The Heritage Education Centre Space is Open / HECS is ajar!
This wiki is a space for testing out ideas for the Heritage Education Centre Space (HECS) that is unfolding. HECS is not quite yet open, so we use: ajar. Open means: open for construction. Open for contributions, participation. Ajar means: there will be some effort and energy involved to open up the space, we welcome and are grateful for the involvement, and the parameters of this are not yet fixed.
Also, "HECS" phonically invokes what has been historicized as outside of science, motions towards folkloric & pagan practices (hex). Take this as a spell:
Orientations of the HECS
Bidston Observatory is situated on the Wirral peninsula, in The UK. It is currently occupied by Bidston Observatory Artistic Research Centre (BOARC).
As part of BOARC’s wider project, the Heritage Education Centre (HECS) is dedicated to critically exploring the history of the building, the surrounding area, and the global networks of transit, exploration and extraction made possible by science in the British Empire.
Bidston's imbrication in the history of maritime trade and the British Empire calls for dedicated research into the ethical, contextual and expanded forms of visual culture, and museum and curatorial practice, which would support these histories.
HECS looks to engage in the complexity of visual cultures necessary to address the critical enquiry into nineteenth century British history. Part of HECS’ remit is to ask questions such as: How can a local museum reflect contemporary post-colonial discourse at the intersection of art and science? And: How might it be possible to situate this dialogue within scholarly and museological debate, at the same time as responding to this location and demand from communities which surround it?
The HECS documents spaces, objects and instruments related to Bidston Observatory - however these relations can be thought along networked, distributed or expanded forms. Most of the usual tales being told and retold about the National monuments, including this observatory, celebrate a succession of White British male scientists and their great inventions. HECS tries to make space for accounts that are extra to nation state, hetero-normative ideas of progress and the advancement of Science.
The practice of observation, operating scientific instruments and investment in observatories is entangled with different scales of capitalist endeavour, colonialist and imperialist modes of worlding. The Bidston Observatory is connected to such modes through its contributions to the maritime industry, natural earth sciences and oceonography. HECS interrogates different instrumentations and approaches in these historically defined disciplines at various scales. It is a place to articulate these connections, and the responsibilities they bring.
HECS gathers facts about the building itself, the artefacts and instruments that it once housed and still houses, but tries to connect them to larger histories and futures. No histories are told without bias, and so are the stories in this wiki.
H as in Heritage and...
patrimony and as in inheritance and as in unexpected modes of passing on. We have learned from our ancestors and predecessors (of social constructivism in STS, of situated knowledges in feminist technosciences, of self-management in the DIY scenes accross the globe, from anti-repression and anti-colonial struggle organisation) how to critique and problematise the so-called Modern Project and its systems of values from the very tissue of it, but we try to use our imbrication to develop generative and reparative strategies. Through the H in HECS we understand heritage not as that which may be inherited, codified in ways that determine what counts as valuable or recessive (in a gradient of violent pedigree) and gets smoothly transferred. We rather try to engage with heritage as a praxis of response-ability, solidarity, friction and open-ended (sometimes even chain-breaking) critique within different communities of practice (Isabelle Stengers), acknowledging that each of them at their particular times need to transfer knowledge and modes of doing, but not necessarily following pre-set conditions for how values, notions, manners or tools get passed along. The passing along implies an intersectional unserstandings of inter-dependent generations, disciplines, positionalities and degrees of expertise.
What would a praxis of heritage based on trans*ness operate like? The star (*) in trans* asks for a moment to consider which elements are more significantly intersected for each specific community of practice. Is it the labour conditions? Is it the gender assumptions and assignations? Is it age, ability, academic legitimacy, origin, language, beliefs, systematizations, opressions, species?
Due to the historical damages inflicted over bodies and communities by means of normative inheritance systems, at HECS we are commited to an active and ongoing calibration of investment, value and pertenence based on an accountability on our own terms, of course revisable and necessarily unfinished. In other words: just because you are "in the family" that does not give you immediately the right to own properties, to reproduce biases or to repeat manners. Passing along a pre-set of lineage with its correspondant component of genetic inheritance, property ownership or incapacity and elitism or exclusion --depending on the position of privilege or surrogatedness of such lineage-- is what we try to actively crook. But crooking is not erasing, and hence we are committed to a reformulation of heritage by other means, more attuned to complex forms of transmission and needed forms of making processes otherwise.
