The effort to conserve is part of the human struggle with the pervasive activity of matter. For as long as people have made and kept material items, they have cared for and repaired them. Today’s conservator uses a variety of tools and conceptual categories developed over the last 150 years to do this work. But new kinds of materials and a new scale of change will pose unprecedented challenges in the decades to come. As threats to tangible and intangible cultural heritage accelerate, conservators and conservation will be essential to caring for the past as well as for the future.

This exhibition, which presents conservation as a form of inquiry in four parts online as well as in person, explores the activity of matter through items that span five continents and range in time from the Paleolithic to the present. Encompassing items that clothe and shelter us, those that engage our imagination, both sacred and profane, those that reflect our interest in the past, and those that continue to enable the performance of the past in the present, the exhibition envisions conservation as essential to the lives of the things that sustain us.

The online exhibition includes object-centered texts, broad overviews on activity and conservation, experimental forms of conservation writing, and audio and visual materials that explore the physical spaces of conservation and meditate on the nature of such activity.