STRETCH IN SPACE. RESEARCH INTO THE MECHANICAL PROPERTIES OF INSTALLATIONS OF KNITTED POLYAMIDE UNDER STRESS
BY CARIEN VAN AUBEL, SUZAN DE GROOT, HENK VAN KEULEN, TATJA SCHOLTE, EMMY DE GROOT
Since the last decade artists as Ernesto Neto, Madeleine Berkhemer and Rosa Verloop started using knitted polyamide, also known as nylon, in artworks. Due to its characteristics as transparency, strength, tactility and elasticity. Although its strength, knitted polyamide under stress is very prone to chemical  and mechanical damage. This research focuses on the nature of sensitivity for mechanical damage of artworks made from knitted polyamide, to give more insight for possible conservation treatments.
The artwork of Ernesto Neto Célula Nave. It happens in the body of time, where truth dances (2004) from the collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (Rotterdam, NL) is used as a case study within this research. This interactive, space-filling and tent-like installation (24 x 20 x 4.75 m) mainly consists of knitted polyamide and can no longer be exhibited due to the amount of damage to this material. The damage is at such a state that it is now a ‘total loss’. Original spare material left behind after the installation in 2004 is used in this research. Also the red stockings used in the installation of Madeleine Berkhemer are investigated in this research.
The fabrics of the artworks have been explored to obtain a better understanding of the materials, construction and present damage using microscopy, FTIR Spectroscopy and Py-GC-MS. With a simple set-up the influence of light ageing on the tensile properties of the fabrics was determined. Also the light-fastness of the fabrics was determined.
It showed that warp and mainly weft knitted fabrics are used in the installation of Neto. Since the latter will not run, this also explains the presence of tears and holes in the main fabric. Also the construction and interaction of the public explains the present damage, respectively the tears in the ceiling where most of the stress is concentrated and the holes around the pillow where point load arises by stepping on and off the pillow.
Research to tensile stresses on the fabrics showed that artificial ageing does not result in a big difference in stretch. However, permanent stretch was very present in the main used fabric of the installation of Neto, which appears after 8 displays of 3 months. This would result in change of dimensions of the artwork. Research on the light fastness showed that the lightest colours would be faded after 5 exhibitions. The red stocking of Berkhemer showed differences in permanent stretch after 3 years and visible change in colour will only be visible after 9 years of continues display.
This research changed the opinion about installation of Neto being a ‘total loss’. Further research into conservation treatments would make it possible to display the work again. Restrictions on the use of and lighting conditions would elongate the life spam of both artworks but still represent the meaning. Nonetheless, the results of the tensile tests and artificial ageing showed that in the near future some of the fabrics would need to be replaced, wherefore these results can be an important contribution