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Learning from the Abode of Chaos: institutions, stakeholders and contemporary challenges of conservation doctrine
Houbart, Claudine
2021Doctrinal texts – achievements, importance and future in the protection of heritage /90th anniversary of the Athens Charter


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Keywords :
Abode of Chaos; Conservation doctrine
Abstract :
[en] The Abode of Chaos is a complex site located in Saint-Romain-au-Mont-d’Or, a village ten kilometers North of Lyon, France ( Dating back to the 17th century, the site hosts the remains of a Protestant temple as well as vernacular buildings integrated into a total work of art created since 1999 by thierry Ehrmann, artist and businessman. The buildings as well as the site have become the support of more than 6500 artworks mostly made of recycled materials, echoing the often dark news of the last 20 years: climate change, the consequences of globalized trade, the exhaustion of resources, terrorism, war, intolerance, are embodied there without concession. This aspect runs through all the components of the site, materializing in the murals, the inscriptions, the monumental sculptures, the wounds inflicted on the vernacular buildings, the recycled materials and the obsolete objects diverted and reused. This living, evolving site has welcomed more than 2,000,000 free visitors from all over the world since 2006. Since 2005, however, it has been threatened with disappearance following the demand of the municipal authorities to bring it into conformity with town planning and heritage regulations. Indeed, the ongoing creative process involving the site does not fall under the classical approaches of conservation-restoration, as enshrined in doctrinal documents. But at the same time, since 2006, not less than 770 000 signatures have been collected in favor of the preservation of the site. A selection of comments posted by signatories have been gathered in a book which is a wonderful source allowing to perceive the cultural significance granted to the site by its various stakeholders (Honte à vous 2018). If we accept that cultural significance is a social construction emanating not only from experts carrying an "authorized heritage discourse » (Smith 2006), validated by scientific arguments, but also from multiple users, asserting a sensory and emotional expertise, the Abode of Chaos should undoubtedly join the multiform corpus of heritage. But if it finally does, what questions will it pose to our doctrinal principles, and what will it bring to their development? The Abode of Chaos is of course an “extreme specimen”. But that makes it a particularly thought-provoking expression of the current questioning of European heritage practices inherited from the 19th and 20th centuries. It becomes more and more clear that these practices alone are no longer sustainable in the face of current challenges related to climate change, economic crises, and the diversification of actors involved in the making of projects. The transmission process of an increasingly diversified heritage, now encompassing a large part of the environment, far from the selective inventories of the mid-20th century, cannot be thought with the only concepts from the past. Through the emerging concepts of “post-preservation” (DeSilvey 2017), “experimental preservation” (Otero-Pailos e.a. 2016), “counterpreservation” (Sandler 2016) or “hardcore heritage approach” (Rietveld & Rietveld 2017), the world of heritage is progressively opening up to new open-ended perspectives, respectful of the diversity of the narratives carried by the buildings or sites and the way in which they are experienced and interpreted by their current users according to their contemporary questioning. In this sense, the Abode of Chaos shakes up reference points and principles and questions the way in which our relation to the past and to memory is materialized in our choices of intervention on the existing heritage, in the context of the current crises. So, as surprising as it may seem, it can probably help us rethink our principles and even question their relevance and usefulness in the contemporary world.
Research center :
AAP - Art, Archéologie et Patrimoine - ULiège
Disciplines :
Art & art history
Author, co-author :
Houbart, Claudine  ;  Université de Liège - ULiège > Département d'Architecture > Département d'Architecture
Language :
Title :
Learning from the Abode of Chaos: institutions, stakeholders and contemporary challenges of conservation doctrine
Publication date :
September 2021
Event name :
Doctrinal texts – achievements, importance and future in the protection of heritage /90th anniversary of the Athens Charter
Event organizer :
ICOMOS ISC Theophilos
Event place :
Florence, Italy
Event date :
13-14 septembre 2021
Audience :
Name of the research project :
Abode of Chaos
Available on ORBi :
since 04 June 2021


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