Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Visualisations: The Theoretical Archaeology Group

I am delighted that I will be exhibiting work and speaking at the Theoretical Archaeology Group 2016 conference (TAG2016) at Southampton University, 19-21st December. The conference theme this year is "Visualisations".

The Reliquary Project installation view, Attenborough Arts Centre, May-July 2016
I will presenting some of my work from The Reliquary Project as part of Sightations, an exhibition and series of short talks alongside the conference which "seeks to unpack what it means to represent archaeology visually in 2016".

I'm very excited to be going, and some of the sessions in the programme promise to influence some of my current thinking around art and archaeology. "Enchanting Objects and Ways of Seeing" (Joshua Pollard (University of Southampton), John Robb (Cambridge University) and Peter Wells (University of Minnesota) sounds thrilling, and I hope to get to "Images in the Making: Art-Process-Archaeology" (Andrew Meirion Jones (University of Southampton) and Ing-Marie Back Danielsson (Uppsala University) which, if you have been to any of my recent talks, you will know sounds right up my street. You can see the full conference programme here and the full list of talks taking place in Sightations here.

You can book for the conference up until 16th December here.

Friday, 30 September 2016


I'm continuing to think about animal bones and archaeology, this time affected by my experience of watching the excavations at Bradgate Park.

Assemblage I, white conte on paper, 2016
I started casting half shapes of bones, with a view to creating some sort of installation. I wanted to create a landscape of hidden bones, somehow. However, as I played with the shapes, and discovered that I'm still often attracted to the vertebrae shapes, I started creating them in assemblages, which is a concept I must now reflect on.

Assemblage is a term used in both archaeology and art, but meaning quite different things. I'm starting to wonder how my work converges the two.

An assemblage in archaeology generally means "a collection of material related through contextual proximity."1  However, what actually constitutes an assemblage can be more difficult to pin down - where does the context end and begin? and thus what does or doesn't belong to a particular assemblage? These are important questions for archaeologists; how structured are the assemblages, how intentional was it that these things were laid here together? I have found that I also need to think more about stratigraphy and the different ways this has been thought of, if I am to understand assemblage, and what has been called the "space-time-cultural continuum"2, a phrase I really like!

In art, assemblage is also a practice that questions context as well as association between objects. Many artists make connections between previously unconnected objects in their work to create new meanings - something that artists intentionally do, but something that archaeologists wish to avoid! Post-modern artists enjoy multi meanings derived from their work, whereas archaeologists attempt to discover a "truth" (also a problematic term!).

Here's a short clip by Tate Shots of artist Brian Griffiths talking about his assemblage process;
 "I collect objects and they become a sort of material fact to start from":

And then I came across the Theory of Assemblage Panel:
"Assemblage is one of these “bridging concepts” that connect various disciplines while retaining their specificity. Commonly used in geology, paleontology, archaeology and art, recently it regains popularity in different fields (political sciences - Manuel DeLanda, science studies – Bruno Latour, cultural studies - Brian Massumi)... From the understanding of assemblage as an equivalent term to Foucault’s epistemes, Kuhn’s paradigms, or Callon, Law and Latour’s actor-network-theory, to its popular definition as “a group of objects of different or similar types found in close association with one another”"  3
So there are many ways of thinking about assemblage.  My works seem to be instinctive assemblages, mainly concerned with the shapes and how they suggest that they could work together. There is still an aspect of scale that I have unresolved yet, and I do need to find a way of addressing that at some point. But for now, I'll keep playing with them and reading (and reading them).

1 Archaeological Assemblages and Practices of Deposition, R Joyce and J Pollard, in The Oxford Handbook of Material Culture Studies, Ed D Hicks and M C Beaudry, 2010 
2 Method and Theory in American Archeology, Willey and Phillips, in American Anthropologist, 1953, Vol.55(5)
3 Theory of Assemblage, Theoretical Archaeology Group: Stanford, 2009, https://web.stanford.edu/dept/archaeology/cgi-bin/TAG/drupal/?q=content/theory-assemblage-0

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Archaeology as memory

This week I revisited the sites of the excavations at Bradgate Park. One of the things at the excavations that intrigue me is the intensity of the activity, the time pressure under which they work, which suddenly comes to an end, and the archaeologists then disappear.

The excavation has only six weeks to run each season. As much as possible has to be uncovered during that time, which can be hindered by bad weather and rain that makes it dangerous to work on slippery stone and mud, or by hot weather which makes the excavators lethargic and work slower. After six weeks, everything that has been uncovered must be re-covered, until the following year when work can begin again.

