12 February 2016

Doing, undoing, redoing heritage

2015 Edition - We aim to create an exchange and innovative research unit focusing on the theme of heritage conservation and restoration. It would approach the discipline from several different angles and add to our current state of knowledge - and even question its validity - on the basis of the reflections of world heritage stakeholders, as represented by ComUE heSam specialists. Study days, immersive courses, comparison of ideas and opening up of minds, will contribute to an epistemological study of this evolving discipline.

Project description:

Our aim is to create a training and research unit that impacts the whole of heSam Université, and is not confined to just one of its component parts. The project we would like to develop is designed to set up exchanges around conservation-restoration and heritage themes at several levels. We would particularly like to create and boost links with the Centre Michel Serres, with which we share the idea that transdisciplinarity and decompartmentalisation is sometimes necessary to provide a viable response to a given problem.

At the time when the idea of a doctorate in conservation and restoration is being developed, we would like to fully incorporate the importance of comparing the points of view of stakeholders with the same focus: heritage. We think it could be very productive if the different views of the partners – usually compartmentalized within their disciplines – were compared and contrasted so that they are able to share their knowledge and the angles from which they approach their work. The objective of this project is to put today’s conservation-restoration into perspective, looking at both its challenges and practices, by sharing reflections and decompartmentalizing heritage-related disciplines. Ultimately, this work could confirm the specificity of conservation and restoration, in particular by means of epistemological studies.

Convinced that conservation-restoration research requires the involvement of players other than just conservators-restorers, we would like to open up a discussion that would also aim to enhance our cognitive processes. We would therefore like to learn to work with colleagues in related disciplines and institutional partners in order to drive forward a discipline that is now seeking legitimacy. Finally, it is about questioning the compatibility of all these disciplines within the conservation-restoration framework. Our approach would therefore initially address students of the Faculty UFR03 students at Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, as well as all the students of this university, the ComUE and, in the future, the European doctoral school of conservation and restoration.

Short and medium term objectives:

Our project commitment is based on organising an initial meeting with our designated partners, and on expanding the collaboration to include all members of heSam in order to create special teaching and research links.

Our approach is motivated by the desire to address every heSam member, which is a necessary condition for bringing together ideas and for innovation.

To establish the above mentioned exchanges, we would like to put forward two types of meetings:

– A cycle of study days spread over the academic year
– A final internship and culmination that would provide for the practical implementation of the ideas developed during the year.

For conservation-restoration students, these exchanges would provide the opportunity to revisit some key concepts and even to question the current foundations of the discipline. This could operate as a result of the fresh light and objectivity the non-specialist conservation and restoration students would bring to the usual issues discussed between experienced researchers.

For non-specialist students, these meetings could foreshadow a kind of alternative learning in their curriculum by encouraging them to understand the place and purpose of the conservation-restoration of cultural property against the yardstick of their own specialities.

In the medium term, these exchanges could lead to the establishment of special PhD research topics. Consequently within the doctoral school of art history, for the conservation and restoration of cultural property speciality, research units could be established that would provide answers to particular problems which, in essence, could not be dealt with in a mono-disciplinary manner.

Form and organisation:

With regard to the study days, we would like to distinguish two successive phases in each day. The first phase would focus on presentations dealing with conservation and restoration given by students not specializing in the discipline. The second phase would take the form of a more open discussion, where the views advanced in the presentations would be discussed again, weighed up during a moderated round table discussion by, among others, conservation-restoration researchers.

In relation to organizing and monitoring these days, we would like to use a participatory system by creating a forum providing the opportunity to discuss the themes of the various meetings in order to choose them by consensus, and also to share our reflections in the form of short articles or simply questions.
The aim would be to maintain relations between meetings and to encourage the habit of discussion, which given its informal nature would have the benefit of loosening tongues and encouraging involvement.

During the internships, the ideas raised during the year would be put into practice, in the setting of an art collection where they could be applied. The principle would be to get a group of students to work collectively on and around the artworks; through exercises such as an introduction to descriptive documentation, a simulated exhibition or the development of a catalogue, the goal will be to enrich our understanding of the artwork and, more broadly, of culture, as a result of combining everyone’s knowledge.

As the exercises require a tangible environment, we suggest organizing internships at the Château Parentignat (Puy-de-Dôme), which has one of the most extensive private art collections in France. The Château has been welcoming conservation-restoration students from Université Paris 1 for the last eighteen years. More recently, and thanks to having approached the Centre Michel Serres, the owner has crystallized this interest by initiating a project to set up an institute for research and experimentation in conservation-restoration.

These internships would represent a significant step forward in developing the institute and would help to strengthen existing ties with the Château.
In addition, they would offer the advantage of promoting freer and arguably more in-depth exchanges between students that will for a short time be able to experience the real life of resident researchers. A new process of transmitting knowledge of the work could then flourish in such a setting.

Finally, we are eager to publish the results of these meetings, including a summary of the presentations and a report on the exercises, accompanied by the ideas they fed.

Project collaborators

Project sponsor: William Whitney, MCF, HiCSA, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne
Valérie Nègre, historienne de l’architecture, ENSAPLV
Simon D’Hénin, architecte-designer, ENSCI-Les Ateliers

William Whitney: whitney@univ-paris1.fr