Tuesday, October 20, 2015 - 02:00

It appears that during the past two decades or so the importance of ‘materiality’ in argument about the authenticity or otherwise of heritage has been reduced. This is a consequence, at least in part, of the 1994 Nara Document on Authenticity which, despite its purported reliance on the Venice Charter (and the Venice Charter’s positivism), encourages a far-reaching relativism when assessing authenticity; and it appears that an increasing interest in and recognition of the importance of intangible heritage has also affected the degree to which materiality contributes to the authenticity of tangible heritage (and, therefore, to its significance).

UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre holds to several “attributes of authenticity” which pertain directly to what we shall refer to as “material culture”: form and design; materials and substance; use and function; location and setting (of buildings/sites); and traditions and techniques (of construction). The last of the WHC’s attributes, “language and other forms of intangible heritage”, refers less directly to material culture. I argue here that four of these attributes (form/design, materials/substance, use/function, traditions/techniques), which have long served as the basis of traditional ideas of authenticity but which have in recent times been attacked for their role in the construction of an “authorised heritage discourse” (Smith), are integral to thinking about and experiencing the physical world regardless of time and place. In order to do this I am going to describe the way a particular ontological conundrum or identity paradox underlying argument about authenticity has been wrestled with during the last two and a half thousand years: this paradox is the question of the ship of Theseus raised by Plutarch in about 100 CE, referred to again in the mid-seventeenth century by Hobbes, and discussed briefly by Wiggins (and others) more recently. I will also reflect on the initial adoptions and the later adaptions of these attributes of authenticity in the practice of material preservation during the past few hundred years.

The Faces of the City seminar series is a partnership between the SARChI in Spatial Analysis and City Planning, the Gauteng City Region Observatory, the Centre for Urbanism and the Built Environment Studies, and the Wits City Institute.

STEPHEN TOWNSEND, University of Cape Town

RSVP: thammy.jezile@wits.ac.za

20 OCTOBER 2015 - 16:00

First Floor Seminar Room, John Moffat Building, University of the Witwatersrand

Sunday, October 18, 2015 - 11:35

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