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25 May 2011

Tuesday 24th May 2011; Repair Approach & Options Overview

Week 7 of 12 
Module 5: Conservation Interventions and Treatments; Criteria for Selection and Implementation

Gionata Rizzi and David Odgers both rejoined us today to give us an overview of the conservation approach and options for repair. Gionata started with the example of the famous Marcus Aurelius bronze statue which stood outside in Rome from 176AD (in Piazza del Campidoglio, Rome, since 1538AD). In the 1980s it was considered to be deteriorating but what was the most appropriate solution to this problem; leave it outside? Bring it inside? Protect it in situ with a shelter? Remove it and replace it with a modern sculpture? Remove it and replace it with a replica? The result of the debates that went on were to move the original inside and to replace it with a replica (see photographs below). Was this the correct decision?

Gionata Rizzi with his likeness Marcus Aurelius (the genuine original sculpture) debating the options of how to protect the famous sculpture.

The replica of the bronze Marcus Aurelius sculpture which is in place in Piazza del Campidoglio.

When undertaking conservation work we have the debate as to what are the most important values of a structure. Does appearance come before function or function before appearance? When we are working outside our own countries or cultures it is also essential that we fully understand what a structure means to the local people. I believe it was Simon Warrack who gave us an example recently of a sculpture of a God within a temple which had lost 3 of it's 8 arms which are essential for its correct representation. We may debate that it's incorrect to 'restore' this sculpture with new arms, however the key value of this sculpture is related to its form and not it's history and therefore in this case it may be considered appropriate to carry out the restoration. David listed the four main values that we assign to historic structures which are historical, evidential, aesthetic and communal. The order in which these are put will vary from project to project and from person to person.

We had a discussion on the values of 'reversibility' which is increasingly documented in charters as what we should always be aiming to achieve with conservation work. The general feeling seems to be that although this may be a desirable quality it is rarely achievable. The argument may be better if we aim for 'compatibility' rather than 'reversibility'. The use of organic resins is considered to be reversible because technically they can be dissolved, however in practice it is almost impossible to fully remove them from a stone. 

When we do proceed with conservation work one of the most important things for us to do as conservators is to record everything. A condition report and schedule of works should be written for someone else in 50 years time and who may never have visited the site, therefore details which may seem obvious to us must still be recorded. It is essential that in such records we always use the cardinal points (N, S, E, W) for locations because we do not know how the surrounding environment or position or a structure or object may change before our documentation will be revisited. 

When making the decisions about repairs on a historic structure we must remember that it may well be several decades before this type of work is carried out again and therefore we need to consider future preventative measures as well as solutions for present issues. David presented us with a very interesting case and not one with an easy answer; if you have a ruin where much of the stonework is heavily decayed, what is the best solution? Potential answers include; do nothing, replace the stonework following the original profile (see image below), replace the stonework following the current profile, falsely weather the stone to blend in with the present masonry... Here we need to consider many different values including form, function, material etc. To guide us to an answer we need to consider; what we know (e.g. current condition), what we think we know (e.g. the likely effect of our treatment/repair) and what we don't know (e.g. what conditions, use and maintenance will occur in future).

David Odgers asking us how we would carry out this repair on heavily weathered stonework.

Below is a quote from Donald Rumsfeld (former US Secretary of Defence) shown to us by David, which although on a different subject sums up very nicely the issues we face in conservation.

Donald Rumsfeld 2002. 

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