Trapped In The Matrix

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA When idly waiting for a train in 2006, I spotted the figure and realised it was Neo lying beside the rail.  When I travel freely on the line I occasionally remember to check the progress of our Matrix traveler at Mobil Avenue station.

Matrix 2012 And time moved on, by 2012 he had journeyed perhaps 10 centimeters, body rotated through 180 degrees, head buried beneath stone.  A growing range of discarded rubbish beginning to aggregate in the Matrix.

Matrix 2014By Autumn 2014, there has been little noticeable movement, our little hero essentially now trapped for all time by The Trainman.

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I suspect when spotted in 2006 the Neo figure had been fairly recently lost, as it looked quite fresh and unweathered.  Whether it was an original 1999 figure is not clear. Somebody may know ?

There are some possible clues to how it should sit typologically in the development of Matrix figure material culture. There are two green buttons on the back, which when pushed probably made a leg kick or arm punch.  The almost vertical line of the robes, is perhaps more reminiscent of the calmer figure of 1999, my recollection is that many figures from the 2003 Matrix Reloaded depict a greater degree of swirling robes.

When Neo dropped out of circulation and became trapped in the Matrix of the railway line, he became a small piece of archaeological evidence in the landscape, slowly descending into the track ballast.  Ironically it is possible the machines may have moved Neo, as he fell in a linear cultural railscape, which I think requires the ballast to be maintained by ballast regulators and ballast tampers trundling up and down the line when most of us sleep.

Remembering the Forty Five

Trophée d'Auguste 4Trophée d’Auguste à La Turbie overlooks the French Riviera.

Between 25 and 14 BC the Alps were conquered by Emperor Augustus.  Situated at the frontier of Gaul, the trophy dedicated to the subjugation of Forty Five tribes was created from 7 – 6 BC.  Still a prominent monument in the landscape 2000 years later, it was then a symbol of Imperial dominance.  Yet when it was constructed it required legitimacy from a mythical past, perhaps to evoke demi-god like status upon the Emperor, deliberately situated in part of a landscape associated with the journeys of Hercules (Heracles Monoikos), referred by some as the ‘Heraclean Way’.

Trophée d'Auguste 1 The site was remodeled in the Medieval period as a fortress, which was inhabited to 1705, at which point it was largely dismantled to provide stone for the construction of the adjacent village.

Trophée d'Auguste 2In 1913 consolidation and reconstruction with remains from the site (anastylosis) commenced.

Trophée d'Auguste 3This process continued in 1934 by Jules Formigé but with more significant reconstruction with new materials. To the extent on the west side a marble slab (17.45 m x 2.66 m) was re-created, in part from original fragments found at the site, and based on an account of the original transcription in Pliny the Elders Naturalis Historia. 

It reads:

To the Emperor Caesar, Son of Divus Augustus, Pontifex Maximus, Imperator fourteen Times, and invested with the Authority of the Tribune seventeen Times : the Senate and People of Rome : For that under his Conduct and Auspices, all the Alpine Nations which reached from the Upper Sea to the Nether, were reduced under the Empire of the People of Rome. The Alpine Nations subdued:  Triumpilini, Camuni, Vennonetes, Isarci, Breuni, Naunes, and Focunates. Of the Vindelici four Nations: the Consuanetes, Virucinates, Licates, and Catenates. The Abisontes, Rugusce, Suanetes, Calucones, Brixentes, Lepontii, Viberi, Nantuates, Seduni, Veragri, Salad, Acitavones, Medulli, Uceni, Caturiges, Brigiani, Sogiontiiy Ebroduntii, Nemaloni, Edenates, Esubiani, Veamini, Gallitce, Triulatti, Ectini, Vergunni, Eguituri, Nementuri, Oratelli, Nerusivelauni, Suetri.

