Benedetta Bodo di Albaretto talks about the latest of Project Marta – Monitoring Art Archive, archive of contemporary art that starts from techniques and materials, and from preservation issues.
Elena Giulia Rossi: Can you tell us how Project Marta came about?
Benedetta Bodo di Albaretto: Project Marta – Monitoring Art Archive was created from the layers of trajectories and experiences, on the one hand academic – the conservation and diagnostics of modern and contemporary art – and, on the other, professional – as gallery assistant, curator of small contemporary exhibitions and editor for magazines in the sector. I found myself being a reference point for several artists on issues concerning the conservation of their works, but also concerning transport, packaging and exhibitions, all because they had no other interlocutors to consult in order to make informed decisions about the safety of their work. This made such an impression on me that I turned it into a case study for my Master’s thesis; for this I interviewed artists, professionals and collectors to find out how to fill this gap, how to offer useful and lasting advice. Thanks to months of work and dozens of exchanges, the first draft of a data sheet finally took shape, created to accompany artwork over time and designed to be easy to fill in and consult. It took another seven years to achieve the final version – more or less, it can always be improved – and the presentation of the actual technical analysis and catalogue called Project Marta.
How has the field of conservation changed since you started? Have you seen any significant progress in research?
Over the last 10 years, when I think of the advances in preventive conservation, the central role acquired by the Artist Archive comes to mind. This is no longer associated only with established artists and represents a fundamental approach that allows artists to keep track of their work and professionals to access more, better organised information. In addition, in 2017, the PACTA certificate (Protocols for Authenticity, the Care and Protection of contemporary works of art) was adopted by MIBACT, compulsory for acquisitions of contemporary works by museums. The problem is that only a few artists – unfortunately this also includes institutions – know what the Protocol is about and set it up with its actual usefulness in mind (as the result of targeted surveys), so the work of raising awareness continues to be very challenging.
What skills should a contemporary art conservator have?
The conservation of a contemporary work requires knowledge of the work itself and the artist’s intent, as well as the materials and techniques employed. The study of each individual case helps to prevent possible alterations and risk situations. Project Marta’s approach investigates the relationship that the artist has with the idea of the passage of time, with maintenance strategies and also with the actual restoration, gathering information that speeds up and pinpoints certain steps when needed – for example, providing details of the materials, the contact details for technical experts who can respond and/or intervene on behalf of the artist on questions concerning the stability of the work.
What professional skills and competencies does the Project Marta team have?
Project Marta owes a great deal to the network of professionals who collaborate in drafting the data sheets. They are professionals specialised in complementary fields, a team working on different fronts ranging from restoration – experts in different techniques and materials – to the creation of multimedia materials for dissemination, transport of cultural goods and art law. These are professionals I have contacted personally or who have come forward because they were interested in the project. I have worked with some of them from the start and they have become essential reference points, especially the restorer Fabiola Manfredi. Others contributed for a period and are now working in other interesting fields, such as Fabiola Rocco, recently becoming Associate Conservator, Variable Media Art at the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority in Hong Kong.
In a statement it says that “the aim of the project is to improve the possibilities of preserving artworks, increasing, with the aim of sharing, knowledge about its creation, the materials used and the studies which have already been carried out.” What tools are needed to make progress in this area? What tools should be adopted to keep up to date with the contemporary world?
As far as I am concerned, the best way to keep up to date with contemporary art is to visit as many exhibitions as possible and ask direct questions whenever the opportunity arises. Then, of course, there are targeted opportunities for further study such as study days, specialised journals and conference proceedings.
How important for you is the chance to engage in dialogue with the artist?
Absolutely fundamental. Project Marta is built precisely on the testimony of artists, who are involved through a very detailed interview in the process of investigating everything that contributes to the protection of their work over time. Interviews therefore include a focus on artistic formation, motivations underlying the production of the work, choice of technique and materials, possible collaborations, indications on set up, transport, packaging and maintenance, as well as long-term calculations referring to possible restoration work. If there is something the artist cannot answer, we come in with the advice of a technician; if there is something the artist has not yet thought about, the interview is an opportunity to do so together.
In addition to conservation, your efforts are also directed towards the creation of an online archive. I saw that alongside the division into categories there is also a division on the basis of materials. This is very interesting. How do you approach the issue of conservation in relation to digital works?
Time-based media, i.e. those that include moving images, sound, performance and slides, are an extremely fragile form of artistic production, which requires the involvement of professionals who know how to structure the work in an interdisciplinary way, integrating the thinking of curators and restorers with that of archivists, editors, engineers, audio-visual technicians and digital preservation specialists. At present, the Project Marta team has not yet been commissioned to produce a data sheet on a digital work, but when it does, it will be quite a challenge.
Can you tell us about the recent agreement with London-based Tagsmart, a company that pioneered digital certification using blockchain? What does this mean for Project Marta?
The partnership with Tagsmart kicked off in 2019, but we have only just taken an additional step – one that required a lot of work – a levelling up that now sees us as digital certifiers on behalf of the London office. We are authorised to certify the works of artists with whom we collaborate and of all artists who – independently of the Project Marta service – would like to tag their production. It is a sticker containing a unique code, a digital DNA that forever identifies the work which, in turn, is linked to a document certifying the work’s origin and authenticity. Artists who turn to Project Marta for certification will do so at a favourable price and will be given our advice on how best to complete the application.
What do you think about the relationship between NFT and art? Generally speaking and, obviously, with reference to the uproar caused by the recent sale of Beeple’s digital work at Christie’s.
I think Zachary Kaplan (Executive Director of Rhizome) is right when he says that we are not witnessing a revolution but, simply, that digital art – which has existed for years – is aligning itself with the wider contemporary art market. It will be interesting to see how and if public perception is changed by market speculation. From a conservation point of view, I am thinking more specifically about the precariousness of digital art, which is inextricably linked to the risk of obsolescence. The crux of the matter, once again, is how these works will be exhibited in the future, how and if they will remain accessible over time.
images: (cover 1-2-4) Project Marta (3) schede 2 (5) TAGSMART certificate (6) Benedetta Bodo – portrait