Contemporary art did not stop extending in the point to admit on the principle no species neither form of limitations in particular in terms of materials, nor supports, nor techniques, nor procedures … It has become a global and intercontinental field in which an ever-increasing number of artists are performing. Since the decolonization period in Africa and to resist against the cultural globalization, may be as an unconscious search of new free acculturation identity, a lot of them continue to portray cultural traditions in their artworks with references to religious, social or cultural symbols, relationships and rituals. They are capable to use as well traditional materials and practices, mixed media and coatings, as new technologies and plastics. Furthermore, some ethnographic artefacts in a large sense (technical and scientifical objects too) are reconsidered in regard with their composite material composition and their properties, characters or (human) attachments which are erased because of their existence conditions and constraints in the museum.
For a little more than fifteen years, the ESAA conservation-restoration education and research program aims to compare the questions and problems the practice of the conservation of contemporary artworks shares with the conservation practice of ethnographic artefacts and materials, considering conservation methodology, ethics, theory and philosophy. Since Avant-garde, the artworks seem to challenge the frontiers between categories, genres and forms. Musealization of these works and ethnograpic artefacts, which originally were not conceived as durable and collectable, presents us with yet another aspect of their labile identity. In response to this situation, conservation cannot continue to argue with concerns orientated only to the artworks physical constituents and the prolongation of their existences to the future. Beyond the safe area of material analysis and objective results, there are still ethic indecisions concerning these kinds of cultural Heritage. How to recognize an artwork ? How to know or appreciate an ethnographic object? How are they received and perceived at the first time and after historical time ? Where is the centre of their authenticity ? What part can be changed while the object is preserved, and how much ? The members of the Interdisciplinar Research in and on Conservation Unit are convinced that the response to such questions cannot be envisioned without crossovers of the humanities together with conservation. Such conviction will attempt in particular to the practice of an ethno-historical inquiry from questionings which leads to the crossing of the human and social sciences and from cross-cultural varieties in the meanings of materials.
Each student research leans on an investigation the stake in which aims are to put clear both the sensitive and cognitive properties which are attributed to objects. After this prior work, he will be able to propose, best fitted to their specificities, solutions of treatment. Focusing the variety of the situations bound to the past, present, future appreciations about taken in charge objects , the students draw a way – as methodological as ethical – to think in a new perspecive conservation of ethnographic and contemporary art objects.