Review by Carlos Jaramillo

14:10 by Cornelius Holtorf

Cultural Heritage and the Future. Edited by C. Holtorf and A. Högberg. Routledge, 2021.

Reviewed by Carlos Jaramillo, Ph.D., Architect and Cultural Heritage Consultant, Email: A120105@e.ntu.edu.sg

As an amateur Tarot reader, the future is a place where gods and demons are at play, showing an endless dance among the archetypes that define us as humans. As a cultural heritage practitioner and academic, I acknowledge our necessity to transcend into the future, as a continuation of the present, and cultural heritage, a prime vehicle to achieve it. This volume is – from my interpretation – about transcending through cultural heritage.

When giving its right context, we, the humankind, on this planet, with our gods, myths, fetishes (E-Meter™, see Maxwell, chapter 8), religions and truths, are merely a blink of an eye, for the extended TIME (see Holtorf and Högberg, chapter 10), in capital letters. That, in fact, is the milieu of what we call future. Sometimes challenged by disruptions such as the existing pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic is placing current generations at the verge of no-return, a narrative of no-future (see Groves-Brown, chapter 15). Now, more than ever before, the concept of future has shifted to one of restricted possibilities, far from hope, and shiny technologies (see Gorman and May, chapter 9) or legacies (see May, chapter 3).

Reading a volume written before the pandemic and commenting while India piles covid-corpses on the streets, Colombia is at 100% occupancy of ICU beds, and, Brazil reached 500 thousands deaths, cultural heritage seems luxurious. For what, for whom and for when, are fair questions (see Arami, chapter 13) to the debacle of the heritage sector. Silenced; unable to contribute to global issues. Built on fragile moral discourses, geopolitics, and power (see Gorman and May, chapter 9).

If we tenaciously carved the values we claim to the cost of life (or death of the planet), what some call “Global Problematique” (see Sandford and Cassar, chapter 16). What kind of cultural heritage would reflect our life, holistically, honestly? From this, and past presents?

It is through nuclear remains (see Holtorf and Högberg, chapter 10), dissonance of heritage assets (see Dixon, chapter 7), fragmentality to understand heritage (see González-Ruibal, chapter 6), or waste caused by “development”, that our time will be seen. Maybe also, insatiable consumption (see Buser, Van Lukit, Nelson and Holtorf, chapter 12) is what defines us. A vision, nevertheless, curated and permeated by heritage expressions (see DeSilvey, chapter 14).

The book, successfully sheds light on sides of the cultural heritage that might give meaning to a future to come. However, when analysed with the lens of the current system in place, cultural heritage has limited possibilities. This work contributes to the general discussion on cultural heritage with the audacity of screening it with alternative eyes, scientific thoughts, multiplicity, span of time and space, from different geographic areas and views of the world. Built on four independent sections, Cultural Heritage and the Future includes one final section (Heritage and future making, with five chapters) that is a breath of fresh air and an effort to conceptualise, define and discuss how our decisions will shape the future of cultural heritage and the cultural heritage of the future.

However, the book leaves behind the Global South (as a topic), from where most of the answers to a future might come from (at least water, food, and lithium), give the sense of non-completion, like cultural heritage (see Dixon, chapter 7). To arrive at a future to be, this work misses a perspective of accountability, and follows the logic of generational “all-included” approach to the future, dismissing the inequality carved along with greed, exercise of politics and power. Mercilessly. Cultural heritage embodies also inequality in the share of economic resources, attention, impact, and of course, value. How could we understand the developed world without the Global South, looted, colonised, segregated, exploited, enslaved, and used throughout centuries?

I want to give special mention to Rodney Harrison’s “Heritage practices as future-making practices” and his study on the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV). And draw a parallel with Biosphere 2, from the University of Arizona, to establish a preliminary scheme of how cultural heritage can retake its role as a mirror of society at large, without moral content. While Harrison give an unfathomable account of SGSV, as the reserve of agricultural memory, repository of food security worldwide and the best document to show the pettiness of human kind, Biosphere 2 is a fulltime science programme on seven models ecosystems, present on earth. Biosphere 2 addresses challenging topics, such as water and energy, and perform large-scale experiments to impact nature. When read together, SGSV and Biosphere 2, as heritage trajectories, it is possible to envisage new and meaningful forms of cultural heritage, and a purposeful, hopeful and promising perspective on cultural heritage vis-à-vis the future.

FOOD-topia (or heritage value by producing the food for its own consumption). ZERO-heritage-CO₂ (or the need to achieve carbon free heritage sites, assets and practices). And SMART-energy-HERITAGE (or the recognition of unsustainability of the heritage sector), are some of the topics which I envisage will occupy the cultural heritage agenda and synchronize it to the voices able to realistically formulate potential answers to the current crisis.

The number of additional terms, used in this volume, to explain cultural heritage in the light of a future, reminds us of transition, a gap “in-between” old and new structures, where cultural heritage can be particularly eloquent. In short, heritage as part of a stage of liminality. Most chapters address, indirectly, the role of cultural heritage as transition through liminal stages, allowing alternative conceptualization, views, and associations.

Borrowing the principles of liminality, cultural heritage yields the need to deconstruct the old structure, entangled in conventions, decrees, articles and nostalgia (see DeSilvey, chapter 14), impeding potential and critical futures (see Sandford and Cassal Chapter 16) or common sense (see Joyce, chapter 11). This, in my opinion, is the underlying message of this book. The exercise of our will to decide about continuation, transformation or renewal of our own experience, and the heritage to represent it (see Holtorf and Högberg, chapter 4) is now a necessity.

Cornelius Holtorf
In 2017, Linnaeus University in Kalmar, Sweden, was awarded a UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures. This is one of eight Chairs in Sweden, and the only one within the cultural sector. Cornelius Holtorf, holder of the UNESCO Chair, alongside his team, will continue to generate ideas through this forum.

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