Future Heritage Past: Hans Rosenström’s Shoreline installation (ARoS Triennial, Aarhus, Denmark, 2017)

As European City of Culture (2017), Aarhus has been host to a series of significant exhibitions and other creative events this year. Perhaps one of the most ambitious has been the 1st ARoS Triennial Exhibition, entitled THE GARDEN – End of Times; Beginning of Times (June 3–July 30, 2017). Quoted in Isobel Harbison’s Art Agenda review (http://www.art-agenda.com/reviews/%E2%80%9Cthe-garden%E2%80%94end-of-times-beginning-of-times%E2%80%9D/) ARoS’s director, Erland Høyersten promised that the exhibition would “thematize man’s [sic.] coexistence with, and view on, nature … over a period of 400 years”, the Triennial exhibition focussed on depictions of nature throughout history over three sites. Representing ‘The Past’ are over 100 works of art (mostly painting) located in a series of galleries within the main ARoS Art Gallery. ‘The Present’ is represented through a half dozen or so installations down at the redeveloping Docklands area, while ‘The Future, is displayed through a couple of dozen installations strung out along the coast and through the forest to the south of the city centre. Apparently, the Exhibition’s opening coincided with President Donald Trump’s announcement that the US intended to withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Agreement. It is not the task of this Blogsite to pass comment on the artistic merit, depth or meaning (for me, some ‘worked’ and some didn’t), but one piece struck me in particular as having resonance with this ‘Geographies of Heritage’ Blog, both in terms of its subject matter, and (perhaps ironically) in terms of its demise (or destiny!?)

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Shoreline, by Hans
Rosenström (Three channel sound installation, concrete, paint, view, 10:16 minutes. Photo by Anders Sune Berg

I cycle along this stretch of coast each morning on my way to work, and the last installation that I passed each morning was Shoreline, by Hans Rosenström. According to the artist (see: https://hansrosenstrom.net/shoreline/), the view of the horizon represents the future, and the constructed ‘ruin’ (or folly) cites a fragment of a Caspar David Friedrich painting (Klosterfriedhof im Schnee, 1817/1819). It is a nice way of confounding linear temporalities, especially since ‘The Past’ section of The Garden exhibition contained some Friedrich paintings:

“Grounded on the earth, gazing out to the shoreline, the viewer will hear disembodied but present voices, overlapping and interweaving raising issues of how nature’s and our own communities are formed and relationships between them. The text is written in collaboration with the Palestinian poet Farah Chamma” (Rosenström 2017)

Interestingly, Friedrich’s Klosterfriedhof im Schnee was itself destroyed during in Berlin during air raids in 1945 – and it is Berlin, of course, which has become a lens through which so many scholars (planners and architects, journalists and writers, historians and philosophers) have since pondered on the temporality of life, place and identity (e.g. Gunter Grass, Cees Neeteboom, Karen Till, Neil MacGregor). Indeed, in his essay on ‘presentism’ and relations between time and heritage, Francois Hartog (2005: 9) called Berlin a laboratory of reflection, and it is to Hartog’s reflections on the temporality of heritage to which I am prompted by Rosenström’s Shoreline installation. According to Hartog, we are living in a time of overwhelming heritagisation and museification, where the past is daily created and merchandised. This proliferation of heritage, Hartog argues, is a sign of rupture: “heritage has never thrived on continuity but on the contrary, from ruptures and questioning the order of time, with the interplay of absence and presence, visibility and invisibility. […] Heritage is one way of experiencing ruptures, or recognizing them and reducing them, by locating, selecting, and producing semaphores” (Hartog 2005; 15).

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So, does this make Rosenström’s Shoreline a semaphore? … something that causes us to question the order of time, and to critique Western linear conceptions of inevitable progress? In many ways, perhaps this gives our engagement with heritage (and engagement of heritage) some positive potential – that heritage process and practice can do something. Hartog mentions that heritage can help us reduce or overcome ruptures by locating ourselves, and so by asking these questions, does it allow us to make an intervention? The ability to locate ourselves through semaphores, and make selections, is suggestive of a purposeful or mobile sense of nostalgia, situated in the present but with an eye to the future. Maybe this can be something that has promise – though Hartog seems quite pessimistic:

“The future is no longer a bright horizon towards which we advance, but a line of shadow that we have drawn towards ourselves, while we have come to a standstill in the present, pondering on a past that is not passing” (Hartog 2005; 16).

So what happened to Rosenström’s Shoreline installation? The Exhibition ended on 30th July, and over a couple of days, the ‘ruined’ folly was taken down, broken up and carried away to be discarded. The installation was dis-assembled and ‘skipped’ – a ruin was ‘ruined’! Not sure what that means!

 

 

 

 

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Sighthill, Glasgow: a Megalithic Monument Going Back and Forth in Time

Earlier this summer, the Sighthill Megalith, close to Glasgow city centre underwent some serious restoration work, being moved, re-sited, and ‘re-sighted’, so as to be aligned with the sun on Summer Solstice.