This rhythm of uncovering, covering, uncovering again, along with every new layer lifted as they gradually move deeper through time, is fascinating. It's like an archaeology of the archaeology itself each time.

Archaeologists only dig for a reason; they already know there will be something to uncover before they break ground, but precisely what that will be cannot be known until they physically touch the layers underneath. But once this knowledge has been uncovered, they then cover it up again and return the landscape to what it once was, leaving those layers hidden underneath turf. A constant play between revealing the hidden and hiding the revealed.

I walk over the site that was exposed in June, only a particular stone and the occasional straight edge of turf now hints at the busy site that it was only a few months ago. As I stand there I listen through headphones to the sounds of the archaeologists that I recorded as they troweled, brushed and sifted. A memory caught of a moment in time, a moment of archaeology which has become part of the record itself; the excavation now part of the history of this landscape, and my recording is a new artefact.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Digital excavation

Since The Reliquary Project exhibition, I spent part of the summer watching progress at the Bradgate Park excavations and making some drawings. Although I'm still progressing some work with bones, I am also interested in some of the work at Bradgate with the landscape itself, and I'm intrigued by some of the surveyors' techniques.

I was also invited to visit another archaeologist at a place known as Ruskin Land, part of the Wyre Forest in the West Midlands, and I've become involved in their consultations about the arts and the natural world. You can find out more about what's happening at Ruskin Land on their blog. I was inspired by my visit to the forest, which came at a good time as I'm already working on a commission for part of another forest, the ancient Rockingham Forest in Corby.

Putting together some of my ideas using the techniques that archaeologists use with my interest in the woods, I've been experimenting with digital imaging techniques and creating animations that explore the internal structures of forests. Here's a short clip of one of my experiments.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Our Woods commission

I am currently working on a new commission for Our Woods, a festival of over 40 events celebrating the woodlands in Corby, Northamptonshire.

The festival runs from September 2016 to May 2017, and so over the next few months I am working with artist Carole Miles on developing our ideas for our woodland walk, Continuum, at Thoroughsale Woods on Sunday 5th March 2017. The walk plays with ideas about time and the seasons; we invite you to step through a portal and enter our magical woodland world...

It may seem a long way off, but people are booking for events now so to be sure of a place, take a look through the online brochure as soon as you can! All tickets can be booked on The Core at Corby website.

Continuum is described on page 20 of the brochure... and see if you can spot me on the cover!

I hope to see some of you there.

Photo by Kate Dyer.

Monday, 25 April 2016

The Reliquary Project: exhibition dates and preview

The time is finally here:  tomorrow I begin to install The Reliquary Project exhibition.

The exhibition will run from 7th May to 3rd July, alongside three other exhibitions at Attenborough Arts Centre - so lots for you to see!

There will be a free public preview on Friday 6th May, the details are below. If you would like to book onto the preview, please follow this link.

I have made a limited edition set of 4 postcards from the exhibition. The first 100 people to visit will have a free set.

To find out about the other exhibitions running at the same time, visit the Attenborough Arts Centre website.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Personal bone stories

It's really interesting how different people connect with different artworks. Often this is for very personal reasons. I shared some of my work from this project in a talk a few weeks ago, and it was fascinating how each person I spoke to had a completely different favourite image.

I was asked if I would make a print of one of the x-ray images with a cat's skull. Alison, currently undertaking research at the University into chicken breeds, asked me if I could make a small version for her. When I visited the Bone Lab yesterday to give her the print, she told me that her very first acquisition, years ago, for her own reference collection of animal bones was a cat's skull, which she dug up from the end of her garden and found it to be in a beautifully preserved condition but all on its own, just the skull, no other parts of the body. A little mystery to why it was alone. She still has the skull.

A little later I fell into conversation with Eric, who is researching faunal remains from North American sites. He said he had liked the drawing of vertebrae that I had made, and we talked about how I use this drawing in my visits to schools to get students thinking imaginatively about the shapes of the bones and how, by drawing them in certain ways or arranging them on the paper, they could evoke other things. These remind me a little of flying ducks.

We talked about some of the other pieces of work that I had shown in my talk and how he had remembered when he'd seen me making them in the Bone Lab, such as the photographs of fish bones. Eric is from Canada and asked about having a print of the drawing to take back home with him as something to remind him of his time here.

One of the things I used to find difficult with selling work through galleries is that you often don't get to meet the person who buys it. It's really special when you can talk to a person about work they like and discover what that personal reason is, it makes the work better. It's a curious thing that, once you have made an artwork and set it loose into the world, it takes on its own life and other people's connections start to make it more than what it was when you made it. In the end making art, for me, always comes back to a way of connecting with people.

