January 24th, 2014
An extractor unit keeps Conservation manager Maria Sullivan safe from solvent vapours.
By Maria Sullivan, Manager of Conservation
In the AGO Conservation Department, we’re always concerned about the condition of the artwork… but of course we’re very careful about our own health and safety, too.
Visitors to our labs often wonder about the long contraptions that resemble elephant trunks dangling from the ceiling. We do often call them trunks, but they are, in fact, extraction units that we use when working with small amounts of solvents. When the units are on, the trunks suck air away from the working area so that the conservator isn’t exposed to the solvent vapours. We always consult our material safety data sheets (MSDSs) to understand the materials we’re using and what protective measures are needed. We also try to use less toxic materials whenever possible.
Recently, we were extremely fortunate to host a highly distinguished visitor who’s an expert in this area: Monona Rossol. Monana is a chemist, artist and industrial hygienist who has spent a lifetime advocating for safety in the arts, and she is president and founder of Art, Crafts & Theater Safety (ACTS), a non-profit dedicated to providing health and safety services to the arts. Her expertise is also relevant to artists, who use some of the same substances in their work (see tips below).
Monona investigates items in the AGO’s Conservation Department.
Monona presented a workshop for staff members from the AGO and the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) on Safety in Art Conservation and Museum Practice. The workshop addressed issues such as working intelligently and safely with chemicals and disaster planning. The AGO partnered with the ROM, OCAD University and the University of Toronto to bring Monona to Toronto for a series of educational events on safety in the arts.
While we are always careful in our practice at the AGO, it’s always good to have a reminder of the potential hazards and to consider measures we might take to improve our practice further.
Monona addresses the workshop attendees.
Monona’s tips for conservators and artists:
- Follow WHMIS (workplace hazardous materials information system) and have handy the old MSDSs or the new safety data sheets on all chemicals. This includes items such as solders, welding rods and wood products.
- Make sure you’ve been trained to understand the safety information. This includes Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs), Threshold Limit Values (TLVs), evaporation rates, flash points and other technical data.
- Make sure all chemicals have labels that identify the substance and its hazards and that can be understood by everyone — not just you and your lab/studiomates.
- Store incompatible chemicals separately. Solvents, acids, alkalis, organic peroxides and oxidizers must each have separate special storage units. And some chemicals must be stored completely alone because they react with almost everything. These include nitric acid and glacial acetic acid.
- Read, learn and research for safer chemicals and procedures to replace the more hazardous ones you use.
- Check your local exhaust ventilation systems. You can use smoke from a stick of incense, tiny bubbles from children’s bubble-making toys, a bit of talcum powder or any visible substance that will suspend in the air long enough for you to watch it move. If it is not moving steadily away from you as you work, adjustments or repairs must be made.
- Wear the right protective gear. Not all gloves are barriers against all chemicals. Not all respirators work for all air contaminants. Each type of protective eyewear is designed for a specific limited purpose. Consult with safety people and manufacturers until you are sure you have the right gear for the job.
- Err on the side of caution. Most lab and studio accidents occur in ways that were not anticipated. Think through your procedures keeping in mind that Murphy was an optimist. Most of your chemicals have never been tested for long term-effects such as reproductive damage or cancer. Don’t be the lab rat.
Curious about Conservation?
If you have a burning question about Conservation, leave a comment below. We’ll do our best to give you an answer in an upcoming Conservation Notes post.
Signature Partner of the AGO’s Conservation Program
January 10th, 2014
Each season, our education department offers courses for adults, youths and children that cover the fundamentals of art and art-making: painting, drawing, sculpture, photography as well as lectures that illuminate the history of art and where it is today. Beyond that, though, we aim to develop boundary-pushing educational experiences that expands students’ creative skills and knowledge. This session, a number of classes are available for the first time at the AGO, and we’re excited to tell you about them here (click on links for dates and more information).
In addition to the usual favourites, new programs for 2014 include:
Discovering Digital Games
This four-week workshop will introduce you to new creative practices in video games. Come in with questions and we’ll introduce you to some existing art games and show you how to create a simple video game for yourself. No previous gaming experience is necessary, although it is recommended to have an open and curious attitude about what games can be. Participants will need to bring their own Mac computers.
Portraits of Poets
This class will explore the portrait genre by working from live observation of a different poet each week. Each class will begin with a poet reciting and circulating a poem, followed by instruction in various painting and drawing techniques. Participating poets include bill bissett, Myna Wallin, George Elliott Clarke, Adam Sol, Dionne Brand, Rudyard Fearon, Ayesha Chatterjee, Sachiko Murakami and Olive Senior. A selection of student work from this class will be included in an exhibition in the AGO’s Community Gallery during National Poetry Month, April 2014. The course is presented in collaboration with the Poet Laureate of Toronto, George Elliott Clarke, and the League of Canadian Poets.
One of the six bone porcelain tea cups, English, dated approx. 1822-30.
Introduction to Tea with Diane Borsato
This hands-on workshop with fall 2013 AGO artist-in-residence Diane Borsato will introduce participants to the history of tea’s cultivation, and various cultural practices that have developed around its consumption. Students will learn about the production and defining characteristics of the five categories of tea — white, green, oolong, black, and pu-erh — as well as proper brewing and service techniques for the different styles.
Artists’ Books, Zines, Sketchbooks
How can a book be an artwork? How is a book physically made? This workshop introduces students to the traditions of artists’ books and zines and basic book-making techniques like simple binding, assembly and photocopy printing. Students will produce/bind their own sketchbooks or notebooks, their own photocopied zines and unique accordion-fold publications. The workshop will also include a visit to view the artists’ books and multiples in the AGO’s E.P. Taylor Research Library and Archives.
Vasily Kandinsky, Sketch for ‘Composition II’ (Skizze für “Komposition II”), 1909–10. Oil on canvas, 38 3/8 × 51 5/8 inches (97.5 × 131.2 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, 45.961 © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.
Art & Ideas: Modern Art, Modern Dance
Join field specialists in informal talks that explore the relationship between visual art and the choreography and dance of Europe in the years leading up to, and during, the First World War. Spotlighting artists such as Constantin Brancusi, Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp, Vasily Kandinsky, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Piet Mondrian and Pablo Picasso, among others, the talks will also trace the achievements of these tumultuous years as artists experimented with new ways to create art while launching such movements as Expressionism, Futurism and Cubism.
Art & Ideas: Modern Art
Join field specialists in informal talks that explore the dynamism, creativity and innovation of art produced in Europe in the years leading up to, and during, the First World War. Spotlighting artists such as Constantin Brancusi, Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp, Vasily Kandinsky, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Piet Mondrian and Pablo Picasso, among others, the talks will also trace the achievements of these tumultuous years as artists experimented with new ways to create art while launching such movements as Expressionism, Futurism and Cubism.
Learn more about these courses and more for kids, youths and adults, plus how to sign up, at ago.net. Registration for spring 2014 courses opens Feb. 14, 2014.
January 6th, 2014
On Jan. 2, 2014, artists Shary Boyle, Vanessa Dunn, Petra Collins and Aminah Sheikh got together on stage at AGO First Thursdays for a conversation entitled “21st-Century Art: Why Feminism Still (Really) Matters.” The talk was moderated by Nicola Spunt and presented by After School and Hazlitt. For those who couldn’t be here, an audio recording and links to media coverage:
Learn more about AGO First Thursdays and find out what’s on next month here.