The collections of S.M.A.K. and Design Museum Ghent were recently examined by members of the research project ‘Know, Name and Assess your Plastics’. It was an opportunity for the museums to gain a better insight into the different types of plastic within the collections and the condition of the works in question. Thanks to this knowledge, the objects can be better preserved.
Artworks in all kinds of plastic from S.M.A.K.’s core collection were identified and condition checked. During a project week, the conservators at S.M.A.K. worked alongside the project staff in order to acquire the necessary skills to be able to continue on their own. In the long run, the intention is to subject all collection works containing plastics to such an examination.
‘Lustrerie Média’ by Guillaume Bijl, an installation containing over seventy lamps, many of which are (partly) in plastic, turned out to be the ideal piece for learning how to recognise the material. Various components, such as cables, plugs, switches, fittings and lampshades, occur throughout this work. For this reason, the installation served as an excellent study object for this project. The large number of similar elements made it easier to learn how to identify specific materials and to investigate their properties, changing characteristics and typical damage phenomena.
Plastics are initially identified through sensory perception. Many plastics have a typical smell, sound or texture. Together with information about their origin, how they have been applied, their age and details supplied by the artist, it is often possible to acquire the necessary knowledge for adequate preservation or possible restoration. The advantage of this method, as opposed to taking samples for analysis, is that artworks do not have to be ‘damaged’ and can therefore remain intact.