Can arts and culture survive without plastic? Do bioplastics pose a threat to the preservation of artworks? Should we be looking towards new materials for future conservation? 

For many, plastic is a cursed word - a pollutant that can’t degrade fast enough. But for art conservators, it’s a cherished component, responsible for conserving a collection of significant works. Artworks comprised of plastic have been produced and displayed in museum collections since the early-twentieth-century, however, these works are deteriorating at an alarming rate, much to the dismay of conservators. 

This event will explore our complex relationship with plastic decomposition and the major role it plays in conserving works of art. It will also look at recent developments in plastic manufacturing taking into consideration environmental concerns and the production of biodegradable plastics with a potentially negative effect on the long term stability of plastic works within museum collections. 


Brenda Keneghan studied for a Masters Degree in Chemistry at University College Cork and her Ph.D. in Materials Science at Queen Mary, University of London. She worked for several years in academic research before joining the Conservation Department of the Victoria & Albert Museum where she has been responsible for the preservation of objects made from plastic for over 25 years. Brenda has undertaken condition surveys of the objects made from plastic among the various collections of the museum and also for other institutions e.g. English Heritage. She organised the conferences “Plastics – Looking at the Future and Learning from the Past” and “How Green is My Plastic?” at the V&A and led the Museum’s input in the EU funded project – ‘PopArt’ dealing with the preservation of plastic objects in collections. She has also supervised Ph.D. students and interns in the area of plastics in heritage collections.

Malcolm Collum is the Engen Conservation Chair at the Smithsonian, National Air and Space Museum and has been the Chief Conservator since 2008. He has a B.A. from the University of Minnesota and an M.A. and Certificate of Advanced Study in Art Conservation from Buffalo State College. Further studies were conducted at the National Museum of Science and Industry, London, England and at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  In 1996, Collum took a position at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village where he became Senior Conservator, specializing in the conservation of technological collections. In his current position at the National Air and Space Museum, he manages the Conservation Unit, working with curators and restoration specialists to devise appropriate preservation methodologies for aerospace artifacts. His goal is to highlight the benefits of technical analysis, conservation research, and innovative treatment methodologies by incorporating this work into the more traditional realms of restoration.

Gavin Murphy is a Dublin-based artist and curator with an interest in cultural sites and histories. His research-based, intertextual practice involves the assemblage of unique fabricated elements, sourced and found objects, images and texts, and has incorporated acrylic plastic (variously known as Plexiglass, Perspex, etc.) for many years, with the material coming to the fore in laser-cut text pieces produced since 2010. His acrylic works have featured in exhibitions at Temple Bar Gallery + Studios, Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, Tulca Festival of Visual Arts, Galway, and Changing States: Contemporary Irish Art & Francis Bacon’s Studio, BOZAR, Brussels. His book On Seeing Only Totally New Things was published by the RHA in 2013. As co-director/curator of Pallas Projects/Studios, he has devised and realised numerous artist-led projects and programmes, and was co-editor of the publication Artist-Run Europe: Practice/Projects/Spaces (Onomatopee, Eindhoven, 2016).


Ian Brunswick is a Head of Programming at Science Gallery Dublin, over the past 12 months Ian undertook a temporary role as the Futures Curator at Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries building. 

He joined the Science Gallery in 2010 originally leading the Events Programme and subsequently holding positions including Exhibitions and Events Manager, Head of Programming and Acting Director. He has overseen partnerships with diverse collaborators including University of Cambridge, Museum of Modern Art in New York, the HRB and the Wellcome Trust. As exhibitions lead, he has been responsible for the development of programmes including ILLUSION, DESIGN AND VIOLENCE, IN CASE OF EMERGENCY and SECRET. At Science Gallery Ian spearheaded a community-oriented approach to programming that empowers audiences to participate in exhibition development and co-develop events.

He is a member of the ECSITE annual conference programme committee, has been a jury member for the Bio-Art and Design Award, and has previously worked in media and founded multiple after-school programmes for young people. He holds a BA in Comparative Literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an MSc in Science Communication from DCU, and is a regular contributor to Irish radio.


  • Date: 
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  • Where: Paccar Theatre
  • Price: FREE
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