AHRC Sensory Cities Network

Curating the Senses @ Curating Overflow

How did the senses shape conservation in modern Europe? Or should we ask how did modern conservation shape our sensory perceptions? Just before our first AHRC workshop in London, I contributing a paper on these questions to a two-day conference on Curating Overflow, organised by the Heritage Academy and the Centre for Critical Heritage Studies at the University of Gothenburg and discussing materiality within museums, archives, cities and households in local, global and future perspectives. The podcasts are now online!

Rereading the classics text of conservationist thought from Goethe to Riegl via Ruskin, the talk reflected on what was said, and not said on the senses in nineteenth century heritage thought and how we still often reflect on our sensory experience through these categories.(https://play.gu.se/media/0_hpvd0vam).

Having read and reread these classic texts during the last twenty years with different question about politics, aesthetics and agency in mind, I must confess I had never quite noticed how important the sensory was in them till the sensory cities project starting with Goethe’s ‘I could taste and enjoy, but by not means understand and explain’, about his famous first encounter with the Gothic of Strassburg Cathedral, that published in On German Art contributed so much to the historicism of the nineteenth century to Alois Riegel’s definition of the ‘Value of Age’ as essentially sensory and therefore democratic. IStrassburgMuenstern the The Modern Cult of Monument he wrote: ‘The immediate emotional effect [of a building] depends on neither scholarly knowledge nor historical education for its satisfaction, since it is evoked by mere sensory perception. Hence it is not restricted to the educated (…) but also touches the masses independent of their education. The general validity, which it shares with religious feelings, gives this new commemorative (monument) value a significance whose ultimate consequence cannot yet be assessed. We will henceforth call this the age value. (…)’

This sensory emphasis is all the more interesting as it seems to go against the commonly held belief that modern art history was essentially about a reduction to the visual ….but then: why did I (and apparently most of my audience) never noticed this in the texts before?

The explorations here are very much preliminary thoughts (and after a year of our project there is much to add). In my mind they function perhaps best as a prequel to the introduction podcast of our first London workshop….

More generally, the talks in Gothenburg provide much thought on sensory methods. For more information on the key issues studied at the clusters of the Critical Heritage Studies Centre at the University of Gothenburg and for all the podcasts of the rich discussions at the Conference see http://criticalheritagestudies.gu.se/CHSvideogallery/chs-seminar-october-2015.

On sensory experiences and their urban, museal and digital curation check out especially Cecilia Lindhé’s and Jonathan Westin’s fantastic talks – and on a wonderful new book on Heritage as commons-commons as Heritage edited by the CHS.

Curating Overflow was organised by the Heritage Academy and the Critical Heritage Studies Centre of the University of Gothenburg, at the Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg, 14-15 October, 2015.

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