heritage futures – a design paradigm

Last May I delivered the Reinwardt Memorial Lecture at Amsterdam School of the Arts – [Link]


This week it was published as an illustrated booklet – Let me tell you about Hadrian’s Wall: Heritage, Performance, Design The 2012 Reinwardt Lecture. Amsterdam School of Arts, 2013

Background: phases in the growth of the heritage industry this last 40 years, as I have tried to describe in some of my writing:

Heritage – self consciousness. In the 1980s the rapid growth of the heritage industry, cultural resource management as it is known in the US, became very evident – new museums opening, more and more references being made to cultural legacies that were in need of attention and protection, a growing professional sector of heritage and cultural resource managers to attend to the remains of the past-in-the-present and offer them up to the public.

Heritage – politics. Chris Tilley and I, in our 1987 book Reconstructing Archaeology [Link], dug into the politics of cultural conservation and received a hostile reception when we argued that the heritage industry made conspicuous what was already the case with academic archaeology – that any work done on what remains of the past is always, of course, located in the present and so embroiled in the cultural politics of communities, states, institutions – there can be no value-free study of the past for its own sake. Since then it has become orthodox understanding that archaeology and heritage are wrapped up in changing modernist notions of tradition, history, agency, nationalism – key components of how we see ourselves connected to where we have come from, as individuals, in communities and nation states, as a species. This is explored in great detail in my book Classical Archaeology: Experiences of the Discipline (1996) [Link] and in the discussions with archaeologists that I edited with Bill Rathje and Chris Witmore under the title Archaeology in the Making (2013) [Link].

Heritage – creative cultural production. In Experiencing the Past (1992) [Link], a follow up to my work with Tilley, I elaborated this notion of archaeology/heritage as creative cultural practice. Randy McGuire and I proposed in an article in 1996 for American Antiquity that archaeology is craft – skilled labor done with the remains of the past. It is simply their particular specialization that distinguishes academics and professionals from others who also work on what remains, a society of amateur local historians, for example. Such a notion of heritage as active and dynamic shifts focus from conservation efforts aimed at the stewardship of sites and artifacts, from cultural property to the manifold of engagements between the past and the present, the celebration of intangible vernacular tradition and folklore, for example, as much as the presentation of ancient arts in a national museum. The Archaeological Imagination (2012) [Link] traces some of the historical roots back to the eighteenth century.

Heritage – performance. Heritage is about performing the past. Performance is a powerful concept that helps refine the understanding of dynamic engagements between past and present. Mike Pearson and I explored some ways that this could be activated in our book Theatre/Archaeology (2001) [Link], and in a recent review [Link].

Heritage – design. In Archaeology: the Discipline of Things (2012) [Link], Bjørnar Olsen, Tim Webmoor, Chris Witmore and I outline a unified field of pragmatology – the concern with things-and-things-done (the meaning of pragmata) that includes archaeology, anthropology, science studies, histories and sociologies of technology, and design.

In Let me tell you about Hadrian’s Wall I draw upon experiments in theatre/archaeology as a hybrid of contemporary art and archaeology, as well as my work in the design school at Stanford and suggest ways that we explicitly acknowledge that heritage is a field of design.

Here’s a description of how this might look, taken from the end of my new book:

… begin in medias res with a design challenge or brief. Here, imagine it is a local archaeological museum. Research the context — ethnographically, or by whatever appropriate means, with an eclectic research methodology that aims to establish deep, empathic insight into needs and desires of clients, constituencies, and communities. Define the problem/need/desire, or else redefine — building a museum may not be the solution to local circumstances and points of view. Make this definition design actionable, something that can be addressed by a service, a product, an experience, something made or assembled. Ideate: generate ideas and possible solutions to the challenge/brief—perhaps enhanced support for a local history society may be just what is needed. Choose some of these ideas for prototyping: material models/mock-ups that can be shared, showing possible solutions, not specifying a definitive answer. Show, rather than tell. Share these models, test them out with people to see how they work, or not — evaluate. Perhaps it emerges that what really is at stake is demographic in character — a disjunction between the attitudes to the local past of younger and older generations. Repeat/iterate with another prototype. Build when force of circumstance dictates (depending on feasibility of technology and resources, practical and economic viability). Be aware that any ‘solution’ is provisional.

