Copyright 2021 © The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL
The COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests have triggered global conversations about various forms of injustice, inequities, and inequalities across the world. These conversations include discussions around colonial legacies and the need to address sites that celebrate and commemorate these colonial figures and slave traders.
Washing White critically looks through the lens of conserved buildings at colonial legacies in Singapore and the United Kingdom. In particular, four houses in London serve as starting points: Highwood House, Livingstone Cottage, 45 Berkeley Square, and Macartney House. These houses, which once belonged to former colonial masters, have been given statutory protection status. Each house also has a plaque commemorating the respective colonial official.
Using the framework of conservation principles common in Singapore and the UK – Maintenance, Repair, Restoration, Renewal, and Alteration – Washing White rethinks how we can approach conservation more ethically. Specifically, the work borrows performance theory and actions of performativity, theorised by Homi K. Bhaba, to propose ways towards ethical conservation.
The proposals for ethical actions take form in a book, which presents fragments of personal anecdotes, technical information, performance theories, and postcolonial literature. A durational performance of a day accompanies the text to further embody the proposals.
Highwood House (Stamford Raffles), Livingstone Cottage (David Livingstone), 45 Berkeley Square (Robert Clive), and Macartney House (James Wolfe).
Poetic reflections paired with excerpts from the performance – an iterative process of cleaning, writing, and reclaiming, as a form of critical and caring practice.
Book spreads that show the pairing of text, illustrations, photographs, and actions. Each chapter explores a conservation principle and proposes a more ethical approach.
Cham’s reading of the book from beginning to end. The text challenges current processes of conservation and proposes taking into account immaterial relations and networks.
These artefacts might mark the end of a performance, but the collective actions towards ethical approaches to colonial legacies are ongoing and non-exhaustive.