What they destroy, we will build again Astrid Feringa

Astrid Feringa | Photo: Aad Hoogendoorn

What they destroy, we will build again is a video installation and research that uses the recreated Arch of Palmyra as a case-study to excavate landscapes of power, and to talk about neo-colonial appropriation of heritage in an age of digital reconstruction and contemporary iconoclasm.

In May 2015, IS militants occupied the ancient Syrian excavation site of Palmyra and demolished most of its structures, including the triumphal arch. As “an act of defiance” against this cultural censorship, the British Institute for Digital Archaeology replicated the demolished arch; on 19th April 2016, the life-size scale reconstruction was erected at Trafalgar Square, London, and has since travelled to several cities across the globe.

In his speech during the unveiling ceremony, (then-) London mayor Boris Johnson said: “What they destroy, we will build again”, with these words posing a powerful and binary narrative that presents construction as the opposite of deconstruction; inexhaustible, idealistic construction as the solution to inexhaustible, idealistic deconstruction.

But does recreating, placing and unveiling a monument not create a landscape of power, just as much as iconoclastic destruction is creating a [non] landscape of power; both in physicality as in narrative?

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