In all of this process there is rich and flexible interplay between action, inscription and description, research and theory, fabrication and display, with agents, witnesses and audiences, experts and users constantly exchanging roles in collaborative co-creating teams or communities that recognize little hierarchical structure. Such design thinking connects with what I have outlined as agile management (Shanks 2007). This pragmatics is about informed intervention under a tactical attitude, performative remix and assemblage, post-disciplinary, because it freely can combine scientific research and expressive arts, and located in specific encounters between past and present. There is both ambition to make a difference and contribute to well- being, as well as a humility that stands by work done while recognizing how provisional that work always is.

I suggest that here we have a way of practically carrying the insights afforded by performance art, ideology critique, archaeological theory, and critical heritage studies into heritage management strategies and structures, making actionable their points about the ontology of the past (located, constructed, dynamic, tangible and intangible).

Here is the book – Heritage, Performance, Design: The 2012 Reinwardt Lecture. Amsterdam School of Arts, 2013

Martin Bernal

Martin Bernal died on June 9 in Ithaca NY – Martin Bernal obituary – The Guardian

He was controversial, unnecessarily. His basic idea was that Classicists in the nineteenth century distorted the history of Greek antiquity by denying the rich and intense connections among the people and cultures of the eastern Mediterranean, favoring instead an account that made the Greeks the sole inventors of European civilization.

Here is a review I wrote in 1992 for History Today of the first two volumes that presented this case:

Greeks and Gifts — Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization (Two volumes) by Martin Bernal

History Today 42 (June 1992): 56.

Volume I: The Fabrication of Ancient Greece 1785-1985. Free Association Books, 1991.

Volume II: The Archaeological and Documentary Evidence. Free Association Books, 1991.

Consider Bernal’s argument, which has now reached its second volume. Ancient Greece owed much to the east, to Egypt and Phoenicia in particular. Bernal proposes conquest, political domination and colonisation of Greece by oriental powers in the second millennium BC. Ancient Greece developed under direct and considerable influence from the east. Bernal argues that Egypt was black. Phoenicians were Semitic. If Ancient Greece is conceived as the fount of European culture, then European civilisation is black and Semitic in origin. What is more, Bernal claims that the Ancient Greeks knew of their origins. Nineteenth-century scholarship denied Afroasiatic and Semitic roots to Greek culture because of racism and anti-Semitism. Histories which oppose Bernal’s ‘Revised Ancient Model’ of the diffusion of civilisation from the east are complicit in this racism and anti-Semitism. Given that this is presented with energy and verve, documented in tremendous detail, it is no wonder that Black Athena has attracted attention.

The two volumes so far are impressive compendia, covering themes from several disciplines. The first sets out Bernal’s project and focuses upon historiography, on the construction, from 1785, of an Ancient Greece seen as cultural zenith, pure and seminal, independent of eastern imperial neighbours, European. Rather than evaluating this model of a European Greece (with origins in northern Aryan invaders of the second millennium and an Indo-European language group), and contrasting it with a model of an Afroasiatic Greece, in Volume Two Bernal provides ‘thick description’ of his version of history. Similarities in material culture, in myth and legend, etymologies of Greek divinities, artefacts and place names, and references in ancient records and authors are marshalled to document what Bernal claims to bc overwhelming eastern influence upon Greece, indeed at times political domination and colonisation.

Contact and influence from the Near East have long been recognised, but Bernal polemically divides opinion into ‘ultra-Europeanists’ who argue for the purely independent genesis of Greece, those who suppose invasion from the north, and those like himself. The lines are drawn firmly because Bernal sees himself as precipitating a ‘paradigm shift’ from the old models of Ancient History to that of Afroasiatic origins.

Just what sort of history is Bernal writing? His topic is innovation and acculturation. But only two aspects of this topic of social change are admitted-indigenous, or diffused stimuli to change. Hence the polarisation of models. To explain Ancient Greek culture, it is claimed, involves finding the sources or antecedents of its components. For Bernal, most lie in the east, so he calls himself a ‘modified diffusionist’.

This sounds very dated. Bernal recognises that he is harking back to ideas more fashionable in the first decades of this century and dismisses newer thinking as transient. But, to me, what Bernal has conspicuously missed is the now considerable work and reflection in archaeology and anthropology upon the character of social and historical change, and upon the uses and meanings of material culture.

Bernal’s history seems very familiar: advanced states conquering and civilising others; trading empires; imperialism; colonies; a ‘Pax Aegytiaca’; international cultures; spheres of political influence. The Bronze Age second-millennium Mediterranean sounds very like nineteenth-century Europe.

