School of Historical and Philosophical Studies - Theses

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    Art in the making: Mirka Mora’s techniques and materials, and their meaning in conservation
    COTTE, SABINE ( 2016)
    The study of an individual artist’s practice and agency is central to the conservation of contemporary art. The oeuvre of French-born Australian artist Mirka Mora (b. 1928), with an artistic production spanning more than sixty years, presents a range of contemporary conservation challenges ranging from the breadth of materials and diverse technical approaches to the preservation of access and use of the works. Mora moved to Australia in 1951 and became a major figure in Melbourne’s social and artistic history. Arguing that an understanding of the significance of materials and the agency of the artist is essential for art conservation, this research explores Mora’s choices in artistic materials and her idiosyncratic modes of making, in close collaboration with the artist, with access to her studio and private diaries. This material-based focus brings a unique perspective to Mora’s oeuvre, highlighting the place of her creative processes within their social and artistic context. While embracing the whole of Mora’s oeuvre, the research project places special emphasis on her production of soft sculptures, which to date have not been studied but are beginning to show signs of damage from ageing. The methods of research combine oral history with detailed analysis of primary and secondary sources, visual examination of works of art and the making of replicas with regular feedback from the artist. Adopting methods of qualitative analysis from social sciences, the thesis also takes inspiration from material culture studies to examine the relationships between Mora’s techniques and the broader context of twentieth-century feminism, the craft movement, public art policies and practice. Mora’s sense of performative dress, her way of communicating by using material culture, or by sharing her modes of art making with her students during her long teaching career, as well as her innovative twists on conventional techniques, all participate in the building of her artistic identity. These concepts of tradition, knowledge, emotion, gender and innovation, are all embedded in Mora’s various working processes, and traceable in the material envelope of her works. Investigating the meaning of materials from a conservation perspective, the thesis examines various models of decision-making currently in use in the profession, and how these frameworks can be applied to the new knowledge acquired on Mora’s materials and techniques. Applying these models into practice, the thesis makes recommendations regarding the conservation of Mora’s works, and examines three artist-sanctioned case studies focused on the conservation of soft sculptures to provide a wider perspective of these works. This research highlights the importance and the limitations of conservators’ collaborations with artists. It demonstrates how conservation can enhance viewers’ interactions with works of art, illuminate the skills that are brought into play in their making, and contribute to a broader access to them in present and future. Demonstrating the key role of conservation research that acknowledges the theoretical underpinning of the social sciences, this thesis illustrates the changing face of conservation in contemporary period, and the changing role of conservators in contemporary art.
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    Tibetan thangka paintings: conserving a living religious heritage in Australia
    COTTE, SABINE ( 2010)
    Tibetan scrolls paintings or thangkas are present in public and private Australian collections. Religious ritual objects in their original context, thangkas are considered from a different perspective in Australia and the Western world: from sacred objects they become artworks in their new context. Conservation of thangkas is much more than a technical challenge posed by the diversity of materials present (painting on cloth, textile, wood and metal). In a holistic view of conservation, it encompasses an understanding of their original context and significance and an assessment of their value in their original culture. This relates thangkas to the broader theme of conservation of sacred objects originating from another culture, and our relationship with these objects. The thesis explores conservation of thangkas from the different perspectives of the Australian conservation professionals and collectors, and of the contemporary Tibetan Buddhists. It reviews the current attitudes, existing conservation codes of practices and publications about conservation of sacred objects, as well as the existing literature about conservation of thangkas. The thesis states that although thangkas are treated with the highest standards of conservation, their religious aspect is acknowledged but not addressed, in spite of existing concerns in the literature in the last 30 years. The issue is not specific to thangkas, and has been addressed for many sacred objects from pre-colonised cultures; existing frameworks for conservation of sacred objects from Indigenous cultures in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and USA provide useful models that could be adapted to the conservation of thangkas. Conservation of living religious heritage requires flexibility of conservation ethical standards and their adaptation to the needs of the users. This thesis argues that engaging with contemporary cultural groups and including the religious significance of thangkas into the conservation process is part of the mission of conservators. This mission goes beyond the traditional boundaries of conservation to include the development of a respectful dialogue with the users of the objects, in a constant questioning of the social relevance of our profession.