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TEDxTaipei '10 - Shun Ren Tsai on The importance of cultural relics

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Hi everybody It was the last day before I graduated from Fine Arts that I realized oil paintings as well as those cultural property around us such as, temples or western cathedrals will get sick they will wither as time goes by gradually fall into decay and then finally disappear. I personally am raising my own conscious towards the preservation of some Taiwanese cultural property because of my artistic background and works. Ten years ago, the information on the issue is very limited and rare Also, after that two floods as well as the dream of becoming a conservator I've travelled around the globe and I'm now back to Taiwan So, I would like to show everyone I'm professional at oil painting, and I'm an oil painting restorer concerning oil paintings it's liekly to have some pathological changes Western oil paintings following the general conventions that they will top their works with a protection layer when they are done with the paintings we often call it varnish This old duke is like this is not that he is old and has become skinny it is because of the varnish has aged. Restorer will choose correct liquid and methods to clean up the painting. Now you can see the before and after of this painting. Then, restorer will be doing something as a plastic surgeon does to rejuvenate him This is a 400-year old Dutch duke painting. Ok Now The next one was picked up from the river in New Orleans. Madonna, as known as Maria. Its lower part had been destroyed completely. A very severe laceration. What a restorer needed to do was to be a tailor and sew back what it was damaged. Then, reconstruct its texture. After that The restorer had to be like a plastic surgeon to give back its beautiful hands. OK, I came to Heerlen in the Netherlands. I also did a restoration work there. It was a ceiling fresco done by a locally well-known painter, Charles Eyck. Because it suffered from the bombing attack during the World War II. So you can see its basal layer was damaged. You can also see the basal layer in the middle of the fresco, its plaster layer is gone. So we had to work on the restoration on the mark later on. The scaffold was about 7-floor high. I stayed there for about 3 months. I couldn’t stop trembling in the first week. Now you could see it was restored gradually. You could also see the traces of the process until it was complete. OK, so Which floods brought me to another corner of the world to learn how to restore paintings? In fact, this kind of information was very limited about 10 years ago. I didn’t know how to make my dream come true. The dream of knowing what painting restoration really is. So, I looked through some books. and found the place. It is Florence. There was a severe flood in 1966. It washed out most of the rarities of the Renaissance that the city had collected. Until today, 40 years later. When I was there learning as an apprentice, I constantly received many more paintings they left and had not been restored or were in the process of restoration. This is what it looks like right now. Actually, all the residents in the city, including politicians, and the local constantly strive for one thing. It is to preserve everything it was 300 years ago in this city. I think they could find a great balance to I think they could find a great balance to make the city run smoothly between how to preserve its cultural heritage well and its economic benefits So, I started learning in this city. Of course I wasn’t such a good student who could stay in school well-behaved Until the second week after I arrived this institute, I realized that I didn’t belong to this school. So I left and tried to use my very poor Italian “Posso lavorare con lei?” to look for any studio in the city to let me work for them for free. So I walked around in Florence to find one that I could learn After trying more than 10 studios, I finally found one, Church of the Holy Spirit. If you happen to travel to Firenze, as known as Florence, you will see there’s an old house below the bell tower. That was the very first place I studied under a master. I stayed there for a bit more than 3 years. The master told me, “I hired you is because you knew nothing and because you, I think you are strong enough to help me move things here, and sweep the floor too.” So, my first job, thinking of becoming a painting restorer being an apprentice, The dream of that was crushed. What I was doing for 6 months was clean the floor and pick up trash. Let me show you what I look like when moving stuff there. Why he needed to move stuff was because he was really good at making money. Since he often gets many large-sized collections, he couldn’t move by himself. He would need another person to help him. The second duty I had been doing during that time was This is a Neapolitan School of painting, about 500 years ago. It had gone through one restoration already. We can often see an old cloth underneath the painting we want to restore. Why is that? This is similar to the mounted ads of Chinese ink painting. It is to add weight to its weakened firmness. Sometimes we would take this cloth off and keep it. Why? Because a 500-year old painting usually after the first 200 years, it would have to undergo a restoration once. Then this cloth could possibly be useful someday. So this cloth we took off could be about 200 or 300-year old. If … if you are lucky, this cloth will be used. So, my master often threw out this kind of trash. I would have to pick them up and distinguish what could be used and what could be thrown away. OK The one on the right was one of the large-sized paintings that we got very often. In old times, the rich all like to make the paintings fit into what they liked in their houses. So, they may cut them. They would trim a hole simply because there was a beam. Therefore, this painting could be trimmed a hole off hundreds or a hundred years ago. Then, this current collector might turn out to hope to restore it to the original state. We were glad that we had collected much useful trash. So we found this one to be the new patch. A new patch like this could also be from 200 years ago. It could have the same texture and the same thickness. After turning it around, we started dealing with the texture of its surface and some details of it. Adding side light to inspect the painting at night and see the surface was smooth. Then, used hands to examine If the whole texture was the same. Then, you would see there’s not much difference. Moreover, it became stronger. After more than 6 