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Distributed for Bard Graduate Center

Conserving Active Matter

Considers the future of conservation and its connection to the human sciences. 

This volume brings together the findings from a five-year research project that seeks to reimagine the relationship between conservation knowledge and the humanistic study of the material world. The project, “Cultures of Conservation,” was supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and included events, seminars, and an artist-in-residence. 

The effort to conserve things amid change is part of the human struggle with the nature of matter. For as long as people have made things and kept things, they have also cared for and repaired them. Today, conservators use a variety of tools and categories developed over the last one hundred and fifty years to do this work, but in the coming decades, new kinds of materials and a new scale of change will pose unprecedented challenges. Looking ahead to this moment from the perspectives of history, philosophy, materials science, and anthropology, this volume explores new possibilities for both conservation and the humanities in the rethinking of active matter.

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Table of Contents

Series Editor’s Preface


Introduction / Peter N Miller

1. Chapter Title Soon Kai Poh

I. Materials
2. Introduction: Charting Historical Paradigms of Inorganic Activity through the Lens of Glass, Bronze, and Ultramarine Diseases/ Jennifer Mass
3. Contextualizing the Installation of Tania Brugera’s Untitled (Havana 2000) / Chris McGlinchey
4. Moving beyond the binaries: exploring the active matter of metal soaps in paint/
Francesca Casadio
5. Characterizing the Immaterial: Non-Invasive Imaging and Analysis of Stephen Benton’s Engine no. 9/ Marc Walton, Pengxiao Hao, Marc Vermeulen, Florian Willomitzer, and Oliver Cossairt
6. Making Meiji Red: Semiotic Activity in the Colors of Japanese Woodblock Prints, 1864-1900/ Marco Leona and Henry D. Smith II

II. History
7. Introduction: Conserving Active Matter and the Historian’s Craft/ Ittai Weinryb
8. Active matter in Presocratic thought?/ André Laks
9. Living Matter: A Philosophical Aberration or a Very Old Belief?/ Guido Giglioni
10. Oak, chalk and flint – rood screens and churches/ Spike Bucklow
11. Bread and Wine, Body and Blood/ Lee Palmer Wandel

III. Indigenous Ontologies
12. Introduction: Indigenous Ontologies of Active Matter / Aaron Glass
13. Living Knowledge in Cultural Collections/ Sven Haakanson
14. “The Orator’s Dilemma: Wampum as Material, Media, Medicine, and Memory”/
Jamie Jacobs
15. “Always Becoming Better Stewards: Caring for Collections at the National Museum of the American Indian”/ Kelly McHugh
16. Titiro Whakamuri Kokiri Whakamua| “Look back and reflect So you can move forward”/ Rose Evans

IV. Philosophy
17. Introduction: Active Matter: Some Initial Philosophical Considerations/ Ivan Gaskell and Anne Eaton
18. The Expressive Import of Degradation and Decay in Contemporary Art \Sherri Irvin
19. The Look of Age: Appearance and Reality/ Carolyn Korsmeyer
20. The Aesthetics of Repair/ Yuriko Saito
21. Death and Entanglement. Some thoughts about life, love and the aims of art conservation/ Alva Noë



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