Names of peoples long forgotten by most…

Monaco GoatThe site however overlooks Monaco,

its name derived in antiquity from Heracles Monoikos

More importantly, perhaps, the Victory Monument towers above the site of Oppidum du Mont des Mules.  The site of the Ligurian fortification created perhaps about 250 BC which would have been subjugated during the campaign of Emperor Augustus.Oppida BuildStill the stone ramparts, of this tribal center, stand.  An alternative claim

on the landscape

from the Roman dominance

above.

The lines of the ramparts can still be

traced,

Oppidum du Mont De Mules 1Dressed blocks showing the scale of what was once before.

RampartQuarried from the hill top, reconfigured, bounded in stone.

Oppidum du Mont De Mules 2Its ramparts, so close, as its wider landscape, to still be part of Monaco below.

Oppidum du Mont De Mules 3But go off the path, and you can find gestures which evoke different views of the world.

Offerings 1 Offerings 2   Not simply one stone, embellished as a tribal head.

Rather a component of a bigger piece, a cairn with other stones embellished.

The individual pieces expressed in different terms but together creating a visible statement of unity.

Offerings 3One had a stenciled profile of a building, and I wonder what the hidden faces of other

stones

would

reveal.

But then from the view point at Oppidum du Mont des Mules,

another world

was revealed

below…

Way Below…Casino de Monte-Carlo,

shaken and stirred,

I reflected on the

forty five tribes.

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The visit to these sites was part of a study tour to the Maritime-Alps which followed the salt routes from the coast to the inland mountainous landscapes.

Further information:

Trophée d’Auguste à La Turbie

Pliny’s Natural History For the 45 tribe passage quoted above see page 192-193

Oppidum du Mont des Mules

Via Julia Augusta

Monaco Museum of Prehistory

Old SignageOlder Interpretive Plan of Oppidum du Mont Des Mules.

Sign of the TimesRecent Interpretive Signage of Le Trophée d’Auguste

How times change !

The Sword Cycle

The ability to transform materials can have an almost magical quality.  There is great skill to be able to source metalliferous ores, smelt them to produce metal and then cast to produce complex objects.

Molten SwordNew SwordWhen a Bronze sword was removed from its, typically clay, mould…

Cast Swordits edges were trimmed, sharpened and blade polished.

A wooden hilt and pommel may have been attached.

Living SwordIf Bronze Age metalwork broke (or was no longer desirable) it could readily be recycled.

Melted down and recast in a different mould.

Fiery SwordIf such objects are not repaired, reused or recycled, they can potentially drop out of the cycle, found by archaeologists, corroded green with time.

Lost SwordWhen recovered properly another cycle of study and learning commences.

Fragments conserved, analysed…

Melted Sword…reassembled and interpreted.

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The Bronze Sword cycle above relates to a Wilburton type sword,  a type in production some time around c 1000 to 900 BC.  About this time Iron production commenced and cycles of production and recycling which may have taken place in the United Kingdom for about 1500 years before were challenged by new powers.

During Burning the Circle 2014 the Bronze sword was placed on the central ‘pyre’ structures which burned fiercely for nearly four hours, and then smouldered to nothing during the remainder of the night.  The broken and fragmented remains of the sword were excavated the next morning, amongst the broken parts were hundreds of small spheres of Bronze.  These spheres indicate that, in the heart of the fire temperatures reached c 950 degrees centigrade, at which point parts of the sword turned liquid.

All images are of activities taking place at Burning The Circle, apart from the hafted polished sword which has been kindly provided by Neil Burridge.

 

Beautiful Door

Beautiful Door 1 A patchwork of bronze can be found on the Beautiful Door.

Beautiful Door 2Exquisite detailing,

Beautiful Bronzeis  made all the more remarkable as it is said to have originated from the Temple of Tarsus, in eastern Turkey, in the second century BC.  Monumental bronze over 2000 years old, wrapped around a wooden core.

Bronze and Wood It is said to have been moved to Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, by Emperor Theophilos in the 9th century AD.  Even now, over 1000 years later, it is a significant threshold, a last exist to the tourist.  So long has the Beautiful Door stood here that subsequent floors have been built around it, the lower portion sealed beneath the ground, now unable to close.

