A project by UNESCO-MOST – C.I.P.S.H – Mémoire de l’Avenir
Images excite us, afterwards, but they are not the phenomena
of an excitement […] the essential newness of the poetic image
poses the problem of the speaking being’s creativeness.
Gaston Bachelard (1957), The poetics of space
Taken from the perspective of physics, space is a moment of time, while time is moving space. This unity, or even identity, of spacetime (Taylor & Wheeler, 1992), which changed our understanding of reality in the last century rendering uncertainty and probability the core of knowledge, is confronted, however, with the human perception of space as context and of time as change. Such perception builds from experiencing interactions with other objects through our moving senses (touch through body performance, but also sight, hearing, ….). This understanding of reality, anchored in the connection between space, time and cause through mobility, proceeds from the opposite of space and time as physical dimensions; notions such as homogeneity of space or irreversibility of time, are accessible only through abstractions, while senses suggest the discontinuity of space, or its understanding as an arithmetical composition of segregated units: places.
This approach to space through places is, therefore, part of the process of anthropization of the landscape, a mechanism that consists in selecting from the territory only some variables which become meaningful for the observer, creating them through human performance: the poetics of doing and making things becomes the cradle of places (hotspots of belonging, i.e., of reification of human agency), which have no relevance in the physical world (except as concrete crossroads of multiple random avenues) but make sense, and become sense, for humans.
The experience of interacting with those selected variables is the process of creating places, which are not necessarily connected to other places, but share with them wider scales of belonging though human activity, e.g. hunting (Ingold, 1996). For instance, a marketplace in Paris bears no relation to a marketplace in Nairobi, unless they become connected through trade, which then becomes itself a new and wider place of doing and making things. The space of places is, therefore, tendentially discontinuous, heterogenous and ethnocentric, as each place is structured by the ethos of those who performed and created it (poiesis). Having said this, the complexification of long-distance interactions and performances (through trade, war and other forms of travel) tends to create a common global space, which is no longer rooted in segregated ethos but in a shared understanding of the human. This is an outcome of globalization that, with strong resistance, emerged in the public sphere in the last few decades.
Because it is through (intangible) doing and making (tangible) things that places and discontinuous space are created, a same territory allows for the coexistence of different landscapes, perceived by individuals and groups that have different trajectories, traditions, mindsets or needs. Heritage plays, in such process, the role of signifier (establishing a bridge between present and past performance) and of invariant (being preserved as a testimony within a transformative landscape). Heritage units promote, in this sense, images of the past but, as Bachelard noted, they are not a phenomenon of the past but a poetic creation of the present.
When such creation refers to signifiers that have a morphological resemblance to objects that have a known meaning (e.g. housing, feeding, burying, …) that connects to a recognizable morphology (e.g. castles, houses, cemeteries,…), as with most monuments, these become “heritage places” (i.e., remains from the past that allow for experiencing them in contemporary society, even if through different activities and performances). But when the signifiers are archaeological sites, often with unclear delimitation and alien morphology, the interaction of visitors tends to become passive, preventing them to become places. Archaeological sites, with some exceptions, cannot be understood per se, beyond their specific context, because of this, which has important consequences when trying to understand their value in contemporary society.
The construction of meaning on archaeological sites requires, then, a wider spatial scale, the landscape, which will be characterized as a place of interactions of which the sites are mere crossroads, or fossilized moments, of human performance in the past. The archaeological site is, in poetic terms, a detail of the landscape, which then becomes the place unit, and the landscape itself becomes, then, part of wider systems of exchange and interaction, at regional and wider scales: the space.
It is this approach to the dialectic relation between place, space and human performance and agency (poiesis) that became the foundation of an ongoing project (TurArq) that aims at triggering transformative co-creative, poetic, spaces of knowledge, bridging landscapes through human performance.
The reasoning of the project is that citizens, with few exceptions, do not have sufficient information to interact with archaeological sites in a meaningful and poietic way, but do have such information when landscapes at large are considered. Likewise, archaeologists interpret archaeological sites as samples of past human performance in territories. In both cases, the basic unit of creation and belonging is not the site but the landscape, archaeologists always framing the sites in their geomorphologic and environmental context. This understanding of archaeological remains renders them closer to the experience of mobility across land or biome spaces, than to historical sites.
This is also the reason why the arts, and particularly land art (which may include the reconstruction of some archaeological sites, such as Newgrange in the Boyne valley, in Ireland, or Abu Simbel sites in Egypt) sit at the core of the creation of cultural landscapes, as they bring in a poetic dimension of performance that allows for citizens’ interaction. In doing so, they also become the backbone of transformation, as it is the process of creating past landscapes as eco-places that renders credible the option of creating future landscapes as eco-utopia.
Human performance through time commutes, then, from place to space and back, constantly creating new images through re-designing landscapes, re-assigning meaning to object and building from uncertainty.
This research is supported by FEDER funds, through the COMPETE programme, and by national funds through the project of the Geosciences UIDB/00073/2020. The author wishes to thank the collaboration of Sara Garcês, Hugo Gomes, Anícia Trindade, Douglas Cardoso, Eduardo Ferraz and other colleagues from project TURARQ (CENTRO-04-3559-FSE-000158).
Bachelard, G. (1994) . The poetics of space. Boston: Beacon Press.
Ingold, T. (1996). “Hunting and gathering as ways of perceiving the environment”. Ellen,R., Fukui, K. (dir.), Redefining nature. Ecology, culture and domestication. Oxford: Berg ed. : 117-155
Taylor, E. F.; Wheeler, J.A. (1992). Spacetime Physics: Introduction to Special Relativity (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Freeman.
Luiz Osterbeek Professor at the Polytechnic Institute of Tomar, Portugal
Luiz Osterbeek Professor at the Polytechnic Institute of Tomar, Portugal