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The original monument was built in 1979 as part of a Glasgow Parks Department job creation scheme, but on the election of Margaret Thatcher’s government, the funding was pulled before the stones could be placed accurately, according to astronomical alignments. Indeed, the whole 1970s build-phase had some serious astronomical issues anyway, being placed in the ‘wrong location’ because the original site chosen was deemed unsuitable since it turned out that a large slab-block of flats would have obscured the view of the sun on the Solstice!

Sighthill with flats

The Glasgow Herald (page 8, 19th June 2017) described the realignment work that was taking place during the 2017 Solstice week as “recreating Britain’s first authentically – and accurately – aligned stone circle to have been erected in more than 3000 years”. The Herald highlighted the way that the Sighthill stones mirrored certain key Neolithic sites in Scotland such as those at Callanish in Lewis and at Stennes in Orkney. In many ways, this effort reflects a distinctly ‘national’ project, with a specific ambition to make links to famous ‘Scottish’ Neolithic sites, and is described by the project’s champion, Alasdair Gray, as work that “continues a Prehistoric Scottish tradition”. Thus, the building work acts to requisition the efforts of people from the Neolithic period (who would certainly have had no conception of a “Scotland”) into being a baseline of cultural and technological development for a distinctly ‘Scottish’ nation. In this respect, these actions mirror the Scottish National Museum’s attempt to place the Pictish carved monument at ‘Hilton of Cadboll’ within a distinctly ‘Scottish’ linear narrative of cultural development (see the work of Sian Jones, and also Harvey 2015). However, while the Hilton of Cadboll stone is a ‘genuine’ Pictish carved stone, placed at the ‘start’ of a story of national artistic progress, the Sighthill Megalith is a product of a 1970s urban job creation scheme, in search of ancient antecedents. Mind you, as Sian Jones notes, whatever the material origins of the Hilton stone, its meaning today should also acknowledge the adherence of the present day population to the stone as having contemporary meaning for the people in the village. So what should we make of the Sighthill Megalith?

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By providing a seemingly direct link to a suitable deep past, it seems to supply an air of legitimacy to the nation of Scotland; of originary solidity to a sense of linear inevitability in Scottish progress. On the other hand, the story also tells of a more recent past; one of post-war urban redevelopment schemes in Glasgow, the emasculation of local government and the attitudes of Thatcherism to local artistic practice, and perhaps a desire to do things better.

Rebuilding in the name of ‘conservation’ is a common practice that tends to overturn neat ideas about there being a palimpsest of archaeological layers. Wilkinson and Harvey (2017) found that the regular rebuilding of Tarr Steps in Exmoor after each flood was at the heart of what made Tarr Steps an ‘ancient monument’ (see also this blog: https://geographiesofheritage.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/how-to-build-an-ancient-monument-tarr-steps/). The Sighthill Megalith, however, differs from Tarr Steps (or the Hilton stone), since there is never a pretence of built material continuity – no-one would claim that the Sighthill stones are ‘Neolithic’ in a material sense.

Sighthill building work

The images of the Sighthill stones being re-positioned and re-alligned are reminiscent of the re-building of famous Neolithic sites such as Avebury and Newgrange. Indeed, at Newgrange, there was a similar effort to re-align the stones according to the Solstice – the Winter Solstice in the case of Newgrange. These efforts seem intent on producing what might be described (following Umberto Eco) as a ‘simulacrum’, where the copy is better and more real than the original. But I’m not sure that this is very fair either. For one thing, again, there is no pretence of the site being literally ‘from the deep past’, and for another thing, while sites such as Avebury and Newgrange were rebuilt in a stridently national cause, a deeper look at the Sighthill Megalith reveals a distinctly locally orientated and more humble initiative.

Thus, the Sighthill Megalith seems to be a much more open and future-orientated example of heritage-making in process. The re-siting and re-sighting efforts do not seem to be activities of ‘completion’, nor (despite some of the rhetoric in the Scottish press) do they seem to be overtly ‘national’. Rather, they appear to be commemorative of earlier skills (call them ‘Scottish’ or not!), and provide a canvass for future memory practice. Glasgow City Council officials talk brightly of how the “Sighthill megalith will be a key feature of the new Sighthill, [with] its new life emblematic of the rebirth of the area”; (I guess they need to say such things to underline the value of ongoing urban redevelopment work). But as an imaginative piece of heritage work that allows an open-ended sense of enchantment to bubble to the surface, I have a lot of time for the re-sighted Megalith site of Sighthill!

Sighthill _flowers-at-sighthill

Harvey D.C. (2015) ‘Heritage and scale: settings, boundaries and relations’, International Journal of heritage Studies, volume 21(6), pp. 577-593.

Wilkinson, T. and Harvey, D.C. (2017) ‘Managing the future of the past: images of Exmoor landscape heritage’, Landscape Research, DOI: 10.1080/01426397.2017.1315380.

(Pictures all from Google Images).

