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Dialogue # 3: The Plastic Conservation Conundrum: Preserving Plastics in Museum Collections and Plastics’ Durability in the Environment

A program of:

Plastic Heart: Surface All the Way Through

Wednesday October 13, 6pm–7:30pm EDT
Online on Zoom
Watch the recording

Plastics have brought massive shifts to collective perceptions of disposability, yet this multifarious material persists in the environment for aeons. As both scientists and art conservators are aware, it is not an inert material, despite its classification as such. The ‘disposable permanence’ of plastic is more than a contradiction in terms. This panel dialogues with art conservators who work to preserve plastic objects despite the toxic and irreparable ways they can deteriorate, and scientists who analyze the paths and fate of plastics and its deterioration in the environment. Conservators, scientists, and curators on plastics attempt to understand a material with an opaque chemical make-up shrouded by industry secrets and unknown effects. This program speculates that links between diverse specialized fields may lead to a greater whole understanding of the long-term effects of plastics.


Courtney Asztalos (she/her/hers) is the curator of plastics and historical artifacts at the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) at Syracuse University Libraries, where she stewards the plastics collection area via outreach, instruction, and collection development.

Patricia Corcoran is a professor of sedimentary petrology and chair of the Department of Earth Sciences at Western University. One significant element of her research over more than a decade concerns the distribution, accumulation, and degradation of plastic debris in benthic sediment, surface water, and fish, and mussels of lakes, rivers, and oceans. Corcoran was the first Canadian researcher to publish results of plastic pollution. She has published 4 book chapters and 18 scientific papers (with an additional 2 submitted) and has given 33 invited public lectures and conference presentations on the topic. She has participated in Canada’s Zero Plastic Waste Initiative, as well as the development of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Marine Debris Action Plan. Corcoran’s research has been featured in numerous media outlets, such as National Geographic Magazine, the Huffington Post, Science Magazine, and the New York Times. In 2020, she was awarded Western University’s Fallona Interdisciplinary Award at Western University for her work with artists, humanities scholars, engineers, chemists, and biologists on the plastic pollution crisis.

Roger Griffith is the sculpture and objects conservator at The Museum of Modern Art where he has worked since 1998. He received his MA from the Royal College of Art/Victoria & Albert Museum Conservation Program (1997). Roger completed several internships including Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and the University of East Anglia: Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich England. He has published and lectured on various topics of conservation and his recent research examines the nature of the collaborative process of art professionals in regards to the exhibition installation, preservation, maintenance, and storage of ephemeral contemporary art.

Sherry Phillips is conservator of contemporary art at the Art Gallery of Ontario. She works closely with contemporary artists, objects, and installations to develop supportive frameworks within the institution in order to help realize authenticity and intentionality of an artist’s work and ideas. The management of contemporary art in the AGO permanent collection encompasses research and treatment of modern or traditional materials, time-based media, performance or living systems.

Dr. Lorena Rios Mendoza is a professor of Chemistry in the Department of Natural Sciences at the University of Wisconsin Superior. She graduated from Mexico with distinction in Doctorate of Chemistry Oceanology, and her BS is in Chemistry. Dr. Rios’s expertise is in environmental chemistry pollution. She has been researching marine plastic debris pollution since 2003 in CA beaches, the Pacific Ocean, and the Great Lakes. She participated in the Pellet Watch in Japan and is a scientific panellist to Joint Programming Initiative Healthy and Productive Seas and Oceans.

Kelly Jazvac (moderator) is a Canadian artist based in Montréal, Canada and a member of the Synthetic Collective. She currently has a solo exhibition at the MacLaren Art Centre (Barrie) and has recently exhibited at The Musée D’Art Contemporain (Montréal), The Museum of Modern Art (New York), Eli and Edyth Broad Museum (East Lansing), Ujazdowski Castle CCA (Warsaw) and FIERMAN Gallery (New York). Her work has been written about in National Geographic, e-flux Journal, Hyperallergic, Art Forum, The New Yorker, Canadian Art Magazine and The Brooklyn Rail. Her co-authored, collaborative art/science research has been published in scientific journals including Nature Reviews, GSA Today, and Science of the Total Environment.

Title and Page Image: Marianne Vierø, A Matter of Form (video still), 2021. 5-channel audio composition with 2-channel video, partly nonsynchronous. Courtesy of the artist.

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