Bath Abbey is undergoing a substantial programme of conservation and change; including the removal and reinstatement/replacement of the 847 ledger stones comprising its floor. The floor is, in fact, almost entirely comprised of these burial markers. These ledgers, however, were removed and repositioned in the 1860s, and no longer mark the remains of those buried directly beneath them. Present works will result in further repositioning, while those that are already damaged and/or eroded (or become damaged during the removal process) may not be reinstated at all.
My work, presently the subject of a public exhibition at the Abbey, addresses issues of time, erasure, authenticity and value. My study involves the use of photogrammetry to capture ledger stones which will likely not be reinstated. The digital and CNC-routed models of these stones record their present state as an authentic expression of their place in time; I argue that it is important to consider the status of the replica, especially one of an eroded and fragmented artefact, as something of value.
Digital techniques have already enabled partial replications of sensitive heritage sites; might they play a useful role in cultivating a response to time which, referencing Michael Shanks, considers the past as a “resource” subject to “creative process”? Can the replica, which captures (even ossifies) the present (itself the result of processes over deep time) become a useful object to serve the future? Which artefacts are deserving of such special attention and re-making? How is “pastness” or memory preserved or generated here: through form, or “aura”?
This work draws on the thinking of academics including Siân Jones, Cornelius Holtorf, Rodney Harrison, and Emma Waterton & Steve Watson who address heritage as an emergent product of a dynamic set of social relationships.
Littlefield, D. (2020, August). Time and value at Bath Abbey: Erosion, fragmentation and the role of the replica. Paper presented at ACHS 2020 Futures, UCL, London UK