Bernal argues that this is the way it was. I say that it is more a function of his diffusionism. Is this history not centred upon European experiences in a way that Bernal castigates? Diffusionist ideas imply a research strategy of tracing similarities, searching for origins. Without an origin any cultural element is meaningless. This implies that Egypt, for example, had a set of authentic Egyptian cultural traits to transmit. Diffusionism implies the existence of definable ‘cultures’: Egyptian, Semitic, and Greek.

On the one hand then, Bernal argues for cultural mixes, against notions of the purity of the Greek. But his mixing is of elements which have to be culturally tagged and isolated. Diffusionism requires ‘peoples’ possessing culture which influences and is influenced by culture belonging to others; it assumes the categories (of race and culture) which Bernal seems to wish to deny.

Anthropology is challenging this proprietary idea of culture which is authentic and originary. In anthropological archaeology there is considerable evidence that material culture is not simply transmitted from superior to subordinate culture, or otherwise invented in a creative act; material culture is a resource used in all sorts of social strategies. Nor is social change in any way as simple as Bernal’s conquest, invasion and ‘influence’.

For Bernal, source materials are transparent; they tell of similarity and this means contact. But sources need interpretation; our present understanding of them needs to be related to their political and social context. Bernal does not do this.

Just because peasants in Crete come across things from a very different society does not mean they pack up and start building palaces. What did the articles mean to the Cretans? How did they relate to the experience and working of Cretan society? To understand innovation and acculturation we need to consider the social context of production and distribution of the things which appear in the archaeological record. Bernal’s history sounds so familiar in its resort to modern experience of social change because he does not consider such contexts and meanings of the appearance and use of material culture, now the topic of much archaeological work.

So I find problems with Bernal’s model of culture contact and social change. These are problems which I think undercut his admirable interdisciplinary project of challenging notions of cultural identity, and bringing past and present together in attacking the racism and anti-Semitism of entrenched ‘authorities’.


the culture of the Academy – lessons from design thinking

Across on archaeology.org Chris (Witmore) has taken issue with a comment  Tim Ingold has made about the notion of a symmetrical archaeology.[Link]

Symmetrical Archaeology? Like many others, Archaeologists regularly  do all they can to separate what they do from what they study, their work in the present from the past, past artifacts from the stories that give them life, scientific analysis from historical interpretation, even when there would be no past without their work now, when archaeology is the most interdisciplinary of practices that intimately mixes science and art. The proposition is that we should treat symmetrically both sides of the (Cartesian) dualisms that still bedevil archaeology: the separation of past and present, the researcher and the object of interest, real and imagined, the human and non-human worlds, sciences and humanities … . Archaeologists work in the past-present, actively, creatively shaping accounts of the past that orient us now and for the future.

(Here’s something I wrote back in 2007 – [Link])

The work of Tim Ingold was quite influential in giving shape to this agenda. In his more recent work he has laid some firm foundations for understanding human experience in terms of environmental relationships, in a way that connects culture, nature, history, geography.

Ingold doesn’t like the geometrical association. Fair enough. Indeed symmetry does assume bifurcation, even in its proposed resolution. But the introduction of the notion of symmetrical treatment of humans and non-humans in the field of science and technology studies (and in archaeology too) was always as much a rhetorical gesture, an intervention in debates about what it is that we study and how we do it, as it was an attempt to solve the problems of Cartesian thinking once and for all. Here is Chris’s definition:

“. . . the notion or principle of symmetry is meant to remind us not to decide in advance what role various entities play in a given situation by imposing arbitrary hierarchies of value or preformed dogmas concerning the nature of the real. Symmetrical archaeology is agnostic. I don’t mean this in the smug sense of the skeptical critic who remains aloof from the seemingly wayward beliefs of others. No, I take this in a very analytical sense, in that symmetrical archaeology refuses to delimit a given situation by imposing any predetermined schemes. Rather it strives to allow entities to define, to frame, themselves. Symmetrical archaeology grants dignity to all participants in a given situation and it does so by placing them on the same footing at the start.”

Symmetry is about being open and not defining in advance what it is we are studying.

Ingold’s main criticism is that the notion of ontological symmetry between humans and nonhumans leaves out other species – plants and animals, key members of the ecological communities that people inhabit. He thinks this is a reversion back to 19th century thinking, which considered humanity as the unique species that had progressed beyond all others. But this is really a red herring when you consider how the concept has been discussed and applied. And Chris points to the extensive discussion around the notion of a symmetrical archaeology that deals with this particular matter of humans and non-humans.

