November 24th, 2010 — 2:40am
ella ancestors
‘Ella: How the Years Sneak Up on Us Analysis Chart’, Photo by John Engstead, 1961 (source) Touching the Ancestors, Image by Author, Clandon Park, 2010



A piece of furniture must contain only 25% of its original material to be considered authentic. It is not unusual for a set of four chairs to be made from a single chair—approximately one from each leg.


In China there is a temple that is routinely dismantled and reconstructed afresh, each element being newly replaced every twenty years or so. The slight variations from one temple to the next over time mean that no one actually knows what the original looked like.


Fashions in the practice of conservation come and go. By the same standard plastic surgeons are now being asked to revise their earlier work as it is too Britney or Pamela. One day these patients will regret this change of heart as these classics come back into favor.


If one searches for ‘Palestine’ in Google Maps a map with the word ‘Israel’ appears—the word ‘Palestine’ is not included. Some maps of Northern Ireland do not include Southern Ireland but instead show the area as an expanse of sea. Nicaragua recently deployed troops to the Calero Islands after Google Maps stated they were no longer part of Costa Rica. When Costa Rica objected, the Nicaraguan Vice President pointed out that one cannot invade their own land. The unresolved dispute has been taken to the Hague.


There are approximately 6000 languages in use today, over 3000 of them are likely to disappear by the year 2100.


In the Wieliczka salt mines of Poland, cavernous rooms, including a fine chapel with life size sculptures of Christ, have been carved out of the rock salt. The tourists that visit the site are asked to resist their urges with polite signs, instructing those who are tempted, not to lick the sculptures.


When a dozen Maoris, a handful of Polynesians, a group of conservators, their friends and babies sleep inside a Maori meeting house in Surrey, the sound is overwhelming. There are squeaky mattresses, moaning, giggling, a lot of snoring, as well as pebbles rattling under foot as the needs of nature are being attended to. This is the sound of conservation in progress.


Maori meeting houses are considered to be embodiments of Maori ancestors, in this case the powerful chieftainess Hinemihi. Maoris, conservators and National Trust officials carefully address her with the level of respect required. Since the 1890’s she has spent her time on a National Trust-managed lawn in Clandon Park. The English governor to New Zealand bought and brought her to his UK residence, following her narrow escape from a volcanic eruption.


Hinemihi came to live in Europe where people rarely speak to their architecture. Speaking to mere objects or buildings might be considered odd to say the least. The Maori conception of the embodied building that one can speak to, reaches far beyond the metaphorical: the meeting house does not perform, simulate or represent the ancestor, but rather is the ancestor.


Nonetheless, in rough times, the spirit of a meeting house might turn sad or low. He or she might signal a need for human warmth and company, perceptible to those who are able to hear. Traditional conservation policy warns that even clean hands can leave marks and damage surfaces. Traditional Maori protocol, on the other hand, requires that Maori meeting houses be touched, caressed, greeted, spoken to and spent time with.


From her home in Clandon Park… more


Inigo Minns



Cecilie Gravesen


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