Inside Installations: Mapping the Studio II

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Preservation

When Letter to the Censors arrived at Tate there were a number of damages and loses. It was not clear at what stage these had occurred, but it was obvious that this work was highly vulnerable to damage both whilst on display and in transit. With works which are this fragile, the risks inherent in transit and display mean that conservation involves a high level of hands-on treatment; with the conservator on standby to nurse and repair delicate elements.

Newly designed transportation crate for Letter to the Censors

Newly designed transportation crate for
Letter to the Censors (Carta a los censores), 2003
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Detail of the model sitting in the crate

Detail of the model sitting in the crate
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Crate in transit

Crate in transit
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Packing and transport  

Two new packing cases were designed to safely store this extremely fragile work and to minimise the risk of damage occurring during transport.

After much discussion it was decided that the architectural model should be packed on its own in one crate and not be wrapped in tissue. The risk of the tissue catching and breaking the fragile details was greater than the protection offered. The model rests on foam blocks made from a stable closed-cell polyethylene designed to absorb vibration and shocks during transit. All other constituents are packed in crate two. All the small elements such as the figures and lanterns are kept in plastic boxes which are packed in a storage bin.

The electronic equipment and the metal frame with the fans are removed from equipment space inside the model and packed separately for transit.

During transit the relative humidity and temperature conditions inside the crate are monitored by Tinytag data loggers.

Due to the fragility of this object it is unlikely that the work can be moved without minor damages occurring even in the newly designed cases. In the following clip the conservator Neil Wressel discusses the difficulties in safely transporting this work.

Neil Wressell, Conservator
Describes the difficulties of transporting the work

1 mins 16 seconds

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Sound and video  

Media holdings

Media holdings
© Photo: Tate Conservation
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It is part of Tate’s standard practice for the conservation of video to hold a preservation master in an uncompressed component video format which can be migrated every 5 to 6 years onto new stock, and if necessary new formats, to ensure its long term preservation. In order to create this preservation master, Tate borrowed material from the artist. In this case the video elements had been compiled by the artist onto Mini DV but without the soundtrack. It was therefore necessary to work with the artist to ensure that the preservation master held by Tate was an accurate record of both the final video and audio.

The equipment and the cooling system  

Although the preservation master material is stored uncompressed, the exhibition format of the compiled audio and video is a compressed format called MPEG-2. MPEG-2 is the name of the compression algorithm which is also used for commercial DVDs. In Letter to the Censors the MPEG-2 files are played back using a small computer based MPEG-2 player. The projector used is a DLP projector made by DreamVision. These devices were chosen because they are small and reliable and would fit in the restricted space above the foyer.

During the operation of the projector air is circulated to cool the lamp and warm air is expelled. This caused the temperature inside the space, above the foyer, to rise. The increased temperature caused the roof to warp and the joints of the construction to open. Temperatures above 40°C also affected the electronic equipment causing it to overheat.

A Tate conservation technician, Karl Bush, carried out a series of tests in order to explore ways of lowering the temperature within the roof space which held the equipment. The cooling system which was developed consisted of seven fans intended for computers. These fans are designed to run quietly allowing the noise levels to be kept low. The fans are attached to a freestanding metal frame inside the equipment space. The roof of the cinema is positioned so that there is a small gap which allows the movement of air between the cavity and the outside.

Initially, the fans were tested with a mock up of the ceiling cavity until conservation was sure that they could achieve temperatures below 40°C. The cooling system allows the work to be displayed safely, without permanently altering the model. During the display the temperature and relative humidity (RH) are monitored with a Tinytag data logger inside the model to check that the system is working effectively. A temperature sensitive automatic switch, which will cut the power to the equipment, is currently in development and will be installed the next time the work is displayed.

Tina Weidner, Conservator,
Describes the design of the cooling system

2 mins 09 seconds

Read Transcript

Heat tests being conducted on a mock-up roof
Heat tests being conducted on a mock-up roof
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Tinytag data loggers
Tinytag data loggers
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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The finalised cooling system positioned in the equipment space
The finalised cooling system positioned in the equipment space
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Pitched roof construction above the equipment space
Pitched roof construction above the equipment space
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Temperature chart during Liverpool display
Temperature chart during the Liverpool display
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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The light boxes  

The factory-made light boxes were fabricated so that the fluorescent tubes inside the units could not be changed when they failed. The metal clips, which hold the fluorescent tubes, were bent and had been soldered to the pins at both ends of the tubes. Although the published life span of these lamps was approximately 2 and a half years some of the lamps had already failed and needed to be replaced. The solder was removed and the clips were then replaced allowing the lamps to be easily changed when necessary.

Clips soldered together, prior to treatment
Clips soldered together, prior to treatment
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Detail: light box with new clips attached
Detail: light box with new clips attached
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Detail: light box with new clips attached

Detail: light box with new clips attached
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Sculptural elements  

When the model arrived at Tate it had suffered a number of breaks and losses. Many of the loose elements were located inside the model making it necessary to dismantle some of the elements. As well as dealing with damage, a decision was made to upgrade the wiring and change the light source for the chandelier.

Dismantling the model
Dismantling the model
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Dismantling the model
Dismantling the model
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Foyer being dismantled
Foyer being dismantled
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Loosened elements during transit
Loosened elements during transit
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Chandelier  

The chandelier is made of clear plastic with separate beads and swags. Originally the chandelier was lit with a single small bulb but there were concerns about how this would be accessed when it needed to be changed. The artist was consulted and it was decided that the lighting should be ‘twinkly’. After some experimentation by Sue Shepherd of the company Neon Circus, thirty-two fibre optic strands were used as a substitute for the original bulb. An optical fibre is a thin transparent strand made of glass or plastic which transmits light along its axis by internally reflecting it. Each fibre can be clipped at any point, revealing a light beam of the same diameter as the fibre. These fibre optic strands were threaded through and around the perimeter of the chandelier. Where necessary, the fibres were tied to the chandelier with nylon thread, with the intention to position the ends of the fibres to imitate a three-tier chandelier when lit.

