To replace or not to replace? Photographic material in site-specific conceptual art
Sanneke Stigter, in: Preprints of the 14th ICOM-CC Triennial Meeting 2005 Den Haag, Vol. pp. 365-370Abstract
This paper discusses the issue of replacement of photographic material in (conceptual) installation art in relation to a site-specific character, illustrated by an installation by Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Glass (1965) and a sculpture by Ger van Elk, The Wider, the Flatter (1972). A lot of questions arise when these matters are discussed and contradicting opinions become apparent. These different views combined with art historical research gradually lead up to the decision-making process of possible conservation treatments and a guideline to re-installation as part of the EU-funded research project ‘Preservation and Presentation of Installation Art’.
Photography is often used by conceptual artists because of the objective and mechanical nature of the medium, which suits their ideas. The desired possibility of endless reproduction inherent to the technique liberates the image from the personal touch of the artist. Interestingly enough the ethics of conservation are based on the unique quality of an artwork, including the original materials, which seems to contradict the idea of conceptual art.
When photography is used in modern art, conservation problems are likely to arise because of its vulnerability and insufficient preventive conservation measures. When photography is used in installation art additional difficulties may arise, especially when non-material matter determines the meaning of the artwork. When on top of that a site-specific context is part of it and the installation guidelines are not defined precisely, it is likely that future conservation or installation problems will arise. These are all issues that are subject of investigation in relation to an installation by Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Glass (1965) and a sculpture by Ger van Elk, The Wider, the Flatter (1972) which will be dealt with during the EU-funded research project ‘Preservation and Presentation of Installation Art’.