Isak Wacklin: Miss Heckford, 1757, Oil on canvas (detail), Finnish National Gallery, A II 1439. Photo: Finnish National Gallery, Conservation Department.

The Lifespan of Artworks Between the Earth and the World

Ari Tanhuanpää, PhD, Senior Conservator, Finnish National Gallery, Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Helsinki

This article is based on the lecture given at the ‘Object Biographies, Second International Artefacta Conference’, organised by Artefacta, The Finnish Network for Artefact Studies, in collaboration with the Finnish Antiquarian Society and Nordic Association of Conservators in Finland, held at the House of Science and Letters, Helsinki 2–3 March 2018

When browsing through a book by a Belgian art historian Roger H. Marijnissen, entitled Dégradation, conservation et restauration de l´œuvre d´art (1967) a phrase caught my attention and began to haunt me:

Il est parfois difficile, voire impossible de faire une nette distinction entre l´usure et la patine. [1]

This translates in English as: ‘It is sometimes difficult, or even impossible, to make a sharp distinction between effacement and patina.’ This led me to ponder such questions as time, which, as Aristotle stated (Physics, 217b) ‘is that which is not’, or is only ‘barely and scarcely’[2], and the working of the artwork which transcends its materiality. The fundamental question of my paper is, however: can we really draw a strict demarcation line between life and death?[3]

[1] R.-H. Marijnissen. Dégradation, conservation et restauration de l´œuvre d´art (Bruxelles: Éditions Arcade, 1967), 168–69.

[2] Jacques Derrida. ‘Ousia and Grammē: Note on a Note from Being and Time.’ In Margins of Philosophy. Translated, with Additional Notes, by Alan Bass (Brighton: The Harvester Press, 1982), 39.

[3] Derrida argued that ontical disciplines – such as biology and anthropology – ‘naively put into operation more or less clear conceptual presuppositions (Vorbegriffe) about life and death’. Jacques Derrida. Aporias. Transl. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1993), 29.

Featured image: How much usure can an artwork endure? Isak Wacklin, Miss Heckford, 1757 (detail), oil on canvas , Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery, Conservation Department

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