 

 

 

Ancient woodlands and woodland memories: dreams of re-wilding, from Dartmoor to Caledonia

While on a field trip to Dartmoor last term, on a cold and windy day, we were all very relieved to be able to shelter in Wistman’s Wood. This is one of my favourite spots on the Moor. People talk about the place being enchanted and mysterious, but I think I like it most because it is always so full of life. … there is always the sound of bird song, even in the middle of Winter; the trees are draped with various mosses and lichens, and even a non-botanist can plainly see how numerous and diverse the plant life is.

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Wiseman’s Wood in Winter

Wistman’s Wood is normally referred to as an ‘ancient woodland’ – a glimpse of what much of Dartmoor might have looked like thousands of years ago; a magical piece our ‘natural heritage’, to be treasured and protected.

The biodiversity of the Woods was brought home to me during one visit I made with a colleague from the University of Minnesota, Professor Jim Perry. Jim is an ecologist, and as we sat down on a patch of nearby empty moorland, he implored me to “Listen!”… We sat and listened… Silence! …

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Dartmoor!

OK; we could hear the occasional skylark, but not much else. As an ecologist, Jim spent about 10 seconds rooting around on the ground before announcing that we were sitting in a desert – very few species; hardly anything able to live here. About 20 minutes later, we were sitting within Wistman’s Wood, and once again, Jim implored me to “Listen!”…

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Wiseman’s Wood in the Summer

A myriad of different vibrant bird song, and a humming buzz of insect life. Jim spent 20 minutes rooting around, counting up the pieces of plant, lichens, moss, beetles, insects and other inhabitants, just within a 5 yard circle from where he was sitting. We couldn’t actually stay there for very long though, since the insects started to bite, and we had to move on.

This is a familiar type of narrative, often repeated by those people who are enthusiasts for ‘re-wilding’ – the supporters of policies that seek to overturn many of the present agricultural practices of management in our upland spaces. Rather than (artificially) maintaining open spaces of moorland expanse, people like George Monbiot would curtail upland grazing by sheep and cattle, so as to encourage the progression of a ‘natural’ process of plant and animal succession towards that of a state of ‘ancient woodland’; rich in biodiversity – to be more like Wistman’s Wood, than an open ‘desert’ moorland landscape.

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Cattle grazing on the open moorland, just west of Princetown

I can see the point that the ‘re-wilding brigade’ are making – particularly when I am sitting in Wistman’s Wood! The re-wilding sentiment seems to have caught the public’s imagination, perhaps in connection to the recent popularity of New Nature Writers. So, I was a little surprised when I read an article in the Guardian, entitled “Scottish climbers and gamekeepers unite to oppose woodland plan” (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/feb/15/scottish-governments-forestry-strategy-called-into-question)

As the article noted, Mountaineers and Gamekeepers rarely see eye to eye. The former are usually diligently interested in issues of open access and the ‘freedom to roam’, while the latter are generally keen to restrict access for the sake of deer stalking and grouse shooting activities. Apparently, though, the Government is keen to increase the amount of forest in Scotland as a climate change measure – but of course, more forests might mean a reduction in open moorland; a distinctive character of Scotland’s upland landscapes. In a joint letter, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and Mountaineering Scotland say that they are worried about the threat of forestry to Scotland’s “dramatic open views and vistas”.

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Knoydart, Scotland – ‘characteristic’ open expanse of landscape

As a keen walker and occasional Munro-bagger myself, I can see the point. Indeed, looking back through my hill walking photos, I see that I have numerous examples of “dramatic open vistas’, in Scotland and elsewhere, including Dartmoor.

Woods-dartmoor empty

A student on my Dartmoor field trip, however, put me on to a Blog, which followed this point up (https://adriancolston.wordpress.com/2017/02/16). Entitled “A Curious Row about Trees in Scotland”, the article picked out and developed some further points of clarification from Mountaineering Scotland. Despite the tone of the Guardian article, the Mountaineers and the Gamekeepers were mostly keen to get some clarification on a coherent policy from the Government, and were worried about the potential for the treasured wide-open vistas to be destroyed by commercial coniferous plantations.

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I can certainly see this point, being no fan of dense conifers myself. Whatever one might say about open moorland being a ‘desert’, replacing one green desert with another (slightly darker green) doesn’t make sense. But what intrigued me the most, however, was that in their clarification, Mountaineering Scotland called for the growth of native woodland, and conservation of Scotland’s “iconic Caledonian pine forests”. So, from a discussion of iconic open spaces, to one of iconic Caledonian pine forests. But what is a Caledonian pine forest?

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It always strikes me that the phrase ‘Caledonian pine’ is often misunderstood, and greatly misused; as Christopher Smout of the Scottish Forestry Trust has recently noted “It is often assumed … that Caledonian Forest was composed of Caledonian pinewoods, which is not true at all” (http://www.scottishforestrytrust.org.uk/userfiles/file/projects/p13-243%20inaugural%20rsfs%20annual%20lecture/scots%20pine.pdf)

It turns out that there is no such thing as a “Caledonian pine”, most people – seemingly – confusing and conflating what they think is a ‘Caledonian pine’ with a ‘Scots Pine’, which is one of the most widely distributed trees in the world today. Indeed, as Smout goes on to say, much of the diverse mix of trees, flora and fauna that might be found in a ‘Caledonian forest’ has had a very long history of co-evolution with humans: “to assume, as many environmentalists do, that you can get ‘back to nature’ (i.e. to a time before human influence) by seeking to recreate the world before farming is wrong” – and it might even be that blanket bog and the open moorland country might actually be the natural climax vegetation for much of northern and western Highlands of Scotland.

