MULTIMEDIA OBLIVION – PALMYRA Excerpt

Violence, erasure and the corporeal architectural body
Rory Sherlock, AA Dipl(Hons)2017 
RIBA President’s Medals 2017 – Dissertation Commendation

26 January 2018
Royal Institute of British Architects, London

 

Elucidating the process of architectural destruction at Palmyra and the transfiguration of its monuments into forms of media, the thesis undertakes an attempt to understand the mechanisms by which such material is generated, the agendas by which it is governed, the method by which it intervenes in the formation of history and its potential ramifications for the collective memory.

 

Figure 01 – Destruction of monuments at Palmyra
Image distributed online by ISIS

Developed over two years with Francesca Hughes and overseen by Mark Campbell, the work forms a part of a continuously evolving personal interest in the nature of media forms, the physical infrastructure necessary for their distribution and the interactions of these entities with global socio-political ideals, frequently illuminated from the depths of intentional obscurity by the flares of conflict.

 

Figure 02 – Khaled al-Asaad
AFP, 2002

‘In the contemporary condition of mass media production, instant information transfer and expanding communications networks, stone is a volatile corporeal presence.’

In embarking on a career as an architect, or more specifically a ‘sole trader’, I can attest to the realisation that at times it can seem all too easy to lose sight of such ideas, at sea in a new world of practicalities and policies, of daily economic necessities and distant aspirations. However, in forming some semblance of a relevant contemporary method of architectural practice and education, these maxims are to be forged into new means.

 

Figure 03 – Simulative inconsistencies; the original Triumphal Arch
Factum Foundation, 2016

In light of this, receiving a commendation for the thesis was a great and very unexpected honour; what had been unfolding as a transformative piece of research, spawned from a set of on-going conversations and seminars, has now become something altogether more substantial to a personal ideal of architectural practice and academic interest, as well as forming the basis for a possible expanded publication at some point in the near future. For this, Francesca and my unit tutors throughout diploma school deserve absolute credit.

 

Figure 04 – Russian concert in the Roman Theatre
Still from youtube video, RT, 2016

Below is the introductory note from the text:

 

‘In recent months the events outlined in this material have been much discussed in the Western popular press and form part of a continuing, highly sensitive history being forged in the Middle East. As new information has therefore come to light and research has developed further in the region since the thesis was initially undertaken, it must be acknowledged that some reported information and the veracity of source material might have shifted. The format of the thesis therefore seeks to reflect the continually unfolding nature of the narratives and historiographies at stake in Palmyra (and many other locations) as architectural destruction and the processes of memory manipulation through media forms advance. The document has hereby been arranged as a series of chapters, temporarily bound with original scanned reference material, illustrations and images. Given the volatile nature of the monuments and media forms to which the writing pertains, it resists being grounded as a finite, conclusive history at this point. As of July 2017, Syria remains in a state of on-going, multi-faceted military conflict; any resolute conclusion to the complex contemporary condition of warfare seemingly unattainable in the near future and the means by which the respective, contradictory ideologies involved are communicated continues to evolve. This thesis consequently forms an ellipsis – an aggregation of material to this date and an elucidation of processes as they are being revealed; to be continued.

 

Figure 05 – The Temple of Bel at Palmyra after destruction
Unitar/AFP/Getty Images

Additionally, the destruction of monuments and eradication of architecture for political or religious ends, the manipulation of systems of memory and the perpetration of violent actions are rightly questionable transgressions of which a vast majority of nations have been and remain complicit participants. In any discussion surrounding contemporary instances of such practice, this tenet must be considered as implicit and as such, the work steadfastly refrains from engaging in ethical or moral arguments regarding this process of erasure and the objects involved, in contrast to much of the contemporary press.’

 

For more information:

AA Honours 2017: Rory Sherlock, AA Diploma Unit 14

Diploma 14 Unit Brief

Rory Sherlock on AA Conversations

AA Writing Microsite