For four weeks in 2016, I was Artist in Residence during the Ness of Brodgar excavations, drawing and made sound recordings on site. My focus was on human activity – both the work of archeologists in the present and the traces of the Neolithic past. Since then I have been developing a film of images and sounds, exhibiting the work to date, and paid another brief visit to Orkney in January.
I have now returned for another six week residency to continue my project in more depth.
The dig is over and people who have worked closely together for the past 8 weeks are dispersing all over the world. The ‘goodbyes’ and ‘see you next year’ are quiet but the emotions are strong -unlike the theatre, where there is much noise but where people are already looking forward to their next job. I guess, like the activity they are engaged in, archaeologists take a long view. After all, there are still decades ahead for the Ness of Brodgar excavations, and the project will outlive most of us. It reminds me of Maurice Blanchot’s view that an artist’s work is their life’s work, not any individual piece of art work. From my point of view, my residency at the Ness is bringing together all the various interests of my past work, which emphasises the feeling of continuation, encompassing what has been achieved so far and whatever may be achieved in future.
Like the archaeologists, I will now be getting on with post excavation work, which means this blog will become intermittent.
So goodby to the Art Hut. See you later…
Mike talked about the way you see both a long period of time within a structure and a sudden moment. An instance of the latter being where a small pile of stones fell over and were left lying there. It is these flashes of a moment making a vivid connection to the past that interest me.
Yesterday was the last day for visitors to the dig. Soon all the trenches will be covered over. Before the rain set in, sandbags and tyres are placed round the trenches in readiness.
A fine day today, with less wind than usual means the tarpaulins are spread to cover the trenches easily
– with only the occasional billowing of black plastic.
Jim says the 3D photo modelling he is doing is beginning to be used in planning – and saves a lot of time where the excavation is chaotic and difficult to draw. It means they can do a simple plan and then superimpose his 3D model on top. Interesting how technology advances every year and its implications for the future of digging. (Jim’s contribution ‘From the trenches’ is in today’s Ness of Brodgar Dig Diary)
It is getting windier and colder, and tomorrow rain is forecast. This means that essentially it is the last day of the dig, before the site is covered over with tarpaulins and tyres, to protect the excavations until next year. Given the lack of time, everyone available is recruited to help clean and prepare Trench T so that it can be photographed.
In Trench T they are uncovering an Iron Age wall around a structure, which is built over, and through, the Neolithic. There must be many reasons why they chose to reuse the site, but perhaps one was that it commands a magnificent view all round. The panorama includes the Stenness Stones, Maeshowe, the Ring of Brodgar and several Iron Age broths.
It is the last week of the dig. There is a sense of quiet urgency to complete tasks, removing finds and ensuring records are up to date. I feel this too. Alongside my list of stuff to do, is an awareness of how much still remains to be done – and a wish to simply carry on painting, regardless of any sense of purpose. Maybe tomorrow…
Is the desire to connect to the past an old age thing? What exactly is the ‘Rapture of the Archive’? If I analyse my personal buzz (the hand that held/holds the crayon) will I understand others – why archaeologists dig, and essentially destroy, what they find in order to literally and metaphorically uncover the past? I’m sure many books have been written on this but it is my direct phenomenological experience, which leads me on in this project.
Open Day on site – so I used the need to stay in the Art Hut, to be available for visitors, as an opportunity to play with my collection of stones – now trying a Neolithic version of oil paint by mixing crushed stone with beef dripping. This is based on pure speculation that the ready access to cattle fat and silt stone might have been combined.
These ‘oil paint’ samples (bottom row) make a deeper colour than the dry chalk (top row) or when mixed with water (middle row). It will be interesting to see how the ‘oil’ colours dry, and whether beef dripping oxidises like linseed oil.
However the most vivid colour comes from a good ‘chalk’ colour directly on to stone. NB – must consult The Rock Lady about this.