time, space and ego
The Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls in Lyon, dated from the first half of 1st century stayed buried for centuries. It was classified as a monument in 1961 during a series of excavations. The southern part of the monument was destroyed during urban expansion in the 19th century. Today, remains of ancient amphitheatre are surrounded by modern buildings, school, a noisy road tunnel (Croix-Rousse) and a road.
The past and the future meet at one point, in the present. How long the meeting lasts, depends on the cultural perceptions of time and values attributed to each. Nowadays a stretched and overwhelming experience of the present has made out of time common place for all. The constant process of historicisation, memorization, archiving, protecting, redefining the heritage formulate our past in ruins and evaluates it.
Some buildings – remains of past decades or even lost cultures, artifacts of religions and various achievements – becomes important for human history. Other may disappear in a group amnesia or as a folly of history. For other there is a place – new Western generations are growing up in well preserved cathedrals, roman amphitheatres and aqueducts or monuments, remembering the presence of destroyed buildings of different function.
We are surrounded by artifacts whose significance is established by a collective memory, time and legislative regulations. Anthropological sites ( Marc Augé) points in a symbolic landscape , which remain tied to the cultural identity and history of its spectator. The amphitheatre, understood as a spacial arrangement which expresses group identity is preserved to bring back the past and maintain the presence. Time flows stay visible in all architectural interventions: damage arcades now placed horizontally, flattened tribunes, the southern part covered by school buildings and a field. It is not just a message from ancient Romans which should be drawn from these ruined walls, but all traces of this place’s history: urban decisions dictated by state policy and these ruins function today. And that point is extremely disturbing as the amphitheatre cannot be visited. The ruins have become an exposed object with massive symbolical content which seems to exist apart of its physical context- an artwork ?
The question of the complete restoration and renovation of the monument “as it was before” comes up naturally. It seems though to be contradictory to the idea of the ruins. This recreated present forms a past, a status quo of building which never existed for us can remind us of the greatness of its constructors. But what meaning does it bring? The decision of any restoration done on ruins, even before classifying them as such, reveals more about ourselves than its original creators. Living in a supermodernity characterized by a few essential qualities – excess, space and ego – we try to seize control of time. While the overabundance of events and space as well as individualization of references organize our accelerating society, ruins appears as a silent stability which last in time. Any intervention to its state will hush their murmurs.
Georg Simmel noted that there are two opposite forces visible in ruins: human and nature. One tries to build vertical structures which nature is trying to flatten.
I see in this another recent process ‘heritagization’. This policy defines and protects cultural heritage is seen in more and more places. This process, especially intensive in France under the policies of André Malraux, resulted in the classification of numerous monuments. New monuments. New ruins. They gained a status of exceptional places and are untouchable, sometimes not useful, between life and death.
in exchange with Amandine Mohamed-Delaporte