Title: Cases of What? On Mapping the Middle Range.
Speaker: Renée van de Vall, Extraordinary Professor Art and Media, Maastricht University
conservation theory & ethics, case-based research, middle range theory, Science and Technology Studies
Research projects initiated within the field of contemporary art conservation, like for instance Inside Installations, tend to follow a case-based approach. Museums propose problematic art works from their collections to be investigated from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. The reason for this approach is that contemporary artworks exemplify a bewildering diversity of materials and artistic strategies. The complexity of each conservation case not only asks for a particular combination of scientific disciplines to assess and where possible solve the problems at hand, but also for an individual balancing of different types of values in deciding about conservation measures. Each work differs and necessitates asking anew what it exactly is that should be conserved and which features and values are likely to survive and which risk to get lost in the conservation process. It is very difficult to stipulate common guidelines for general classes of works. Hence the more generally applicable outcomes of the projects have been the development and implementation of practical instruments to cope with the diversity: protocols for registration and documentation, decision-making models and instruments for the exchange of professional knowledge and information. When it comes to theory and ethics, however, there is still a wide gap between the general scope of conceptual reflection and the piece-meal deliberations of conservation decision-making. This lecture will address the question whether and how it would be possible to go beyond individual case descriptions, by introducing current debates in Science and Technology Studies on the possibility of constructing ‘middle range’ theories: whether looking for recurring patterns, regularities and stylistic mechanisms in conservation practices, ‘thick’, ethnographic descriptions of individual examples can enable theory construction on a more general (‘middle range’) level, in between general theory and particular case.
Wyatt, S. and Balmer, B. (2007), Home on the Range: What and Where is the Middle in Science and Technology Studies? Science, Technology, & Human Values 32, 6 Special Issue: Middle-Range Theories in Science and Technology Studies, pp. 619-626.
Renée van de Vall works as an extraordinary professor in Art & Media at the Faculty of Art and Social Sciences of Maastricht University. She is director of studies of the MA Media Culture. She has published widely on philosophical aesthetics, the phenomenology of contemporary visual art and spectatorship and the intersections between phenomenology and Actor-Network-Theory. She is programme leader of the NWO-funded projects Transformations in perception and participation: Digital games (UM and UvA) and New Strategies in the Conservation of Contemporary Art (UM, UvA and ICN).
- At the Edges of Vision. A Phenomenological Aesthetics of Contemporary Spectatorship Aldershot: Ashgate. 2008
- A Penny For Your Thoughts. Brain-scans and the Mediation of Subjective Embodiment. In R. van de Vall & R. Zwijnenberg (eds) The Body Within: Art, Medicine and Visualisation Leiden: Brill. 2009
- Towards a Theory and Ethics for the Conservation of Contemporary Art. In Art d’aujourd’hui – patrimoine de demain. Conservation et restauration des oeuvres contemporaines. 13es journées d’études de la SFIIC. Paris: Institut national du patrimoine 24-26 juin 2009 pp.51-56. 2009