The brass wire, which holds the chandelier in position, is pushed through the hole in the ceiling together with the fibres and is tied around a screw next to the hole. The fibres were then connected to its light source, which is placed in the projection space allowing for easy access should the lamp fail and need to be replaced.

The chandelier was repaired using Balsa cement, a cellulose nitrate adhesive, chosen because it enabled the conservator to reattach the broken parts without applying weight. This was essential due to the chandelier's fragility.

Dismantled façade, outside
Dismantled façade, outside
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Dismantled façade, inside
Dismantled façade, inside
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Chandelier removed
Chandelier removed
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Chandelier with twinkling lights
Chandelier with twinkling lights
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Fibre optic light source
Fibre optic light source
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Brackets and lanterns 

There are twenty-nine miniature lanterns made from very thin balsa wood which hang on brass wire brackets attached to the outside of the model. Several of the brackets had become loose during transit or were lost and needed to be re-adhered or remade. Of the twenty-nine lanterns, half had been broken or had missing elements. All the loose pieces were re-fixed and missing elements were replaced using thin balsa wood which was stained with water colours to match the originals.

Brass wire bracket
Brass wire bracket
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Wooden lanterns

Wooden lanterns
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Broken brackets during transit

Re-fixing the brackets

Bracket with lanterns

Broken brackets during transit
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Re-fixing the brackets
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Bracket with lanterns
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Balustrade, finials, columns, pilasters and scaffolding 

There were numerous areas of loss and damage to the architectural details of the model. In some cases repairs could be made, whereas other elements had to be re-carved. These were carefully documented in the conservation report so it would be clear in the future which elements were original and which had been remade.

Broken elements along the balustrade

Broken elements along the balustrade
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Broken elements along the balustrade

Consolidation of the scaffolds whilst holding the broken beams with clamps

Broken beams during transit

Broken elements along the balustrade
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Consolidation of the scaffolds whilst holding the broken beams with clamps
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Broken beams during transit
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Loosened elements along the brick facing

Loosened columns along the archway, prior to treatment

Relocated columns and figures, post treatment

Loosened elements along the brick facing
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Loosened columns along the archway, prior to treatment
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Relocated columns and figures, post treatment
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Censor’s Office 

Elements within the censor’s office had become loose. The silver coins, which represent reels of film, had spilled from the shelf onto the floor. The old adhesive was removed and the ‘cans’ were arranged back onto the shelves, loosely following a pattern recorded in a photograph supplied by the artist. The adhesive used was Paraloid B72 an ethyl methacrylate copolymer.

Condition post transit

Condition post transit
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Coins being re-arranged on shelf

Coins being re-arranged on shelf
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Improving electric wiring for office lights

Improving electric wiring for office lights
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Lamps above the shelf

Lamps above the shelf
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Readagraph 

The readagraph, which displays the title of the work, the ‘director’ and the cinema’s opening hours at the front entrance, was repaired as some of the letters and the wires which are used to attach it to façade had become loose.

Readagraph which had fallen down during transit

Readagraph which had fallen down during transit
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Readagraph taken down and secured for transit

Readagraph taken down and secured for transit
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Access to the fluorescent light

Access to the fluorescent light
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Figures  

The figures were analysed by Conservation Science at Tate using FTIR (Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy) and were found to be made from beeswax and chalk with a dark green pigment added for colour. This modelling material, similar to Plasticine, deteriorates with age as the beeswax becomes brittle and shrinks with oxidation. The figures were modelled using this material and then coated with a varnish.

The figures which are permanently attached underneath the arcades and in the foyer are particularly vulnerable, as these can not be stored or shipped separately. During transport eight figures suffered broken limbs and/or heads. All of the broken pieces were reattached with a cynoacrylate adhesive. This proved very efficient in that it dried fast and did not cause any distortion in the figures.

The conservation team were concerned about the hand-modelled figures as they were known to be made from an unstable material. The figures are finely detailed, each one displaying individual character. The permanently fixed figures are at risk of repeated damage during transport and the loose figures have proved susceptible to theft. The surface of the figures remains slightly soft. This makes them vulnerable to damage from handling and encourages the build up of dust which obscures the details of the modelling.

The risk of loss to this key part of the work was significant. The conservation team and curator felt that one way of preserving the figures would be to make replicas for display enabling Tate to preserve the original figures in a controlled environment for future reference. Although this would represent an unconventional approach, these objects are so vulnerable that such a solution was worth consideration.

In collaboration with the artist, Tate Conservation explored different options for the preservation of the original figures.

  • Producing replicas by casting the figures
  • Remodeling the figures by hand out of a more stable material
  • Remodeling the figures using 3-dimensional scanning and rapid prototyping

The idea of producing cast replicas was dismissed as impractical given the fragility of the original figures.

Initial tests were carried out to re-model the figures by hand using Milliput superfine white – a two part epoxy putty which is commonly used by plumbers. It quickly became clear that it was going to be both difficult and time-consuming to replicate the individual gestures of the figures using Milliput.

The third option explored was 3-dimensional laser scanning and rapid prototype modelling, a technique that enables exact replicas to be made.

Figures with broken limbs

Figures with broken limbs
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Figures with flaking vanish

Figures with flaking varnish
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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Figure inside the foyer with broken leg

Figure inside the foyer with broken leg
© Carlos Garaicoa, Photo: Tate Conservation
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