Lisa Witte

Doubts about Casting Doubt

To what extent can you restore a work before you affect its authenticity?

Casting Doubt is an art project created by Masha Ru and Jasmin Moeller. The open-air project consists of a series of flowerbeds, each with a self-reflective question on the side, formed by pins. By answering the questions, the visitor can find out what type of artist they would have been. Together with a seedcard of different answer options, they then plant their answer with the corresponding seeds in the beds. The project was set up in 2015 and is already developing some signs of its old age. The silver pins have withstood all kinds of weather, giving them a layer of rust. A number of wooden planks of the flower boxes have become worn and the boxes suffer from weeds and overgrowth. It's time for a restoration. However, there are a number of things to consider when restoring an art project. For example, to what extent can you alter the elements of a work before it loses its identity?


View on Casting Doubts/Twijfel Zaaien, May 2020 - Abbie Moran

A few years ago, these considerations were widely reported in Dutch news. Concerns arose about the restoration of the wedding portraits of Maerten and Oopjen by Rembrandt van Rijn. In 2015, the works were purchased jointly by the Louvre and the Rijksmuseum. However, France and the Netherlands have a different view of how old paintings should be restored. In the Netherlands discolored layers of varnish, this is a transparent protective layer that is spread on top of the paint, is often removed to do justice to the original colors of the painting. This would show the artist's original color intent. In France however, discolored varnish layers are left on the work. Just think of the yellowish shades of the Mona Lisa. For them, the discoloration of the canvas is seen as an emphasis of the work's age and as a valuable part of the artwork.

Let's take a look at how the experts in the field deal with this. Specialized conservators work according to an ethical code compiled by the E.C.C.O. (European Confederation of Conservators / Conservators Organizations). One of the obligations of this code is to respect the aesthetic, historical and spiritual significance as well as the physical integrity of the cultural heritage they restore. There is no hierarchy given to these values. The aesthetic meaning of a work can be interpreted as the original aesthetic considerations made by the artist, as well as the color intention in the example of the Rembrandts. The historical significance and physical integrity, on the other hand, seem more in line with the values that France sets for the original varnish layer.

Which value should be prioritized by Casting Doubts? We answer the question by delving into the original intention of the artists.
The artists of Casting Doubts, Jasmin Moeller and Masha Ru, both have a passion for research. Where Jasmin Moeller is interested in psychological research and behavioral studies, Masha Ru is engaged in cultural and spiritual research. Both artists see an educational value to Casting Doubts, which gives the visitor the opportunity to selfreflect and to get to know themselves better through the in-depth questions. These questions train self-awareness and support self-development. The range of flowers and plants sown by the visitors then emerges as an infographic of insights and opinions. The intention of the art project is therefore mainly educational and participatory in nature. The physical integrity of the project lies within the constant developments and discoveries that the project experiences. Reversing the development of the project to its original aesthetic state would lose some of its intention and integrity.

Mediamatic prioritizes sustainability. This includes the use of sustainable materials and bio-diverse seeds that were selected in collaboration with Mediamatic during the development of Twijfel Zaaien. This sustainable intention is part of the project's legacy as well. Therefore, the Casting Doubts restoration process requires a sustainable approach with minimal replacements.

The intentions of the artists and the institution are well matched. A minimalist approach most accurately represents the identity of both parties. This means that old materials will not be completely replaced to restore the original aesthetic appearance, but only broken and defective parts will be repaired so that the physical integrity remains as intact as possible. The age and development process of Seeding Doubt will remain visible. 

Unknown (30 September 2015), ‘Rembrandts gezamenlijk gekocht door Frankrijk en NederlandHistoriek. 

Visser, Y.(1 February 2016), ‘Huwelijksportretten Rembrandt gerestaureerd in Amsterdam’, Historiek. 

Unknown (7 May 2003), ‘E.C.C.O. richtlijnen voor het beroep: Ethische code’, European Confederation of Conservator-Restorers’ Organisations.