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Rodney Harrison: Future heritages and heritage futures

It is often said that the conservation or preservation of natural and cultural heritage is something which is done “for the future”, or on behalf of “future generations”. These clichés appear to lend moral weight to conservation, but the precise relationship of such practices to the future is less often reflected upon.

While it is customary to think about conservation or preservation as something we do to maintain what remains of biological or cultural diversity from the past, it is rarely the case that we discuss seriously and critically the role of preservation practices of different kinds in assembling and making futures. The two Future Heritage sessions at Future Fest—"Frozen Futures” and “Curated Decay”—aim to explore how conservation practices of different kinds might be thought to assemble and resource different kinds of futures, the nature of the different future worlds each is resourcing, and the capacities of these different practices to resource these futures.

Frozen Futures (Friday 12-1pm ) explores how the future archive is shaped by emergent preservation technologies in the present. This session will explore and discuss a range of projects which take different approaches to the long-term preservation of endangered natural and cultural heritage.

Frozen Ark

These include the Frozen Ark, which aims to collect, preserve and store tissue, gametes, viable cells and DNA from endangered animals at extremely low temperatures; the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, based in Arctic Norway, which aims to act as a final ‘back up’ for the world’s crop diversity; and the Memory of Mankind (MoM) project, which aims to reverse the trend towards increased digitisation of culture to preserve text and images from our time for 1 million years on durable ceramic tiles, to be stored deep inside a mountain repository in Austria.

Importantly, the session will allow speakers Mafalda Costa, a conservation biologist from the University of Cardiff, Martin Kunze, an Austrian artist and founder of MoM, and Norwegian horticulturist and ecologist Åsmund Asdal to participate in a rare conversation across these different fields of conservation practice to explore the potential for creative innovation and exchange between them.

Curated Decay (Saturday 10.30-11.30am) brings the seemingly contradictory fields of waste management and heritage preservation into conversation with one another to consider if and how transformation, loss, change, ruination, pollution and decay—phenomena and materials which heritage preservation has conventionally seen itself as pitted against and aimed at controlling—might be harnessed productively to become a part of future heritage conservation practice.

How might the very long-term futures imagined and managed for in the nuclear waste management industry inform the work of cultural heritage preservation? How might heritage preservation practices be rethought to accommodate, or even collaborate, with “natural” processes of decay, change and transformation? What happens when “waste” itself becomes “heritage”? And in what ways will climate change and future ecological transformation necessitate this?

The session brings together Caitlin DeSilvey, a geographer from the University of Exeter and author of the book Curated Decay (Minnesota, 2017) from which the session takes its name; Marcos Buser, a Swiss geologist who has worked for decades advising on the management of nuclear waste and author of Rubbish Theory (Reinwardt Academy, 2015); and Vyki Sparkes, Curator of the London Fatberg exhibition at the Museum of London.

Join the conversations to explore how the decisions we make about what to conserve today help build the worlds of tomorrow, and the new technologies and ideas which are shaping future heritage.

Rodney Harrison, Professor of Heritage Studies at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, University College London, Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Heritage Priority Area Leadership Fellow and Principal Investigator on the AHRC funded Heritage Futures research programme, will be chairing 'Frozen Futures' and 'Curated Decay' at FutureFest 2018. Read more and get your tickets.

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Rodney Harrison

Rodney Harrison is Professor of Heritage Studies at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London and Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Heritage Priority Area Lea...