Reconstruction Work On Skellig Michael
Posted 11 November 2006 - 20:58
According to UNESCO guidelines, a Management Plan for each World Heritage Site must be submitted, and made available in published form, to direct the management of the site and any preservation work deemed to be necessary. A “management strategy” was submitted to UNESCO at the time the Skelligs were inscribed on the World Heritage List, and despite a statement by the OPW/Department of Environment management team that a “Management Plan” was approved by UNESCO in 2002, in fact no such plan exists as yet. The management team also failed to inform UNESCO of the rebuilding work on the Skelligs before it was commenced, even though UNESCO guidelines state specifically that “specific reports and impact studies” must be submitted “each time exceptional circumstances occur or work is undertaken which may have an effect on the state of conservation of the property.
In addition to being a WHS, the Skellings is a Sanctuary Preservation Area and a Bird Sanctuary, and as such any work carried out there without an Environmental Impact Assessment contravenes the EU Habitats Directive. No explanation has so far been forthcoming from the OPW on how it managed to secure a dispensation from the Directive.
ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) have issued a series of charters intended to serve as a guide for restoration work. The “Nara Document on Authenticity” from 1994 states: “Conservation of cultural heritage in all its forms and historical periods is rooted in the values attributed to the heritage. Our ability to understand these values depends, in part, on the degree to which information sources about these values may be understood as credible or truthful. Knowledge and understanding of these sources of information, in relation to original and subsquent characteristics of the cultural heritage, and their meaning, is a requisite basis for assessing all aspects of authenticity.” The Venice Charter (1964) is intended as a guide to the thinking behind restoration work. It states: “Wherever the traditional setting exists, it must be kept… No new construction, demolition or modification which would alter the relations of mass and colour must be allowed… The process of restoration is a highly specialized operation… It must stop at the point where conjecture begins, and in this case moreover any extra work which is indispensible must be distinct from the architectureal composition and must bear a contemporary stamp. The restoration any case must be preceded and followed by an archaeological and historical study of the monument… The valid contributions of all periods to the building of a monument must be respected, since unity of style is not the aim of restoration.”
Despite the contention of the Department of Environment that the works being carried out are “minimal”, photographic evidence demonstrates widespread and systematic rebuilding of stonework in a manner completely at variance with the previously extant remains. Examples of the OPW’s cavalier interpretation of their international obligations are the following: in the main monastic complex, an altar that was in use by pilgrims up to the 1930s has been removed, on the grounds that it was “merely” built by the nineteenth century lighthouse keepers, and a nineteenth century wall was replaced by a new wall on the lines of the original early Christian retaining wall. The management team have referred to the deformation of the upper terrace walls and their reconstruction of the walls “on the original line of the wall being repaired”. This is reconstruction according to a preconceived notion of how the remains should look, not investigation of the existing remains; in other words, anything which does not fit the management team’s ideas of what is “early Christian” is removed, and worse, remains are dismantled and reordered into what the management team have decided they should look like.
This approach to archaeology, the idea that the accumulated layers should be respected rather than being simply stripped away as of no interest to reveal the “original” layer underneath, is based on a deeply flawed and mistaken ideology. Unfortunately, it seems to have attained to the level of a professional craze; in Italy, numerous masterpieces such as Michaelangelo’s Sistine ceiling and Last Supper have been “restored” according to the notions of art historians, with not the slightest appreciation of the importance of preserving the essence of an artwork as a historical fact. The layers of history cannot be stripped back to reveal a supposedly “original” essence; the desire to do this is a desire to deny that history has intervened between the creation of the work and its ultimate reception by the “restorer”, and it is also to deny that the ways in which a work was understood and received through the centuries has any importance to one’s own standpoint. The consequences of this can be immediately and painfully registered: just as the “restorers” of the Sistine ceiling have remade it according to their own limited aesthetic and historical perceptions, and in the process deprived it of much of its value, the OPW have engaged in a programme of dehistoricizing the Skelligs, thus asserting that there is no difference between the remains they reorder and their own understanding of them. In case there should be any dispute as to this understanding, all evidence of the intervening history must be cleared away, the slate wiped clean.
This denial of history, the notion that the accumulated layers of the past can be swiped aside to enable immediate access to the object, achieves the very reverse of what it professes: such an understanding reforms the object in its own image until it sees nothing but its own reflection there. Such an attitude can only be labelled cultural fascism, and it is the ideology that governs the State’s archeological and cultural policy.
Skellig Michael: The Fabrication of History
Posted 12 December 2006 - 02:31
Your post sounds pretty angry and that's understandable because works like the ones you speak of are important to us. I am, however, having a difficult time telling what YOU think the restoration should look like. If you are in favor of respecting each era's modifications and additions, then you may want to follow your own advice and respect what the present workers are trying to achieve.
