German Democratic Plastics in Design: A Research Project on Material, Technology, and Conservation

Side Bar Image: 

Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles
TH Köln - Cologne Institute of Conservation Sciences, Köln
Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, München
Wende Museum, Culver City

 

 

Efbe LD 64 Hairdryer, 1964. Hubert Petras, designer. VEB Elektrogerätewerk Suhl, producer. Photo: Courtesy, Wende Museum.

 

The preservation of plastic objects poses a difficult challenge for conservators. The research into conservation of plastic objects, a relatively young discipline that only emerged in the 1990s, has been primarily focused on the identification of plastics, their degradation, and possible conservation and restoration methods. What has hardly been considered yet is the extent to which industrial production processes and manufacturing technologies influence both the long-term properties of plastics and their aging.

The present research project specifically deals with the identification of production processes and technologies for plastic materials that were used for industrial design in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) between 1949 and 1990, as well as their degradation and possible preventive and active measures.

In the years following World War II, the nation of Germany was split in two: the Federal Republic of Germany occupied by the United States, England, and France, and the GDR under Soviet control. West Germany and East Germany, as they were known in the United States, were rebuilt with different political ideologies and were economically and socially separated. Beginning in the 1950s, the GDR developed into one of the leading plastics-producing nations, exporting its products to almost all countries of the Eastern Bloc and even to the West via veiled channels. This continued until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1990. 

Project Goal

To date, conservation science has mainly focused on the role of a plastic's chemical profile on its degradation. The influences of the manufacturing conditions on aging properties have been largely neglected. Although the engineering sciences collect relevant data about the quality of new plastics and plastic objects, there are few interfaces between engineers, conservators, conservation scientists, and other scholars of cultural heritage. The present project aims to close this gap and through a systematic investigation and assessment of a temporally and geographically closed area to clarify this connection, to identify and characterize materials and to generate treatment recommendations from the collected data.

The project is accompanied by an expert meeting and a concluding specialist conference. The research results will be published internationally (Getty Conservation Institute series of publications). Part of the cooperation is the doctoral project: "Material memory: How are manufacturing, usage and aging traces related to the respective material properties and what can be revealed by reading the tracks" (working title) by Helena Ernst.

 

Die Neue Sammlung - The Design Museum

Tim Bechthold (Head of Conservation)
Josef Strasser (Chief Curator)
Helena Ernst (Project  Conservator/ PhD student)

 

Getty Conservation Institute (GCI)

Tom Learner (Head of Science)
Odile Madden (Senior Scientist)
Anna Laganà (Research Specialist)

 

Cologne Institute of Conservation Sciences

Friederike Waentig (Professor Conservation)
Ester Ferreira (Professor Conservation Science)

 

Wende Museum

Joes Segal (Chief Curator)
Christine Rank (Head of Collections)
Janie Köppen (Project Conservator)