Heritage for the HECS is considered to revolve around non-original objects, or around material and inmaterial objects (of study?) which do not always have patrimonistic lineages and certainly should not have naturalized paths into our lives. Such objects can be loosely connected to situatedness. Objects in HECS are not examples of what was originally used in Bidston Observatory, to start with. They are perhaps objects of chosen traced histories (understanding that the telling of History is also the result of a choice, a never-neutral nor innocent choice), and the result of expanding the lines traced in surprising directions for the flourishing of other worldy formations, as cosmic or mundane as they might need to be.
Heritage also takes an active stake on the many (and often deeply contradictory) legacies of discovery, observation, findings, stabilizing and settlement paradigms, scientific labour or mandatory progress by means of development. As a non-natural, non-familiar transmission, queer, anti-colonial and trans* heritage here is inhabited as both the knowledge and forms of knowledges passed on, never singular, never unidirectional, and so our understanding of heritage in the HECS must be reflective of inter-dependent multiplicities. It is a heritage that needs to be based on a collective and mutant exploration of difference without separability (Da Silva).
So we take the task to, on a daily basis, find ways of speaking, addressing, observing, unnaming and being together to pass knowledge to each other, and to others.
Also, there is a catagory called "stories" on this wiki dedicated to stories which might be useful to thicken the notion of history without a withdrawal of response-ability.: https://wiki.bidstonobservatory.org/index.php/Category:Stories
Other elements to speak about inheritance could include: situatedness of social constructuvism, the contemporary legitimacy of speculation, the importance of orality in technoscientific transmission of a multiplicity of heritage, and so on and so forth.
E as in Education or...
... experiments - in communal/convivial study, learning, co-enquiry and research. Understanding education as the passing on of knowledge within a system, which oftentimes has levels of hierarchy. Education's roots can be traced to (re)inventions in benevolence, discipline and labour. In the activities of HECS, we wish to create study space which welcomes many forms of knowledge, radical attention, genuine curiosity and openness for unlearning some bits and pieces of coercive knowledge formations. Not only between individuals or communities, but also affecting structures as bigger agents (institutions, funding bodies, disciplinar fields as a whole) with the potential to learn, themselves, in active and proactive manners.
... or appreciation and respect - for the the ways that this site is cherished by different people.
... or mutual care and respect for differences in sensibilities, urgencies, triggers or interests.
... or co-habitation - with the other lifeforms onsite, with the previous work done here, with complex and multiple stories of nature-cultures, science research and popular wisdom -- for example in relation to the neighbor lighthouse, or the hill informal economies, or the landscape mutations along generations.
... or a shared field of study which we aim to make accessible in different ways, to enable different people to engage with the notion of "community of practice".
... or the many differences found along learning and knowledge circulation, unlearning processes, etc.
...or not being only reactive to theoretical trends and attuning often to smaller and more experimental zones of understanding to slow down an approach to the thick complexities of the mundane in generative, not so much reactive-to agenda-based waves of interest. Looking at the legacy of Science and technological progress, in terms of both 'who benefits' and 'who is harmed', and understanding that this cannot be divorced from the application of the technology. Raising awareness about the intersection between science and politics, through making connections. Exploring the historical, political and cultural relations that co-constitute objects/artifacts/instruments in the HECS. Knowledge making and sharing involve multiple practices and have many different formats of outcome, not just academic papers.
...or learning experiments with as many teachers as it has participants. It is motivated by the possibility to displace parameters of/for research, studying and learning, informed by companion experiences like the Relearn Summerschool (http://relearn.be). The HECS welcomes persons from all backgrounds and disciplines, who can be willing to engage with the histories . From relearn citation:
"Participants will gather to learn from and teach to each other, beyond the traditional paradigms of education. Relearn researches convivial, experimental and deviant methods and means in the fields of design, computing and education, challenging the normal roles and separations in them"
... or trying with as many tools as we could re-imagine: wiki/FLOSS, radio!, stays, collective cooking/gardening/...
C as in Centre despite...
... our intention to displace the object from the main focus. In the HECS, we understand knowledge to be co-constituted and partial. We tell multiple and divergent accounts of the histories which intersect at the site. Some of these histories are the more well-trodden contributions to British maritime trade and natural earth sciences. Some are lesser known, or expanded in surprising ways. The HECS doesn't centralise an authorial museum 'voice', but rather aims to include a diversity of accounts, told by different human and non-human actors.
