NomadIT Conference Suite

TAG2010: 32nd annual meeting of the Theoretical Archaeology Group

Bristol, 17th-19th Dec 2010


An artful integration? Possible futures for archaeology and creative work

Location Wills 3.30
Date and Start Time 17 Dec, 2010 at 14:00


Patrick Hadley (Enkyad Heritage Media) email
Mhairi Maxwell (University of Bradford) email
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Short Abstract

This session aims to demonstrate the fantastic work that can come from bringing art, sound, performance and other creative work into archaeology. This integration can be seen in subject matter, method and theory. We hope to examine and improve the future for both creative work and archaeology.

Long Abstract

This session aims to examine what steps may be necessary to recognise the value and utility of creative work for and in archaeology.

Creative work (eg, visual and digital art, sound, performance, story) has often, but sporadically, been conducted in addition to archaeological work and many recognise its value, particularly for wider audiences. Formal text remains the accepted norm for archaeological work and there is a sense that anything different is epistemologically inferior.

Formal archaeological texts and creative work process ideas in varied ways; text's strengths are describing, quantifying, explaining, dividing... Creative works evoke, embody, resonate, represent...

Like many archaeologists, we believe that the ideas engaged by creative works cannot be effectively processed by formal texts. Neuro-psychology suggests this may be due to the ways 'intuitive intelligences' operate in the brain. The whole of archaeology, from fieldwork to interpretation, can benefit from engagement with creative work.

We seek positive ways of integrating creative work into the archaeological discourse. Creative contributions will be particularly welcome.

Issues that may stimulate contributors include:

Archaeology is Art: Are there underplayed creative elements in accepted archaeological practice? Or ways in which archaeology can contribute to creative endeavour?

Transparent reasoning and rigour: The strength of formal text is its transparency of reasoning. Do creative works necessarily obscure reasoning?

Invisible humanity: What are the risks in portraying elements of the past invisible to archaeology?

Skills for creativity: How can archaeologists learn to interact with and interrogate creative work as a valued contribution to the field?

Chair: Tim Taylor

This session is closed to new paper proposals.


The borderlands: a rough guide

Author: Patrick Hadley (Enkyad Heritage Media)  email
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Short Abstract

This introductory talk will highlight some of the past and ongoing work at the creative edges of archaeology. Some key themes and questions for the contributors (including the audience) will be introduced to help guide later discussions.

Long Abstract

The interfaces between creative work and archaeology are complex, difficult to map and, perhaps, worthy of a history of their own. In the earlier phases we are, in fact, chronicling the divorce of archaeology from creative work as archaeology endeavours to assert its identity as a science. This session, however, traces its explicit roots to attempts to reintegrate creative work into archaeology from the 1980's onwards. Some highlights of this work will be shown and the key issues of the session will be put in context.

Attendees will be asked to assess for themselves, these various creative endeavours in terms of their value and utility to archaeologists and the 'consumers' of archaeological work. This will hopefully frame the main contributions within the themes and provide a foundation for fruitful discussion of the future of the relationship and the scope for integrating creative work into archaeology and bringing it in from the cold.

Looking through Zarathustra's eyes: re-vitalising objects through the lens of Nietzsche's will to power

Author: Andrew Cope (Plymouth University)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper intends to revisit Nietzsche’s principle of Will to Power in order to recover its potential as a re-vitalising methodology for the analysis of objects – particularly as the engagement is being reshaped through a post-conventional shift that is placing a fresh emphasis on, what Jane Bennett (in her book Vibrant Matter) describes as, ‘the thing-side of affect.’

Long Abstract

This paper intends to revisit Friedrich Nietzsche's principle of Will to Power in order to recover its potential as a re-vitalising methodology for the analysis of objects.

Using my own copy of Thus Spoke Zarathustra as a heuristic device, I propose to introduce Nietzsche's idea of a productive interplay between entities, by discussing the book's cover artwork, as it continues the association between Nietzsche and Caspar David Friedrich's iconic picture of The Wanderer above a Sea of Mist.

This poetic painting, which (true to its title) features a solitary figure gazing ambivalently at a landscape, shrouded in a fog, will allow me to discuss subject/object relations, in terms of some enduring 'ways of seeing'. These familiar interpretive possibilities will first be unravelled, and then reconciled, as the discussion moves away from the stasis of Friedrich's rendered scenario, and towards the autopoiesis of Will to Power.

