Working on display

The functional nature of furniture belies its emotional significance within specific social contexts. The conservation of two armchairs from the Republic of China Military Academy (ROCMA), carried out on open display at the National Science and Technology Museum (NSTM) in Taiwan, was an opportunity to examine the symbiotic relationship between the understanding and the preservation of contentious heritage material. 

The chairs originate from the offices of General Chiang Kai-shek, first President of the Republic of China (1948-1975). A polarising yet fundamental figure in modernTaiwanese history, public perceptions of CKS range from national hero to ruthless dictator, although in recent years more moderate interpretations have emerged. Nonetheless, as societal values have changed, many CKS memorials have been removed or renamed to better represent contemporary Taiwanese society.

ROCMA requested stabilisation of the dusty and damaged upholstery, part of a museum display recreating CKS’s office. Work was carried out in NSTM’s Open Storage area, where visitors can engage directly with conservators. Visitor perceptions of the chairs often changed when learning of their provenance, simultaneously revealing the contentiousnature of CKS and his legacy to Taiwanese cultural identity. The conservator, as a non-Taiwanese, was in turn informed by the reactions of Taiwanese visitors and heritage workers, thereby developing a deeper understanding of the values embedded in the armchairs as perceived by its stakeholders, and questioning the neutrality of such treatments.