LONDON, ENGLAND.-The prestigious £10,000 Student Conservator of the Year Award was presented to MA student Katey-Mary Twitchett and Northumbria University by Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, at the Tenth Anniversary celebration of the Conservation Awards held at the British Museum. The Award highlights the achievements of student conservators and the high standards of UK conservation training courses.
In congratulating Katey-Mary, Dr Thurley said "English Heritage is keen to encourage excellence in conservation. This ground-breaking project reminds us that conservation is not confined to the care of historic objects, but must also address the preservation of contemporary works, which are no less important for being newcomers to our cultural heritage."
The winning project was a study of the hyper-realist sculptures of Ron Mueck. Mueck's works, which include "Ghost", a tall female figure recently exhibited at Tate Britain, faithfully reproduce every detail of the human body down to individual hairs and blemishes, in larger than life-size figures. His fragile sculptures are much in demand for exhibitions but handling them in transit is complicated and risky. Once on display, the sculptures are rarely protected and can readily suffer damage.
Katey-Mary developed a special interest in the care and conservation of modern art during her MA course at Northumbria . Her research focused on whether, as they aged, the appearance of Mueck's works would be altered so much that the realistic illusion central to his work would be destroyed. The artist agreed to work with Katey-Mary, who researched his techniques and the materials used to create his pieces. These include polyester resins and silicone rubbers, which together with a range of pigments were tested to measure the deterioration caused by light. Using an accelerated light-ageing technique, Katey-Mary showed that noticeable yellowing took place after the equivalent of 32 years' exposure in a museum.
The study has highlighted important conservation issues to be considered in creating, displaying and preserving contemporary works. Her results alerted Ron Mueck to the risk that the appearance of his sculptures could be markedly altered over time. He commented, "Before meeting Katey-Mary, I was much more vaguely aware of the question of the longevity of modern plastic materials. As a result of her project, some of my concerns relating to the materials I work with have been confirmed and brought into focus. She has provided me with a definitive list of requirements for the handling, presentation and storage of my works in the future."
Liz Forgan OBE, Chair of the judges, described the project as "inspiring work which has made a real contribution to the understanding of materials used in contemporary artworks. Over time, museums and galleries will undoubtedly need answers to the questions Katey-Mary has begun to ask. The judges were tremendously impressed by her personal commitment to the conservation of contemporary art and the way she engaged with the artist. She is already an asset to her chosen profession and an outstanding Student Conservator of the Year."