BEYOND THE MATERIAL: IDEA, CONCEPT, PROCESS, AND THEIR FUNCTION IN THE CONSERVATION OF THE CONCEPTUAL ART OF MIKE PARR
With Parr's work the point of aesthetic interest often takes place in an area of tension, and this tension is often exhibited through materials degradation, so I asked Parr: “How much do you think that you should seek that out [“the tension of that disaster,” as he calls it] and how much does explanation of the importance of that tension, as part of the archiving, become part of your modus operandi?” And by implication, that of the conservator.
Well, because you're talking about systems that are completely open and insist this is their form, it's important to try and give an account of that openness. Then all of these conversations that I might have and everything that I write down about them is only a part of the process of the dialogue that this openness can precipitate. So it's not exhaustive in any sense. There's always a kind of domain of implication and inference that has to be completed by someone else, since that's the point at which the works cross that membrane between self and other, self and culture. But the important thing I really would want to say is that the relationship between self and other, and self and culture in order to be meaningful must remain dynamic, so it's very important that we continue to talk to museum people and curators and conservators and everyone to do with the support structure, because they've got to take that on board, and the physical problems that the work has is simply the work being like a child, staying alive by calling out. It's making inconvenient noises, but these are signs of life. (Parr and Sloggett 1991).
For a conservator, schooled and skilled in the preservation of the object, the need to establish a modus operandi based on the object was overwhelming, so I said to Parr: “Even if you are an intellectual craftsman, I don't think you should ever be able to turn your back on the need to be able to craft as competently as possible, whether that's with the object or intellectually, and I think that's the mark of a good artist, that they're crafting competently somewhere.”
Parr replied: “Yes, but conceptual artists try to craft competently at the level of meaning, and their meanings are dependent for their vitality on the provisionality of their construct, so good craftsmanship in their case would be tantamount to bad craftsmanship.”
I insisted: “Well, it depends on the tools, doesn't it?”
Parr replied: “No, it depends on the problem of meaning” (Parr and Sloggett 1991).
The author would like to thank Mike Parr for his time and effort in explaining and discussing his work and his thoughts on the role of conservation, and for reading and commenting on drafts on this topic. Anna Schwarz Gallery, the artist's dealer, has been particularly helpful in providing access to written and photographic material, and for providing the photographs accompanying this text. The reviewers and associate editors of JAIC have provided valuable criticism and insightful comments on this article, and the author is very grateful for their contribution and support.