The current project: Deep mapping an historic landscape in North Wales as part of studying Art-and-Archaeology for “continuing professional development”, but mainly just out of interest. I once considered doing archaeology as a career but decided in the end to do something else; and then decided to be an artist – but I’ve always kept an awareness that very old things are lurking within the landscape, on the surface or just beneath it.
“The deep map recognises the slippery identity of place, and seeks to visualise the multiple identities that go towards constructing the human experience of place.” (Anon 2015 – Geospatial Humanities website http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/lakesdeepmap/the-project/gis-deep-mapping/ )
I never realised that A-and-A is an actual thing, a sub-genre of contemporary archaeology. I never realised that Contemporary Archaeology is a Thing, with its’ own jargon and introspective analytical literature. But I’m learning fast.
About two-thirds of the way into the project I thought I had better read the seminal tome on the subject of deep mapping: ‘Prairyerth’ by William Least Heat-Moon. I’m about half way through it, and although it’s very interesting I’m not sure that I’m enjoying it. It’s an in-depth account of the author’s investigations into a single county on the Kansas prairie, with interviews, documentary research and a lot of walking. It is not a book to read at speed: it needs to be savoured – or plodded through. What bothers me at the moment is the feeling that quite a few of the people (and they are/were real people) in it are not very pleasant, and in trying to be objective the author is coming over as a bit of a voyeur. I’ve put the book down for a week or so, and am not sure whether I’ll pick it up again. I ought to give it the benefit of the doubt, and carry on with it – all 460 grammes of it. (Over a pound weight. For a paperback.)
The end of the writing is in sight at last – having spent an unnecessarily large amount of time on doing 1500 (ish) words about my project I have almost, almost got to the point where it might be sort of finished. It really has been extraordinarily difficult to compress everything I want to say into the official college format for assessment. I’ve got enough information in my head to write a thesis, never mind a short essay.
As part of the symptomatology of Lockdown Mental Paralysis I allowed myself to become obsessed with online research, and then of course I couldn’t bear not to put it into the essay. And then I had to take it all out. And put some of it back. And take it all out again. And look online for replacements. I have developed a strong sympathy for the seventeenth century antiquarian John Aubrey, whose data were stored on slips of paper scattered around his room, most of them annotated with notes to self – “find out more” “ask about this”.
“As we began to turn the new data into maps, and then into spreads, they pushed us to go out and collect more stuff. The mapping drove the thinking, drove the collecting, drove the design; and all these things drove the mapping, pushing us into new subjects, forcing us to find or collect new data, and…it didn’t stop.” Denis Wood writing about deep mapping in the 1980s. (Reference available on request. I am suffering from reference-typing-overload.)
The graphic component of the deep map has reached a point where it’s just about finished and can rest for a bit. Plenty of space on the paper for more work if required. Work in Progress photograph below.
The late Clifford McLucas formulated a ten-point manifesto for deep mapping, and suggested that the outcome should have three components: a graphic element, which should be large; a database; a time-based media component.
Based on minimum ‘live’ visual research in March I started to make a large painting of part of the study area and failed completely. One of my unexpected reactions to the lockdown was a complete suspension of my critical faculties – classical anxiety symptom in disguise, I suppose. As a result, the painting was a complete failure and I have nowadapted my practice to avoid the Big Decisions – colour, composition – and gone for black and white. Reviewing my photographs of the original month’s work now, they don’t look so bad in detail, but the overall effect is mush. Also, I wanted a long thin painting but the painting wanted to be square.
As a record of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, it’s fair to say that this blog is not a success. My physical surroundings haven’t changed much: life in the countryside goes on, the ‘journey’ to my studio involves walking a hundred metres or so up the garden, the kitchen cupboards still contain the remains of the winter stores (although I am getting a bit tired of lentils). The other stuff is, well, something else. And my ability to concentrate has been pretty poor as a result.
So, no regular updates on progress on the project; no regular photographs of progress on the project; no regular progress on the project.
But it is all coming together slowly, and should (I hope) be finished well in time for the extended deadline at the end of July.
To be continued …
In what seems like another life, but was only a month ago, I walked along the line of the Roman road above Rowen (North Wales) making research drawings for the last part of the course – “Using arts-based practice to explore a body of archaeological material” – in my case, using techniques derived from deep mapping projects to make paintings of the sites around Bwlch y Ddeufaen . Grand(iose) ideas and lots of plans for return visits to gather more information. Ha ha ha. The work is now 100% from memory.
But in a strange fit of prescience, I took photographs of closed gates and barbed wire …