring vast technical knowledge to any project, expertise that is invaluable to any successful conservation. The fact is, many muralists and communities would like a conservator to do the work with no changes in imagery. If there are no problems, fine. Obviously, collaboration among “the community” and its artists and conservators (and others) is the optimum basis of successful community mural preservation. But problems can arise. Differences between accepted conservators’ practices and a community muralist can be determined and then resolved only in conjunction with the community, as described below. The roles of the several participants in a proposed conservation project must be reconceived in light of a community mural’s distinctive characteristics—that is, considered not merely as an art object but, most importantly, as part of a social process. The conservation of a painted surface must conserve the social, creative process of the original work as well as the painting itself. I will use a new word for this: sociocreative. With community murals, the goal of conservation is to preserve the entire sociocreative project.

Read more essays, proceedings, research about conservation at the Getty Conservation Institute:

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