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Interview with Laura KraakLaura-Kraak

Over the last year, the UCU Cultural Heritage Program (CHIP) has been subject to several impactful changes. At the same time, College Hall has invited Alumni Officer Mirjam Nordholt to further UCU’s alumni policy. A perfect opportunity to catch up (by e-mail) with UCU and CHIP alumna Laura Kraak.

So Laura, tell us all! Where are you at the moment, and how did you get there?

In fact, I am writing this from Bagan in Myanmar. Currently, preparations are made for a World Heritage nomination of Bagan, which is an archaeological and religious site consisting of over 3000 ancient Buddhist monuments. Part of my PhD research is to investigate the role of current international debates about heritage conservation, human rights and development in this process. In particular I’m researching the challenges and opportunities of the adoption of a human rights-based approach to World Heritage conservation.

CHIP certainly played an important role for me ending up in this corner of the world. Through CHIP I discovered and developed my interest in cultural heritage. After UCU I pursued a master in Archaeological Heritage and Museum Studies at Cambridge University and this was followed by my PhD at the Cultural Heritage Centre for Asia and the Pacific at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. I started in the museum side of heritage studies, with an internship at the British Museum through CHIP, and over the years moved more towards international heritage governance, such as Unesco’s programmes.

What do you remember from your time at UCU?

Interactive classes, challenging new ideas, motivated fellow students, a rich extracurricular and social environment. Only after graduating did I realise that all of this is not necessarily the case at many other universities. I was involved in projects like the organisation of a photo exhibition at the UCU Festival of 2011 and the development of our own course through the Sirius programme.

I think living on campus, eating in dining hall and having our own bar were all very important elements of creating a certain student culture that I personally enjoyed very much. At universities in cities like Melbourne, where I live now, student life is very different. Students might travel an hour through the large city to attend a lecture and will leave campus immediately after; not spending more time than strictly necessary and not necessarily socialising a lot. It’s much more impersonal and anonymous.

In what way was CHIP part of your UCU experience?

For me CHIP presented an exciting opportunity. I did two internships in one summer: at the British Museum and at the National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. The work I did there formed the basis of my BA thesis, which was about the repatriation of Maori human remains from institutions such as the British Museum back to New Zealand. The experience influenced my subsequent career path in a significant way. It was my first project on social justice issues in heritage conservation contexts.

How would you like to stay in touch with UCU? How, do you think, is that for your fellow alumni?

Many UCU alumni, including myself, end up traveling to various places in the world. I think this means it is easiest to stay in touch over email, since postal addresses can change so often (and I know I missed several printed magazines and journals because of moving too much). I know that alumni drinks and social events are organised regularly in some alumni ‘hotspots’ like Amsterdam and London. This is nice to see, but personally I drifted away a bit too far geographically it seems!

Funhouse I

Inspired by the title of Jed Perl’s labeling of the Tate Modern in London as a ‘funhouse’, the teachers of UCU’s heritage studies course inaugurated a photographic competition by the same name. In the context of an excursion to London the students were challenged to document any of the heritage dynamics encountered.

Though Perl (2000) might associate the spectacularly huge space of the Turbine Hall with a "Fascist nightmare", Joris and Pomme tried to focus on the possibility of reinterpreting the term 'funhouse' and giving it a more positive function. By appropriating Perl’s negative connotations of spectacle and grandeur on their own terms, they defied his use of it and found true, liberating joy in their interaction with the space.

Funhouse II

The 2012 Unilever Series commission in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall was Tino Sehgal's live piece 'These Associations.' In this work, actors engage members of the public in brief conversations drawing upon their own memories and yet generic enough to involve complete strangers. The conversation pieces were interspersed with the actors chanting and running together as a throng through the Turbine Hall. Of course, we became involved in and absorbed by this fascinating artwork - as Sara Sjøberg observed in her photographs ('You caught my eye -3', 'You caught my interest'-2, 'You caught me' -1).

you caught me-1you caught my interest-2you caught my eye-3