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So, where does this leave us? A debate about ‘re-wilding’ in several forms – certainly a general conclusion that the ‘wild’ part of ‘re-wilding’ is always an imaginative pretense. There is a strong notion that it is never a good idea to apply a blanket policy in our uplands – either to ‘re-wild’ or not. But also, implicit within these debates is an often-glossed over recognition of human-non-human co-evolution and co-existence.

Somehow, I feel that the re-imposition of a vast ‘Caledonian pine forest’ (comprised of scots pines, and running with wolves, lynxes, beavers and bears) would be an injustice to the memory of numerous generations of human inhabitants of the Highlands of Scotland; their lives, experiences and activities. Taking just one (almost?) entirely unpopulated Glen in Knoydart as an example, a cursory examination of a map of Glen Carnoch reveals a multitude of Gaelic place names:

Coire na Gaoithe n’Ear: Corrie of the East Wind

Beinn an Aodainn: Mountain of the Face

Allt Achaddh a’Ghlinne: River of the field of the glen

Bealch na h-Eangair: Pass of the mill

Who once lived in this valley, and who named these features? The Glen is ‘empty’ today, but the names suggest that there was once a mill (probably a simple ‘clach’ mill), and that the side valley once contained a ‘field’. If we carry out a policy of ‘re-wilding’, the memory of the field will be erased. In striving for a ‘Highland Wilderness’ that never existed, the exploits and experiences of real people who once lived in these glens, the descendants of whom are now spread around the world, might be lost forever.

On a more prosaic scale, as much as I always enjoy visiting Wistman’s Wood on Dartmoor, I would hate for the whole of Dratmoor to be covered by such dense forest, ‘ancient’ or otherwise.

The Dynamic Heritage of Woodland Management: Destruction, Renewal and the Art of Coppicing

In February, I spent a day on a coppicing course in the Cotswold Hills, with Cotswold Rural Skills. Coppicing is an ancient form of woodland management, which involves the chopping down of trees close to ground level for the extraction of timber and in order to encourage new growth. It requires a delicate balance; leaving around 15% of the canopy, and should be done on a rotation (about every 7-15 years), depending on the wood. A well-managed coppice has a slightly open feel to it, and is a haven for wildlife and a diversity of flora, insect life and fungus.

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The practice can be seen as one of the key elements of intangible woodland heritage; one that celebrates the lives and skills of woodland workers, craftsmen and charcoal makers. As such, it is a key element of the long-term curatorship of the countryside in Britain (as well as in much of NW Europe). Many of the ‘ancient woodlands’ owe their longevity and upkeep to the practice of coppicing, with its language of coupes, standards and stools, and specialist equipment of bow saws, loppers and characteristic billhook.

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Our trainer was Simon who, as well as passing on some basic skills of coppicing and billhook work, including splicing and directional felling, also told us about some of the history as well as the environmental context of coppice work. In most ancient woodlands in southern England and Wales, coppicing was done regularly up until the Second World War, and in some areas into the 1960s.

This knowledge made me reflect on my childhood reminiscences of woodlands in the 1970s and early 80s – that perhaps woodlands really were ‘darker places’ in the memory of youth; a very full canopy allowing very little to grow on the woodland floor of what, in my youth, I thought of as a ‘natural ancient woodland’, but which was, in fact, a poorly managed coppice! I remember that many of the trees had multiple trunks coming up from the ground, but what I only now realize is that these were overgrown coppice stools, probably untouched for 40+ years. The darkness and strange woodland shapes that provided a sense of romantic mystery were ghosts of an ancient activity that had maintained the woodlands for previous generations; traces of human endeavor and injenuity.

In my memory, the ‘Great Storm’ of October 1987 in southern England was a ‘destructive force’ that threatened the very existence of the woodlands. But in opening up the canopy and ‘extracting’ many of the older trees, perhaps the Storm should be seen as a prompt towards heritage action. Mistakes were certainly made following the 1987 storm, as some ground was cleared, dead wood removed, and woodlands re-planted with plastic-wrapped saplings in rows. But the increased biodiversity and richness of flora and fauna in the ‘devastated areas’ can also call attention to the benefits of coppicing and the paradox that it encompasses – that the healthy maintenance and longevity of a woodland requires regular destruction.

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There is a strange mix of sensations in felling a tree. On the one hand, there is a pang of guilt, as you cut through the living bough and the feeling that one shouldn’t be ‘killing’ such a mighty being; an organism that is probably older than I am and will be here after I am long gone. But of course, the knowledge that ‘death’ is not straightforward, and that the tree will recover and live for many decades helps to ease the worry – and, to be honest, the dramatic energy and sense of satisfaction as the trunk topples towards the ground is irresistible! There is almost a sense of electricity in the air as the ‘crack-crack-crack’ is followed by a moment’s silence before the crash of branches on the ground.

