Friday, March 10, 2017

Life After the Watson

Occhiolism: The awareness of the smallness of your perspective. (English, obscure)

So. It seems we’ve reached some sort of conclusion here, at least in the blogosphere. I’ve never been good at goodbyes, but I think at the very least some reflection is deserved. What did I start out thinking my Watston was going to be? Let’s get a little throwback, and look at my original blurb:
My Watson Year will be an exploration of the sacred object from the point of view of an art conservator. All over the world, traditions nurture their spirituality and preserve their identity through the care of objects. The need for discretion and cultural awareness is paramount among conservators, because the power and meaning of sacred objects is based on the interaction between object and viewer. Whether this interaction occurs through visual or physical contact, sacred objects have a quality of “interactivity” that relies on understanding the object’s power, spirituality, and continuing significance to a spiritual community. I am captivated by objects that rely on interaction to maintain meaning and by the challenges caring for them presents. How can conservators, who are trained as artists and scientists, learn to revere objects properly, if our goal is to care for them analytically? In the end, this is the goal of my Watson year: to engage with and learn from sacred objects and the people who care for and venerate them to understand how sacred objects are relevant in a modern world.
Keep in mind, I wrote this when I applied for the Watson. 2014. Ancient history. But don’t I sound all nice and fancy? Ah, 2014 Lindsay. What a sweet summer child.

Now, in 2017, I have an Elevator Pitch. Note: This is for particularly long elevator rides. Do not engage if the person asking “So what did you do?” looks like they scare easily or are otherwise uninterested in the real answer.
During my year of research as a Watson, I studied the intersection of science and spirituality in the conservation of sacred art objects. I traveled in Spain, Bulgaria, Japan, Ireland, India, Indonesia, and New Zealand, working with conservators, museum professionals, faith communities, government officials and strangers on the street to determine if and how science and spirituality can be used in harmony to develop in-depth and inclusive treatment.* I spent most of my time trying to understand how communities navigate their relationships with their sacred material culture, and how conservation can be applied to preserve spiritual heritage. I found that to accomplish the preservation of both material and immaterial heritage, open dialogue with communities that have ties to sacred objects is essential, even imperative. Additionally, the involvement of communities in conservation decision-making opens avenues of communication that can be used to further promote understanding, education, and policy. Being a field that interacts so intimately with material culture, conservation is perfectly positioned within institutions to be used as a bridge between communities, promoting education and open dialogue. Conservators therefore have the privilege and responsibility to be involved in promoting cultural awareness and diversity, using physical treatment to bring discussions about cultural sensitivity and political activism to the forefront.
*Stop here to spare the weak.

Oof. Just a teensy-weensy change, right? But how could 2014 Lindsay have known what turns the year would take?

My biggest question, of course, is what I will do next. I’ve been on a path toward a graduate program in art conservation for six years, and spending a year finding out what conservation (and its adjacent fields) means to me has been an immense privilege. By throwing me into the thick of it with only my brain and my backpack, my project exposed questions that I had never thought to ask, and avenues of research that were previously unknown to me. My worldview, and my view of conservation within it, expanded beyond the limits I had created for myself, opening my eyes to the potential for personal and professional growth within the field.

So you can imagine that when I first returned home, I was a mess of questions and culture shock. There was no way I was going to be able to write a coherent reflection on my year. Luckily, I have a slight advantage over newly-returned Lindsay—eight months, to be precise—and I can now reflect better on how I want to take what I learned from my Watson and continue what I started. My time abroad made me acutely aware of how much I want to apply my interest in conservation and conservation ethics here in the States, where this kind of work is at such a unique crux in its development. It is my goal to work with archaeological and ethnographic materials in a private or institutional setting, and to further pursue conservation ethics in this area.

Fortunately for my determinedly stubborn side that likes to plan, this still means grad school. I have plenty of room to grow as a student and practitioner of conservation, and I’ve honestly missed being in the classroom during my time away. I look forward to having the time and resources to study the hand skills, lab techniques, and to geek out at how awesome and difficult and multifaceted treatment is—and only a graduate program in art conservation can deliver. Of course, admission doesn’t always happen right away, so I’ll keep a weather eye on the horizon and my fingers tightly crossed.

Even as I look forward with excitement to future opportunities, I’m still drawn to the siren’s song of the year I spent away. Memories of this past year seem to flash before my eyes with startling clarity at the strangest moments; I’ll be buying coffee, or poring over the Christ Child I’m treating, or wandering the grocery store, and my newly-fashioned heart starts to beat in my chest like a drum, go, go, go.

I’ve been back about eight months, and I've settled in. Sometimes the days of my Watson seem to be falling out of my head faster than sand through a loose sieve. And no matter how much I try and tell myself that my Watson is really only just beginning, I cannot help but feel that this last entry is something of an end. By putting off this final reflection I’ve tried to delay the process of reintegration as long as possible, but here we are.

So thank you for going on this incredible journey with me. By no means think that it stops here—I've still got work to do, and too much itch in my shoes to keep me from doing it. But I think the important part is that I've got more questions bouncing around in my head now than I did back when I began, and now I have a direction in which to channel them. I’m not done yet! And I won’t stop until I am. Until next time:

Denouement (n.): The resolution of a narrative. (English)

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