Unopened

 

Heritage Futures of the Past

MSC

This sign has probably been up for more than 25 years…!

The sign reminded me about the ways in which the conservation and regeneration of heritage sites can provide a focus for hopes and aspirations for the future.

The sign is located on the side of Charlestown Limekilns, Fife, which were originally constructed between 1759 and 1790.  When I last visited the site in 2012, this nationally important heritage site was partially overgrown and had obvious significant conservation needs.

Charlestown LimekilnsThe sign is also a reminder of other difficult economic times, which were also very turbulent in social and political terms for many parts of the UK.

The ‘Community Programme‘ was one of a series of government training schemes of the Manpower Services Commission (MSC) which attracted a lot of controversy at the time.  However, through MSC many archaeological excavations and heritage restoration projects were undertaken in the early and mid 1980′s before it stopped in 1987.

TunnelsThe lime kilns imposing industrial forms, were constructed from stone quarried from the sandstone cliffs of the raised beaches of the Firth of Forth, against which they were built.  They now comprise a small network of spaces which made up the bank of kilns.  The functioning of the kilns is explained in interpretative signage, showing the scale of the operation which was as much focused on the upper surfaces of these massive structures.

Heritage InterpretationTwo of the kilns, had clearly been re-purposed, wooden shuttering creating what may have been workshop or storage spaces, probably during the 1980′s Community Programme Project.  I don’t know whether these timber insets were planned as no more than a temporary reuse.  Or perhaps the intention, the heritage future of the past, was to convert all the kilns to a more permanent reuse, which no longer became possible when the MSC funding was cut.

Imagined futures of the past then remaining derelict to this day.

AbandonmentHowever, when we look back on other examples of heritage futures of the past at such difficult times we can see different results.

Then and NowOne example is the industrial cotton mill village founded in 1784 by David Dale and Richard Arkwright and now transformed into the internationally important New Lanark World Heritage site.  When cotton production ceased in 1968 the condition of structures at New Lanark deteriorated to the extent there was need for major restoration by the 1980′s.  This resulted in an ambitious project as part of which there were ‘up to 250 workers per annum on building restoration, funded by Manpower Services Commission Community Programme.’ in the 1980′s.

Newlanark Canmore ImagePresumably if there had not been such an ambitious intervention (and without the sustained passion, enthusiasm and commitment of individuals and organisations who champion heritage sites) New Lanark would have continued to deteriorate and there would have been no World Heritage Site designation.  The associated opportunities for education, tourism and other forms of cultural activity would have been lost.  In an alternative heritage future of the past, we would now have been left with ruinous shells, or perhaps due to safety issues or a desire for quick development of a ‘brown field site’ it would have been torn down and today we would be left with a poor quality flatted development of the 1990′s building boom.

 New LanarkHistoric building regeneration projects can be enormously challenging in technical and financial terms but when completed provide enormous potential to generate hubs of social, economic and cultural activity.  There is a huge resource which provides remarkable opportunities but it takes real vision and determination to deliver such projects.

If we are serious as a society about sustainability, if we want to live in richly textured places, if we want to be part of communities who have a proud sense of identity, we can not keep ignoring the opportunities which historic buildings provide.  Wiping the slate clean, and flinging up a new build, is not always the best option in the long term for society as a whole.  But inaction, (a lack of care and maintenance, no stewardship, no conservation and absence of enhancement of historic buildings), has essentially the same result, just more slowly…

with time

the building is lost to society for ever.

Thus heritage professionals have an important role in reminding people to think in the longer term.  But perhaps we should also be challenging others, such as architects and developers, to propose imaginative new schemes to re-purpose and re-vitalise heritage assets whose value (in social and cultural terms) when actively used only increases with time.

On a positive note the newly launched Inner Forth Landscape Initiative has identified a project for the clearance of vegetation and consolidation of the Charlestown Limekilns, surely a step in the right direction for a new heritage future.

