Dec 23, 2016 | By Julia

A European research team known as NANORESTART is pushing the boundaries of modern and contemporary art conservation – an initiative that could considerably impact the lifetimes of endangered 3D printed artworks. In an ongoing project that is expected to last the next two years, NANORESTART will develop nanomaterials to protect and restore the cultural heritage of contemporary art. The pressing issue lies at the forefront of the EU conservation market, which itself brings in an estimated €5 billion per year.

As Caroline Coon, participating researcher at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage, explains, “art is being transformed by fast-changing new technologies and it is therefore vital to preempt conservation issues, rather than react to them, if we are to preserve our best contemporary works for future generations. This research project will benefit both artists and academics alike – but ultimately it is in the best interests of the public that art and science combine to preserve works.”

NANORESTART researchers use cutting-edge conservation techniques 

This is particularly true for artists who use 3D printing technology. Polymers, for example – some of the most common materials used in 3D printing – degrade especially rapidly. Additionally, the fact that such 3D printed artworks have only recently achieved cultural heritage status means that conservation efforts have been virtually nonexistent up until now.

"Red Raphael", a 3D printed sculpture by participating artist Tom Lomax

UK based 3D printed sculpture artist Tom Lomax is one of the many participants in the groundbreaking conservation project. His work, which draws aesthetic inspiration from early 20th century artworks, and uses rapid prototyping technologies to 3D print colourful sculptures, was subjected to accelerated testing by the NANORESTART team. Their findings confirmed that 3D printed works typically use materials that degrade alarmingly rapidly. Artworks like Lomax’s, however, will prove key in determining how exactly those materials degrade, and which preservation solutions could be feasible.

“As an artist I previously had little idea of the conservation threat facing contemporary art – preferring to leave these issues for conservators and focus on the creative process. But while working on this project with UCL I began to realise that artists themselves have a crucial role to play,” Lomax says.

Implications aren’t limited to artists working with 3D printing either. Modern art stretching back over a century continues to present a challenge for conservationists. As the NANORESTART website reports, “post-1940 artists and early artists (1880s-1940s), used and experimented with materials that are so radically different from the ones used in classic art, that they cannot be preserved using the currently available technologies.”

Thus the NANORESTART project will focus on synthesizing new poly-functional nanomaterials, along with innovative restoration techniques, to address the conservation of a wide variety of materials commonly used by modern and contemporary artists.

With two more years to go before the project is completed, NANORESTART aims to deliver valuable results and resources to conservators and artists alike – before it’s too late.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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