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Tru Vue Blog: Towards a Flexible Future, managing time-based media artworks in collections

Eliza Penrose ACR is Head Conservator at the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. Eliza was awarded a Tru Vue grant to attend “Towards a Flexible Future, managing time-based media artworks in collections” conference which was organised and hosted by The Art Gallery of New South Wales earlier in June 2019. 


When we found out that we had been offered places on the ‘Towards a Flexible Future, managing time-based media artworks in collections’ conference, my colleague Louisa Vowles (Assistant Registrar) and I were thrilled. Having recently embarked on our own Time-Based Art Project the timing could not have been better. With just standard end-user computer stills and coming from a materials conservation background it certainly be a daunting task getting to grips with caring for digital and software based artworks.

1_0.jpg​​Panel discussion between AGNSW curator, installation team members, and conservator, on the installation of “A Connective Reveal – Land’ 2019 by Robert Andrew which includes 3D printing equipment and software – seen in the background.

The conference was put together by the Art Gallery of New South Wales and held there over 4 intensive and inspiring days and was attended by delegates from 15 different institutions from across New Zealand, Australia, and Hong Kong. There were 2 representatives from each institution, with various combinations of Collections Managers, Conservators, Registrars, Curators, and Technicians.

There were presentations from several AGNSW staff, including Asti Sherring, the very first Time-Based Art Conservator in Australia, and we were very lucky to hear from special guest speakers including artist Daniel von Sturmer, and Louise Lawson (Conservation Manager, Sculpture & Time-Based Media) and Patricia Falcão (Time-based Media Conservator) from the Tate.

2_0.jpg​​​Panel discussion between (L-R) Justin Paton (Head of International Art, AGNSW), Carolyn Murphy (Head of Conservation, AGNSW), Bernice Murphy (Curator of Contemporary Art, AGNSW and Curator, Chief Curator, then Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney), Agatha Gothe Snape (Artist), Daniel von Sturmer (Artist), Louise Lawson (Conservation Manager, Tate, London), Stephen Jones (Artist, Technician and Author)

We were so impressed by the level of work, detail, professionality, research, commitment and history of the speakers and the projects that they have been involved in. They delivered over 18 separate sessions, over 32 hours - on every aspect of care of Time-Based Art. It was a great privilege to have the opportunity to connect with and learn from this group of international colleagues.

Just some of the many highlights and talking points were:

  • Hearing different the perspectives of our common cause. The speakers included curators, registrars, technicians, conservators, and artists, and whilst the viewpoints were varied it was clear that all were passionate about the importance of caring for these artworks, and that working together is an essential part of this
  • The scope of work that needs to be done is vast, and the level of responsibility we have to care for TBA collections is daunting but we must start somewhere and doing something is better than doing nothing.
  • We cannot be expected to suddenly become technical experts, but we can work on attaining a level of technical skills which will allow us to make informed decisions, and develop relationships with professionals who can provide a deeper level of expertise
  • Learning from experience. It was really important to hear about the experiences of people who have already done so much great work, their successes and setbacks.
  • Where do we go from here? By the end of the week there was real enthusiasm to maintain the momentum, to find ways to: make training available where needed, disseminate information, and keep a forum for discussion open.

We have arrived back at work with lots of great information and ideas to help move our project forward, and plenty to think about. We look forward to being able to share some of these with you at the NZCCM National Conference in Christchurch in October.  

I am very grateful to be the recipient of an Icon Tru Vue Grant which helped to enable my attendance of this conference. A big thank you to Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū for supporting me at this conference, as well I am indebted to AGNSW staff Asti Sherring (TBA Conservator), Carolyn Murphy (Head of Conservation) and Jesmond Calleja (Collection Systems Manager) for their generosity in their assistance for our project and for organising such a fantastic conference.


Lead image, Creative Commons

​Images 1 and 2, Eliza Penrose ©


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