Grant #506

Polar Bonds

October 24, 2022

Prized artifacts have long been preserved with poison. An artist asks: Is there a better way?

Museums are where we immortalize culture—the finest paintings, the best sculptures, unique specimens, rare collections, and, as the Canadian-Ukrainian artist Bianca Hlywa found out, some good intentions gone bad. 

Wait, what

It turns out that, for centuries, toxic chemicals have been applied to art works and heritage objects to prevent insects and mold from causing harm. That means poison remains in museums and archives at high concentrations, threatening museum workers, conservators, art handlers, shippers, and the communities to which stolen or looted artwork is now being returned. 

Bianca—who is based in London—is making a documentary that follows the Belgian company Integrated Contamination Management (ICM), which is leading the effort to extract the chemicals. (One institution that’s signed on? Buckingham Palace, which could perhaps use a little airing out!) 

Bianca sees the detoxing of artworks as a representation of all the ways cultural institutions have caused harm. Her documentary—titled Polar Bonds, a reference to an unequal bond between the electrons of two atoms—will show how taking the poison out of a painting is very much like an institution reckoning with its own historical shortcomings. 

Bianca will use our grant to rent equipment for her shoot, including a camera with extra lenses, audio equipment, hard drives, and more. We’re thrilled to help. Cleaning up a big mess is a group effort. 

Category: Activism, Art, Civic Engagement, Community, Education, Film