TRACES focuses on the challenges and opportunities in transmitting contentious cultural heritages in contemporary Europe through experimental in-depth artistic/ethnographic research. What is the scope of your project and its relevance in view of contemporary social, political and economic issues affecting Europe and its inhabitants?Furthermost,what is the most relevant and lasting outcome of your project? What impact do you expect for your project?
Europe’s past and present is marked by conflict and difference as much as it is marked by rich and diverse cultural heritages. TRACES claims that Europe will be a combination (or concurrence) of many, sometimes contradictory voices, or it will not be at all. Its dynamic heritage holds the key to a reconfiguration of European imagination. Focussing on contentious aspects of heritage is expected to prepare the ground for solutions to the multiple crises we are facing today. Creative and practical, yet theoretically grounded heritage work is expected to open up new venues in negotiating current conflicts.
TRACES research teams based in 11 countries identify and develop strategies of making conflicts and differences in Europe negotiable. Artists, social and cultural scientists and heritage institutions are teaming up to harness the dialogical and plurivocal potential of artistic practices by co-producing public heritage interfaces. Exemplary and critical case studies are situated in border regions such as the Alps-Adriatic; in places where recent conflict continue to impact on politics such as Belfast (Northern Ireland) or where past traumata are lingering on (e.g. vernacular holocaust art in Poland or a forgotten Synagogue in Rumania); in institutions built to strengthen national and Western identities, such as collections of human remains in museums and archives. These case studies are supported by artistic, ethnographic, pedagogic and theoretical expertise. Hence, TRACES develops practical and theoretically grounded modes of engaging with Europe’s contentious heritages in critical and self-reflexive ways to be re-produced and further developed in the future.
What influence have EU political and funding agendas had—particularly Horizon 2020 Reflective Societies)—on the framing of your research, its lines of enquiry, methods and expected impacts?
The Horizon 2020 Reflective Societies funding agenda has directed the attention of artists as well as social and cultural scientists to connections between heritage work and current issues, such as the depopulation of structurally weak rural areas; different practices in dealing with challenges and potentials of multilingualism; potentials and limitations of cultural and artistic long- and short-term projects. The call invited the TRACES team to critically re-think the notion of European identity, focussing especially on different perspectives, differences, and conflicts. Overall, TRACES combines hands-on and theoretical approaches which invite Europeans to interact with different interpretations of the past thus to engage with the contentious aspects of heritage.
You defined European heritage as somethingworthbeingpreserved and transmittedand as well as asset to be ‘collectively examined and performed’. Which is the ‘performative’ aspectof Europeandifficult heritage?
Heritage is an important vehicle in building European imagination. It is constantly being constructed and reconstructed, according to different current needs in different local and regional settings. Performativity relates to this productive character of heritage work. Besides examining and re-producing already existing understandings of difficult pasts, performative heritage crucially aims to re-configure existing systems of meaning by developing new, interactive, and creative practices. Crucially, this process must be collective, so that different stakeholders can insert their often conflicting positions into the debate. TRACES claims that acknowledging the contentious aspects of European heritage is crucial. TRACES envisages a new European imagination as an area where interaction between different, sometimes contradictory, perspectives and experiences of past and present learn to interact. By engaging with these proactively and collectively, heritage-work may become performative.
TRACESrecognisesthat European cultural heritage is complexas it is based on thecollisionamongcontroversial perspectives on historical memories and experiences. In this context you introduced the idea of ‘reflexiveof Europeanisation from the margins’. could you explain this concept further?
The classic master narrative of European heritage was built from ‘the centre’: technical and architectural achievements found in large cities; language, knowledge and customs as signifiers of a nation; art and science as expression of the rise of the middle class. Multiple perspectives, languages, and identities have long been considered as the outcome of ‘exceptional’ migration- and borderland experiences of marginal interest for the mainstream. Post-modernism, globalisation, the awareness of migration flows and economic crises have refocused attention to the margins for a better understanding of today’s dynamic European setting. TRACES argues that contemporary Europeanisation needs to take the cue from the margins to identify innovative heritage practices. Reflexivity, i.e., social formats of re-assessing and challenging seemingly given normalities, is a crucial dimension in feeding a new European imagination.
Your research strand within TRACES often focuses onbothtangible and intangible popular culture. How can creative popular heritage repertoires make conflicts visible and negotiablein civilsociety?
Popular culture provides us with a wealth of creative formats that help us making sense of our past and present in relation to others. Tangible and intangible formats are closely connected. While tangible heritage relates to products and objects, intangible heritage captures habits and practices. Popular heritage formats are typically embedded in everyday life; they draw credibility from day-to-day practices. Historical conflicts that appear insurmountable on a national and institutional level are often —though not always— more negotiable on a micro-level. Transposed to civil society, popular micro-practices of performative heritage production can express the complexity of contentious heritage in ways that go beyond the possibilities of classic heritage work.
Interview by Francesca Lanz, Christopher Whitehead and Michela Bassanelli.
*Klaus Schönberger is Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Chair of the Institut für Kulturanalyse at Universitaet Klagenfurt, Austria. He has published extensively on digital technologies and socio-cultural changes. Since 1978, he has initiated and participated in several national and international research projects on cultural heritage and civic society. He is the project coordinator for the research project TRACES – Transmitting Contentious Cultural Heritages with the Arts. From Intervention to Co- Production(March 2016 – February 2019).