In the summer of 2010, I was fortunate to intern in the Variable Art Conservation Department with Richard McCoy. In 12 short weeks I examined ten years of planning and implementation documents for 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park. When I wasn’t wading through concepts and plans, I got to stomp around in a very unusual, very soggy, construction site filled with a fantastic tunnel and a basketball court that was transforming into seemingly unending arcs of red and blue.
In our project, we aimed to establish conservation dossiers—a kind of hybrid condition report and research document of the artwork identifying key characteristics of the 100 Acres artwork. The European Union-funded project Inside Installations: Preservation and Presentation of Installation Art provided an excellent road map for us to consider how to document the structures, sounds, and images found in 100 Acres.
As a result, I observed the birth of 100 Acres from a unique perspective. As the earthmovers and horticulturalists were busy shaping the watery landscape between canal and river, I reviewed internal and external communications, USGS reports, drawings and plans spanning the life of the project. It was a bit like looking into the collective brain of what has become a very real, internationally significant, park.
Richard tasked me with researching the Park’s genesis and development, and then the final realization of the installations. From this we began to organize the conservation dossiers into a series of records and summaries that future conservators and others IMA staff and researchers can use to understand questions of artists’ intentions, duration, and material concerns.
The experience proved to be both challenging and immensely rewarding. Working out of the conservation lab, I interviewed many of the 100 Acres team members, attended planning meetings, drafted a conservation security document, and compiled technical documents detailing conservation concerns related to materials and constructions.
Serving as the project thesis, questions of from what and how each artwork was made were addressed. We aimed to establish distilled summaries that future conservators could look to when trying to understand what is happening to the commissioned installations as they live and change within the environs of 100 Acres.
The maturing plants and settling gabion baskets of Alfredo Jaar’s Park of the Laments require an understanding of not only the materials used but also the collaboration that happened between artist, curator, and horticulturist.
Tea Mäkipää’s Eden II ship was constructed in Indianapolis at the Herron School of Art and Design sculpture studio and assembled on-site at IMA in the 100 Acres meadow. The accompanying guard house positioned on the lakeshore, allowing park visitors to peer into the ships bowels via mysterious audio and video feed, is a platform designed to support the artist’s vision as much as it is a part of the current installation of this work. The final artwork was realized after an intense period of collaboration between museum and artist in the summer and fall of 2009 – and several trips to local salvage yards for weathered materials to meet the artist’s concept of a lost vessel of refugees drifting onto the shores of 100 Acres from a distant, wasted land.
The very nature of the 100 Acres site-responsive artwork, situated within a floodplain, and in some cases encouraged to change over time, called for a contemporary model to frame our research. These dossiers will serve as a kind of missive to future conservators of these complex installations detailing what we know to be true now, what is most important to the realization of the artist’s concepts, and how each component of the park is expected to live within the place that is 100 Acres.