I have another four prints available of the Schrรถdinger's Cat Reliquary, visit my Shop page for details.

Read more about researchers' projects in the Bone Lab here.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

La Huesera in Pit Prop Woods

I have been invited to take part in a project by Miriam Keye, a dance and movement artist.

Her project will take place in the woods of Pit Prop Woods (where Carole and I led a walk last year; always good to re-visit a site). Miriam is pregnant with twins at the moment, and so her project is taking on the timescale of her pregnancy and she is responding to the experience of growing in her body in conjunction with Spring blossoming in the woodlands. The project will also draw on folklore of wildness and women, such as La Huesera, a Mexican tale of the Bone Woman.

It will be really interesting for me to work with a dance artist in a woodlands. My woodland projects have been very much about connecting with the senses, which is what Miriam is doing through movement. I love the part in her video where she is walking barefoot with very aware steps across crackly dried leaves!

Miriam is looking for backers to help support her project, which will take place this Spring. Please visit this link for more information and to see Miriam's video, and support us if you can, or share the link with people you know. Many thanks.

Friday, 5 February 2016

The Reliquary Project talk

I will  be talking about my residency on 24th February, I hope some of you can come. Here's the invitation with details:

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Time slips

and slips away from me.

It is traditional, at the turn of the year, to look back and then to look forward at the coming year, but right now I have more of a sense of time sliding. Work right now has a theme of past, present and future slipping backwards and forwards; the past informs the future and the future informs the past.

I've been working on a number of pieces for The Reliquary Project over the past few months. The exhibition for the project is confirmed: it will run from 6th May until 30th June 2016 at Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester. They've offered me Gallery 3, the new upstairs gallery which, I have to say, is my favourite space of the two smaller rooms. There's a window wall that looks down onto the double-height space below, so that's got me thinking about how I can use the space creatively and I am thinking of the exhibition as an installation, changing the whole space in some way, not just hanging things on walls.

In the second half of last year I ran a number of workshops in schools for the project, working with students of varying ages, from 8 to 18. I developed the workshops as I went along, so I could react to the responses of the students as well as them reacting to my work. I showed different examples of my own work to them to try to get some feedback (and children can be so honest!).

Reliquary for a bird, Avenue Primary School
One workshop I ran with 8 year olds, I asked them to create a reliquary for an animal that was special to them. Some created this for their pets, but others thought really hard about what made an animal "special" in their view and this was a really interesting discussion about what we value. Some of them made reliquaries for animals that were extinct. One child made a reliquary for a mongoose, an animal he had seen in India and had made quite an impression!

Working with Regent College students. Photos  by Jacqueline Hunt
I also ran a workshop at Regent College for A Level art students. The students were really insightful and it encouraged me to hear what they read into my work. I talked to them about being an artist, about my route in and about higher education, as they are thinking about their options for university at the moment. They were very attentive, asked intelligent questions and they made their work with a sense of fun but also serious application.  It was a really enjoyable experience for me.

Regent College students. Photos by Jacqueline Hunt
They wrote very thoughtful evaluation notes at the end of the session and I felt I had made a real impact.

Evaluation notes from student, Regent College
I ran an open workshop for families too, using pantographs to make large scale bone drawings. This was really fun and I would like to do that workshop again, if I get the opportunity. I can offer a further two free workshops for schools, so if you know a school that might like one, do get in touch.

Using the giant pantograph!
A couple of other things have developed as a result of The Reliquary Project. I've been invited to do an artist's talk at New Art Exchange, an arts centre in Hyson Green, Nottingham, on Saturday 5th March. The talk is to accompany an exhibition by artist Larissa Sansour and her newest film "In The Future They Ate From The Finest Porcelain". Sansour's film is a science fiction, considering the manipulation of archaeology. I've been asked to create an alternative guided tour from my own point of view about art and archaeology, and I've been thinking about time slips, past, present and future sliding in to one another and about myth making. I may title my talk "Uchronia" (though I am still deciding on this.)

I'll be running a series of three workshops as an evening class at Attenborough Arts Centre (as part of their Creative Learning Programme) on the theme of art and archaeology. The course will use my exhibition as a starting point and we will consider materiality, time, objects in time, and create contemporary works from these ideas, using drawing, found objects and casting techniques. I always enjoy working with other people and sparking ideas off each other, and I'm sure that this course will feed my own thoughts further.

I hope you'll be able to join me for some of these events. I keep an up to date list of things I'm running in the right sidebar of this blog so please check back there for updates. Thanks for following.