Modern science and technology

Since the Age of Reason, science5 has acquired a particular position in human activities. Considering that exact sciences were related especially to mathematics, these were considered the most rigorous and objective way to acquire knowledge. Modern interests in heritage and its conservation have always been closely connected with sciences and a scientific approach. In the eighteenth century, the discovery of ancient buried cities, such as Herculaneum and Pompeii, was linked with the development of archaeological studies and exploration of the unknown. These discoveries stimulated the development of methods for the conservation of finds, such as objects and mural paintings; the discovery of papyrus roles inspired curiosity to open and read them; ancient scriptures such as hieroglyphs inspired methods to decipher them. In the nineteenth century, with growing scientific knowledge, there was an increasing interest to test methods to conserve paintings, stone and architectural surfaces; a debate arose about cleaning and consolidating historic buildings. In the period of positivism, archaeology and restoration were included in the field of sciences and, e.g., Lassus and Viollet-le-Duc were proud of being scientific in their studies and work.

In the twentieth century, the development and potential use of modern scientific methods and techniques in conservation have been amply recognized by the conservation world. The 1931 Athens conclusions recommend: 'the judicious use of all the resources at the disposal of modern technique and more especially of reinforced concrete' (art. 4). The 1932 Italian norms of Giovannoni propose that: 'the results of research must be applied in the complex, detailed activities, involved in the conservation of dilapidated structures and ad-hoc, empirical solutions must be put aside in favour of strictly scientific ones' (art. 9). The Venice Charter states: 'The conservation and restoration of monuments must have recourse to all the sciences and techniques which can contribute to the study and safeguarding of the architectural heritage' (art. 2). It is interesting to recall that the Italian classification of the approach represented by Giovannoni has been called 'scientific restoration', a name which has been used by many conservators to describe their work even later.

The use of sciences as a support to conservation work was first developed in laboratories attached to museums. The first museum laboratory was founded at the Staatliche Museen of Berlin in 1888; this was followed by laboratories at the British Museum in 1919, in Cairo, Louvre and Harvard in 1925, and others, especially from the 1930s on, specialized in a variety of subjects such as paintings, ceramics, metal and paper; the laboratories of Rome, New Delhi and Tokyo date from 1938 (Philippot, 1963:352). Important advances were made in conservation research, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, when the scientists and experts of different countries established regular connections to compare research methods and results. Specific areas included conservation of archaeological finds, collections, different architectural

Figure 10-2 The antique theatre of Eraclea Minoa in Sicily was restored in the 1960s, using transparent plastic display as a 'scientifically' planned protection. The microclimate under the plastic, however, has seriously threatened the preservation of the original stones. In 1996, the authorities decided to remove the plastic, and design a more appropriate form of protection

Figure 10-2 The antique theatre of Eraclea Minoa in Sicily was restored in the 1960s, using transparent plastic display as a 'scientifically' planned protection. The microclimate under the plastic, however, has seriously threatened the preservation of the original stones. In 1996, the authorities decided to remove the plastic, and design a more appropriate form of protection materials, such as stone, wood, and metals, as well as architectural surfaces, mural paintings and mosaics.

The advantages of modern technology are partly in the improved capacity to obtain exact knowledge on the behaviour and condition of particular structures and materials in view of their conservation. It has also been possible to develop methods and products that allow the consolidation, preservation and sometimes the recovery of seriously damaged artefacts and structures. Modern science and technology have become invaluable tools for modern conservationists, who are expected to base their work on multidisciplinary collaboration.

A somewhat dubious result, however, will be achieved when the priority given to modern technology results in the often overwhelming use of Portland cement and synthetic products. To some degree, modern conservation philosophy has introduced a reluctance to use traditional construction methods as part of conservation work - except in countries where such methods are still in everyday use. Consequently, restoration practice has often transformed historic constructions into modern structural systems. Although their aesthetic appearance may have been preserved, they may have lost part of their original authenticity.

The question whether conservation should be included in sciences or not was answered by Argan, in 1938, when he recognized the various technical and humanistic skills required for conservation and restoration, and emphasized the critical approach to the appreciation of works of art. The conclusion from this is that sciences should be used as a 'tool' according to the requirements of the different tasks coming up in conservation. Conservation itself should not be considered a science, rather it forms a special modern discipline belonging to liberal arts - as Brandi has suggested (see Chapter 8). He has also insisted that a work of art is not a message in itself; accordingly, it does not communicate, but it presents (Brandi, 1966.31). Nor is it only the physical phenomenon represented by its material; its presence is in the human consciousness - as anticipated by Riegl who referred to art value as a present-day value. We can refer to Brandi who defines the work of art as a 'phenomenon that is not a phenomenon' (fenomeno-che-fenomeno-non-e; Brandi, 1966.16); i.e., although a work of art materially exists - and therefore is a phenomenon, its fundamental concept remains in the human mind - which is not a physical phenomenon. When approaching critically an existing work of art, the observer will first see the material phenomenon, but he would then proceed to recognize the non-physical concept of the work, its 'world' through its 'earth', according to Heidegger. The role of science is to assist in analysing the genuine, historical material of such work as a support to the critic who needs to perceive the artistic concept in human consciousness.

This position can be referred to the role of science in relation to history as discussed by Thomas Kuhn in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions, first published in 1962 (Kuhn, 1970). The book itself was a small revolution, and was not necessarily received unanimously. Kuhn observed that each time science advanced in a radical manner, it necessitated the community's rejection of theories honoured in the past, and a consequent shift in the problems available for scientific scrutiny. A typical example was the discovery of oxygen, which introduced a radically new way of looking at nature and the behaviour of materials. Kuhn noted that a new theory implied a change in the rules governing previous scientific practice, and it reflected on the interpretation of much of past work. 'Its assimilation requires the reconstruction of prior theory and the re-evaluation of prior fact, an intrinsically revolutionary process that is seldom completed by a single man and never overnight' (Kuhn, 1970:7).

Concerning the possibility of fixed scientific goals or truths, Kuhn concluded, the entire process of scientific research may have occurred 'without benefit of a set goal, a permanent fixed scientific truth, of which each stage in the development of scientific knowledge is a better exemplar' (Kuhn, 1970:172f). In defining their conservation-restoration theories, both Riegl and Brandi were conscious of the importance to stress the human and cultural aspects of modern restoration vs. technology and science, which could only be a necessary support - not the goal. The statement by Kuhn is important in showing that not only humanities but also sciences depend on value judgements, and that 'science' does not represent 'absolute truth' as had been thought over the past two centuries. Through his remark, Kuhn has brought science and humanities closer together after a long separation. This is particularly relevant in relation to modern conservation, in its essence based on the definition of values, and coinciding with the statement that conservation of cultural heritage is fundamentally a cultural problem.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment