Framing UNESCO Heritage: New ‘Danish’ World Heritage Site(s) in 2018

 

I usually have a quick look each year at the additions to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, partly to see what trends may be detected, and which oddities catch my eye; perhaps a cause célèbre (such as with the Buddhas of Bamyan in Afghanistan, listed only after they were blown up). This year’s list has 18 inscribed properties, delineated in the usual UNESCO frames of reference. First, the sites are categorized as being ‘cultural’ or ‘natural’, with a third category of being ‘mixed’ always seeming to make the other categories redundant. Each site is accredited with a list of ‘criteria’ under which the inscription was made, with some declared as displaying 2 or even 3 criteria. And then each of the sites is ascribed to a nation state, since it is ‘states parties’ who sponsor the nomination process.

Of the 18 sites, 13 are described as being ‘cultural’, 3 ‘natural’ and 3 ‘mixed’, and in broad terms, there are 6 cultural landscapes (3 coming under the ‘mixed’ category), 3 archaeological sites, 3 religious sites, 2 cities, 1 industrial site and 1 ensemble of buildings in Mumbai described as ‘Art Deco and Victorian’. All three of the ‘natural’ sites are mountains. In terms of where they are, just 1 is in Africa, all three of the mixed sites are in the Americas, 6 are in Europe, and 9 are in Asia – of which 4 are located in west Asia/‘Middle East’, which is interesting. So, in spite of clear efforts to overcome a long established ‘Eurocentrism’ in the location of ascribed ‘universal heritage’, Europe still seems to be hugely over-represented (considering its size and population), there is nothing in Oceania, and only one site in Africa (a ‘natural’ site). The Americas seem to supply the sites where ‘culture’ and ‘nature’ become blurred, or where the ‘indigenous’ is somehow closer to ‘nature’ than in the supposed cradles of ‘civilisation’ in the ‘Old World’. In other words – from this 2018 list at least, it seems that archaeological landscapes in the ‘Old World’ are ‘cultural’, while similar landscapes in the ‘New World’ are ‘mixed’.

But what sense does it make to frame sites according to the nation states in which they are located today, especially when they are proclaimed as being ‘universal heritage’ on account of events, settlements and lifestyles from sometimes thousands of years ago? Even when looking at heritage examples that stem from more recent times, the national framing doesn’t seem to make sense, or at least testifies to greater complexity – as can be seen for instance with the case of the Victorian buildings in Mumbai; an imprint of British Imperial endeavor within an ‘Indian’ World Heritage Site.

Most conspicuously, however, the list of 18 World Heritage Sites includes an intriguingly ambiguous Danish element. On the one hand, there is one site listed as being located within the state of Denmark: that of Aasivissuit-Nipisat. On the other hand, another of the cultural heritage sites now inscribed by UNESO is the ‘Danevirk’ and Viking town of Hedeby; the border wall that once protected the southern boundary of Denmark, and one of the most important cities of Viking era Denmark – only, of course, these sites are listed under UNESCO framings as being in Germany!

It is interesting to click on the newly inscribed site of Aasivissuit-Nipisat  and see the Danish flag in the top right corner of the screen. Described as being an ‘Inuit hunting ground between ice and sea’, this site is located in Greenland. Indeed, the image of the Danish flag is slightly jarring – a strange remnant of imperial ambition that doesn’t sit well with the outward feel of the site’s inscription. The listing details describe how the site contains 4,200 years of human history – nearly all of which had nothing to do with Denmark at all. It seems a little ironic to proclaim how the area ‘bears testimony to the resilience of the human cultures of the region’, when the power and force of change against which this ‘resilience’ was measured was that of the Danish Empire! As with all World Heritage Sites, there is a slightly unreflexive section on ‘authenticity’, which focuses on material culture, though does mention that Inuit intangible cultural heritage and traditional knowledge contributes to this.

Since it is located in Germany, the nomination of Hedeby and the Danevirke was sponsored by the German state. It would be nice to know what Angela Merkel thinks about the proclamation of this ‘beautiful southern border wall’ (to coin a Donald Trump phrase) as universal heritage, especially with tensions over migration and border walls being so high up the political agendas in both Germany and Denmark. Once again, the material integrity of the site is the focus of the listing documents, though if you read various press reports, it is the ‘Danishness’ of the site that is most prominent. This is a key site for the Danish-speaking minority in the far north of Germany. I guess the question that is left hanging, is how such a definite boundary – a border wall – can be used to bring people together (German- and Danish-speakers, from both sides of the frontier), in the spirit of something called ‘universal heritage’?