Whilst the paper will lead with a didactic approach to object perception then, it will also tease out the 'thing-side' of affect through some 'presensing' of an image and the book object itself as it supports and appeals to that image. In this sense, the paper might be best understood as a strategic attempt to foreground the latent creativity that shapes all material culture events, through the involvement of, rather than a deferral to, the disciplined variant of imaginative 'expression' that we call art.

Is It good? A practical perspective on the art-archaeology relationship

Author: James Dixon (UWE)  email
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Short Abstract

As recently stated by Grayson Perry, it is now almost 100 years since Marcel Duchamp effectively rendered the question ‘Is is art?’ entirely redundant; the only question that needs to be asked of art today is ‘Is it good?’. The same may be said of bringing artistic perspectives and practical methods into archaeology.

Long Abstract

Recent discussion in this area has been agnostic at best and, at worst, has bordered on the romantic, with the contributions of artists accepted uncritically and as, patronisingly, a useful way to convey the results of archaeology to a wider audience. Artists appear in archaeological thought as quasi-magical conveyors of 'truths' archaeologically invisible, we peer-review our colleagues yet present artistic responses to sites and landscapes as if they were primary evidence.

All of this serves to obscure the true worth of artists and archaeologists working together in ways that recall the interdependence of surrealist art and anthropology in the 1920s, sadly lost in the grey mists of post-war science. Appreciating that artists are more than just illustrators or camera operators and that archaeologists do more than rigorously apply an unchanging method to whatever unfortunate object falls into their path, perhaps we can investigate how, in practice, we can prompt each other to new lines of questioning, new subjects and, in the spirit of this session, new outputs and forms of dissemination in a relationship that works both ways.

Based on three years embedded, as a contemporary archaeologist, in the public art programme of a new shopping centre development in Bristol, this paper seeks to outline a useful practical relationship between artists and archaeologists that stands up to academic critique while also reinvigorating the exciting boundary blurring and disciplinary radicalism of 100 years ago, asking of the bringing together of art and archaeology not 'Is is worthwhile?' but 'Is it good?'

Stones from the Sky

Authors: Aaron Watson  email
John Crewdson (Royal Holloway University of London)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper combines a performance and discussion of 'Stones from the Sky', an evocative multimedia interpretation of Neolithic Cumbria, north-west England.

Long Abstract

Creative expression allied to archaeology offers both a means of communicating ideas to a wider audience, and also the potential to develop new approaches to research. For example, the traditional classification of prehistoric monuments and artefacts is arguably perpetuated through the static and two-dimensional printed media through which they are portrayed. In contrast, time-based audio-visual expressions are able to capture and convey embodied multisensory encounters with objects, sites and landscapes, and can potentially renew interpretations.

'Stones from the Sky' is a film that was commissioned by Penrith and Eden Museum, and is on permanent display to the public alongside Neolithic artefacts from the region. It is a creative and theatrical response to the archaeological record, featuring the journey of a stone axe from its mountain source in the Lake District. While the film was developed as an art installation, it is also founded upon evidence. Its production drew upon original research, archaeological papers, museum collections, as well as the results of a local community fieldwalking project.

'Stones from the Sky' not only evokes the wider archaeological landscape and enlivens existing interpretations, it also makes space for a visitor's own imagination and emotional reflection upon the past.

Is there more to prehistoric Art than archaeology?

Author: Eva Bosch  email
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Short Abstract

Art history can be a description of borrowed influences and formal parallels. The creative process itself is not so limited, offering the potential for real empathy and engagement with human realities. Can one differentiate between the two and bridge the gap between the subjective “discovery” of the artist and the objective insights of archaeology?

Long Abstract

During summer 2007 I was the artist-in-residence in Catalhöyük/Turkey.

The aim of my project was to investigate in practice and in theory how an artist's interpretation can uncover new clues in the meaning of prehistoric painting. Fine Artists are open to lateral thinking unconstrained by academic conventions. Their reading of artefacts can suggest wider and complementing interpretations than the archaeological and anthropological ones. Professor Hodder, for example, applies the new dimensions of contextual archaeology to his conclusions, allowing subjective meaning as a tool for clarification. In the same way, "the fine artist" can contribute fruitfully by engaging with the problems and difficulties from the perspective of the maker-of-images.

