I was in the national Museum of Scotland Granton Archives Center to see the invertebrate wet storage, and in the waiting room, there is an exhibit about retouching damaged objects, about comparing techniques. I’ve been thinking about filling in spaces, like I was doing with the handprints in “Gestures” at the end of my time at Sheridan, or the sails I made at the beginning, now I’m thinking of filling in the paths of reflection, or the spaces within shadows. The idea of retouching is somewhat related to this for me too. They’re filling the gaps left by damage, but of course what something is mended with is always different from the original, and the object changes in important ways when it is broken and mended. There are also questions in that of what gets mended, how we choose, and why. Why some things are to be taken care of, and others are to be discarded and replaced. How what we choose to keep talks about us and who we are.

There was a project I was interested in doing a while back that was related to this, to making the replacements obvious, but beautiful, to recognizing the original object and its losses (or, for many museum objects, the parts that were never found, and are just being interpreted)  not by hiding the scars, but by highlighting them. I think that recognizing the changes that a thing goes through is important, and I love decay and repair. The interesting thing for me what that there was a (very informal) survey attached to the display case, and the majority of votes were for less visible methods of retouching.

The two columns on the left below are votes for museum retouching methods that are more visible, and the three columns on the right are votes for museum retouching methods that are more invisible. It would be interesting to see if this would change in other cultures, or if this preference for hiding “flaws” is a modern western thing. We do seem to have a proclivity for things being, or at least seeming, new and unchanged, or unchangeable, we can often have a deep discomfort with our past, and a fear of the wear that the future will bring. 

Things get broken
at home
like they were pushed
by an invisible, deliberate smasher.
It’s not my hands
or yours
It wasn’t the girls
with their hard fingernails
or the motion of the planet.
Neruda, Ode to Broken Things