My name is Birgit Reissland (1969). Since 1996 I have been employed as a paper conservation researcher at the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (ICN). In addition to my board membership of the International Association of Book and Paper Conservators (IADA), I am editor-in-chief of the Journal of Paper Conservation. After studying paper conservation at the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Stuttgart, I ended up here in Amsterdam. The conservation world is too small to be confined within national frontiers.
Early on in my career I was involved in the development of phytate to prevent ink corrosion. In fact ink corrosion is still a relevant theme today, although nowadays the emphasis is on damage estimates and conservation decision-making. So I was trained as a conservator, but have found over the years that I am fascinated as a researcher by everything that has to do with the genesis of letters, drawings, books and wallpaper: the materiality of the creation process. It is fascinating to see how a single grain of sand in a line of ink can change the significance of a document. Especially in manuscripts and in works of art on paper, material aspects are still largely unexplored. The unravelling of these valuable traces will transform our perception.
Research like this is only possible in a highly specific context. A crucial ingredient is the existence of an institute like the ICN, with an exceptional number of historical sources, unique reference collections (e.g. of early synthetic dyes), non-destructive, highly sensitive techniques of analysis and a team of experts specialising in research on art objects. At the same time, chemical analyses only acquire significance in the context of art historical and art technological data. Looking and understanding – that is the secret.
The research project on Van Gogh’s studio practice offers us a unique opportunity, as a multidisciplinary team of art historians, scientists and conservators, to learn to ‘read’ and understand the materiality of Van Gogh’s work and to see and appreciate it through different eyes. To be continued . . .
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