It's true that art is in the eye of the beholder. Heck, everything is, isn't it? Even an apple pie appeals to different people in different ways and there are a great many varieties of "favorite" recipes for strudel out there.
it sounds a bit like you may be angry at the Christian theme specifically, and if that is so, you have my condolences. those kind of feelings can run deep and I have experienced great pain in those arenas.
ever thought of finding some woods and building your own monument? I wish you good luck in your pursuits because it is imperative that we have that which we, personally, consider to be indispensible. Life is, afterall, in the eye of the beholder.
Edited by Cakes, 23 December 2006 - 06:44.
Posted 10 July 2008 - 08:51
Grellan Rourke denies damage to Skellig Michael
The main archaeologist in charge of conservation work on Skellig Michael (Sceilig Mhícíl) has denied that any changes have been made or damage done to monastic structures on the island. On RTÉ’s “Nationwide”, OPW archaeologist Grellan Rourke stated that “all the work we’ve done…is excavation and just trying to hold what’s there. We have taken nothing original away, all we’re trying to do is just hold what’s here for future generations.”
This statement is a contradicted by reconstruction work done on the Oratory Terrace of Skellig Michael. This reconstruction, explored in the Tara Foundation film “Skellig Michael: The Fabrication of History”, involved the rebuilding of the terrace based on a conjectural study in which the shape of the terrace was altered.
Mr. Rourke claimed that all work carried out has been done to prevent material being lost to gravity and erosion. However, the manner in which this has been done has been in flagrant violation of the guidelines set out by UNESCO, which demands that a management strategy be submitted before preservation work is carried out. Furthermore, this work is in violation of the Venice Charter which requires that “the aesthetic and historic value” of a monument must be preserved.
Mr. Rourke dismissed criticism of OPW conservation work, stating that the main critic [Michael Gibbons] “has never actually visited the site while we’ve been here. He has never seen the actual conditions on the site.”
However, photographs taken before, during and after the reconstruction work on the Oratory terrace tell a different story.
View “Skellig Michael: The Fabrication of History”: http://ie.youtube.co...h?v=GpXgBveqnjY
To watch Nationwide: http://www.rte.ie/ne...wide/index.html
Posted 10 July 2008 - 08:55
*Skellig Michael Update* UNESCO Report Finds Dramatic Alteration in Appearance of South Peak remains at Skellig Michael
A UNESCO report on State management of the world heritage site at Skellig Michael off the Kerry coast has found that conservation works have “dramatically altered” the appearance of surviving remains on its South Peak.
However, the 6th century monastic outpost will still retain its “outstanding universal values” intact if the conservation work is documented in an academic publication, the Unesco mission report has found.
The report, due to be released today by the Unesco World Heritage Committee in Quebec, Canada, has been welcomed by Minister for the Environment John Gormley. The first 10-year management plan for Skellig Michael is being published today.
The Unesco study upholds some of the criticisms of State management, in recommending that a site manager be appointed. It also stated that a “durable agreement” should be negotiated with Skellig Michael ferry operators.
The report recommends that an academic advisory committee be appointed by the Office of Public Works (OPW), and it is critical of the OPW for failing to consult with archaeologists and other stakeholders before embarking on the South Peak conservation works.
The Unesco mission to Skellig Michael took place in November 2007 as a result of concerns highlighted by independent archaeologist Michael Gibbons, and submissions from organisations such as the Royal Irish Academy and Skellig fishermen. A draft management plan had already been initiated in response to the criticisms.
While the OPW has responsibility for management of the complex, the Department of the Environment is responsible for overall policy.
Mr Gibbons maintained that serious damage had been done to the South Peak oratory, including destruction of an altar. It was built by the island’s monks some time between the 6th and 8th centuries when they laid out three terraces on the edge of rock some 218m (715 feet) above sea level.
An “over-restoration” by the OPW had resulted in a “reconstruction” of sections of the oratory rather than conservation of the original, Mr Gibbons claimed. He also queried why no management plan had ever been published since it was given world heritage status in 1996.
The Unesco report summarises the criticisms as a failure to apply best archaeological practice, and a perception that the OPW conservation plan was driven by “architectural rather than archaeological imperatives”.
“Because the rationale for the works and the actual process was largely discussed in-house, criticisms were inevitable,” it says, and this was exacerbated by a “lack of publication”.
“The new work is in its own way almost as remarkable as the original work. The monument as now reconstructed will become the popular vision of Skellig. For this reason it is essential that detail of the works should always be made explicit and the new work should be distinguishable from the old in all future publications,” the report says.
In securing an agreement with the Skellig boatmen, the Unesco committee recommends that the OPW invites the boatmen to an annual meeting, and it should establish and publicise future criteria for the issue of permits.
It also emphasises the need for a site manager to liaise between official and stakeholder interests. It says that a detailed visitor study should be carried out and an environmentally acceptable solution should be found to the lack of toilet facilities on the island.
Mr Gormley stated that he welcomed the “very positive findings”, and says that his 10-year management plan aims to “protect, conserve and promote an appreciation of Skellig Michael”.
Skellig Michael: The Fabrication of History:
Lorna Siggins, Western Correspondent, Irish Times © 2008
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