Archaeology Meets Modern Art

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Beware This Is A Modern Art Meets Archaeology Mash Up Post.

Text reports on presentations at a conference session with interspersed images found on streets of Pilsen & Prague, Czech Republic.

DoveArchaeology met modern art in a conference session ‘Archaeology meets modern art: artists’ approaches to prehistoric data‘ at the recent EAA in Pilsen.

Theatrum MundiThe presentations included Dragos Gheorghiu’s work on Artchaeology.  He presented examples of work in Romania which combined artistic modes of practice, reconstruction and experimental archaeology, and creation of digital environments which are blended to generate an augmented reality: ‘immersive transport to the past’.  One such example was the reconstruction at Vadastra of a fragment of the workshop of a Roman villa rustica and associated ceramic kiln, glass kiln and iron furnace.  

Flea StencilArtist Sebastian Walter explained the approach to the development of the Schoeppingen time-machine for the Schoppingen Art Foundation, Germany.  Part art, part interpretation, part archaeological synthesis, the piece presenced the past and future at 20 locations with timespies (Zeitspione).  A playful way to get people to reflect on their relationships with the town of Schoeppingen.

Heaven and HellCurator Marko Mele discussed several art projects within the Universalmuseum Joanneum, Graz, Austria which had an archaeological component.  These included ‘A cross-departmental, pan-Styrian, polyphonic project’, entitled Super Eggs, by Simon Starling & Superflex.  In another, artist Sharon Lockhart, explored the The Beginning of Time in response to the palaeolithic remains from Repolust Cave.  This resulted in video installation and exhibition of the finds: in part a reflection on systematic archaeological practices.  Most powerful, perhaps, was the example of the installation VZPOSTAVITEV (Reestablishment), a piece outside the walls of the museum, by RHIZOM and e.d.gfrerer.  It was intended to promote awareness of an exhibition in the museum ANS LICHT GEBRACHT (BROUGHT TO LIGHT), as part of a cross border Slovenia-Austria exchange project InterArch-Štajerska.  The street installation comprised the creation of  a sculptural piece of 1200 sandbags in the city of Maribor, Slovenia, which was due to be moved through the city on three occasions.  However, the Vice Mayor of the city had the piece removed to a junk yard, which provoked protest until it was reinstated, ultimately in the form of a ‘bunker’ in front of the City Hall.

Star CrownThere was a great presentation by David Connolly (Connolly Heritage Consultancy) and Kate Sloan (Peter Potter Gallery) of collaborative work in the landscapes and sites of East Lothian Scotland.  Much of the collaboration relates to the Lost Landscapes project which: ‘traverses boundaries between art, ecology, archaeology and local history to explore historical ways of life through the lens of contemporary art’.  This has included a variety of exhibitions, such as Return to the Earth: The Poetry of Fragments, and Nicky Bird’s Archaeology of the Ordinary.  The Peter Potter Gallery continues to commission striking pieces that have been informed (at least in part) by archaeology and heritage, highlighted by the current exhibition WITCH by Liz Adamson and Alexa Hare.

V StencilArchaeologist Anna Zalewska then reflected on her difficult encounter with two pieces in Poland about ‘The Archaeology of Crime’ in relation to the mass graves, such as Katyn, from the 1940’s.  In one case, there was an interpretative exhibition in the streets with photographs by Piotr Krol about Bykivnia which has witnessed several episodes of archaeological investigation and exhumation.   In another, case the challenging imagery of photographer Maksymilian Rigamonti presented encounters (e.g. Butterfly and the Bones) with the exhumation of victims : in part by an absence.  These encounters raised issues relating to the ethics of different aesthetics and subversive practices, which were explored further in the presentation.

Nail HeadThen archaeologists Rebecca Younger and Kenny Brophy explored several examples of replica Stonehenges from across the world.  These included the inflatable Stonehenge SACRILEGE by artist Jeremy Deller, the illegally constructed concrete Achill-henge, and the Stone Henge Aotearoa in New Zealand which was constructed to as an educational facility combining ‘modern scientific knowledge with ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Celtic, Polynesian and Maori starlore’.  They reflected on how wide ranging the appropriation has been of a four thousand years old monument to create potent places with contemporary resonances.  For 76 examples see Clonehenge blog.

FragmentIn a final presentation, the session organisors presented the preliminary results of interviews with six artists, Brian Graham, Markus Hofer, Louise Tait, Jeremy Deller, Paul Musgrove and Michael Jarman, about their relationship with archaeology in their practices.

Hanging Around PragueAll in all, an excellent and inspiring session, organised by Estell Weiss-Krejci, Edeltraud Aspӧck and Mark Hall, which clearly demonstrated the value of the ongoing conversation between archaeology and modern art.

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The End of Prehistory

Three times I have been to this place, I should have been more…

The first time was in 1994 to take part in excavations on the site before the Archaeolink Prehistory Park was built.  The second time, a few years later, was during a research visit to study the recumbent stone circles of Aberdeenshire.

