"It definitely isn’t easy to preserve the artworks." - Interview with Siukku Nurminen
Mobius is a fellowship programme organised by the Finnish Institute in London and the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York that enables mobility for visual arts, museum and archives professionals. In the Institute’s new series of interviews the fellows compare the different circumstances and practices between their sending and receiving cities.
The Finnish Institute in London interviewed one of the participants of the programme, Senior Conservator from the contemporary art museum Kiasma, Siukku Nurminen, about conservation and mobility.
Tell us about your work at the museum?
I work at the National Gallery and am placed at the contemporary art museum Kiasma, which is part of the National Gallery in Finland. In a contemporary art museum, the conservation work is mostly preventive. It means that we don’t have to concentrate on the repairing works. Instead we are thinking of best ways to keep the artworks for the future. We focus on storing, packaging, handling, transportation and what kind of conditions all of this is done at. We also make lots of inspections regarding the state of the artworks. Every single artwork that comes to Kiasma is examined when it arrives and, if it is an exhibition piece or a borrowed piece,, also when it leaves. New acquisitions are inspected in a more detailed manner and the artist is often interviewed in order to get information on the work process and the materials used.
Could you tell us more about preventive conservation?
Preventive conservation is essential as Kiasma is a contemporary art museum. We occasionally do some conservation, but mostly we concentrate on the future of the artworks. For example light is usually destructive to art works, which is why all of the collection spaces are usually dark and we have to consider the amount of light that each piece gets in a long run. The moisture and temperature of the air are also things that we have to take to account. We also need to take into account what kind of vehicles in which artworks are transported. Preventive conservation is a very wide area of practise. It also includes the training of staff.
What have you been working on during your two-month Mobius exchange?
My main task has been taking care of loans. I have mainly worked for Tate Britain but my tasks have also included exhibition inspections at Tate Liverpool. I have also worked with the artworks from Tate Modern and surveyed artworks that will be placed at the new annex building. I have been able to test the new laser cleansing system. My tasks have been very versatile. I have been allowed to work very independently and without supervision. In that sense it feels like I would have already worked here for longer than I actually have.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on Yves Tanguy’s painting called A Thousand Times. This is a new purchase to the collections. When I first started working on this piece, I took a photo and made a condition report of it. Then I made some minor repair works and a colour consolidation. After that I made a new condition report. By comparing these two you can see which issues have been dealt with. I’ve also filled a questionnaire about condition of the backside of the painting, canvas and frame. The old backside of the painting has been taken apart and we’ve gotten rid of the old cardboard. All of this information is then taken to the collection management system.
Are there big differences with conservation in Britain and in Finland?
Not really, the ways of working are very similar. This profession and work is international. I received my education in Finland, but it’s normal that conservators share knowledge internationally. All of our literature is international and so are the conferences and networks. We all use pretty much the same materials and techniques. I don’t think that anyone is surprised by the ways we work in Finland.
During your career you have worked with artworks from very different times. What kind of art do you prefer working with?
It is definitely most interesting to deal with contemporary art. I actually have three degrees in conservation and two of them are in contemporary art. Contemporary art is so versatile, challenging and also surprising. I originally specialised in paintings, but already during the studies we had to learn how to handle sculptures and paper based artworks too. And even painting is not the same anymore. Sometimes it’s hard to say if a work of art is a painting, a sculpture or an installation. Artists are using a variety of materials and mix different methods. In the collections of Kiasma we have all kinds of works of art. This and the fact that the artists are usually alive, makes the field distinct, exceptional and alive.
You said that artists making contemporary art are often trying different techniques. What does it mean in terms of conservation?
It definitely isn’t always easy the preserve the artworks. That is why preventive conservation is so important. There are certain things that will eventually break down. Decomposing of plastic is one of the things that the whole world of conservators is fighting against. Laws of physics can’t be fought against forever. That is why the term lifecycle has been taken to use in contemporary arts. That term was not used with old art, even though there are old art works that have come to the end of their lifecycles.
What has your working experience at Tate Britain been like and what has it given to you?
This has been a huge opportunity. It’s quite rare to change your place of employment at my age, so I feel that it is a great chance to get to experience something like this. Usually all the exchanges are meant for younger people. I think, that with this experience I have different basis for seeing things and taking them home with me. Young people are worth investing on, but so are older people. These fellowships are extremely important. All this needs support and in this case this opportunity has been possible because of the Mobius -programme of the Finnish Institute in London.