e d i t o r i a
So, why do we do it?
"... nothing, not even neglect, lasts forever."
As conservator-restorers it’s only natural that we conserve. It is what we have chosen to do. We studiedto do it and we work on and for it the rest of our lives. Occasionally we are faced with the question,why do it? Why
we conserve? Is it because of our love of History? Is it because of our romanticfascination to unravel the artists’ closely guarded secrets? Or is it because conservation is at theinterfacing point between art and science? Or do we all feel somehow invested with the ‘sacred’responsibility to take care of and to preserve our ancestor’s objects and pass them on the legacy toour children? I’m sure everyone will have their own favourite answer but nonetheless the questionremains: why do we do it?The motives behind why we conservators do it are usually completely different to those whichmotivate a society to conserve their cultural heritage. Society in general seems to have a simpleanswer, almost like a cliché: to maintain our historical identity, to know more about who we are andwhere we come from. And all this is achieved through the conservation of the objects that ourancestors left behind. But is that all we do, preserve objects so that others can interpret them? Forsociety, one may think, this attitude towards conservation is almost a natural way to think. After all,that is why we collect objects and it is why we build museums, isn’t it? But the truth is that therehave never been so many of us on the planet, nor have there been so many producers of culture,either material or immaterial or such an increasing number of museums and collections. The logisticsof collecting, caring for and preserving objects can never be sufficient for the amount of increasingcultural heritage objects and, therefore, loss is inevitable. Even the digital world, that many thought would be part of the solution, is now actually part of the problem. Let’s face it, it’s impossible tokeep everything, so where exactly do we draw the line? Shouldn’t there be some guidelines, somegeneral orientation, other than common sense?The idea that “cultural heritage ought to be protected” is transmitted everyday. It is a need that responds to international values that everyone understands and agrees with. If so, why are therepeople who persistently reject it? Certain things immediately come to mind, like acts of vandalism,disfiguring graffiti, slashing or throwing acid on public sculptures or paintings. These, fortunately,are isolated acts and quite uncommon. But, what about when an entire community tries to get rid of apart of its history, and its cultural objects because of their identity symbolism become their targets of eradication? For example, a village in Portugal, for reasons yet to be understood, recently got authori-sation from the local city hall to demolish a XVI century church! The demolition has not yet occurredfor lack of funds, but when it does happen, no doubt that community will lose part of its local identity. Indeed that loss would be for the entire nation. So, when those supposedly most interestedin protecting their heritage are in fact also those who seek its destruction, should they be entitled todo so? Of course we, as specialists, know the answer; after all, heritage is not ours to dispose of but merely to preserve it in order to pass it on to future generations. However not everything can bepreserved, so can we choose what to forget? And if so, how do we choose what to forget? Should we just accept that History has always had its own editing process? As we see, conservation of cultural heritage is not universally acknowledged. We ought to conserve, but are we entitled to forget?