Zero sum scholarship

The issue, for me, is not whether “symmetry” can overcome the debilitating ontologies inherited from Descartes (!). This is about scholarship. Ingold has hardly engaged with the discussion in archaeology around symmetry, never mind science studies, and instead quotes selectively so as to make his own point, so as to strengthen his own position by putting others down. Ingold hasn’t done his reading. He sets up a straw man so as to knock it down. In this zero sum thinking one gains when the other loses; sketch out a loss, however cursorily, and you gain.

Let me take a step back to look at this everyday feature of academic life, at least in my experience.

The actual content of critique is typically less important than its performance. To be seen to be active in critique is usually enough, for this zero sum game is an abstract one that deals in quantities and not qualities. I know about this: I have been there.

The fortunate republic: From Lorenzetti’s murals on “good government” in the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena.

There are two components here of academic culture.

First. The nature of scholarly critique. For surely we should dig deep, read around, do our homework as scholars, pursue rich and deep research with care and concern, offering guarded and clear commentary. And surely we would wish that there would be genuine openness of response, so as to move the debate onwards. It is not good scholarship to be cursory in one’s research and not to make adequate citation, reference to the depth of others’ work.

Second. The status of an argument, a case, a proposition. While we might consider that academics should be in some kind of collective and collaborative effort, this is not always true. Full and open debate is quite unusual in the Academy. Scientific labs can be very hierarchical. It’s not just that academics don’t have as much time as you might think. Much publication, academic discourse more generally, actually aims to close down debate. The ideal is to present an impregnable case, to cover every possible criticism, to shut down debate, and, yes, then to move on. The ideal is a complete hermetic case, even if it can be held only locally. The ideal response to one’s writing, for most academics, is (approving) silence, the acknowledgment that there is nothing more to say on the matter. This establishes a hierarchy, where higher position correlates with silence lower down. Moving up the hierarchy entails breaking the silence, giving critical voice, in whatever ways possible, so as to redistribute the silence.

(This might sound cynical. I am exaggerating to make my point – rhetoric again. There is a great deal of talking in the Academy. There is certainly a great deal of what passes for debate. But consider a seminar. A paper is offered for discussion. It is good if there is lively talking. What is best? Some certainly wish to display their skill in demolishing a case. They may think that this does them credit, under the zero sum mentality just mentioned. It is not good, nevertheless, if the paper is indeed poor. It is best, under zero sum scholarship,  if the discussion is around points of clarification, or of the scope of application of points raised, of how the work may be profitably extended. Then everyone feels good. Credit goes to individual  intellect and research while not formally denying that the Academy works best as a collaborative ecology.

Anecdote. The discussion was not going well for the presenter of the paper. It was indeed a poor piece of work and the audience knew it. The seminar host interrupted the criticism. “We don’t kick cripples when they’re knocked down.”)

There is something of a bureaucratic mentality here, where the ideal is to have everything in its proper place, carefully defined and categorized, in a system that works and moves along according to one’s normative goals, that is, one’s particular purposes, shared by one’s affiliates and organization or institution. A key component of academic discussion is the constitution of the group – it works best among members who gain from affiliation and acknowledging group membership, by playing the game and respecting the rules, the discipline, the institution. Respect and welcome can be extended to outsiders, but only when they present no threat to the bureaucratic order of the institution.

But don’t just take my word for all this: the sociology of knowledge, science studies and research into behavior of organizations are almost disciplines in their own right and exist to explore all these social and cultural dynamics of the construction of knowledge.  Thomas Kuhn, Michel Foucault and Bruno Latour are but three of the more well-known names, of course.

Instead of this, I am attached to an old fashioned notion of collegiality. Unfortunately I find it less often where it should be – in the Academy.

My friend at IDEO, Tim Brown, was interviewed a couple of weeks ago about the company’s creativity and expertise in innovation – [Link]

Tim credited IDEO’s success to its culture.

At IDEO we think our culture has been the single most important contributor to our success. Traditional creative organizations can be quite hierarchical, but this is a hard idea to scale, especially if you want to work on a diverse range of projects. We have tried to create an organizational culture where every individual is comfortable taking risks and exploring new ideas, but where they are also fixated on helping improve the quality of each other’s ideas.