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The black and white image is from the Professor John Hume archive, taken in 1981, and is available from RCAHMS Canmore.  Part of the caption for the image explains:

This view shows the roof of part of the New Buildings being repaired by men employed under the Community Programme of the Manpower Services Agency. The belfry on the left was originally on one of the spinning mills.’

A great example of re-purposing, recycling and renewal.

Pan’s Cave – the secret of the stones

Monumental IconsThere are some heritage sites which are described as iconic.  Many of these sites are designated as World Heritage Sites, and are often a focus of contested histories.  Today, such sites become symbolic nodes in wider landscapes, entangled in conservation yearnings for authenticity, situated in desires for appropriate settings and presented with official heritage narritives for the global tourist.

Large sites with large political dimensions.

Such sites also have traces of individual expression,

Traces (685x1024)centuries worth of names and dates scratched into polished marble, each perhaps a small act craving Athena like immortality.

In contrast to the large public monuments at the top of the Acropolis there are also lesser known sites on its northern west side with deeper, perhaps darker, resonances, which are readily passed by with a touristic rush to the top.  This time the scratchings on stone, reveal the name of Pan.

Pans Cave 1A small labyrinth of arches and passages…

Pans Cave 2Rock Water (1024x685)at the heart of which a primordial water still seeps down the wall.

Pans Cave 3 (685x1024)Pans Cave 6 (685x1024)Parts of the labyrinth clearly still to be revealed…

Pans Cave 4 (1024x685) Pans Cave 5 (1024x685)To the west of Pans cave are the caves of Apollo and Zeus.  Niches carved into the rock, would have held marble tablets inscribed with dedications, now lie empty.

Cave of Zeus (685x1024)Other caves and shrines are found on the north-west side of the Acropolis.

An open air Sanctuary of Aphrodite and Eros has similar recesses for marble inscribed dedications, but here they are no longer empty.

ShrineNearly all have little offerings set within.

Niche 1Niche 2 Niche 3 Niche 4 Niche 5 Niche 6Quartz PotElsewhere pottery and stone has been arranged as small cairns, resting upon rock surfaces.

Micro-cairnTowersMicro-cairn 2What are these offerings, these tokens to Aphrodite and Eros ?

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Such small acts are readily overlooked in a landscape dominated by the monumental.
But it is such small acts which so readily give meaning in the activities which may have taken place in the past at such monumental sites.  Fleeting moments, these traces readily fall and disperse, returning to the earth as
simple stones
which carry their secrets.

Cultural Capital – the Santiago Pilgrimage

We move to the final panel of the Santiago triptych,

upon which I found myself drawn to

The Two Towers

on a distant hillside.

BeyondMoving through the city…

Crossingbeyond the dual carriageway,

into the peri-urban,

stone marking transitions.

Peri-UrbanityTrafficless I ascended.

RouteAn uncertain entrance.

Entrance Light dancing on the polished steel of hope.

SignageEngineering Culture

amongst steel beams and rods,

Bones watery inner belly exposed,

Bowelswaiting

encasement in concrete

before facadification.

CladdingOld Distant Towers.

CityscapeSignal to the New.

Glimpses Glass and granite clad

organic forms

flow

across the hillside.

Cultural Capital 4Baleen   The Two Towers                   drew                      me                              towards them.

Cultural Capital 3 Cultural Capital 2Twin TowersBefore I realised,

I had crossed the

threshold.

ThresholdBroken shadows danced across the raw concrete.

Cut by ShadowsFalling shards.

FallingTrapped

the body

beneath.

FallenDescending to another level,

traces of others

before

me.

EmbellishedUnfinished displays.

RevealedHidden from site,

I found The Three Towers…

Micro-towersReturned,

to the city

boundary

marked by

standing stone.

Standing StoneAnd thus my pilgrimage ended.

