Contemporary art Conservation Canada

Warrior comes out of his shell

Simon Starling’s sculpture to show its mussels

Starling’s take on Henry Moore

A conservator at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto has the painstaking task of reattaching mussel shells to Simon Starling’s sculpture Infestation Piece (Musseled Moore), 2006-08; the shells have dropped off in the six years since the British artist plucked the piece from Lake Ontario. Starling submerged a steel replica of Henry Moore’s Warrior with Shield, 1953-54, in 2006, so that a notoriously voracious, invasive species of mollusc—the zebra mussel—could colonise it.

The metal has corroded over the years, and the byssi—the fibres by which molluscs attach themselves to objects—have dried out, causing the mussels to fall off. The conservator Sherry Phillips is working to consolidate the shells and the corrosion layers. “Fortunately, the byssus connections typically remain, so I have a record of where the shells were once [attached],” she says. Phillips has consulted Starling about the treatment and says he is “pleased with the overall appearance of the sculpture and understands that the materials present challenges”.

Although the museum has a bucket full of spare shells that were collected when the sculpture was retrieved from the lake, Phillips intends to use the ones that have fallen off. She expects the treatment to take some time and says that the work will need to be revisited “many times in the coming years”.

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