Last December Curator Laura Barrecca and Conservator Alessandra Barbuto invited Jon Ippolito to speak on cultural preservation at Rome’s Museum of the Art of the 21st century (MAXXI), a dramatic building by famed architect Zaha Hadid that opened in June.
Italians are well versed in the benefits and controversies of cultural preservation, from the excavation of Pompeii to the cleaning of the Sistine Chapel. One extreme along the spectrum of preservation strategies visible in Italian museums is the reliquary, in which the storage of a material fragment is deemed sufficient. Reliquaries in the Vatican Museum ensconce saints’ knuckles in bejeweled constructions of gold and silver. A tunic said to have been worn by Saint Francis is enshrined in the cathedral named for him in Assisi.
A danger inherent in this approach is that undue attention to a prized artifact may distort the spirit of the original work or experience. In his talk, Ippolito asked whether Francis would be happy to return to his home town and find his humble shirt the centerpiece of a lavish cathedral.
Drawing on the “variable media” paradigm pioneered by Still Water, Ippolito spoke to dynamic new approaches that focus less on conserving relics than re-animating original behaviors or experiences. He presented for the first time to a Roman audience the Variable Media Questionnaire, the latest in a series of tools developed by Still Water to help creators and conservators decide which approach best fits their work.