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The Two Towers are part of The City of Culture of Galicia (Cidade Da Cultura de Galicia) which when I visited was a building site partially open to the public.  It became apparent, however, as I was ushered out by a workman, that the degree to which The Two Towers were open to the public was ambiguous ! 
The Two Towers are conceived as a memorial to architect John Hejduk (who designed them in 1992 for another project) but also function as a means of ventilating underground galleries and will act as a information centre.  The void between the towers is an exact inverted profile of one of them: so in a sense there are actually Three Towers.
The City of Culture Galicia was designed by architect Peter Eisenman in response to a design competition in 1999.  Based on overlaying a morphed ground plan of Medieval City and five main pilgrimage routes across the hillside of Mount Gaiás.  The City of Culture was conceived as comprising buildings for several major Galician cultural institutions.  It is a remarkable project in many respects, a modern assertion of confidence in Galician cultural identity which converses with the historic environment of Saniago de Compostela.
However, construction commenced in 2001, with a budget of 109 million Euros.  The project required another intervention in 2005 ’12 Actions to Make the Cidade da Cultura Transparent’ by architect Andrés Jaque to raise its awareness in the public consciousness. By 2011 400 million Euros had been spent on construction and in March 2013 work was stopped.    It is unclear as to whether all elements will actually be completed, and how well it will articulate with the Old City.
The standing stone encountered at the end of my journey was erected in 2006 to commemorate the opening of a new suburb, others can be found around the margins of the city.

Past Inspired Sculpture 6

Freedom

was

perhaps one of the most controversial pieces of public sculpture in Scotland.

It was created by sculptor Tom Church and once stood at the foot of the

Wallace Monument,

Stirling.

Freedom

Unveiled in 1997 by Nigel Tranter, the piece portrayed the figure of William Wallace, at whose feet was the head of the Governor of York.

Spirit of WallaceThe piece provoked a strong ‘marmite’ response, to the extent it was vandalised (the head of the Governor of York is still to be discovered !) on sufficient occasions to merit it being closed in a metal cage every night.

It would appear that those strong negative responses largely stemmed from the remarkable resemblance between the sculpture of William Wallace and the actor Mel Gibson in the 1995 movie Braveheart.

However, the likeness was in all probability in part derived from the circumstances of its production.  Following heart surgery, during recovery sculptor Tom Church, watched Braveheart, and was inspired to create the piece from 12 tons of sandstone.

Faded SignThe piece stood at the foot of the Wallace Monument for ten years before being removed in 2008.  It now resides as the center piece of a remarkable display at the sculptors house in Brechin which can be seen in an interview.

Bronze Hands

The sculpture ‘Freedom’, and its entanglement with other appropriations of historical figures in contemporary culture, is a remarkable example of the series of gaps between

‘historical reality’,

authenticity of representations of the past,

and

the scope of imagination inherent in all art forms.

Above all, however, it shows how an acute sense of the past can inspire an individuals creativity.

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For more examples of Past Inspired Sculptures:

Past Inspired Sculpture 1

Past Inspired Sculpture 2

Past Inspired Sculpture 3

Past Inspired Sculpture 4

Past Inspired Sculpture 5

Contemporary Prehistories – the Santiago Pilgrimage

Inexorably, flowing lines led me to the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea (CGAC).

As I explored the CGAC collection, synapses sensitized to entanglements with a deeper past, I encountered a few pieces by artists who are clearly informed by their relationship to the ‘archaeological’ which I hope you may find of interest:

Paisaxe con ósoPaisaxe con óso by Galician photographer Manuel Vilariño

In the tryptich by Manuel Vilariño, the landscape with bones is a series of pipe joints and a human femur.  Understated tone and texture make it at first difficult to immediately distinguish the artefactual from the skeletal. Yet the unique qualities of bone, emphasized by the composition, evoke a subconscious understanding that something is wrong in the landscape : fragmentary and disjointed  : something of our humanity is present amongst the detritus of industry which we bear witness to.