Painters like Picasso and Miró made strong comments after seeing the images in the prehistoric caves of northern Spain. They stated that what followed was decadence. With such interpretation the prehistoric artist is no longer alone, nor isolated from the possibility of analysis by the silence of the historical record. Picasso's construction of the "Demoiselles," for example, revealed a profound and direct dialogue with the work of the African artist. Cubism can become a window through which we can read prehistoric painting.

Two days in Catalhöyük, and I found something that the archaeologist recognized immediately but via his/her methodology would not have found, namely a sun clock.

The issue is not art versus archaeology but a merging of the two that could argue for a new specialism in archaeological collaboration, bringing further light to the understanding of the past.

Look into my face and tell me what you see...

Author: Paul Evans  email
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Short Abstract

Paul Evans, Leverhulme Trust Artist in Residence, Cardiff University School of History and Archaeology (HISAR) will present works from his online sketchbook:; and discuss how they relate to the concept of ‘relational aesthetics’ as proposed by Nicolas Bourriaud.

Long Abstract

During Evans’ residency within HISAR, he has created over 36 drawings and paintings, along with written reflections on themes prompted by his creative research; responses to experiences and discussions with postgraduates and academics. He would like to present examples from this body of work, not only to gauge response to the drawings within a different context and from a different audience, but also to test ideas of engagement outside of the traditional gallery context (Evans staged a traditional exhibition at the mid-point of the residency, but his drawings and paintings have mainly been presented via his blog or online sketchbook:

This form of interactive presentation is essentially an experiment in relational aesthetics (as proposed by Nicolas Bourriaud). What the blog offers, by inviting comment, is an opportunity to exhibit work that would normally be received within the traditional show/see pairing in a context that has (arguably) become more associated with the promote/receive/authoritarian conditions that surround media such as television.

In Relational Aesthetics (1998) Bourriaud quotes Serge Daney: ‘all form is a face looking at us’. The blog offers a particular form or face to the world, one that has human vulnerability yet is viewed from a distance. This face still urges response; in the case of the artist a response to the work, which exists somewhere between, in Bourriaud’s words, the look-at-me and the look-at-that. Evans is interested in further possibilities for interactive engagement and in the creative practices that might flourish when faces meet and presentation/projection becomes dialogue.

Put your pen down: the performative experience as a vehicle for alternative archaeological interpretation

Authors: Simon Pascoe  email
Caitlin Easterby  email
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Short Abstract

Red Earth’s performance work in prehistoric landscapes can be contextualised as an experiential, phenomenological exercise, stimulating new interpretations of archaeological research materials and possibly offering an insight into the mindset of our predecessors, with implications affecting our analysis and assessment of prehistoric cultural mores.

In order to illustrate this idea, Red Earth co-director Simon Pascoe invites delegates to take part in a participatory performative experience, taking place outdoors and in response to a selected location. Unlike a similar public experiment at WAC in Dublin, artist and delegates will create this event together.

Long Abstract

Performance introduces us to other possible worlds. It catalyses the imagination, inducing an atmospherically charged non-rational response to physical and imagined space, removing us from our preconditioned mindset, and freeing us to engage experientially with a liminal meta-reality. Sound, voice, gesture, and fire, all affect our subconscious perception of space and, in contrast to our normal intellectualised response, help reveal an alternative communicational reality.

Many Neolithic sites indicate ritualistic activity, liminalities embedded with meaning, possibly reflecting an ancient pattern of unbroken human interface with a sacred landscape. Fixed as we are in our 21st century mindset, performance/ritual can nevertheless take us to similar boundaries: standing between physical and invisible realities, conscious and subconscious, the mundane and the Other.

In this session, delegates will be introduced to the liminality of performance/ritual, by together developing a simple public manifestation, a ritualised response to site. Using a selective vocabulary of sound, vision and action we will explore shifts in perception via sensory immersion in a transformed landscape.

The exercise articulates the essence of unwelt : that all human and non-human animals have their own specific worldview, in which mind and world are inseparable. By analogy we may begin to build a reconceptualised world-model paralleling our predecessors' mindset.

If we remember that performance in whatever context is categorically a contemporary experience, and avoid any erroneous assumptions, site-specific performance may provide an effective methodology for analogous interpretation, enabling us to better imagine prehistoric cultural responses to both the physical and the imagined landscape.

This session is closed to new paper proposals.