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During the afternoon of the course, I felled four trees all on my own. My first effort was a fairly small tree, which was already leaning at a fairly good angle, so as to make the direction of fall very clear and un-risky. Even a novice couldn’t go wrong here! And I was very pleased with the outcome; the ‘gob’ was cut precisely, and the back-cut allowed a nicely-sized ‘hinge’ to work in the favour of a very clear direction of fall.

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I moved on to a second, which worked in similar fashion. Then a third; slightly bigger and in a more difficult situation and angle. I concentrated hard; got some advice from Simon, and over it went. Simon and trainer inspected it, and said it was the ‘best of the afternoon so far’ – and I glowed with more than just sweat and hard work! I was now a very small part of the intangible heritage of woodland craft – and act of ‘creative destruction’.

Perhaps it was the kind words of encouragement from Simon, the trainer, which led me onwards – towards tackling a much bigger tree? Anyway, I made a hash of it! … it didn’t kill anyone, but my back-cut went awry and the ‘hinge’ actually cracked completely wrongly, and so it was absolutely down to luck, rather than judgment, that it actually fell (roughly) in the right direction. It left an embarrassingly bad stump of torn wood and a wonky cut … long-lasting evidence of a piece of shoddy woodland heritage craft practice!

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Oh dear!

But all was not lost: The official ‘Deadwood Code of Practice’, tells us that we should “LEAVE broken or shattered branches, they are far better habitat than straight cuts and encourage decay”.

So: what I thought was a terrible piece of woodland heritage skill, turns out to be an ‘expert’ piece of heritage management! … with hindsight, perhaps I could claim that I was just showing off – balancing a nice straight cut that reflected my newly learnt heritage skills, with a purposefully broken effort, to encourage decay and biodiversity?!

More seriously, I feel that the wider world of heritage management could learn a thing or two from coppicing. Good coppice work has very little to do with traditional ideas of ‘preservation’ – it is all about process and dynamism…. Material ‘heritage’ must be destroyed – in order to conserve the dynamic context of a world-in-being. As with the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, the (creative) forces and processes of destruction are required for heritage value to be realized – only with coppicing, the processes of destruction are very much human-made, and reflect a heritage of skill and know-how (plus a bit of serendipity!).

Rodney Harrison (among others) has been recently pondering on the necessity for what he calls the ‘decommissioning of heritage’. As a society, we are laden down with a surfeit of heritage; what on earth can we do with it? How can we get rid of it – suffocating under a burden of material pastness? Well, I think woodland management practice has a partial answer to these quandaries – coppicing is all about ‘decommissioning’!

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Stonehenge, Big Roads and Heritage Process

Plans were announced by the UK Government in January 2017 to spend £1.4billion on building a large tunnel so that the major A303 trunk road can be put underneath the Stonehenge landscape. According to the National Trust and Historic England, the continuing presence of the road spoils the setting of the site, and so the tunnel will ‘improve our understanding and enjoyment’ of Stonehenge World Heritage landscape. Dan Hicks, of the Pitt Rivers Museum and School of Archaeology in Oxford has written an excellent commentary on the episode in the online Conversation (http:/theconversation.com), entitled “Archaeologist: the A303 is a crucial part of Stonehenge’s setting”. Although the title of Dan’s piece gives away his basic point of view(!), I feel it is worth reflecting upon and developing a little further here, since it strikes me that the episode chimes with so many crucial elements of present day heritage management – and identity politics in the UK.

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Bouncing off Jacquetta Hawkes’ phrase that “Every age has the Stonehenge it deserves – or desires”, Dan Hicks charts the conceit of seeking to ‘preserve’ Stonehenge as an ‘authentic ancient monument’ by tunneling a dual carriageway under it; the fabrication and management of the illusion of an unchanging Neolithic relic. Stonehenge has been built, re-built, viewed, ignored and/or engaged with for at least five millennia. Developing this idea of Stonehenge having an on-going biography – or life history – Dan Hicks likens the present attempt to conceal the ‘modernity’ of the big road to a revival of Georgian aesthetics, whereby landscapes are curated by the scraping away of present day ‘eyesores’, in order to allow cultured elites to stroll through an ‘authentic’ landscape of artful charade.

image-0065This line of thinking reminds me of the biography of nearby Avebury (within the same World Heritage Site). From the 1930s to the 1950s the wealthy amateur archaeologist and marmalade magnate, Alexander Keiller, oversaw the scraping away of much of the old village of Avebury, the wholesale remodeling of the landscape, and repositioning of the stones, in order to create an uncluttered ‘Neolithic’ landscape, fit for the nation – and fit to become, ultimately, a World Heritage Site. Medieval buildings were demolished and many stones were re-erected to create a fittingly ‘national’ monumental landscape.

