Friday, 30 September 2016

Assemblages

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.

video