|Assemblage I, white conte on paper, 2016|
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”" 3So 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↩