BIG TROUBLE WITH “IRON SPAGHETTI”
Research and restoration of abraded metal surfaces
by Jean Tinguely`s Méta-Harmonie II (1979)
Markus Broecker, Carole Maitre
Schaulager – Laurenz Stiftung, Basel, Switzerland
The rattling, clanking, humming and hammering of Jean Tinguely’s colossal ‘sound-mixing machine’, Méta-Harmonie II, had become ever fainter in the course of its thirty-eight-year-long lifespan. The restoration of this remarkable work of art, pieced together out of scrap metal, musical instruments, toys, hundreds of screws, drive belts and springs, could not be put off any longer. Too many mechanical parts were badly worn. Without swift intervention by conservators certain components that had been in constant attrition were at risk of breaking apart. The team of conservators headed by Marcus Broecker and Carole Maître of Schaulager as well as Jean-Marc Gaillard, conservator at Museum Tinguely and former assistant to the artist, got down to the job of restoring the work to its erstwhile glory.
A kinetic sculpture such as the large-scale Méta-Harmonie II is by nature subject of wear and tear. The conservation team most prominently had to deal with traces of abrasion on the surfaces of the moving parts, the constant friction between metal parts moving against each other causing iron particles to rub off. After almost 40 years in operation, certain levers and cranks reduced the material of the respective element by a third to nearly half of the original diameter. In the past, conservators would use metal sleeves in order to protect the affected areas; an effective, although aesthetically unacceptable intervention. A research project was thus carried out in collaboration with EMPA (Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology) in order to develop a synthetic resin supposed to be applied on the surface, with the aim to extend the durability of these components and thus preserve their function, without causing an aesthetical impact. Test specimens made of various synthetic resins were tested for their resistance to shocks and friction – even their sound were analysed. Subsequently, an adequate material could be identified and used as a discreet addition to the defects. This lecture presents the experimental results of the scientific research project and the practical steps of the metal supplementation.