RAPMUS - Reduced ageing and active preservation of plastics in museums and collections
Kira Wager // Photo: Ignat Wiig / Oslo Open
Art is valuable and need care to last. The preservation of objects made with plastics are less understood, and the risk is reduced longevity.
The RAPMUS project is establishing a common ground for plastics conservation in Norway and a meeting point for conservators and plastics industry expertise from Norner. Museums and art collections represent and administrate our common memory. The collections acquire and contain an increasing extent of materials and material combinations of different polymer materials. These materials have limited longevity, and they constitute major conservation challenges in an eternity perspective.
Conservation of objects made of polymer materials in public and private museums, as well as art and design collections, is a young research field which is not yet well developed. It has only been paid attention to during the last 25-30 years. There are still many basic challenges, especially when it comes to active treatment of the objects. The consequence of these unsolved challenges has been and still is that objects literally disintegrate and will be lost. These challenges can best be solved in collaboration between polymer scientists and technologists, museum conservators and administrators.
As part of this comprehensive research project running from 2017 to 2021 several museums and collections have met with researchers from Norner who design plastics for the industry, to establish a common knowledge base for plastics conservation in Norway. The goal is to raise the awareness and knowledge about plastics degradation and treatment options among the wast amount of plastic collections, and to develop procedures for stabilizing aged plastics when preventive methods are insufficient. Furthermore, there is a need to establish a common language and nomenclature to describe plastic objects within heritage collections.
Active conservation by repair and/or mechanical intervention in the objects is an undeveloped and complicated field. When degradation of polymer materials has started, it is very difficult to stop it. Longevity and the required storage conditions will be different for different polymer materials. An important part of the project has been to develop suitable methods and techniques which do not change the object visually, and which are not harmful to persons who perform the treatment, or to the environment in general. In addition, it has also been a target to find and recommend use of materials with good ageing properties, e.g. well stabilised polymer materials with excellent longevity at normal storage conditions.
The RAPMUS project is a collaboration project where Norwegian museum conservators together with Norner Research and the French institute Centre National d’Evalution de Photoprotection (CNEP) have co-operated to solve the mentioned challenges. Conservators from a wide variety of museums and collections has been involved and worked together with researchers from Norner and CNEP. Artist Kira Wager, who paint with oil on PVC plates has also been a participant in the project.
Active “post-stabilisation” of plastics
Active methods for increased longevity or service lifetime of readymade plastics are seldom available. In the polymer industry, the stabilization of plastic is done by mixing in stabilisers and antioxidants during the melt-processing step.
RADICAL INCREASE IN LONGEVITY
In the project we carried out a study on how ready-made plastics could be post-stabilized. Various stabilization systems and techniques were used to stabilise two materials (PP and PVC) which have very different structure and properties. After the poststabilization, the plastic parts were exposed to accelerated ageing in oven (e.g. 130 °C for PP). It was demonstrated that the inherent lifetime of ready-made plastic can be extended up to 1900% by “post-stabilization” compared to an untreated reference. This was achieved only with unique combinations of stabilisers while other did not show any improvement at all. This is illistrated in the figure below.
Successful development of methods and techniques for post-stabilization of ready-made plastic objectsparts, without any visual changes of the objectpart.
Demonstrated increased longevity of oil painting on PVC, when stored at the right conditions
Increased awareness and attention to plastic materials in museums and collections through qualitative and quantitative surveys on the types and conditions of plastic objects in the collections, including focus on the environmental conditions for the objects.
RAPMUS PROJECT FACTS AND FIGURES
Reduced ageing and active preservation of plastics in museums and collections is a project funded by “Regionalt Forskningsfond Vestfold og Telemark”
The project was planned for 36 months, but has been prolonged due to the Covid pandemic. (01.09.2017–31.08.2020)