Heritage Practice

The Death of Authenticity

AFL Dining Room, Melbourne Cricket Ground 06/10/2016 1:20 pm - 1:40 pm

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Paul Roser

I propose the death of authenticity (and the object-centered heritage system) and the rise of integrity (recognising the legacy of ‘open-source heritage’, tangible and intangible layers with people at the base). The conference theme seeks to address what heritage processes are in play at the confluence of people, practice and place. Modernism’s focus was on “the object and its place in the larger system”. The National Trust of Australia (Vic) was a quintessential modernist organisation in the 1960s and 1970s. It created a modernist grid of classification taxonomy, classified places as objects, ordered them in a hierarchical system, and created types of heritage. The ordering of objects developed in line with belief in the intrinsic significance of objects, and of the notion of authenticity. Authenticity remains a notion promoted in numerous international charters, although the Burra Charter avoids it. The Burra Charter says that cultural significance is embodied in the place—in its fabric, setting, use, associations and meanings. I ask how can significance be embodied in objects? Are not associations embodied in people rather than places? Charters also seek to embrace universal truths, and that notion has become linked to embodied significance – of hidden truths revealed by peeling away layers, of getting closer to a universal truth the further we move away from the surface layer of today, to the supposed original, the so-called authentic. This theme was presented in Ruskin’s Stones of Venice. Alternatively, the ‘ecological bias’ in heritage, says Smith, does not “tend towards physical conservation, restoration or reconstruction. Instead various forms of revitalization – economic, social, cultural and political as well as physical – become more common. This is because historic places are understood to be layered; the addition of sympathetic contemporary layers – both tangible and intangible – is seen as part of sustaining the ongoing integrity of a place.”I propose that we place people at the base, remove out-date donations of authenticity and replace them with an idea of integrity in our dealings with place.