Avebury and Stonehenge are thoroughly modern landscapes, reflecting the hopes, desires and dreams of the present day, and it would be a hypocritical confection to pretend otherwise. According to Hicks: “Today, it is Stonehenge’s modernity that is under threat from a narrow vision of the past” – and so we need to make space for the story of the A303, rather than airbrush it out of the picture. In his Conversation piece, however, Dan Hicks goes a little further than this, implying an important divergence from the situation at Avebury.

Alexander Keiller’s never-fully-realised plans at Avebury, certainly saw the remodeled monument as a carefully curated national landscape, but it was very much a ‘public space’ – albeit with lots of interpretation boards and signage to moderate and control pubic behavior. In many ways, the equivalent development at Stonehenge, akin to Keiller’s vision, was that of Cecil Chubb who, in the early 20th century bought it and presented it to the nation. The site was ‘cleaned up’, with several stones re-erected, to become a favourite picnic spot for motorists on the nearby A303. This was the Stonehenge that I first visited in the 1970s; thermos flask and cups of tea laid out on one of the stones. Cecil Chubb’s gifting of Stonehenge came with the demands that no other building ever be erected on/close to the site, and that the stones should be maintained as far as possible in their present condition – it all chimes with an ambition for the site to be understood as an unchanging monument set within the neatly cut grass sward of the specifically ‘English’ countryside. However, Chubb also stipulated that ‘the public shall have free access’, although Chubb did allow for a ‘reasonable sum, not exceeding one shilling’ to be charged, presumably to cover the costs of cutting all that grass.

The £15.50 entrance fee for visiting Stonehenge, together with the practice of sealing the actual stones off from the public, represents what Dan Hicks argues to be an increasing restriction of access at Stonehenge. This is no longer a ‘public space’. I get this point – that the momentary view of the stone through a car window, as you speed past on the A303, while not necessarily the aesthetic view that might be shown on a tasteful postcard is, nevertheless, a thoroughly democratic view. I haven’t actually ‘visited’ Stonehenge for 30 or more years, but I have ‘kept an eye on it’, during regular car journeys; I have maintained a direct relationship with the site without ever needing to pay an entrance fee.

On the one hand, these recent developments make you reflect on all the other public spaces that are being ‘privatised’; pedestrianized shopping centres that are now patrolled by private security firms, or World Heritage Sites such as St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury, set amid a parkland that (according to an ivy-covered plaque) was ‘presented to the citizens of Canterbury’ as recently as 1977, but now only accessible through payment of £5:80. On the other hand, however, is a story of how singular (and often overtly ‘national’) ‘heritage management practices’, have themselves sidelined or obliterated alternative heritage narratives. The singularly most striking example that I can think of for this, is the Meadows at Runnymede, next to the River Thames just west of London.

As the site of the signing of the Magna Carta, Runnymede has a central place in any heritage narrative of democratic freedom. Not surprisingly, perhaps, as the ‘Birthplace of Democracy’, Runnymede has become a ‘monumental landscape’; a setting within which several monuments and memorial features can be visited; several monuments to the actual signing of the Magna Carta, as well as monuments to John F Kennedy, and the Air Forces Memorial, dedicated to dead RAF service personnel. It is – still – a ‘public space’, to be visited freely. But in laying out the national monumental landscape in the 1930s, the National Trust actively extinguished a whole range of local commoners’ rights. At Stonehenge, it is the every-day and slightly banal or mundane heritage of catching a glimpse of the stones from a passing car, which is removed from the public orbit. At Runnymede, there is a deep sense of irony, that it is the public rights of the Commons, which were over-ridden by the need to set out a suitably monumental national landscape! The public can still visit (and, unlike at Stonehenge, there is no £15:50 fee), but the terms on which the visit takes place is now that of the nation. The mundane and ever-day relationship between people and the landscape – the ‘right’ to be present – has been extinguished, as a relationship is re-forged and mediated through an official discourse related to a distinctly national story.

stone-runnymede2Back at Stonehenge, I am reminded of something I wrote back in 2006 (a chapter entitled ‘Landscape as Heritage’, in RJP Kain’s England’s Landscape the South West, published by English Heritage), when pondering the question of which landscape best represents the ‘essential landscape’ of the South West, I came up with the A30 trunk road (which is, essentially, the continuation of the A303, which passes Stonehenge, further up-country). “If we try to be honest about the aspects of the present-day landscape that the people of the future will remember us for, then the A30 would be a very good example. Today, the road provides an axis and backbone to the region, and is a symbol of the region …. [memories of sitting in traffic jams, and glimpsing the countryside as you go] is a far more meaningful memory to preserve than the typical picture-postcard images … the road network (love it or hate it) is surely among the most enduring symbols of early 21st century life”. I remember that, at the time, some of the bigwigs at English Heritage were quite angry that I had suggested this trunk road as the key item of heritage in the South West, but Roger Kain, the editor, stuck by me. Just as Dan Hicks has said that the A303 is a crucial part of Stonehenge’s setting, then the A303/A30 provides a crucial way in to understanding ongoing heritage processes, and will be a central part of what will become the future past.