months, I gained my master’s trust and praise and started my second job duty. As a matter of fact, he knew in the beginning when I came in that I was painter. So I had a very strong desire toward painting. But being a painting restorer is totally different from being a painter. He wanted me to give up all the desires toward painting, or I wouldn’t be able to really know what I was about to fix I might have made a mild landscape painting into a Fauvism kind of Matisse Painting. So, I had to clear my mind to understand what I was touching and what I was trying to fix. What was that? From all the observations, then we would forget what previous teachers had taught us and forgot what was written on the books because we are those who touch these paintings in the front line. This is what I did when I was working on fixing the textures. Why did I have to do this? Because when the layer was broken If I had only applied a flat layer of plaster or liquid solution on top of the painting, once you applied the color to it, It would shine. This would only make other viewers know this painting had been fixed before. The success is usually determined on a tiny spot like this one cm or two cm place. We would use a feather along with some adequate material to slowly restore its textures and its layers. Then, apply a protective layer in order to complement the colors. These are all basic skills. So I did all these over and over. At that time, I wasn’t fully aware of why he asked me to do these for 2 and half years. After picking up trash and moving stuff around and did the same work for 2 and half years, Until I stared working on the restoration, I finally realized what he wanted me to do was to give up everything to give up the desires of painting and to do all these work obediently. Once you do it for a while, you will be skillful. Then, you can ask the new comer to do the same if you have a new apprentice. He is actually a very simple-minded person. Maybe students should be careful if I start getting apprentices. So you may have known that After I became more skillful, I still wasn’t assigned any new jobs. There were only he and I in the whole studio. Until the third year there, I started working on larger-sized paintings. Until I followed another flood Where is it? In 2005, Typhoon Katrina destroyed the entire New Orleans. In 2007, the third year after I got to the studio, I got this news. Instead, he said, “You, open your heart to figure out what Americans are doing. Then come back and tell me how they make money.” OK. This is what New Orleans was like when the flood stuck the city. then I stayed there for more than a year, listened to much Jazz music, And left Bach. Then, different restoring skills and thoughts started flooding in. At that time, I saw a little princess. It is the painting I was to restore. It was so beautiful that it shocked me for 2 days and 2 nights. This is what it was like when I got it. It stayed like this for 2 years in the studio before I took the job. Nobody wanted to touch it because it looked dirty and smelly. So I looked at it. I didn’t know what it was. Because I only had 18 minutes, so I couldn’t surprise you too long. I will let you see what it really is in 2 minutes. We used a lot of infrared rays and other lights to test it and investigate it. There was indeed some portrait in it. But I really didn’t know what it was. But my client kept telling me, “It is beautiful. You have to help me fix it. It is really beautiful.” So we removed the frame and gave it to the frame restorer because we restorers divide our work thoroughly. After that, the princess seemed to appear slowly. But we still didn’t know what it was like. The same way like before, we are looking for the right dissolvent with appropriate methods slowly washing it out as it is gradually showing Ok appearing little by little you can see the darker place in which was totally eroded by the flood in New Orlenes as well it might even be the part collided I was there as a sewer From the previous black-colored part till the current one I've only done the job for about two-month's time spent 6 hours a day with it so I understand it the most and the slowly its foreground and itself need to be well arranged and appears This is a Dutch painting that can be traced back to the 17th centure, 1616 Due to the little princess's experience, as well s the two floods triggers my interest in travelling around the world in search of new oil painting skills and concepts During the process, I've also made new acquitance to distinguished conservators they taught me a lot of important skills After that, I was back in Italy again I was brought to Galleria degli Uffizi by the well-known local conservator, Stefano Scarpelli I was therefore lucky to encounter the painting by the father og Renaissance I've also travelled to the Netherands working for the conservation of national collections I've been travelling around the world for long and felt it's time to go back to Taiwan However, my original intention diminished when I was in Europe, A reason for me to go back here The one who's lecturing in the afternoon, Job His works displayed in Expo 2010 Shanghai China dragged me back to Asia Accepting the invitation by the Dutch government, as well helping with Job;s installation, Clock Shop, and other conservation jobs, I get to come back to Taiwan cooperating with the Council for Cultural Affairs. Taiwan also has the same problem as the little princess does a whole lot of them where at? insode the temples around us all contain such problems are they gone? do they need to be deconstructed and then reconstructed? it's infrared-rays testing they still remain intact

Video Details

Duration: 15 minutes and 27 seconds
Country: United States
Producer: The Big Question Ltd.
Director: The Big Question Ltd.
Views: 110
Posted by: tedxtaipei on Nov 5, 2010

Shun-Ren Tsai is a Taiwanese oil painter restorer. He studied the artworks of GIotto di Bondone and Bernardo Strozzi at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. In 2007, Tsai restored artworks destroyed by the 2005 Hurricane Katrina by using the ideas, techniques, and materials he learned throughout his studies in Italy. In 2009, Tsai was employed by the Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg (SRAL), a conservation institute in the Netherlands, to restore ruined Dutch artworks. Tsai continues to employ traditional methods while learning modern restoration techniques.

In 2010, Tsai was appointed by De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art in Tilburg, Netherlands, to restore artwork at the 2010 Shanghai Expo.

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