Robert Temel

“Conference Report: scope II: Sites & Subjects. Narrating Heritage in Vienna: A Conference on Future Potentials of Cultural Heritage”, in: bridges vol. 12, December 2006

Fulltext (in English, free registration necessary)


Theory and Museology

The conference’s keynote speaker was Homi K. Bhabha, one of the most important theorists of postcolonial studies and professor for the humanities at Harvard University. In his lecture, he focused on concepts like ambivalence, heritage choice, and dispossessing heritage to be able to desist from the usual functions of cultural heritage, i.e., claiming identity and constructing continuity. He tried to stress the ethics of cultural transmission, which lead to a direct combination of cultural and political issues and, finally, to the notion of global citizenship.
The second lecture in the starting session, “Narrating Heritage,” was by Monika Mokre of the Institute for European Integration Research in Vienna. Her talk considered “cultural heritage in spite of everything” and why it might be a suitable decision to use the notion of cultural heritage without all the ideological baggage attached to it. At the end of this session, Peter Weibel of the Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe brought the metaphor of Noah’s Ark into the debate to visualize recent problems of preserving cultural – especially digital – heritage.
In the afternoon of the first conference day, the “Museum as a Site of Narration” session started with Ulrike Vedder, of the Center of Literature and Cultural Research in Berlin, talking about the museum and death and reflecting on the narration of animation and mortification of objects in the museum. After her, Churchill Madikida from Johannesburg’s Constitution Hill complex presented his museum’s approach as one of an institution without any collection, relying on former prisoners from Apartheid times to produce exhibitions. Gail Durbin from the Victoria & Albert Museum in London presented the museum’s Web strategy, heavily based on participation and visitor involvement, to show how cultural institutions are able to incorporate visitor expertise into their work instead of just relying on formal experts. And finally, HG Merz, exhibition architect from Stuttgart, presented examples of his diverse work to explain how to address users by means of material museum objects.

Urbanism and Conclusion

On the second morning of the conference, the “City as a Site of Narration” session was held. The first speaker, Felipe Hérnandez from the University of Liverpool, talked on the highly questionable dichotomy between the formal and the informal to discuss the structure and history of Latin American cities, introducing the concept of transculturation. After that, Margaret Crawford of Harvard University presented her work and that of her students in the city of Chelsea, Massachusetts, near Boston, dealing with the question of everyday urbanism based on discussion with locals instead of a master plan approach. Rahul Mehrotra, architect in Bombay and professor in Ann Arbor, continued with his lecture on preservation work in the Fort District in the city of Bombay, focusing on the idea of cultural significance.The final conference session in the afternoon, “Continuing Narration,” tried to combine the views on the work of three Austrian cultural researchers with their wrap-up of the conference’s previous three sessions. Adelheid Pichler from the Commission of Social Anthropology in Vienna with her colleagues Fernand Kreff and Johanna Riegler tried to connect the contributions of Bhabha, Mokre, and Weibel, focusing on the question: Is the notion of cultural heritage able to maintain its significance if it is defined as broadly as the new UNESCO convention tries to do? Monika Sommer-Sieghart from the Vienna Museum presented an exhibition from her institution on workers’ migration and the questions that arose during this work. And Elke Krasny contrasted her work on memories connected to city streets with the urban studies approaches of the city session.
The conference showed that it is impossible to separate culture from politics, cultural from political rights, and that, therefore, the concept of citizenship and, in its broadest sense, global citizenship is central when it comes to cultural heritage and its meanings for individuals and groups. Cultural clashes are the spin-offs of political conflicts whose concrete base is hidden. On the other hand, it is important to see that political and social approaches are no longer possible without including the cultural perspective.

Werkstattgespräche Referenzsystem Schulbau | Photo: RT Werkstattgespräche Referenzsystem Schulbau | Photo: RT