Vicarious serendipities, perhaps, could have only ever occurred at this location?
It started with a couple of images from 1970. I would encounter them once every few years or so, but they haunted me over several decades. It may not seem like a significant rhythm, too irregular, unpredictable, to have any substance? But like a slow burning ember, which with the slightest breathe of air can briefly flash bright before returning to dormant slumber under ashy coat, the potential to fully ignite remained. Each time I saw the images, it was always like being reminded of something I had forgotten, but couldn’t remember what or why!
Many times before I had driven along the shore road, glimpses of tree covered islands, crannogs and unsettled water, no more than fleeting impressions. And then I found myself, on a hill side overlooking Loch Awe for several weeks. From here the stone husk of Kilchurn Castle provides a vivid reminder of the history of Scotland’s landscapes: a favourite picturesque centerpiece, providing seductive views for quintessential yearnings of Scottishness.
But looking down, with different perspective, hands covered in peat and mud, trying to make sense of the Medieval period from broken fragments, I wondered. Wondered why Beuys responded to the shore side and what motivated him to create such a humble sculptural piece.
It is said that a lump of peat, length of pine branch and copper pipe were discovered by Beuys on these shores. These were combined, crozier like, and placed in a lead vitrine, to become ‘The Loch Awe Piece’. Perhaps it deliberately presences the symbolism of early Christian missionary regalia, tangled with the shepherd’s crook, both of which changed this landscape physically and conceptually.
But what I struggled with was the discovery of the copper pipe. Peat and pine expected, the vedigris tube troubled me, and I didn’t know why. So I resolved, to revisit, to return to the 8th May 1970.
I carried further expectations of the shoreline. Remote(ish), relatively unvisited (a few roadside stopping places are hasty insta-locales), slight and fleeting this should be a place of little trace. And the dirty truth, where water washes, we expect our detritus is tidied away, like some debris removal ecosystem service. And so, I found myself on the shores of Loch Awe, naively surprised at the rubbish. Camping gear residues, fishing tackle tangles, barbecue libations, carbonised outdoor activities, all evidenced from fire pit scatter patterns of objects.
But then there was another range of materials which I doubted anybody would bring camping, broken window handles and tools, more akin to dumping of materials from a house refurbishment. It felt like a forensic archaeology of the anthropocene, almost unnoticed, an aggregation of tiny acts of aggression littered the shoreline.
Such patterns of behavior have perhaps accelerated since May 1970. With a fifty year period of marketing frenzied consumption, crashing willfully across our shores. So it was now no surprise that, among the broken bits of screw driver, handles and cans, a copper pipe had once been discovered here. No caring crook or inspiring crozier but a length of domestic waste sanitation.
So I gathered and crafted, to bear witness perhaps, to the unintended consequences of our material entanglements. A trophy of our times, hybridized bio-mechanics, as anthropocene assemblage. And when you look in its quartz eyes, do we see death or a feint flicker of hope?
I can’t help wondering, fancifully, is there now a moment on the 8th May 1970, where my faint spectre like figure can be briefly seen, perhaps out of the corner of Beuys eye, purposively scouring the shoreline.
Perhaps decades of glimpses of Beuys accreted, with other moments around the shores of Loch Awe, like some plastiglomerate, which could only have occurred in such anthropocene times. Perhaps in such times we need to find new aesthetics, beyond the picturesque ?
And are there other places you know, where we need to be sensitive to spectres of the future haunting us?
I wonder, why should this matter in times of environmental and climate crises? Perhaps an archaeological sensibility to the anthropocene (its origins, manifestations, asymmetries and more-than-human entanglements) could be important at such times? Could an #AnthropoceneArchaeology #ContemporaryArchaeology which reveals and challenges our assumptions about how and why we consume be a vital component in adaptation and resistance?
On 8th May 1970, Joseph Beuys traveled ‘the Road to Meikle Seggie’ through Argyll, Scotland, with Richard Demarco and Sally Holman. Some good accounts of Beuys work in Scotland can be found in Richard Demarco & Joseph Beuys A Unique Partnership published in 2016 by Luath Press and Joseph Beuys and the Celtic Wor(l)d by Victoria Walters
The two images of Beuys have been created through rephotography at the closest location I could find and merging with the originals held in the Demarco Archive, which can be found in the Argyll Demarco Archive Folder.
All elements of the piece, apart from the pins, were found on the shore of Loch Awe. It was produced for the XR Summerhall 2019 Exhibition and was accompanied by a short performance and discussion about Anthropocene Archaeologies. My thanks to the XR Summerall team for accepting my work, particular thanks to Natalie Taylor, Johnathan Baxter and Felicity White for support. I have also been privileged to work with Clan Gregor and Dalmally Historical Association, and all the wonderful volunteers who participated, in the investigation of a Medieval settlement overlooking Loch Awe and through many years of archaeological excavations in the area have learned a great deal from all those who are so passionate about the heritage and landscapes of Glen Orchy, Glen Strae and Loch Awe side. Such archaeological encounters have also informed the work: And Again, Should We Wash Upon Loch Awe Shore …