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Living artworks push boundaries of conservation

By Leanne Coleman

Claire Anna Watson, Untitled 3, 2012, strawberries and cream lollies, Perspex, silica gel, synthetic turf, glue. Courtesy of the artist Claire Anna Watson, Untitled 3, 2012, strawberries and cream lollies, Perspex, silica gel, synthetic turf, glue. Courtesy of the artist

Artworks created from living plants and lollies will feature in an exhibition opening at the Charles Darwin University Art Gallery this week that aims to challenge stereotypes surrounding the conservation of art.

“Made to last: the conservation of art” challenges the notion that the conservation of art is commonly associated with the restoration of 17th Century easel paintings or marble sculptures from antiquity.

NETS Victoria guest curator Sherryn Vardy said the exhibition would feature a series of works by artists who use a variety of complex materials ranging from cacti to strawberries and cream lollies.

“Materials used in contemporary art have challenged the perception and necessitated a shift in the way conservators interact with artists,” Ms Vardy said. “Contemporary artists use traditional, modern and sometimes unconventional materials for a variety of reasons and many of them push the boundaries of art conservation.

“Visitors can expect to see a variety of artwork created from unique objects such as cacti on shelves by Ghostpatrol and video work and installation using raspberry lollies and strawberries and cream in a perspex box by Claire Anna Watson. There will also be neon works and master woodblock prints by Brook Andrew, altered ceramics by Penny Byrne, paintings and anamorphic works by Juan Ford.”

As a curator and conservator, Ms Vardy knows only too well the complexities of dealing with precious artwork.  As part of the exhibition Ms Vardy interviewed each artist about the future conservation of their artworks.

“It is always important to work alongside the artists to find out their thoughts on how their works might change over time or be replicated,” she said. “Particularly when you are dealing with food that may spoil or plants that may die, but also with more traditional materials, such as paper which can yellow over time. Some artists, such as Ghostpatrol see certain artworks changing as part of the life of the work, and some such as Claire Anna Watson understand that not all of their artwork is made to last.”

In the first week of the exhibition, Ms Vardy and some of the artists will deliver floor talks that explore methods of conservation including the behaviour of materials over time and techniques used to preserve and document work for the future.

The exhibition also features a selection of works from the CDU Art Collection and related loan works.

The exhibition will be open to the public from 10 April to 27 June in the CDU Art Gallery, Ground Floor, Building Orange 12, Casuarina campus. Visiting hours are 10am to 4pm or by appointment. Floor talks by artists, curators and conservators will take place in the gallery from Thursday, April 10 to Saturday, April 12. For more information visit W:

This is a NETS Victoria exhibition in partnership with the Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation at the University of Melbourne and supported by Latrobe Regional Gallery. A comprehensive online resource featuring background information, learning guide and interviews can be viewed at W: