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Title: Three burnt books : an unconventional conservation narrative
Author: Worsley, Dawn
ISNI:       0000 0004 8498 8836
Awarding Body: University of Glasgow
Current Institution: Glasgow School of Art
Date of Award: 2019
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On 23 May 2014, the Glasgow School of Art's Mackintosh Library was destroyed by a fire. Following the archaeological excavation of the library, salvaged objects and materials were condition-assessed according to a retention/disposal 'decision tree' framework designed by the GSA Library & Learning Resources. This practice-led research centres on the conservation journey of three burnt books excavated from the fire debris. Damaged books are vulnerable to disposal when they exhaust their textual and informational function. Consequently, books that could contribute to an understanding of significant events as historical objects are potentially lost. The research posits an approach to book conservation that does not privilege the textual context of the book above its post-textual materiality. Aura, as defined by Walter Benjamin, describes the perception of an object's temporal presence; therefore, the aura of a burnt book is entangled in its post-fire materiality. Object biography, as conceived by social anthropologist Igor Kopytoff, is an epistemological framework that narrativises the life or part of the life of an object. Therefore, the main research question of this thesis asks: in what way can object biographies of damaged books preserve the aura of the 2014 Glasgow School of Art Mackintosh fire? The first subquestion asks: what can an analysis of fire-damaged books reveal about the role of subjectivity in conservation practices? The second subquestion asks: can object biography, used as a pre-conservation assessment, reorient book conservation strategies? Serendipity played a role in the research methodology since being in the rightplace at the right time, roles of individuals within the GSA and relationships developed between these individuals and myself, and the capacity for making insightful connections intervened in the conservation trajectory of the research objects. Ten professionals working for the GSA Library & Learning Resources, the Mackintosh Restoration Project team, Kirkdale Archaeology, AOC Archaeology, Harwell Documentation Restoration Service and Scottish Fire & Rescue Service involved in the salvage operation of the Mackintosh Library were interviewed. Extracts from the interview transcripts are incorporated into the practice component of the portfolio submission. Object biography involves (a) object analysis and (b) the narrativisation of perceptions of the research object, including material description and associative imagery and ideas. The three object biographies that comprise the creative non-fiction portfolio submission integrate several writing forms and devices including polyphony, ekphrasis, autofiction and autoethnography. The research makes a contribution to book conservation studies by proposing object biography as an epistemological framework that reorients the assessment of the significance of damaged books. The GSA Library & Learning Resources has since reoriented its original book conservation aim which now endeavours to preserve the material trace of the 2014 fire rather than exerting a restorative approach. Furthermore, the research continues the Mackintosh Library's legacy as a site of research and creative enquiry even in its post-fire capacity, contributing to a body of practice that tells the story of GSA's 2014 and 2018 Mackintosh fires.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available