He mentions the crucial role of pedagogy – always sharing the experience of learning:

This ideal of doing great work and helping others to do great work has led us to be passionate about teaching, which has been great for learning and recruiting. It has also made us comfortable with teaching our clients how to do what we do and discouraged us from being too proprietary about our knowledge

This is something I have discovered with my work in our d.school, and in running my lab and studio [Link].

The key is sociality, care and respect for others and their ideas, open and sharing teams, flat, minimum institutionalization  [Link] This is


I have also outlined how this is a matter of political constitution in design thinking [Link] To keep a neutral term and emphasize that this is indeed about the constitution of teams, I substitute res publica for politics.

IDEO, the d.school, their collegiality, is antipathetical to the moribund world of middle managers, those who populate the world of zero sum hierarchies, following bureaucratic procedures, unable to see any big picture, carping and nit picking, in a culture of intolerance, judging others on the basis of partial pictures, manipulating to achieve a sense of self worth in systems that privilege the corporate and the institutional over the collective.

For three years my lab ran an experimental seminar with Doug Carmichael exploring what could be done to facilitate something very simple – the conversations that are the heart of democracy and collegiality – [Link] Lorenzetti’s murals for a council room in Sienna, depicting a world of good government and reasoned constitution, and contrasted with the opposite, were inspirational.

photowork >> performed photography

As a skeptical young archaeologist back in the early 1980s I was fascinated by the connections between archaeology and photography, in archaeology’s project of documenting the remains of the past. Skeptical – I thought, and still do, that archaeology’s long links with the identity politics of nationalism and colonialism and its role in the growing heritage industry called for ideology critique – the careful and savvy dissection of the roots of secure archaeological knowledge, under the suspicion that the past is most often invoked not to enlighten but to support partisan interests in the present.

It was Barbara Harbottle, then County Archaeologist in Tyne and Wear UK, who most encouraged me in those years as a fieldworker. With her Pentax Spotmatic and ME and a couple of lenses, she had me recording the excavations at the Black Gate and Black Friars’ in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, photographing, planning, drawing, filling up notebook after notebook with modest experiments in writing up our archaeological engagements with chapter houses, Civil-War defensive ditches, Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, Roman store rooms. (She died in February – I have never forgotten her open-minded generosity and was sad that I never got to thank her, even though I have returned to working in the north east of England).

Since then photography has become a means for me to work through the key matters of how we get on with what remains of the past. Hands-on, experimental, rooted in instruments rather than words, located, skills-based, craft-science-art, mediating past and present. Connie Svabo and I recently wrote a summary statement about the homologies of archaeology and photography [Link] [Link]. There is more discussion in my book about the archaeological imagination [Link] [Link]. Also – [Link] Take a look too at the archaeography photoblog – [Link]

Though my photo web site is called archaeographer, I don’t see myself as a photographer, so much as someone who works with photography, uses photography in pursuit, in my case, of the archaeological imagination. Here is what, archaeographically, I have explored this last thirty years.

Crafts of making. Getting to know the skills and expectations, tools and processes, the genres and forms, analogue and digital. Technical matters of framing, focus, resolution. Instrumentalities.

Mindfulness. Forcing self-conscious awareness of practice –


– everything that goes into the making of photographic imagery, the mediation.

Always located. With a standpoint.

Actuality. The articulation of moment captured and moment of looking. A distinctive temporality quite different to date.

Site specifics. It happened here, or there. For many years I worked with the arts company Brith Gof who have come to define site specific performance – holding site as place/event/purpose – bringing together host (site), ghost (haunting traces), and visitor(s). This applies as much to photography and archaeology.

Modes of engagement. Photography is an architecture that brings together photographer, subject, site in an arrangement around the instrument, the camera, with its viewpoints, lines of sight, and aperture or window-on-the-world. Mise en scène, staging people and props in this architecture. And then again in the acts of viewing and sharing, on a public screen or in a gallery, in an album, in a framed personal gift to a friend.

Dislocation. Photography facilitates displacement, as camera and image are relocated.

Juxtaposition. Montage and collage. A function of dislocation.

Hybridity. Force justapositions (katachresis) in order to generate frictional insight.

Interruption. A time-based medium, photography interrupts and intervenes. Stop – look at this!

Media materialities. All information systems are materialities. Working with quiddity – the whatness, haecceity – the hereness of the act and the photo. Media archaeologies too, as analogue techniques die and are revived, as new digital media degrade, entropically.