...despite a displacement of the subject from the center of our attentions does not mean the displacement of the subject's response-abilities
...despite understanding center as a spot of rigid coordinates, unmovable and static, we say Center to mean a place to return to after fun, complicated, significant and tricky drifts. Not so much centre as a place to not get out from, but as a zone to try and converge back. A center as a place to return to a grounding in materiality, and zone of consensuated stability used more to stay active than to stay upright. A center as an axis to tilt, twist and recursively come back to, but transformed.
...despite the need for a location or point of focus. Of course, such focus is necesarily revisable, but we need to be aware of what our consensuated center is (a least common multiple that will necessarily vary along time, changed by our very practices).
...despite Museums are typically still rooted in the very center of nineteenth century thought, operating as public spaces for educational emancipation, and supporting canonical versions of histories which have, at root, accumulative principles and classist or colonial mind-sets. Currently, such museology is under heavy scrutiny, and collecting as a practice of accumulation is being questioned deeply; so too is the function of museums as gatekeepers of value. As we begin HECS in this moment of criticality - which many of us have worked to raise - we also look towards reimagining the visual cultures which have supported the colonial and modern projects.
...despite we are trying to rethink the well-established tradition of display, so specific for science and technology museums. As the HECS sits within a research site (BOARC), it's slow aims are to engage audiences in a way that negotiates the accepted and to-be- expected scenography, relevant and open to divergent audiences, while provoking an informed reflection on histories of Western modernity. On this research site, which is neither museum nor education centre, but host to a vibrant community of invested research practitioners, there is potential for a sensitive, experimental curatorial approach, which combines a critical reflection on the culture of observation with a thorough rethinking of the implications of local museum display.
S as in Space but...
... the words 'Centre' & 'Space' are placed together, to signify a displacement of a central object, an empty middle that expelled the traditionally centered elements of both subject and object, and transports them into eccentric spaces, inner, outer, other.
... but also as in "giving space" to ourselves as well as "leaving space" for others, assuming the amount of accumulated privileges and oppresions often magnetizing around our very modes of existance and the categories imposed upon them.
... but spaced in constant evacuation/eviction, with a tending-to-void middle. We understand this as non-accumulative practices, time-poor practices,
...but while national museums face the challenge of examining their collections and display, local museums such as HECS, can work in a more deft manner. HECS tries to maintain an expansive focus rather than concentrating on one central underpinning 'H'istory. This brings questions of permeability, permanence, reification, nostalgia and more.
...but HECS also works with absences, removed instruments and traces. It doesn't look to conserve in the traditional sense, but to take different approaches to the relation of heritage and preservation. Some of these are: hearing the silences of erased oral histories of technosciences, taking the partial and non-innocent position of "guardians" of Bidston Observatory, practicing palliative care for a world that needs to die (and will do), leaving be and being ok with the now!
These are some of the questions that came up while we are trying to imagine to build the HECS in discussion with many others. Please feel welcome to add questions, or to rephrase the ones below.
- How to contextualise The Bidston Observatory? As a colonial apparatus, as ...
- How can our understandings of the site and its histories not reproduce colonial relationships and patterns?
- Are the instruments at the site usuable, dead, or a mix of both? How can their active use and application be a part of artistic research in the present?
- How do the instruments at Bidston today relate to replicas, originals or other versions of the same technologies?
- How can damage to the site and related objects be rethought? What repair skills – conceptual and mechanical – can contributors bring?
- What ways of thinking or practices could be hospiced into disappearance rather than repaired?
- What does it mean to accumulate a collection, in a site like this? For a project like BOARC?
- What defines a museum? What counts as heritage?
- Can this wiki document the absences and traces at Bidston Observatory?
- How does the space of Bidston reflect its intended uses? How can Bidston and its 'contents' be repurposed?
- How can the wiki include views from different people impacted by colonialism and its legacies? By disgruntled historians of science, astronomy, and oceanography? By the local community?
- Can the entries here archive aspects of how knowledge has been made and structured, now and in the past?
- How can the wiki address archival sources in ways that read them both against and along the grain of their original purposes?
- How is instrumentation linked to slavery?
- How to take the wider implications of observation into account?