The Explicit Material: Inquiries on the Intersection of Curatorial and Conservation Cultures
Before Thomas Hardy rose to fame as the author of Tess of the D’Urbervilles and then later as a poet, he had pursued a professional career as an architect and, for a time, as a restorer of medieval church buildings. When he could afford to do so he gave up his professional life for writing, but an abiding attitude toward the past and its material manifestations links the two phases of his life. In his literary works he frequently returned to the possibility of recovering the past, to the conditions of that recovery and thus to the nature of its ongoing life in the present. For him, the ancient natural landscape and the historic built environment served as vital links.
This essay starts with discussion of a poem of Hardy’s that serves as the spur for a meditation on the general conditions of our intercourse with the past, especially as engaged by its material forms, whether in buildings or art works or literary works. Distinctions between the forms are of course necessary but, it is argued, continuities remain: the mute testimony of the material object concerning the agents of its creation; the role of the viewer or reader in realising the work; the hand of the editor-conservator; and the role of time in its successive forms of existence.
‘The Present, the Past and the Material Object’. In The Explicit Material: Inquiries on the Intersection of Curatorial and Conservation Cultures. Ed. Hanna Hölling, Francesca Bewer, Katarina Ammann (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2019)
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