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Architectural replicas in the scramble for the past: Politics of identity in Istanbul, Athens, Skopje

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - REPLICIAS (Architectural replicas in the scramble for the past: Politics of identity in Istanbul, Athens, Skopje)

Reporting period: 2017-03-01 to 2019-02-28

The historical built stock of the city is the surviving testimony to that society’s past, bearing traces of historical events, containing sites of collective memory and monuments of past achievements; a tangible, material, publicly and constantly visible ‘archive’ that reflects and shapes the identities of its inhabitants. Therefore, it becomes an important field of intervention for every authority that wishes to shape the society it governs. Beyond the opportunity of building new monuments, preservation, excavation, demolition and reconstruction are important methods of redefining the heritage and past of the nation, and have all been very popular areas of action for national and imperial entities.

REPLICIAS explored questions at the intersection of architecture with national politics, by focusing on copies, revivalisms and reconstructions of heritage on three different scales: the city, the building and the artefact. It addressed these topics by adopting a micro-historical approach, using specific case studies and moving from them to the larger context and to broader theoretical discussions. The region of study (Greece, North Macedonia and Turkey) has a series of shared historical layers from antiquity to the present day, but has been parcelled into nation-states with exclusive definitions of identity. Competing historiographies have charged different parts of cultural heritage (ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman among others) with claims of exclusivity or superiority, and monuments still get involved in heated debates today. At the urban scale, REPLICIAS examined how the reconstruction of selected buildings in Skopje (such as the replicas of the National Theatre and the Officers Hall) fitted together with other revivalist architectural interventions of the previous government, in order to redefine the urban identity of the whole city. At the building scale, it focused on the reconstruction of selected Ottoman buildings in Istanbul, such as the medrese of Hagia Sophia. On a much smaller scale, the project turned to the relationship between museum artefacts, their copies, and the museum buildings that house them: it looked at the Alexander Sarcophagus in Istanbul and its copy in Skopje, and the Parthenon Marbles in London and their copies in Athens, and the architecture of the four museums that contain them.

The project had three overall objectives:
1. To study and unearth the individual histories of copies and reconstructions, the stories of their making and their changing meanings across time and geography.
2. To understand the positioning of reconstructions within their material and social context and the involvement of various spatial actors participating in the politics of heritage.
3. To analyse the produced national narratives and their proposed definitions of empire and nation and to map the connections of the examined objects to other points of reference within or across national contexts.

REPLICIAS pointed out that the production of copies and replicas (of either objects or larger buildings) is not new, but is increasingly available due to technological advancements and the dominance of visual consumption and populism. The research underlined that copies and replicas are broad categories that include both meaningful, carefully crafted objects and controversial, questionable undertakings. Copies and replicas have important histories, which might intersect but mostly diverge from the histories of the originals. Their roles in the present can be very controversial: building reconstructions in particular, create new matter and new evidence based on little information, and are therefore very open to manipulation or distortion. This is especially problematic in contexts where transparency and democratic procedures are not guaranteed.
1. Research
I engaged with theoretical discussions surrounding copying and imitation, and combined it with archival research, fieldwork and interviews in the London, Skopje and Athens to analyse the histories of the Alexander Sarcophagus and the Parthenon Marbles (objective 1). This work was presented at Columbia University and is under submission to a peer reviewed journal. Moreover, as part of the theoretical engagement with copies and national historiographies, I studied the interpretations of identical photographs of the Smyrna Fire encountered in different archives, resulting in a peer reviewed green access publication titled 'Déjà Vu at the archive: Photography, national narratives and the multiple histories of the Smyrna Fire' (International Journal of Islamic Architecture, Spring 2020).

Following GIS and statistical analysis training during the secondment in Istanbul, I carried out fieldwork and interviews with a series of spatial actors in Skopje, and consulted a series of data sources in order to create a GIS map (dataset available in the Results section), and a spatial and theoretical analysis of the 'Skopje 2014' project (objective 2). Part of this analysis has been published in an open access book titled 'The Future as a Project; Doxiadis in Skopje', and another publication draft is under submission to an Open access peer reviewed journal. The research has been presented in the 'Unknown Balkans' conference in Athens.

Last, working on the reconstruction of the medrese of Hagia Sophia, a monument that has significant symbolic capital different national and international contexts and institutions has allowed REPLICIAS to explore the impact of heritage reproduction beyond the borders of the nation state in which the object lies (objective 3). This part of the research involved extensive literature and archival review and has been presented at CIEPO conference in Sofia, Bulgaria.

2. Dissemination
I have presented the research in multiple conferences and invited presentations (including Athens, Newcastle, Tallinn, New York) and organised a panel at the CIEPO conference in Sofia, Bulgaria. One of REPLICIAS' major public engagement actions has been a large exhibition co-organised with institutions in Skopje and Athens at the Benaki Museum, that received wide media coverage and was accompanied by a symposium and an edited volume (open access).I also participated in a radio programme and an extensive television documentary on the city of Skopje. The project also produced a series of publications and datasets (see Results).

3. Collaborations
REPLICIAS has initiated extensive collaborations between different researchers and institutions (Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, Kadir Has University in Istanbul, Hellenic Institute of Architecture, the Museum of Skopje and others).
REPLICIAS made a significant contribution both in the literature regarding the histories of the examined objects and buildings (by unearthing and analysing new data about them) and in the theoretical discussion of copies, revivalism and recontsruction. It engaged scholars from different disciplines (history, political science, modern greek studies) in the topics and discussions of the architectural field, fostered connections between the three studied countries, and disseminated widely and successfully the results of the research to the public. It experimented with different ways of communicating the results (Exhibition, website, publications, conferences) many of which expand beyond the end of the project.
Parthenon Frieze: original and copy side by side, N.A.Museum, photo by K.A., 2016
The refashioning of Skopje with classicist features and statues of hellenistic heroes, K.A., 4/2017