L’éphemère est éternel
The melancholy of the modern and the vibration of a moment.
‘I don’t want to exhibit something to someone, but rather the reverse: to exhibit someone to something.’
– Pierre Huyghe, UUmwelt (2018)
One of the integral elements of contemporary culture is the preservation of modernity’s past. That, admittedly, sounds like a paradox; the preservation of the past of the new. It could also be put as follows; the change of our beliefs in the face of the time of the modern. It is in such a context that we must situate the interest in the now abandoned building of the East terminal of the old Athens airport designed by Eero Saarinen. If the cultural beliefs and judgment criteria that we were once equipped with are shifting, are being reframed and are continuously expanding, the thing that remains constant is the fear of loss. A fear which appears to be the driving force behind this expanded mania of preservation which often manifests in an aesthetic attitude. Contrary to modernity’s efforts this fear stopped being the enemy and instead took the place of a privileged interlocutor.
I am not commenting on this complex issue from the perspective of restoration techniques and protection policies of ‘cultural goods’, ‘tokens’, and ‘monuments’ of the past, despite the fact we all know that these ideas lend themselves to all sorts of ideological misconstructions and manipulations. Dazzled by the forceful return of history and the responsibility to defend these tokens of the past, we were late to realize the difficulties the various strategies of preserving the built environment presented us with and the dead-end they led us to.
As stated in the relevant legislation, the desirable preservation of cultural goods is prescribed by their “historical, artistic or scientific value”. Given, however, that understanding history presupposes knowledge of a cause, the activation of a series of inherent contradictions, as well as the accumulation of a lot more information, understanding is equated with a vain simulation, often described by the more reflective-sounding “seeming – φαίνεσθαι”.
Nowadays, everyone understands everything, which is to say nothing. Strange though it may seem, when this kind of safeguarding triumphs, the past—and especially its differences—remain unprotected. And so, restoration and destruction coincide betraying the ambiguity of our positions on preservation, which is to say the danger of loss. Romanticism insightfully and charmingly foreshadowed the decline of monument protection as well as the distortion of our beliefs around temporality.