Atrabilarios I, II, IIIAtrabilarios IIAtrabilarios I, II, III by Columbian sculptor Doris Salcedo

Doris Salcedo’s powerfully haunting piece presences a series of ghost like shoes.  A vellum is stitched, in an operation to seal women’s shoes : captured in an organic vitrine.  A state of being, leaving them out of focus, unresolved, trapped in the timelessness of the gallery.

Estudio para De CapoEstudio para Da Capo

by Francesc Torres

Power Contested

 Power Contested (Three Graces In Unstable Equilibrium)

by Francesc Torres

The pieces by Francesc Torres have incorporated a Venus figurine (a c 25 – 30 thousand years old ‘art’ form).  Not just any Venus figurine, however, as it would appear to be (so distinctive as many are) representations of the Willendorf figurine from Austria.  In one piece, Estudio para Da Capo, the image is drawn on text printed : text printed twice so one set is partially superimposed over the other (palimpsest like !) but having rotated the paper first, one set of text appears upside down and running right to left (confounding our attempts to read meanings).  In the other piece, Power Contested (Three Graces In Unstable Equilibrium), three Bronze replicas cluster together (evoking Neoclassical summonings of the daughters of gods) upon a racing tyre.  Ancient forms, seemingly stable, a deep rooted source of inspiration and appropriation of the female form.  Yet resting on high speed modernity, vulnerable to falling…

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The pieces I have highlighted in the CGAC collection variously engaged with the archaeological (the human bone within Vilariño’s piece, the shoes within the pieces by Salcedo) or explicitly evoked prehistoric remains in their work (the Venus Figurines appropriated by Torres).

But the expression, contemporary prehistories, could as much relate a particular kind of experience of visiting a gallery space (when undertaken without referring to catalogues or labels).  The mediation of meanings (either intended or unintended) through these materialisations has much in kind with (as a prehistorian) the first encounter with an object from the distant past.  There is no other voice of testimony, no text to read, it is a raw, exposed state of response ‘to the things themselves’.  We then reflect from other frames of reference, from our experience, from our knowledge, and develop a sense of, an understanding, an interpretation of…. …. …. …. …. …. …..?

What such gallery pieces express is an ongoing dialogue which partially reveals, not a text which delivers authoritative meaning.

Perhaps contemporary prehistories are practices by which we remember the forgotten, by presencing in ways which do not privilege text, and are contingent and open to dialogue and reflection.

Such pieces perhaps challenge the authority of those who would choose we forget.

The conversation with the past should not be forgotten.

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I have highlighted the pieces by Manuel Vilariño, Doris Salcedo and Francesc Torres but there were also several other works by artists in CGAC whose relationship to the ‘archaeological’ is perhaps better known, this included an aerial photographic piece by Andreas Gursky ‘Thebes, West’ and an installation by Mark Dion ‘Boxes of the Paleontologist’. 
Only when I returned from the Santiago Pilgrimage did I try and find out more about Doris Salcedo’s sculpture and was not surprised to learn that there is a powerful ‘back story‘ to the piece and of the practices of Salcedo more broadly.  In Andreas Huyssen’s excellent essay on Doris Salcedo’s piece ‘Unland: The Orphan’s Tunic’ he evocatively describes her works as Memory Sculpture. To be found in ‘Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory’.
Equally the work of  Francesc Torres, from Barcelona, has a deeply political dimension around memory and forgetting.  Another project he was involved in comprised a photographic piece responding to the exhumation of a mass grave with a forensic anthropology team at Villamayor de los Montes and was entitled ‘Dark Is the Room Where We Sleep‘. 
A good account of the changing inter-relationships between artists and the prehistoric can be found in ‘Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory’ by Lucy R Lippard
 

New Cultural Landscapes

New Cultural Landscapes

Landscapes are a dynamic complex sets of relationships and interactions between natural and human factors, tangible and intangible.  Landscapes always change, some times almost imperceptibly in a human lifetime, other times there is rapid flux which we can readily see.  At times people have actively created new forms of landscape, in some cases by physically transforming them and in other cases by changing perceptions of them.

