In 2016, I became an Artist in Residence at the Ness of Brodgar excavations, followed by second residency in 2017. Now I am back for my third residency on the dig.
My work is based in drawing and sound recordings made on site. The focus is on human activity – both the work of archeologists in the present and the traces of the Neolithic past. Outcomes to date are an ongoing film of images and sounds, severals exhibitions, a number of talks, and two conference papers..
It is the end of the third week and some archaeologists are leaving, which means making sure I draw and interview people before they go. Drawing portraits is a perfect way to have a sound recorder running to hear my sitter’s stories and views on the dig.
Then there are certain activities that only happen for a short time, while the expert is available – and I need more drawings of that aspect. Today it was taking samples for micromorphology.
It has been a long week. A full five days after the busy open day last Sunday. I think it shows in today’s drawings. They became increasingly scribbly.
This was compounded with my own sense of urgency to get as much as possible done before I take a week off next week. I am particularly unwilling to leave Trench Y where things are happening so quickly.
I just hope they finish the current sondage on Monday before I leave.
My relationship with the artefacts found on the dig.
I need to be clear about this. I am putting the thing into the context in which it was found. That means not only drawing a stone in the hole in which it has been excavated, but recording a conversation with the person who found it.
The stone may have wonderful Neolithic marks and I can suggest this but, for me, they are not important. Others will record them in detail. I am bearing witness to the human endeavour involved in finding the find.
Elsewhere on site today.
A long view of Trench T
Paperwork in Structure 8
It seems that for everyone the best laid plans are perpetually disrupted. This morning, one of the archaeologists told me that each night she makes plans for the next day, which dissolve almost as soon she arrives on site.
In Trench Y, where they are concentrating on finding the wall surrounding many of the structures, they have just found a whale bone, which is rare on the Ness. Naturally it is good to find an artefact, but it will delay progress in their search for the wall, while the area is cleared and the bone is photographed and lifted – an extremely delicate operation requiring the most expert hands. Then they will have to continue excavation very carefully to see if there is more.
I have given up making plans of any substance and take each day as it comes – being prepared for any incident presented to me. Like a young archaeologist proudly showing me his find of pottery.
Even the weather has a say in what I do. When it is windy like today, there is a need to be in relatively sheltered spots – although it also offers good opportunities to record sounds like the wind in the grass or waves on the loch.
And another watercolour of the sky.
A deeper sense of involvement on site today. Not that I don’t already feel immersed in the dig. The archaeologists are increasingly showing me what is going on – from sharing a find to explaining the process. Some things are so complex I cannot pretend to understand them but I do appreciate being included. On other occasions, the information feeds directly into my project.
While drawing Bruce, he enlightened me not only on the work in Structure 26 but on the essential destruction involved in archaeology, which is equally constructive in rescuing artefacts. This is a question that has been bothering me.
Mandy, in Trench T, is excavating a pot and explained its unusual composition, which is making it particularly fragile and unlikely to be lifted without disintegrating.
In the ongoing story of Trench Y, they have had to do ‘stepping’ on each side because the depth of the trench requires a limit on the height of any wall, for health and safety reasons.
And once again while spending time on an oil painting, I listened in to an exciting afternoon’s progress in Structure 1.
Don’t forget you can get all the Ness of Brodgar news in their daily Dig Diary and News from the Trenches at www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk
Yesterday was the first Open Day on the Ness of Brodgar site. We had over 200 visitors in the Art Hut, which meant going out to draw in the trenches was difficult. So I began a repeat of my ‘play’ with rocks that make marks – but even then I only managed two samples.
Today, by contrast, we only had 6 visitors in the Art Hut.
On site two groups of archaeology students arrived to take part in the dig and began work in areas where there is lots to clear, like Trench T.
Meanwhile in Trench Y, they are continuing to search for the edge of the wall that surrounded the whole site.
In the afternoon, the clouds were particularly attractive. The sky in Orkney is very big and I could happily spend time every day painting it in watercolour. Here are two versions of the same view, from the steps of the Art Hut – one on white watercolour paper and the other on Turner’s ‘blue’ paper, with the addition of white body paint.
I’m not sure which I prefer. Best to wait a few days to see them clearly…