Breaking Down Boundaries with Heritage in Belfast: a Titanic fix?

I visited Belfast last weekend for the first time in about 10 years – a beautiful couple of lovely sunny days. Having first visited the city in 1990, my visit last week gave a good opportunity to reflect on all the changes that have happened. A period of 27 years is quite a time to witness change in any city, but what with the formal ending of ‘The Troubles’, the Good Friday Agreement, and the Northern Ireland Assembly (albeit presently suspended), Belfast has witnessed more significant change than most. No more soldiers on street patrol, no more military (or paramilitary) checkpoints, no more combat helicopters. I walked towards the Falls Road, strangely disorientated by the lack of the Divis Flats, with its army fort keeping watch from the top stories. There are, of course, plenty of signs of the past conflict – and plenty of evidence of a continuing division between communities within the city, but what role does heritage play in this story – and what role might it play?

In many ways, a dominant narrative strand of the conflict was always about competing heritages; of two distinct communities, each with a powerful set of heritage stories that solidified an identity politics that seemed to be cast in stone. Much of these heritages remain as strong as ever, and continue to be expressed and broadcast through that most characteristic feature of the urban landscape of Belfast; the mural.

This is a heritage that requires constant attention; painted and repainted, renewed and touched up countless times over the years, many of these murals seem to have endured in aspic since my first visit 27 years ago. Constant presences, preserved through an almost ritualized process of renewal, shiningly brand new-and-immemorial. Most of the motifs haven’t changed a great deal over the years: in Republican areas, an appeal to an internationalist ‘freedom fighter’ connection, alongside a memorialization of hunger strike martyrs, the heroes of the 1916 Easter Uprising, civilian victims, and soldiers in the struggle, often conveyed with Gaelic script and nodding to Celtic and Irish legend.

In Loyalist areas, a sense of defiant ‘no surrender’ siege mentality of ‘ourselves alone’, alongside a memorialization of First World War bravery against the odds, through which futile death somehow found meaning through a century of memory work, and all conveyed in strikingly repetitive red, white and blue.

Love them, or loathe them, these murals seem to be a vital feature of the city, both in the sense of being a constant presence in the life of communities, and also as a central feature in the city’s ‘tourist offer’. Visitors to Belfast expect to see these murals; they go on tours, take photos and selfies. The ‘city divided’ seems to be a crucial aspect of what Belfast is, and so one could argue that the nurturing of heritage is a ‘problem’, holding back processes of reconciliation. Preserving the heritage of Belfast, seems to require the preservation of at least the outward emblems of conflict. Belfast is a city that seems to be united in its adherence to a heritage of division. One of the biggest changes that I noticed on my trip to Belfast last week, however, was the development of a new heritage story; Belfast as the home city of the Titanic.

In some ways, it might seem a little odd, to base a heritage story around a big ship that people only know as the unsinkable ship that sank: Iceberg, Dead Ahead! The Titanic story, however, is a story that has immediate and global recognition, so why not!?

A lot of resources have been ploughed in to the Titanic project in Belfast; the city has a ‘Titanic Quarter’, the centerpiece of which is a huge and excellent museum. This museum seeks to tell a story of how ‘the city of Belfast came together to build the world’s largest passenger liner’ at the city’s Harland & Wolff Shipyard. That tagline of togetherness is repeated often, and supported through some really engaging and innovative methods of museum display. I particularly liked the section on riveting; the process through which gangs of men constructed the enormous iron hull. The displays don’t exactly shy away from the city’s identity politics of Republicans and Loyalists, though I didn’t see that much critical examination of Harland & Wolff’s employment practices, which meant that Titanic workforce was almost entirely from the Unionist-Loyalist and Protestant side of the city (see: http://www.irishcentral.com/news/did-anti-catholic-sentiment-of-titanic-workforce-help-doom-the-unsinkable-ship-147293105-237441311)

One thing that I found particularly interesting, however, was the way that considerable efforts have been made to connect the Titanic heritage to the tradition of mural painting. It strikes me that this is an example of how the enduring heritage of mural making within the city can be tapped into, perhaps re-purposed – even ‘hi-jacked’ – away from the celebration of Republican-Loyalist difference, and towards a heritage story of togetherness and peaceful co-habitation.

I get the point of this. Indeed, I would strongly support the sentiment – it is a great example of how ‘heritage’ can be used to change things; this is a heritage that can engage. From some of the labels and notes around the new murals, these activities seem to be the result of a very conscious practice of ‘re-imaging’ – a re-working of heritage practice for the sake of casting a more positive sense of ‘prospective memory’.

belfast-newtonards-road-ballet

I can’t help thinking that some of the images look, well, a bit cheesy; like an aspirational mission statement designed by a particularly keen and trendy head teacher in a school that has recently been in ‘special measures’. … but, of course, Belfast has been in ‘special measures’ for a long time, so I think the re-imaging – or heritage re-imagining – activity is a really good thing. I don’t know the detail of how the individual murals came about, who painted them, or how local people view them (but see here for some detail: http://jamiebaird.squarespace.com/northterminal/2015/2/26/evolution-of-murals-in-east-belfast). Whatever the circumstances of their production, however, it strikes me that the key issue is whether there is the means that will make them endure, through the constant maintenance that will be needed to keep them there for forty years and more.

belfast-war-to-peace

 

Who cares about ‘Britain’s Oldest Hotel’? The Royal Clarence Fire, Exeter

A few weeks ago, Exeter was at the centre of a national heritage news story, when a fire broke out early in the morning of Friday 28th October in premises close to the Royal Clarence Hotel, on the Cathedral Green in Exeter.

exeter-fire-night

Night picture: the ‘Royal Clarence Hotel’ is the building on the right of this alarming picture; still in floodlights, and seemingly ‘safe’.

