Special Collections Research Center Contributes to University of Toronto Art Museum Exhibition on Plastics

Multiple artifacts from Syracuse University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center’s (SCRC) Plastics Artifact Collection are currently on display in the University of Toronto Art Museum exhibition titled, “Plastic Heart: Surface All the Way Through.” This exhibition, open from September 8 through November 20, 2021,draws on the existing work of the Synthetic Collective, an interdisciplinary collaboration of visual artists, cultural workers, and scientists based in Canada. The exhibition features data visualizations, artworks created by the Synthetic Collective in response to their research, as well as new commissions by contemporary artists from the Great Lakes Region. Also included in the exhibition are historical installations, including the artifacts on loan from SCRC, and objects that used early plastics that are now degrading, evoking questions of conservation and preservation in museum culture. This exhibition spotlights the connections between scientific and artistic methodologies and challenges the viewer to explore how arts-based approaches to thinking and working can make viable contributions to environmental science and activism.

SCRC’s Curator of Plastics and Historical Artifacts, Courtney Asztalos, will be participating in the “Plastic Heart” exhibition public programming as a member of the panel discussion “Dialogue # 3: The Plastic Conservation Conundrum: Preserving Plastics in Museum Collections and Plastics’ Durability in the Environment” on Wednesday, October 13, 6pm–7:30pm EDT. Asztalos says, “The Synthetic Collective’s groundbreaking work in their experimental exhibition “Plastic Heart: Surface All the Way Through” brings necessary awareness to the plastics lifecycle in exhibition-making, art and collections while proposing exciting alternative models and methods forward for change. I am thrilled to participate in a conversation on how plastic cultural artifacts within the context of special collections pose unique challenges and opportunities, emphasizing how SCRC’s plastics collections are rich resources for researchers and artists to investigate for activism, and unearth for the creation of new scholarship and artmaking. As a special collections curator, I am committed to bringing greater awareness to the broader public about how our collections can support innovation, change and agency within our current global plastics pollution crisis.”

“The Plastics Collection”, initially conceptualized as an umbrella term for the plastics-related collections at SCRC, serves as a research and programming resource to advance the study and understanding of plastics in modern society. These collections include manuscripts, photographs, time-based media, books, periodicals and over 5,000 plastic objects produced from the late 19th century to the present day. To learn more about the SCRC’s collections in this subject area, please visit https://library.syr.edu/scrc/collections/areas/plastics.php.

More information regarding the Plastic Heart exhibition, public programming and registration information can be found at https://artmuseum.utoronto.ca/exhibition/plastic-heart/.

Image of Courtney Asztalos, curator of Plastics and Historical Artifacts, superimposed on Plastic Heart exhibition. Image credit: Synthetic Collective

Anna Laganà, Plastics Conservator, Presenting at Annual Brodsky Series for the Advancement of Library Conservation


Anna Laganà, research specialist in the conservation of plastics at the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), will present at Syracuse University Libraries’ annual Brodsky Series for the Advancement of Library Conservation. Laganà’s lecture, titled “The Conservation of Plastics in Museum Collections: a challenging path,” will be held on Wednesday, March 25 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the Peter Graham Scholarly Commons in Bird Library. The hands-on workshop, titled “Which Plastics are in my collection? The Identification of Plastics without the use of analytical techniques,” will be held the following day, Thursday, March 26 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Antje Bultmann Lemke Seminar Room, Special Collections Research Center, 6th floor of Bird Library. To coincide with the Brodsky Series for the Advancement of Library Conservation, the Special Collections Research Center Conservation Lab will be dedicated to Joan Breier Brodsky ’67 G’68 on Wednesday, March 25 at 4 p.m. in the Robert Ortwine Gallery, 6th Floor of Bird Library.

All events are open to the public. However, due to limited space available for the workshop, please RSVP to jschambe@syr.edu.

The annual Brodsky Series for the Advancement of Library Conservation is endowed through a generous gift by William J. ’65, G’ 68 and Joan’67, G’68 Brodsky of Chicago. Beginning in 2004, the endowment has been used to sponsor programs featuring prominent library conservators that promote and advance knowledge of library conservation theory, practice, and application among wide audiences, both on campus and in the region.

Anna Laganà leads projects at GCI, including the investigation of treatment options for plastic works of art, and develops workshops on their conservation. Before joining the GCI, Laganà worked as Coordinator of the Contemporary Art Conservation Laboratory at the Centro Conservazione Restauro la Venaria Reale in Turin, as a researcher of modern materials at the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands,  and most recently as a lecturer at the University of Amsterdam, coordinating the Postgraduate program 1 in Conservation of Modern and Contemporary.

Laganà was part of the POPART project (Preservation of Plastics ARTefacts in museum collections) work team, the first research project on the preservation of plastics in cultural heritage, founded by the European Commission. She is currently founding member and coordinator of the International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary Art (INCCA) Italian group and assistant coordinator of the International Council of Museum-Committee for Conservation (ICOM-CC) Working group Modern Materials and Contemporary Art.

Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) will be available for the dedication and lecture on March 25. For more information, or if you need an accommodation in order to fully participate in these events, please contact Julia Chambers at jschambe@syr.edu by March 18.