Following a successful conference session. Mhairi Maxwell and I wrote up our thoughts about archaeology and contemporary art for Michael Shanks blog/journal site: Archaeolog. The original has a few dead links in it which I’ve trimmed out here.
This archaeolog reviews the session ‘An Artful Integration: Possible Futures for Archaeology and Creative Work’ which took place at TAG Bristol on December 17th 2010 and brought together archaeologists, artists, performers, composers and digital media creatives. The formal session summary further details available below:
Here, in three parts, the aims of the session, a summary of the main themes presented, and directions for future interrogation will be briefly introduced. Feedback and comments on where we should go from here are actively invited.
We (Hadley and Maxwell) seek positive ways of integrating and recognising the value of creative work into the archaeological discourse.
We designed the session as a mixture of contributions; those that showcase the benefits of creative work for archaeological practice, the presentation of the past and archaeological thinking (Bosch, Evans, Pascoe, Watson and Crewsden) and more reflexive engagements with the ideas that connect and divide archaeology from creative work (Cope, Dixon, Hadley, Maxwell).
It was hoped that further discussion would help the participants identify some of the issues that still make many archaeologists suspicious of creative work, in practice, the session developed in somewhat different, but positive, directions.
The session was a space for exhibition and criticism of artful integrations with archaeology and aimed overall to examine what steps may be necessary to recognise the value and utility of creative work for, and in, archaeology.
The four main issues raised were:
1. Archaeology is Art: Are there underplayed creative elements in accepted archaeological practice? Or ways in which archaeology can contribute to creative endeavour?
2. Transparent reasoning and rigour: The strength of formal text is its transparency of reasoning. Do creative works necessarily obscure reasoning?
3. Invisible humanity: What are the risks in portraying elements of the past invisible to archaeology?
4. Skills for creativity: How can archaeologists learn to interact with and interrogate creative work as a valued contribution to the field?
Main Themes Presented:
Follow this Flickr link to see photographs from the session: http://www.flickr.com/groups/1638287@N22/
Four main cross-over themes emerged from the session. These were:
1. The emotive, evoking, performative and communicative power of creative integration: putting things in an experiential context.
The success of different modes of creative integration were exhibited, including the employment of film (Bosch, Watson and Crewsdon), performance (Pascoe and Easterby), drawing (Evans), music (Watson and Crewsdon) and installation (Evans, Watson and Crewsdon). Watson and Crewsdon exhibited a film with a composed music score titled ‘Stones from the Sky’ (commissioned by Penrith and Eden Museum). This work expressed the knowledge gathered from traditional forms of archaeological data (papers, museum collections and fieldwork), following the sourcing, making and deposition of a Neolithic stone axe. They noted how the process of creating this installation prompted original research and it was clear how the resulting emotive interpretation fully contextualised the archaeological objects within whole landscapes visually and in the visitors’ imagination. The participatory performance of a noisy fire lighting ceremony by Red Earth (Pascoe and Easterby) in the courtyard of Bristol University Wills Memorial Building immersed people in togetherness, anticipation, unease and elation. The landscape, feelings and expectations of those who took part were effectively transformed through rhythmic movement, breathing, the playing of instruments (including horns and cymbals) and ultimately the lighting of fire.
2. Theories of creativity: the opening up of under-explored academic lines of discourse about our sensible relations with things.
It was noted by most contributors that archaeology has much to learn and gain from theories of creativity. Cope brought to attention Nietzsche’s thesis of the ‘Will to Power’ and how this provides an understanding of the innate creativity present in all objects enacted through ‘presencing’ and different ‘ways of seeing’ by the subject. This provides a move towards breaking down the subject/object dichotomy by understanding discursive and imaginative material-culture events and relations. Comparatively, Evans’ creative research as an artist is ‘presenced’ via a blog www.osteography.wordpress.com. Informed by Bourriaud’s theory of ‘Relational Aesthetics’, he is interested in modes of interactive representation and the resulting responses to his work, including drawings, paintings and writings. In this way, a dialogue between people and art work is manifested.
3. Creative contribution to interpretation in the field and in the institution, providing previously unrecognised and unresearched possibilities.
Evans tackles this directly in his working methodology, while the artist Bosch, during her residency in Çatalhöyük, Turkey, demonstrated how her stop-motion video of the moving arc of light in one of the reconstructed prehistoric houses lead to a previously unrecognised interpretation of the positioning of the roof-top entrances. After seeing this creative integration, the archaeologist Hodder recognised the moving projection of light on the walls as a sun-clock, which may explain the placement of these entrances. This, it was argued, would not have been recognised using formal methods of archaeological excavation and data collection. Indeed, every paper in the session introduced novel methodological possibilities for enquiring into or imagining the past, whether these were performative, haptic, visual, acoustic, theoretical or any combination of these.
4. A healthy critical awareness of artful integration.
Dixon asked ’Is it Good?’, cautioning that art is too often adopted by archaeologists uncritically, as a form of primary evidence or as a good way of communicating the results of archaeology to the public. This is patronising and the actual processes of artistic interpretation and practice, it was argued, need to be recognised by archaeologists. On this theme, Maxwell’s exploration of an archaeological site plan displayed on the wall in a project office proposed that, in fact, art and archaeology both adopt creative methodologies. Both art and archaeology produce open-ended embodiments of ‘Messy Thinking’ (Mitchell quoted in Cajori 1992); artworks which can, and should, be re-interpreted and re-analysed. These two contributions, and others in the session, considered different ways of thinking: are creative ways of thinking unique to art, or can they also be found in archaeology?
Contributions were eclectic and provoking, arousing exciting possibilities. It became clear that we are only at the start of a conversation, with many questions remaining unanswered. All of the contributors to the session exhibited the obvious value and utility of creative work and creative thinking for, and in, archaeology. Art and archaeology were recognised as having their own ontologies and skills (Dixon), though the boundaries are perhaps more blurred than previously realised (Maxwell). What remains unclear is how this relationship should progress and work practically:
1. How should this relationship between art and creative work be practically arranged in the field, in the office and in the museum? Should artful integration be considered its own discipline, or is its strength in its un-disciplining? Should museums and publications embrace more artful integrations and does this risk or alter the knowledge disseminated?
2. How can the varied creative methodologies of performative, haptic, visual, acoustic and theoretical be critically integrated into the archaeological discourse and recognised as a valuable contribution?
3. What does archaeology have to offer art? It has been brought to attention that we need to better understand the similarities and differences in artistic and archaeological practices.
Hadley began the session with an historical and contemporary examination of the ‘borderlands’ of artistic intervention in archaeology. Archaeologists’ fascination with art, and artists’ fascination with archaeology has a long history (Renfrew 2003). Now is the time for reflection on this relationship, with the hope of opening up positive possibilities for artful integration enriching our engagements, understandings, imaginings and disseminations of the past. Let’s embrace the future of creative artful integrations and not be scared to ‘Put our Pens Down’ (Pascoe) or revel in ‘Messy Thinking’ (Mitchell quoted in Cajori 1992)!
Our extended thanks to Dr. Timothy Taylor who chaired the session and for providing the photographs and video attached here. Also, thanks to all the participants for making such a vibrant and successful session.
Renfrew, C. 2003 Figuring it Out. Thames and Hudson: London
Cajori, M. 1992 Joan Mitchell, Portrait of an Abstract Painter, film 58 mins.
List of Contributors to Artful Integration at TAG 2010:
Andrew Cope (Plymouth University)
Aaron Watson and John Crewdson (Royal Holloway University of London)
Simon Pascoe and Caitlin Easterby (Red Earth)
James Dixon (UWE)