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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).

Shoreline-2

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!

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Boundaries and the Heritage of Distinction (Part 3): a bit of hygge would be ‘nice’….

Alongside the more predictable (and depressing) words and phrases of the year in 2016, such as ‘Brexit’, ‘post-truth’ and ‘alt-right’, was the much more positive-sounding Danish-Norwegian word hygge.

With very little hint of irony, this supposedly untranslatable Danish word was explained, described, examined and otherwise deployed again and again as the year wore on. The subject of many articles in Sunday newspaper lifestyle supplements and consumer magazines, and often illustrated through pictures of candles, wooly jumpers and beautifully presented open sandwiches, hygge tended to be translated as ‘something like a sense of coziness’. The authors and others doing the describing had always to underline the inexact nature of their translation since one of the key attributes of hygge is that it is ‘untranslatable’. Another of the key attributes of hygge is that it should be understood as a state that just ‘is’ – there is no sure-fire means of achieving it, and any blueprint for reaching a state of hygge would be an oxymoronic exercise. That certainly didn’t stop anyone trying, however, and as Christmas neared whole displays of self-help hygge instruction and lifestyle books appeared in bookstores across the land!

hygge-book-display

So far, so … normal and predictable, then?! There doesn’t appear to be much of ‘geographies of heritage’ interest here. Or is there….?

I am always suspicious when a word that is indicating a situation, an attitude or state psychological wellbeing is so easily related to a sense of nationhood, or supposedly natural character. Wikipedia suggests that hygge has a ‘unique definition’, but what does that mean? Surely any and every word can have a ‘unique definition’? Indeed, if I were being a bit naughty, I might put forward the English word nice as an untranslatable word with a unique definition, to be deployed both when something is liked or disliked, often used simply to fill a gap in a sentence, and probably only to be understood in the context of who is saying it and in which situation. But perhaps I shouldn’t over-think these things? After-all hygge is such a warm and glowing word, and is usually deployed in a manner that is as positive as it is sincere. It sometimes seems that 2016 brought precious little joy to the world, so we should cherish hygge as a word-of-the-year to be celebrated, in its suggestion of coziness and companionship that sometimes seemed to be in short supply.

 

hygge-book1

This happy acceptance of the word was fine for a while, but what I cannot quite rid myself of, however, is the implicit suggestion that the untranslatability of hygge might be used to create boundaries. And sure enough, when I was in Denmark in the Autumn an article appeared in the Danish newspaper Politiken, which included some interviews with supporters of the Danish People’s Party: hygge was Danish – and understanding it, and even doing it ‘correctly’ was in the preserve of the Danes. Immigrants to Denmark cannot have hygge because they are not Danish.

 

You need to be ‘Danish’ in order to understand what hygge really meant. The word is not just ‘untranslatable’, but is also unavailable to anyone but true Danes. Indeed, it can be deployed in a fashion that leaves it hanging out in front of you – as something wonderful, but forever out of reach. All of a sudden, the self-help guides seem to have a much more sinister overtone – manuals that carefully and lovingly describe how the reader can never be ‘Danish’.

As we approached Christmas, a very good article by Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian, added some further depth to the issue:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/nov/22/hygge-conspiracy-denmark-cosiness-trend

It is through these means that hygge can become a device for marking distinction; of insider and outsider – of citizen and non-citizen. And since hygge is essentialised as ‘untranslatable’, then it can act as a social code that is forever out of reach for certain people. It would be overtly racist (and probably illegal) to cast non-Danes as explicitly ‘inferior beings’, but the deployment of hygge can perhaps sometimes herald a more subtle form of exclusion.

 

hygge-book2

 

Of course, the word hygge does not automatically contain any active sense of exclusion. Indeed, I would say that any attempt to use the word in that manner would be uhyggelig – ‘un-cozy’! But for this openness to be apparent requires an acceptance that what hygge means remains equally ‘untranslatable’ for everyone, and unhooked from any national stereotype, rather than as something that requires arbitration. If that were the case, then hygge would certainly be nice.

 

hygge-book3