Although the main Hotel was a couple of doors along from where the fire started, unknown and unmapped air gaps and voids within the ensemble of medieval buildings allowed the fire to spread, so that by mid-morning, the seat of the blaze was focused on the Royal Clarence hotel itself. The fire raged and smouldered on for a couple more days, a large section of the city centre was closed off, and the national media took up the story.

exeter-fire-smoke

I don’t think I am exaggerating too much by saying that the event utterly dominated conversation in the city, both among friends and colleagues, and also with strangers, exchanging words in bars and cafes, or in chance encounters in the street. It was as though a strange sense of camaraderie developed, borne on a mutual understanding over a sense of loss – almost of bereavement. Many people felt a need to talk to each other, on buses, and in shops; not passing the day in banal comments about the weather, but as an urgent desire to express an idea that the Royal Clarence fire was something important, and that this event was terribly sad for something called ‘Exeter’.

Much of the news media coverage of the event, however, focused on the Royal Clarence Hotel’s status as “Britain’s Oldest Hotel”, and the “place where Franz Liszt once played a recital – as evidence by the blue plaque on the wall.

 

exeter-fire-liszt

While I watched the news coverage, and glanced at social media during that first weekend, all of the people interviewed or who expressed an opinion, were certainly very sad about the fire, but most of them had no idea it was the country’s oldest hotel; the place where Franz Liszt once played.

exeter-fire-smoke-at-rcOver the following few days, newspapers started putting inverted commas around their claim of the Royal Clarence being the “oldest” hotel, as a whole string of other hotels around the country sprung up to claim the title The Oldest Hotel in England (though maybe not the place where Franz Liszt once played).

exeter-fire-inverted-commas

Over the next few days, it became more and more obvious that the actual age of the fabric of the building – and its claim to being the Country’s Oldest Hotel – wasn’t necessarily high up on the list of attributes that made the Royal Clarence Hotel a treasured item of Exeter Heritage. Most people talked a lot about the sense of community and immediately switched to talking about the spirit of the Fire Brigade; the Royal Clarence being ‘the heart of the city’. For the most part, it seemed that peoples’ sense of loss at the destruction of the “oldest hotel” was something that they had to be informed about by the BBC and other news media; it was external to their experience, even as it became part of the narrative. Ironically, therefore, as the mainstream media lost heart in the claim about it being the ‘oldest hotel’, the oldest tagline seemed to become more important to ordinary people in Exeter – so that by one week after the event, from a position where very few people knew that ‘the oldest hotel’ was present in Exeter’s city centre, media management led to a situation that everyone now knew that the ‘oldest hotel’ was now absent from Exeter’s city centre.

exeter-fire-live-absence

Watch live, as the Royal Clarence becomes absent

 You could agree with David Lowenthal here, that there is nothing like losing something to make you realise how valuable that thing was, but that sounds a bit trite to me. I also think that this can gloss over how heritage is engaged with in the present; the work that it does, and the work that it might do.

I think we get too caught up with facts and figures over the apparent age of things; neatly pinned down and packaged. Indeed, while authoritative narratives seem always to want to package things up, and locate them with exact dates, at a national scale (BRITAIN’S oldest; built in 17-whatever), this doesn’t seem to reflect how heritage is really related to by people, even if most people soon end up using the language (of national reference and dated superlatives).

exeter-fire-after2 exeter-fire-people

People were genuinely sad about the Royal Clarence Fire – feeling that they had lost an important item of heritage; they didn’t need to be told something clever and contrived about how there’s ‘nothing like losing something to make you realise how valuable that thing was’, while they mostly did need to be told that it was the Country’s “Oldest” Hotel; the place where Franz Liszt once played.

exeter-fire-aftrer3

Maybe the Royal Clarence Hotel will be rebuilt ‘exactly’ as it was before – only better – a banal simulacrum that reflects the marvels of modern technology to confirm the supposed permanence of a structure by rebuilding it. The new Royal Clarence can still claim to be the “oldest’ (with inverted commas); a technological fix, acting as a means of conserving and regulating a stable sense of pastness. But I don’t think that would really capture how people relate to the Royal Clarence; people would still dream.

Personally, I’d be very happy if the Royal Clarence was rebuilt, not as a means to re-capture the essence of it being the “oldest hotel”, but as a context in which people can carry on dreaming.