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Subject: Artist's books

Artist's books

From: Robert J. Milevski <milevski>
Date: Friday, July 8, 1994
One dichotomy facing both curators and conservators is artists intent
versus conservation.  If the artist intended for the piece/object/etc.
to self-destruct, either sooner or later, is it ethical for curators and
conservators to go against this intent by forcing/placing conservation
(and use/accessibility) above it?  (This brings up the issue of whether
the object should be purchased at all for the collection if the intent
is known and there is little likelihood that the item can be preserved
without deterioration or destruction taking place within a short time
regardless of efforts to preserve it as completely as possible.)  This
issue came up in slightly different form within the last year or two
with the novel on a computer disc which self-destructed after one
use/reading.  It is realistic to suppose that sometimes the curator or
conservator does not know the artists intent when an item comes into the
collection and proceeds as normal, going into standard operating
preservation procedure.  Does ignorance of artists intent then provide a
platform for (futile) preservation efforts of intentionally
self-destructing pieces of art?

Regarding the original query.  Acid-free (and perhaps buffered)
interleaving paper cut to the size of the pages(?) would assist in the
slowing down the off-setting of one item to the adjacent one on the
facing page, but it would surely not stop and prevent the ultimate
self-destruction of what seems the very short-lived items within the
"books".  Also, boxing the items individually may help protect them,
especially if some extra loose layers of acid-free paper were inserted
into the box.  Storing the item in a cool and dry environment will also
help.  Any type of deacidification would be out of the question, as
would any washing of the items to reduce acidity. The main problem is
that the item(s) is a composite of many items/objects/substances, each
with its own set of preservation challenges.  The homemade ink is
another set of problems altogether, an area few folks know enough about.
Ultimately, you must rely on luck, sensitive use, and appropriate
storage.  You can also probably assume that your preservation efforts
are inversely related to the artists intent because the items are so
ephemeral.  You are fighting a losing battle, although, if some of
these books have survived since 1910, who's to say that they won't last
another 100 years or two with the parameters I have described above.

Robert J. Milevski
Preservation Librarian
Princeton University Libraries
One Washington Road
Princeton, New Jersey 08544
Fax: 609-258-4105 or -5571

                   Conservation DistList Instance 8:6
                   Distributed: Sunday, July 10, 1994
                        Message Id: cdl-8-6-004
Received on Friday, 8 July, 1994

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