The future of cultural landscapes is explored in a recently published volume New Cultural Landscapes edited by Maggie Roe and Ken Taylor.  The volume emphasises the lived nature of the multiple relationships, values and qualities which comprise all of our landscapes.

Many of the papers in the volume highlight the active role people have in (re)imagining and (re)creating new cultural landscapes.  Exploring a wide range of issues and case studies, from: the remediation of post-industrial landscapes; the ‘rebranding of landscapes’ by an ecomuseological approach; the transformative nature of conflict on landscapes; the appropriation and use of wastescapes and disasterscapes; the role of film tourism in creating commerical and dream landscapes; landscape urban – rural interactions in developing countries; the rapid growth of New Urban Landscapes in China; through to the challenges of increasingly rapid change in landscapes due to climatic pressures.

For those of you who are interested in the lived and dynamic nature of landscapes, this academic volume, is a useful contribution to the ongoing debate about how we value, manage and enhance all types of landscape.

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You may also be interested in Resilience and the Cultural Landscape.

Power of the Picts

‘History is Silent on The Meaning of These’

I have been reflecting over the past few months on the Power of the Picts.

No I am not referring to the 1969 album ‘Power of the Picts’ by Writing on the Wall.

Rather on a visit to the recent laser scanning of Johnathan’s Cave as part of the Visualising Wemyss Caves Project I was reminded of the rich artistic legacy which has been left by the Picts and its continued ability to inspire creative responses.  The caves at East Wemyss, Fife, have a range of Pictish carvings dating to c AD 300 to 800. These include a series of familiar motifs, including abstract symbols such as double discs and z-rods.

Court Cave CarvingsThere are also more figurative forms of animals including fish, birds and beasts embellishing the walls.  The potent orders of sea, sky and earth combined in the otherworldly darkness of the cave.

Doo Cave Symbols

I must confess it was not these carvings, in the first instance, which started this line of thought.  Rather I had the opportunity to purchase (for a very reasonable price) a tea towel adorned with Pictish Symbols from Wemyss Caves.  I was informed that the piece has been undertaken in support of Save Wemyss Ancient Caves Society (SWACS) in 1999 by the artist Marianna Lines.

Pictish Tea TowelThe work of Marianna Lines has involved a technique using natural dyes to produce images directly from Pictish and other stone carvings: she can be seen speaking to comedian / presenter Craig Ferguson in a (long forgotten?) Pictish themed episode of the Dirt Detective ‘Artists with Attitude‘.

Figurine and ClubAs I was thinking about this, I was reminded of another manifestation of the Power of the Picts, I saw nearly ten years ago in a suburban garden.

Clustered SymbolsMirror StoneModern PictThe Power of the Picts had inspired somebody to carve symbols on stones and arrange them in the form of a stone circle.  Evoking perhaps (? unintentionally) the relationship expressed in the early Historic period, where there was often a reuse of earlier prehistoric sites.

Reflecting on the power of Pictish symbol stones to inspire creative responses, I then decided to returned to stones in the National Museum of Scotland and pondered what I saw…

the ‘classic’ symbols…

Symbol Stone, Invereen, MoyThe remarkable Hilton of Cadboll Stone, with exquisite carving in c AD 800 and extended biography: toppled in the 17th century; the carving on the back face was chipped off and commemorative inscription to Alexander Duff and three wives was added; moved to the grounds of Invergordon Castle in 1860; then to the British Museum in 1921; and rapidly returned to Scotland. With a copy being produced in 1998 by sculptor Barry Grove to be placed at the original location.

Hilton of Cadbol Symbol StoneTo a broken slab found from a Fife hilltop not far from East Wemyss: one of my earliest memories of learning about Pictish art was when Professor Leslie Alcock took a class to the top of East Lomond Hill and explained that a fragmentary carving of an ox or bullock had been discovered within the fort at the top (I still remember pondering why, what was it doing up here !).   The discovery in the 19th century of 30 such carved bull stones from the harbour of Burghead, in close proximity to Burghead Pictish fort and remarkable subterranean well, is also highly evocative of the complex relationships to different kinds of place in the past.