Signal and noise: figure and ground. That photography is information management was always a key aspect of its archaeological use. Photography has been a primary archival medium since its beginning. Photography is often key to documentary portfolios, to museum records, to a report on a scene of crime. I have also accordingly become very interested in signal-noise, figure-ground relationships- directing attention to this and not that, selecting this over that, discarded as irrelevant, as background noise.

Quotidian ambience. The noise of the everyday, the overlooked. Archaeology is saturated in incidental detail; photography records the surface of things, often in the exquisite detail of utter irrelevancy. Is this not history/historicity itself? Human experience?

Break the illusion. Simply admit to the rhetoric and the work put into re-presentation, mediation. Admit to the lie, the fakery, the magic of the fictive. “This happened; and it’s a lie.”

Reframe. Break the frame, the proscenium arch, because a frame attempts to contain what always reaches beyond. Point outside, affirm the temporary actuality of the frame, or remove it altogether.

Presence and absence – the dynamic at the heart of actuality. Cherish letting go, the absences, the hauntings, the faint traces glimpsed in the sea of background noise.

Photo-work – a turn to design, as I have been recently exploring in this blog – design as intervention, mindfulness, iteration, centered upon human experiences in the articulation of artifact/person/use/site – [Link]

The aim – informed practice, or praxis as we called it in the days of enthusiasm for critical theory.
The purpose? Authenticity, honesty, in our work done upon the remains of the past.
Why? – this is realism.

I have always had a fondness for Polaroid. The  moment and the place, immediacy and actuality – the act of transforming place/event into material trace, then and there, via an almost alchemical transformation, of peel-apart film, the scented viscosity of the chemicals, and, for me, one of the icons of twentieth century design – the SX-70 camera.

I recall Mike Pearson telling me a while ago about a photographer he worked with, Paul Jeff, who used a big Graflex 4×5 inch press camera with a Polaroid back, shooting type 55, which delivers a print (Jeff gave it to the photographed), and a negative (for Jeff). A reminder of how different photographic experience can be. I am reading again Mike’s book on site specific art [Link], his extraordinary guide to what I am calling here informed practice, and I followed up on Paul Jeff’s work, an intersection of photography and performance.

Carrying Lyn – Mike Pearson, Mike Brookes, Richard Morgan, John Rowley, Lyn Levett – when Lyn was carried through Cardiff on the weekend of a Welsh rugby international – 2001

Here is the introduction to his web site [Link]:

This site is a showcase for the photographic experiments of Paul Jeff who as PAUL+A, and in collaboration with featured artists, is attempting to re-invigorate photography as a time-based medium. Bored of the ‘spatial’ picture making that has thus far mainly defined photographic practice PAUL+A aim to develop a practice of ‘Performed Photography’.

The work on this site demonstrates an attempt to formulate a time-based conception of photography, in response to a particularly held perception that the ‘world as picture’ has been more or less exhausted. The alternative assertion here is that photography should be interpreted in its complex relations to the concept of event, rather than its reified and literal manifestation as picture.

This means shifting allegiance from the current spatialised system of representation that it resides within, and a quantitative philosophical framework as bequeathed by the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment. In contrast to thisstatus quo it is suggested that photography can utilise the dynamism, flow, mobility, and multiplicity of interpretation posited principally by three uniquely modern thinkers, Walter Benjamin, Henri Bergson and Gilles Deleuze. Using what has been termed ‘new Bergsonism’ as a methodology, it is my assertion that through a re-alignment of its spatio-temporal constituencies to a more evendegree, then photography, especially in its interpretive possibilities, can be re-invigorated with new potentialities.



I Watched Her until She Disappeared « morebeautifulthangod.

Gary Devore on Fellini Satyricon

Gary (Devore) is currently presenting a superb commentary on Fellini Satyricon – that sumptuous marvel of a movie – [Link]

In a daring and masterful tour de force, the director has violated every cinematographic rule by producing a film with no pace, no psychology, no stars, and no story.

Gary has opened my eyes to the way Fellini dealt with the presence, persistence, the reception and uses of the Roman past in twentieth century Italy.

I want to make a film which the audience can never feel familiar or at home … This is a journey into the unknown where the people are unknown …

The cinematography breaks with coherent illusion. Here is form that is non-representational, or, better, post-representational, in that the project of re-presenting the past is put in parentheses, is made conscious, overt, problematic. We are made aware of the work of engaging with the past, and that making sense of imperfect fragments, ruins, remains, is provisional at best.

