The interiors of Versailles have long been subjected to a regime that aims to restore them to their state on the eve of the French Revolution; but in 2011, an exhibition disrupted their temporal singularity. Imagining that Versailles was still the seat of state, the apartments were furnished with contemporary pieces from the Mobilier National (the descendant of the original Garde Meuble du Roi). The exhibition was greeted as if a blasphemy had been committed against rooms whose history had, supposedly, ended once their royal occupants had left them. Visit any museum of design, and you will come across ‘period rooms’. Interiors variously ripped from medieval castles or modern flats are furnished with objects from the same era and presented as monuments to the spirit of their respective ages. It is a paradox, for if real rooms were like period interiors, nothing would survive from the past to exhibit today. More usually, rooms occupy buildings and are filled with furnishings which are older – or newer - than they are. This paper will argue that interiors are constructed conversations between the present and the past in which, like the memory palaces discussed by Frances Yates, objects carefully arranged remind their occupants what rhetorical stance to adopt. This paper will also argue that the ars memoriae is in itself in flux: the same antiques and rooms are used and arranged differently today, for example, than they were a century ago, and encode differing notions of memory. The 2011 refurnishing of Versailles formed an assault on conventional modes of history, conducted in cushions and curtains. This paper will argue that we all engage in such exercises all the time, and explore the encoding of time in the domestic interiors of which the palace of Versailles is merely a rhetorical amplification.
Edward Hollis studied Architecture at Cambridge and Edinburgh Universities. For the subsequent six years he practiced as an Architect. He worked first in Sri Lanka, in the practice of Geoffrey Bawa, at that time the ‘grand old man’ of Sri Lankan Architecture, famous for his garden of follies and ruins at Lunuganga; and then in the practice of Richard Murphy, well known for his radical alterations to ancient and historic buildings in and around Edinburgh.
In 1999, Edward Hollis began lecturing in Interior Architecture at Napier University, Edinburgh, working with students both in the design studio, and in more theoretical disciplines. In 2004, he moved to Edinburgh College of Art, where he is now deputy director of research.
Working with follies and ruins in Sri Lanka, with modern interventions to historic buildings in Scotland, and in the slippery discipline of Interiors, has focussed Edward’s theoretical thinking on the notion of time, story, and building.
He is involved with current plans to revive the ruins of Gillespie Kidd and Coia’s seminary at Cardross. His first book, ‘The Secret Lives of Buildings’: a collection folk tales stories about mythical buildings was published in 2009; and he is currently writing ‘The Memory Palace’ a book of lost Interiors, due for publication in 2013.
Keywords: architecture, interiors, historiography, narrative
from our workshop on Power, Time and Agency held in Manchester, January 2013