Plastics in Art: David McDiarmid. Part 2: Thinking of You

Thinking of You, 1990, by David McDiarmid is a mosaic artwork made of irregularly shaped pieces of monochrome and polychrome holographic contact film adhered to a black painted plywood panel. The artwork has a total of 34 distinctive pattern and colour types arranged to form twelve distinct colour fields which blend to silver as they approach an illusory vortex. At the centre of the artwork is a holographic image of a skull.

The artwork is made up of three main types of holographic/reflective plastic films. These are: Patterned holographic, plain silver holographic, and glitter with a semi-transparent cover layer. Scattered across the work and adhered on top of the holographic and glitter components are a series of transparent plastic pieces with printed black letters, numbers and symbols (this component of the work includes phrases such as ‘side by side’, ‘cut out’ and ‘spacing’).

The main issues to do with condition of the work included a thick layer of surface dust and grime, partial delamination and deformation of the collage components as well as total loss of some collage components. After cleaning the work and re-attaching the partially delaminating pieces the issue of the missing collage elements was addressed.

In Part 1 we noted that the National Gallery of Victoria is the custodian of an archive of David McDiarmid’s plastic studio materials, provided by the McDiarmid estate through his executor Dr Sally Gray. This was organised in response to NGV’s active research into his creative methodology with these materials. Fortunately, many of the materials used by McDiarmid to make Thinking of You could be matched to materials found in the archive.  With the help of these materials some of the collage components that were noticeably torn or damaged were able to be repaired and pieces that were missing entirely were able to be replaced.

Where the original pieces of film were missing entirely the shape of the adhesive residue was examined to determine the shape of the missing pieces.

In some colour fields, several films of different colours displayed the same holographic pattern. In these situations, it was sometimes possible to determine the missing colour component through careful observation of the balance of the colour relationships of the surrounding pieces. In other instances, the correct colour and pattern components could not confidently be determined and these pieces were not replaced. Throughout the process priority was given to replacing missing pieces at the edge of the ‘swirl’ formation, as this helped to reinforce visual cohesion of the compositon.

It is rare for a conservator to have acess to the actual materials used by an artist in the production of a specific artwork. This is all the more the case when the materials used by the artist are commercial products as opposed to traditional artisan materials. While replacing components of the artwork with the same materials that were used in its making raises some interesting questions, a clear benefit of using the artist’s actual materials is that the replacement components should exhibit the same ageing characteristics as the rest of the work. What this means is that the long term preservation of the work will rely on the nature of the environment in which it is displayed and stored rather than the longevity of the substitute materials chosen by a conservator at a particular time and place.

In the third and final conservation blog for the exhibition we will look at the recreation of plastic gum leaves in McDiarmid’s Sydney Curtain (My Sydney) , 1978.

Image 1: Before treatment

Image 2: After treatment