The French polisher and the unsentimental interior

Volz, Kirsty (2011) The French polisher and the unsentimental interior. In Interstices 13 (Under Construction) : Technics, Memory and the Architecture of History : Book of Abstracts, 25-27 November 2011, University of Tasmania, Launceston, Australia.

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In January 2011 a swollen Brisbane River broke its banks flooding riverside houses and buildings. The river’s water spread and rose up through storm water drains inundating some 20 000 houses in low-lying land. As the water receded those residents affected by the floods returned to their homes to assess the damage. While some people breathed a sigh of relief others were devastated by the overwhelming damage to their homes and personal belongings. Over the next few weeks the landscape of Brisbane was altered not merely by the mud and debris left by the torrent of water, but by the piles of domestic contents occupying Brisbane streets. Beds, toys, cabinets, plasterboard, tiles and household furniture lined curbsides waiting for collection. Later they would accumulate in public parks and sports centres to await disposal, momentarily creating an unsettling landscape of discarded domestic interiors.

While most houses remained standing the heart breaking repercussions were evident in their interiority. Thousands of volunteers flocked to help those affected by the floods to purge the damage left by the water – removing wall and floor linings, discarding furniture and spoilt belongings. In her paper on Hurricane Katrina, Julieanna Preston wrote, ‘What anthropological evidence would we find as we followed their migration – heaps left by the side of the road, the physical weight overcoming the personal value…’ For many of the post flood restored homes and buildings entire interiors have been replaced, eradicating any trace of the significant event that disturbed them only months earlier. There were artifacts that would have survived the floods - furniture of solid timber – these were discarded and with them the patina that marked an important event in history. The patina is beyond technological reproducibility, and as Walter Benjamin writes, this being the whole premise of genuineness. It is the role of the French Polisher to maintain the true wear of the artefact for it is the patina that is most valuable in its ability to narrate the history of a piece.

In 2012 two separate exhibitions in Brisbane will take place to display a selected collection of flood-damaged artefacts. This orchestrated way to commemorate the damage left by floods may be a method to compensate for the haste in which the damage was purged from the city. This need for exhibiting damaged artifacts illustrates Andreas Huyssen’s point that "…today memory is understood as a mode of re-presentation and as belonging to the present." This research looks at the dying trade of the French Polisher through conversations and a visual study of flood damaged furniture. The research also investigates the personal loss of artifacts through intimate stories shared by flood victims. This paper seeks to understand why so much was discarded and celebrate what remains.

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ID Code: 75079
Item Type: Conference Item (Presentation)
Refereed: Yes
Additional URLs:
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > BUILT ENVIRONMENT AND DESIGN (120000) > ARCHITECTURE (120100) > Architectural History and Theory (120103)
Divisions: Current > Schools > School of Design
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2011 Please consult the author
Deposited On: 20 Aug 2014 05:28
Last Modified: 20 Aug 2014 05:30

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