East Lomond Hill Symbol StoneSo I was reminded that Pictish symbols on stone, had been deployed across all areas of the landscape from fortified hilltop, close to lowland settlement, in coastal cave and deposited in the sea.

I had not appreciated, that as well as the permanent collection at the National Museum of Scotland (NMS), there is currently a temporary exhibition Creative Spirit.

Creative SpiritA wonderful example of artists and craftspeople being inspired to ‘create again’.

RecreationPictish ThroneThis fantastic project has explored how artist and craftspeople can be informed by past objects but reinterpret them in new ways.  There are some great insights into this process of ‘Bringing the Past to Life‘ on the project website in relation to the wooden Pictish throne, Pictish drinking horns, early Medieval bells and the Loch Glashan leather satchel.

Also amongst the exhibition was portion of a hoard found in Fife, not far from East Wemyss Caves. The Norrie’s Law hoard, is the largest ever hoard of Pictish Silver, and was found in 1819 from the top of a Bronze Age burial mound.  When discovered the hoard was largely plundered and dispersed, but the surviving portion is still remarkable for the quality of craft displayed.

Norrie's Law HoardIntriguingly in 1839, 20 years after its discovery, a silversmith was commissioned to produce pewter replicas of the pieces by antiquarian George Buist: in hope seeing them would encourage people to provide information on the missing pieces.  A silver hand pin and plaque, apparently from the looted hoard of 1819, were then handed in to him.  However recent analysis by X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) has shown these were made from silver so pure they had to date from the 19th century: they were fakes !

Trio of 'Pictish' Pins

Original Pictish Silver Pin, 19th Century Pewter Replica Pin & 19th Silver Fake Pin

Now there is further use of technology by NMS to better understand and piece together the fragments of the past.  With the emergence of new forms of digital heritage, the copies of past sites and objects we can now make can be explored and manipulated in a remarkable range of ways.  For example, the remains of the face of the Hilton of Cadboll stone, which was chipped to pieces in the 17th century, were excavated and have been digitized.  You can spend hours on the Pictish Puzzle from the NMS in an attempt to establish how it may have looked originally.

Pictish PuzzleYet even as I was leaving the museum I encountered another example of the Power of the Picts.  A series of prints by Leslie Reid of Pictish symbols, which are created by carving replicas in sandstone then rubbed with handmade beeswax crayons onto calico cotton.

Burghead Pictish BullI am sure I have only encountered, and mentioned in this blog, a small proportion of the artists and craftspeople whose work is inspired by the legacy of the Picts.  It is clear from archaeological evidence that the Picts were aware of, related to and evoked a more ancient past through their practices.  From what I encountered, there is still a remarkable Power of the Picts in continuing an ongoing conversation through art and craft about our relationships with past and place !

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History is Silent on the Meaning of These’
appears on the interpretative signage for the Moy symbol stone in the National Museum of Scotland, referring perhaps in part to the huge debate about what individual symbols may ‘represent’ and whether they had been combined in some form of grammar.
More information about Pictish Stones can be found here as can some three dimensional models of The Maiden Stone , Sueno’s Stone , Aberlemno Stone , Cossans Stone and The Duplin Cross.
The remarkable story of the Hilton of Cadboll Stone is presented in:
A Fragmented Masterpiece: Recovering the Biography of Hilton of Cadboll Pictish Cross-slab
The illustration of the Doo Cave Carvings originates from Stuart, J 1867 Sculptured Stones of Scotland v2, Plate 33 & 34. Edinburgh but displayed on the RCAHMS CANMORE entry for the site.   The picture of the three Norrie’s Law ‘Pictish’ pins is from the National Museum of Scotland Creative Spirit website.