Conserving the ephemeral: Light

Light is a central ‘element’ throughout mankind’s history and is essential in the process of ‘art making’. Without light, there can be no visualization of artistic artifacts and light is influential in the appreciation of these constructions.

Artistic practice can include light within the composition, and their artworks can be made more evocative through lighting policies. How a light source may interact with an artwork, through the use of reflections or the creation of shadows, will affect the viewing conditions, and light itself can be used as an artistic medium. Not to forget that the depiction of shadows within a composition creates a ‘tromp l’oeil’ effect which gives the impression of three-dimensionality to artworks.

The conservator’s use of this ephemeral medium is traditionally restricted to the physical nature of light and how it interacts with the surface (or substance) of the artwork. Light can be also used by its physical properties for diagnostic or analytical purposes to investigate and determine more about the artwork. Both qualitative and quantitative results can be used to identify constituent materials and to distinguish original from non-original materials. 

The conservator also uses light as a tool in the aesthetical treatment, as without light colour matching of losses during reintegration would prove difficult. Furthermore, the chemical changes that different energy bandwidths can induce on long-term exposure, must be noted by the conservator when setting light exposure levels for light-sensitive surfaces which will help inform preventive conservation measures for exhibition display.

This interim meeting of the ICOM-CC Sculpture, Polychromy, and Architectural Decoration Working Group (SPAD) aims to focus on light as the ephemeral artist’s ‘material’ and as a tool for the conservator. 

We invite abstracts for contributions that explore and examine considerations of materiality, and methods of recording, preservation and reconstruction of ‘light’ as an intrinsic element to the overall artwork and how these determine and challenge conventional conservation approaches and practices of works of art, such as:


9 - 10th May 2019.

Polytechnic Institute of Tomar, Portugal


Students at IPTs' Sculpture Laboratory © Ana Bidarra