Festival of Plastics

28 September 2022

Earlier in September we attended the Festival of Plastics, held at the Museum of London.  This festival was a celebration of the COMPLEX project which was coming to an end after five years.  The project, run by UCL’s Institute for Sustainable Heritage, received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme (No 716390).  Our Chief Curator, Susan Lambert, has been a member of the project's steering group and we have been fascinated by the activity of the project from the beginning.

The festival included fascinating talks from a variety of speakers including a keynote from Yvonne Shashoua on the ‘Long term storage of plastics’ which was really interesting.  Yvonne wrote the seminal book ‘Conservation of Plastics’, a book we refer to regularly, so it was great to hear her talking on the subject again.

Yvonne Shashoua talking about the ‘Long term storage of plastics’. 
Image credit: Louise Dennis

We were not there just as observers.  Susan contributed a pre-recorded presentation about the project ‘A curator’s guide to synthetic garments’ which MoDiP has managed as part of the Plastics Subject Specialist Network (PSSN) alongside the Dress and Textiles Specialists (DATS).  The guide's purpose is to enable participants to improve the documentation and interpretation of collections of synthetic garments and to act as a stand-alone guide for basic synthetic textile identification.  It can be used alongside the other PSSN resources (A curator's guide to plastics and Confronting plastics preservation) to develop a fuller understanding of the various materials and their needs.

Susan Lambert's presentation about synthetic garments. 
Image credit: Louise Dennis

We also had a stall which offered us an opportunity to talk to delegates about MoDiP and the resources that we can offer to museums and other interested parties.  We took along objects from the Identifying Plastics Toolkit https://www.modip.ac.uk/projects/toolkit which caught the eye of the Institute of Conservation Modern Materials Network (ICON MMN) - thank you for the nice comments on Twitter guys, we aim to please.


A lovely tweet from ICON MMN.
Image credit: Fabiana Portoni

We found ourselves rather conveniently situated next to the UCL table, where there was an array of equipment on display and some amazing PhD students demonstrating how to identify different plastics materials using Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR).  Seizing the opportunity, we were able to analyse some of MoDiP's objects which we just happened to have bought with us (anyone would think this was pre-planned!).  We also bombarded the UCL team with questions as research for a project we are hoping to develop to test the rest of our collection.  Big thanks to Dr Katherine Curran, Louise Garner and Saya Miles for all of your help with this and apologies for monopolising so much of your time!

Katherine having a go at External Reflectance FTIR.
Image credit: Louise Dennis

Lastly, Louise also represented the museum during the panel discussion at the end of the day. She was flanked by Yvonne and Susan Mossman, Chair of the Plastics Historical Society, and joined by some of the other speakers from UCL and Tate.  This rounded off a great day full of interesting talks, networking and fact-finding opportunities.

Louise on stage for the panel discussion, second left.
Image credit: Katherine Pell.

Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP, and Katherine Pell, Collections Officer.