I was even more fascinated by what wasn’t there than by what was there. Stimulated by the fragments, my imagination could roam … I was like an archaeologist piecing together fragments of ancient vases, trying to guess what the missing parts looked like. Rome itself is an ancient broken vase, constantly being mended to hold it together, but retaining hints of its original secrets.

To work, in fact, as the archaeologist does,… but (reconstructing) an artifact in which the object is implied; and this artifact suggests more of the original reality, in that it adds an indefinable and unresolved amount to its fascination by demanding the participation of the spectator.

Representation is thus mediation, and, perhaps, always archaeological – dealing, more or less, in fragments that only cohere momentarily, or under an ideological force that imposes understanding, that fascist Italy inherited an imperial grandeur that was ancient Rome, for example.

As Gary pointed out to me over the summer, this is Fellini’s way of dealing with the challenges I have been exploring in my photography, in theatre/archaeology (most recent thoughts – [Link] and [Link]).

Perhaps more than anything, we are left with everyday details, snapshots or assemblages of things, places, events – what I am calling noise, quiddities, haecceities.

heritage/design – theatre/archaeology

I am in Amsterdam delivering the

Reinwardt Memorial Lecture

at the Reinwardt Academy for Cultural Heritage in the Amsterdam School of the Arts [Link] [Link]

This annual event commemorates the birthday of Caspar Georg Carl Reinwardt (3 June 1773 – 6 March 1854), after whom the Reinwardt Academy is named. The Academy is the foremost international professional school for museology and heritage management in the Netherlands.

Heritage – that awkward concept that covers our relationship with material pasts, sites and collections of goods, personal, private, ethnic, national.

The Heritage Industry – a massive component of tourism and the focus of Ministries of Culture in every nation state.

Heritage – the legacy of the past, property to be cherished?

I take up again my current argument that heritage is a field of design, emphasizing the dynamic and creative relationships that are the heart of our engagement with what remains of the past – where people take up what is left of the past in crafting their identity, as in memory, in crafting senses of place, in forging the future out of what remains of the past. Creative relationships – design as arts practice. [Link] [Link] [Link] [Link]

Is this is so, how are we to deal with the notion that the past accompanies us as property we have inherited, that can be bought and sold?

Many of the issues are captured, for me, in my relationship with those places that carry a certain allure of the past. I obsessed about this somewhat last summer: [Link] [Link] [Link]

Hadrian’s Wall, the northern frontier of the Roman Empire, central section. Early morning, July 2011. Reconstructed under the ownership of John Clayton, Town Clerk, landowner, antiquarian, conservationist. Now in the care of the National Trust, protecting the landscapes of English heritage.

My concern – something of an ascetic moment, a Methodist moment, as I encountered these extraordinary landscapes. I reacted against what I knew were guilty pleasures in landscapes and ruins that attest not to the realities of history, but to what the wealthy and powerful have done to turn labor on the land (and sea) into aesthetic allure. A reaction against the picturesque past, because such a past is ideologically compromised (even if the picturesque in the eighteenth century could break with the associations with landed property).

Here (Roman) empire and occupation become the picturesque.

Places carry so many memories. How are we to redeem those hopes, now not even whispers on the breeze (I think of Ossian), in the face of this power of the aesthetic? Of conservation and care?

(I treat this as a question at the core of what is now being called critical heritage – the task is one of ideology critique.)

My answer comes after Brecht – reveal, uncover the making, the construction of these works of heritage. By interrupting the flow, the consistency, the coherence of accounts and representations of the past.


This is what were were doing in the theatre/archaeology of Brith Gof. Mike Pearson and I defined it as – “the rearticulation of fragments of the past as real-time event”. Take the remains, the sites and finds, the sources of history, and work them explicitly into works that make transparent the reception of the remains of the past.

Not static accounts, but dynamic engagements or mediations. Turn the static account into dynamic representation, by stopping and offering commentary and criticism. Ask the audience. Break the illusion. Turn it into event. Place/event.

Above – Tri Bywyd, a work of theatre/archaeology, Clwedog, west Wales 1995, a work by performance company Brith Gof – the animation of three forensic portfolios of evidences about three lives and deaths, at the ruined farmstead of Esgair Fraith.

Be mindful, experiment, iterate, for there is no final answer, no definitive account that this happened here – share with others, ask and pursue the conversation …

this is design thinking …