Scroll: A Journal by Student Conservators

Scroll is a student-led publication for conversations about cultural material, its study and preservation, based at the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation and backed by SC@M (Student Conservators at Melbourne). Founded in 2020, the Scroll story is a tale of turning lemons into lemonade. In this blog post, founding editors, Joshua Loke, Rachel Davis and Emma Dacey, reflect on the galvanising power of collaboration.

The first semester of 2020 at the Grimwade Centre started like any other. First-year Master of Cultural Materials Conservation students arrived, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed; many would have been intrigued by introductions to the various facets of conservation. The second years began their conservation treatment practical modules and got stuck in with project planning and proposals. Little did they know that COVID-19 — at this point, not top of mind for most in Australia — was about to rip through the community and ensue a swathe of changes to adapt to health requirements.

Isolation orders presented a steep learning curve of classes via videoconferencing and dodgy internet connections. The pandemic also disrupted student community life; opportunities for getting to know one another in the liminal spaces around lectures and tutorials evaporated. After back-to-back Zoom classes and meetings, many were understandably too beset by digital fatigue to take up socialising online.

Amidst this uncertainty and feeling the loss of connections with like-minded individuals, conservation students Rachel Davis and Emma Dacey posted an invitation to colleagues to join them in starting a periodical. Joshua Loke soon joined them and, at their first exploratory meeting at the Clyde Hotel (during a temporary easing of restrictions), the founding editors saw an opportunity to salvage these turbulent and isolated times by making something together.

It was decided that the journal would be a platform for collaboration, not competition. This meant that submissions were not to be judged as finished works but, rather, as opportunities for students to improve writing abilities and refine ideas. Feedback would be provided openly by the editors over several rounds, allowing contributors to make adjustments over time. The intent was to create a fertile ground for students to express their ideas outside the constraints of assignments.

Tukutuku (Māori ornamental lattice-work panels) panels, formerly in the Christchurch Anglican Cathedral, which are the subject of Frances Lojkine’s minor thesis and Scroll article, 2021. Photographer Frances Lojkine

Calls for submissions were posted on social media platforms in the early months of 2021. At first, buy-in from the community seemed low – perhaps students were too bogged down by their heavy study loads to respond. Recovering from the behemoth challenge of 2020, the editors themselves wondered where their former energetic selves had presumed this extra creative energy and enthusiasm would come from. Nonetheless, the editors persevered and diversified their outreach; they canvassed specific peers for submissions in addition to sending mass mailers. Over time, this persistence paid off; by July 2021, the editorial team was delightedly receiving a steady stream of contributions.

Some contributors chose to write brief reports of their conservation activities. Frances Lojkine chronicled her weekend of condition reporting on tukutuku (Māori ornamental lattice-work) panels at Christchurch, New Zealand. What can sometimes be a tedious task is made colourful through Lojkine’s experience of conservation under a curious public eye. Paper conservator Sandra Song recorded her process of making karibari drying boards using modern and traditional materials. This was a project that grew out of her minor thesis and presents a clear documentation of Song’s tests in constructing a useful tool that may be often overlooked. A humorous account of recovery efforts after a sewage disaster at the Institute of Postcolonial Studies, North Melbourne, was provided by Michael Davies, showing how unglamourous the role of the conservator can sometimes be. Then, Sophie Antulov offered a review of Gawain Weaver’s online course on photograph identification. Over seven weeks, Antulov learned key aspects of photographic identification and conservation; her article is an example of the online learning opportunities that emerged as a result of the pandemic.

Scroll contributor Sophie Antulov offered a review of Gawain Weaver’s online course on photograph identification, 2021

Several people leveraged their academic research to write about topics they were not able to cover in-depth in assignments. In discussing the preservation of Marcos-era relics in the Philippines, Gab Garde warned conservators not to inadvertently perpetuate the messages of oppressive regimes. In comparison with other historical precedents, Garde’s essay provides an insightful discussion for conservators working with new, and perhaps contentious, acquisitions today. Drawing on her experience of living in South Korea, Elizabeth Gralton explored the merits and limitations of centuries-old preventive conservation traditions in Haeinsa. Jordan Aarsen masterfully summarised a history of canvas relining in Western painting. He explores how the practice has evolved from myriad techniques and unique mixtures to the more considered methodology of the present day, mirroring how the profession of conservation has developed over time.

Others chose to submit work made especially for Scroll. Emma Ward interviewed time-based art conservator and Grimwade Centre alumnus Asti Sherring to gain the perspectives of a professional who forged her own way in the field. Ward’s article provides lessons for emerging professional conservators on becoming their own advocates. The interview also gives insight into how time-based media conservation came to emerge in Australia. Archaeologist Thomas Keep wrote a compelling argument on the value of photogrammetry as a form of conservation. His work with the Hellenic Museum Digitisation Project is detailed in this article and shows how photogrammetry can be made accessible. Finally, one of the project’s earliest supporters, Michael Iles, produced a comic that deftly captures how many of us feel logging onto Zoom every day.

Scroll editors, Rachel Davis, Joshua Loke and Emma Dacey in an online meeting, 2021

The team developed an editorial framework that allowed each work to be considered on its own terms. When editing the works, they prioritised authorial voice and intentions — while also considering academic and community standards. Feedback aimed to be constructive and collaborative, and the amount of input from the editorial team varied from piece to piece. All in all, most of the submissions received between two and three rounds of edits; some were edited up to five times. A couple of submissions did not reach publication stage, though the editors hope that they can encourage these contributors to continue working toward publication in the next edition.

Finally, Scroll’s designer, Joshua Loke, put the contributions through meticulous typesetting to ensure that each article had a legible but visually appealing layout. Copyediting and minor adjustments were conducted right down to the publication deadline. The inaugural issue of Scroll was published on 4 December 2021 online, with a foreword graciously penned by Professor Robyn Sloggett, Director of the Grimwade Centre. The editorial team has been delighted by the positive response to the issue and buoyed by the success of this endeavour, they are now working hard on expanding the team and developing the 2022 edition of Scroll.

The 2021 issue of Scroll is available open access as a PDF on the journal website. All students interested in cultural materials conservation are welcome to submit to Scroll. Submissions need not be from a student at the University of Melbourne, with the journal interested in hearing from a wide range of heritage and GLAM sector graduates. Submissions for the 2022 edition are due on 30 June 2022. For further information, see the Participate section of the Scroll website.