Combining insights from the conservation of large technology and kinetic art

Research output: Contribution to conference (non-published works)Paper


Technology objects are predominantly utilitarian – while creativity is embodied in their design and the solutions they bring to technical challenges, their fundamental purpose is to make things physically easier for people. Artworks, by contrast, are explicitly made for more reflective purposes; to be beautiful, or inspirational, or to challenge old ideas and get people thinking in new ways. There are certainly crossovers: many technological items are beautiful, clever and awe-inspiring in their design and inspire both artistic responses and further technological innovation, and artworks and artistic practices frequently provoke exploration that expands human understanding and develops new solutions to technical challenges. But mostly these areas of human endeavour are seen as being very separate.

Yet for all their differences, as heritage artefacts they present some very similar challenges, especially when they are large and durable in design and manufacture. These items have long lives in the human world, during which they change both as a result of the decay of their materials, and because of the changes wrought by different owners, who alter them to meet changing needs and fashions. Kinetic artworks in particular – those that incorporate some moving part or image – must have parts repaired and replaced if they are to continue to perform and be made displayable at different venues, and in this they are very like their technological counterparts. As parts are renewed and modes of operation updated, both kinetic artworks and technology objects raise the same questions about how to understand the essence and authenticity of the object in the face of change.

Traditional conservation methods emphasise the prevention of material change, which is typically equated with physical damage or degradation of authenticity. Applying museum conservation ethics to inherently changeable objects is therefore problematic. Indeed, applying traditional conservation approaches can actively drive the loss of change-based experiences of moving objects that are arguably more important for authenticity than the original physical material of the object.

The professional and private communities who look after functional technology and artworks share these dilemmas, and it would be beneficial to both communities to share their expertise. To start this process it is useful to examine the work done in the art world to understand change and changeability as an essential part of functional objects, and to recognise the loss of intangible and sensory heritage that occurs when their ability to move and change is degraded. These understandings are informing new decision-making frameworks, providing theoretical underpinnings for practical conservation approaches that permit change in the material of the object to preserve authenticity in the experience of the object.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusUnpublished - 12 Sept 2019
EventBig Stuff 2019: Preserving large industrial objects in a changing environment - Katowice, Katowice, Poland
Duration: 11 Sept 201913 Sept 2019


ConferenceBig Stuff 2019


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