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Disruptive conservation: challenging conservation orthodoxy

Sweetnam, Ellie and Henderson, Jane ORCID: 2022. Disruptive conservation: challenging conservation orthodoxy. Studies in Conservation 67 (1-2) , pp. 63-71. 10.1080/00393630.2021.1947073

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This paper takes the position that our current treatments that involve infilling with a neutral rather than matched colour are deceptive to the viewer and that such deliberate mediation through the act of conservation can deny the viewer an authentic understanding of the heritage object. Governing guidelines and documents describe authenticity as the alignment of the object and its story but for some practitioners the concept remains tied to originality. Authenticity could be considered a fluid concept as it is built via the individual relationship between object and viewer. Many of the default approaches to conservation fail to address the fluidity embodied in the object and its representation of the passage of time. A lack of examination into the inherent biases of our work defends the status quo within our museums under a cloak of neutrality. Disruptive conservation is proposed as a challenge, exemplified by a jarring visible mend. It is an approach designed to disturb complacency. It calls upon analysis of our biases and challenges the consequences of freezing the meanings of our conserved objects. Placing the process of disruptive conservation into treatment dialogues enables conservators to account for the object’s journey in how their intervention is portrayed. It stops the object existing simply as a representation of the past and allows it to continue its evolution. The question ‘Why don’t I make this fill in hot pink?’ is offered as a catalyst for an appraisal of an object’s place and context without assuming or imposing a fake neutrality.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: History, Archaeology and Religion
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
Uncontrolled Keywords: conservation authenticity pink gapfill ethics
Additional Information: This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (
Publisher: Routledge
ISSN: 0039-3630
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 14 July 2021
Date of Acceptance: 20 June 2021
Last Modified: 07 Nov 2023 04:08

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