Once again it's Thursday, and once again it's time to figure out if I've had any thoughts worth exploring. Well, thank goodness my thoughtful husband takes the time to comment on my blog - last week, Paul brought up historical restoration in his response to my comment on travel v. tourism. This topic seems to go hand in hand with what I was thinking about - and raises a question: what are artifacts for?
In Norway, we went to Haakon's Hall . It had been a medieval feast hall, which eventually was turned into a storehouse. At some point in the 1800s, the historical significance of the building was realized, and they set about restoring it. The "restoration" was a fanciful take on what a medieval feast hall would have been like, based more in the aesthetic and mood of the time than in actual reproduction. During WWII, the Hall was seriously damaged when a ship blew up in the harbour. So, in the 1960s, about 100 years after the original restoration it was once again restored. At that point in time, they had to decide - try to recreate what was just lost, or try to undo what was by then considered a vulgar artists rendering? The decision was for the latter, and Haakon's Hall today is supposed to look more like it did in its original form. Nobody considered giving it yet another facelift to match the thoughts and mores of the 1960s.
In the Orkneys, where there have been successive waves of civilization since the stone ago, strategic locations have been repeatedly built upon. As Paul mentioned, there was one site with 3 layers of fortification, and they were trying to figure out what to do - should they restore the first layer, or destroy the first layer to get to the older foundations? Should they just leave it as it is? Should they let tourists come and climb on the ruins, or should they cordon them off, like Stonehenge ?
In comparison to stonehenge, there are standing stones in the Orkneys ? that were mainly carried off to make fences. I look at that and i think it's a shame - but if I was a medieval farmer that wanted to keep my sheep from running off, and I didn't worship the sun, why would I leave that perfectly good builing material there? There's a fundamental tension in these questions between function and beauty, and between progress and preservation. Should we keep things because they meant something (i.e. religious symbology) to someone at some point, even if they don't mean that to us now?
This question extends beyond monuments to smaller possessions too. Should I not use the good dishes to eat off because they might break, and they were handed down from my grandparents? Do we really need to inherit a silver tea set from both sides of the family? If we did, should we use it? If we don't want to use it, should we hold onto it? As material consumption skyrockets, these questions will be more pressing for our generation than ever before. Families used to have only a few nice pieces to pass down. Paul and I already have a house full of nice stuff, and in 30 years, we could hypothetically have inherited another house or 2 worth. Are we beholden to these possessions because they belonged to someone else?
And back to buildings and sites - what is the point of restoring them? What are we trying to accomplish? To understand another way of life? To retain some aspects of that way of life in our modern world? Do these goals trump more pragmatic considerations? As we begin to realize that the level of consumption on our planet is unsustainable, should we be preserving buildings and momuments that have recyclable material, or could be adapted to a more relevant function?