Stone Circle

I could barely walk and had to go to casualty in Insch to get my leg seen to: a trapped nerve from sleeping on the hard ground without a camping mat….!  So I hobbled amongst the structures…strong pain killers and looking at too many stone circles leave my memories hazy…but it was clearly a vibrant place, where reconstructions of prehistoric structures were used to bring pasts alive.

The third time I visited was a few weeks ago.  I had heard that the centre had closed over a year ago but was surprised by what I encountered.

Archaeo-landAt the heart of the Archaeolink Prehistory Park was the award winning visitors centre by Edward Cullinan Architects.  The clean lines of the green mound evoked prehistoric mounds and barrows (but has a subsequent Teletubbi-esque cultural reference):  now a thatch of gorse, elder and willow, begins to reclaim it for the woods.

Claimed by the WoodsTime CapsuleLike many heritage centers, it had been designed to take you on a journey through space and time !  From the reconstructions of structures which may have been occupied by the earliest settlers in Aberdeenshire.

Early SettlementThrough examples of Neolithic and Bronze Age ceremonial structures which are found across the north east of Scotland.

Ceremonial LandscapeThrough an Iron Age shrine and settlement.

Watcher The empty eyes of a wooden Ballachulish style figurine, adjacent to a clootie well.

Clootie ShrineWho still stands sentinel over the abandoned round house.

Watching Figure

Helpless, the house now slowly decays, doors open to the elements.

Open DoorUntil recently, this reconstruction of an Iron Age round house, was a place for people to learn, and celebrate the rich heritage of north east Scotland.  The ash of the last fire, the faint echo of voices, is slowly disappearing.

Smoke and EchoesFragments of material culture, broken reconstructions of pots, clay loom weights, wooden artefacts, are slowly becoming archaeology within the interior: this time we can witness the end of a prehistory.

Hole in my...I encountered the slightly surreal patchwork of abandonment fragments of a recreated past.  Tinged with a melancholy for the end of the hopes of a future to be informed and sustained through reference to fundamentally important elements of the archaeology, history and heritage of north east Scotland.  I hope this is not The End of Prehistory.

The End of Prehistory

It is clear that the site has a latent energy and verdant potency from established woodlands, matured landscaping, and the invasive weeds following (temporary ?) abandonment.

No Trees SurvivedPerhaps, we will be left with a modern ruin, to add to a contemporary archaeology of heritage centers and museums.  Or perhaps there is an opportunity, to learn from the recent past, and to reinvent and revitalise.

Resuscitating Pict

Perhaps, there has never been The End of Prehistory.

Whithorn and the Machars Heritage

Pilgrim CoinFor centuries people have been coming to the cave, a place of contemplation and prayer on the Machars.  Many have inscribed crosses, names and initials on the walls of the cave.  Some set coins in cracks in the rock which tarnish and slowly corrode.

Offering Crosses and StonesOthers place stones with dedications on them, around the cave, and a few lean crosses against its walls.

To reach this special place traditionally you would travel along the pilgrimage trail through the Machars via Whithorn. This long association started with St Ninian’s mission in AD 397, then resulting in pilgrimage to a shrine at Whithorn from the 7th century onwards.

Pilgrims JourneyFor there protection many of these important Medieval stones were gathered together at the museum in Whithorn.  For over 30 years The Whithorn Trust have been researching the archaeology and heritage of the Machars and revealed some amazing things. Most recently they have undertaken an exciting project investigating the archaeology of the Machars.

It was however announced earlier this year that The Whithorn Trust and Whithorn Story Visitor Centre may be closed due a lack of funding, a situation which leaves the future of this significant heritage centre and many important artefacts it curates uncertain. Importantly for the visitor experience The Whithorn Story Visitor Centre forms part of a hub with the Historic Scotland Whithorn Priory and Museum.   The stones in the museum were redisplayed in 2004 in partnership between Historic Scotland and the Whithorn Trust, with Heritage Lottery Funding.

An important relationship between people and the heritage of the Machars is in danger of being severed.

Please help by adding your support to the petition to save The Whithorn Trust.

or add your support through the facebook

Save The Whithorn Trust

In the current economic and political climate, we need to value and support our museums and heritage centers.  Like other forms of art and culture, which make our society far richer and more vibrant, they can be soft targets at such times.  As places of communal memory, we are poorer without them and our relationships to the landscapes we inhabit will be even more difficult to maintain, grow and enhance.

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The Whithorn Priory and Museum micro site has further complementary information about Whithorn and the Machars.

The Art of Archaeological Practices

There is currently an exhibition at the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki which explores the ways in which archaeologists use scientific techniques and creative practices in Excavating, Recording, Analysing, Preserving and Telling.  Striking images by Belgian photograper Pierre Buch are juxtaposed with antiquities in a sun dappled courtyard.

The exhibition stems from the Archaeology in Contemporary Europe network and further information and pictures can be seen at Working in Archaeology.