In 2016, I became an Artist in Residence at the Ness of Brodgar excavations. At the end of my time on site, the Director asked me to continue for the foreseeable future – so I’ve been coming back each year since. This is now my fourth 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.
The dig is over for another year. The last two days involved packing up the Art Hut, while dodging in and out of the rain to draw and record the trenches being covered in sandbags, tarpaulin and tyres that will protect the archaeology until next season.
At the request of Martha ‘The Rock Lady’, I made a final piece of ‘artwork’ – marks made by two rocks, red sandstone and an ochre silt stone, on three stones from the spoil heap, using a variety of mediums.
Reading from left to right: 1. dry pigment directly on to the stone, 2. applied with water, 3. mixed with duck egg white, 4. duck egg yolk, 5. whole duck egg, 6. duck fat, 7. beef dripping. Two of the stones will spend the winter in a stone built outhouse, while the third comes home with me as a control. The idea is to see how they weather over time in an environment as near as possible to one of the Neolithic buildings where colour has been discovered on the walls. This is as close to being directly involved in the actual archaeology as I get. My main function is now recognised as a form of documentation recording the human activity on site.
So now I am on the ferry at the start of my long journey home. Once back in my studio I shall review the storyboard of my film and begin to work towards the final edit. Alongside that will be some serious reflection supported by reading that will guide the future of this long term project.
This blog will now pause until there is further news. Meanwhile news from the Ness of Brodgar will continue in the Dig Diary. My daily Drawing Journal and other news will be posted on Facebook at Karen Wallis Artworks, Twitter @KarenArtwork and Instagram at karenwallisart, and the current edit of the film can be viewed on Vimeo. You can also support either the Ness of Brodgar through crowdfunding or my residency by buying a print from my web site at www.karenwallis.co.uk
No writing today but lots of drawings. Here are a few:
Preparation for covering the Ness of Brodgar site. First rolling tyres to the side of the trenches.
Next piling up the sandbags.
While some of the archaeologists do paperwork.
And more treats for the diggers from Food Fairy Mary
Today is the last day available for excavation and planning continues all over the site. My drawing is of a young archaeologist doing a carefully measured drawing and balancing on a single stone to avoid damaging the delicate floor surface.
It’s been a day of trying to catch archaeologists to get last minute information at a time when they are also endeavouring to finish up their own loose ends. I find it difficult to interrupt them and hope that I exercise sufficient tact. But their generosity is amazing and they find the time to answer my questions and keep me up to date on the season’s progress. All these recordings are required to complete the final film for next year – so it is vital to have information that can round off the narrative.
I was also delighted to catch a few serendipitous snippets when recording background sound. While drawing Trench J this afternoon I was seated near the site shop and the place where visitors are greeted and offered basic information. In amongst the general hubbub was the odd sentence that will be perfect for my sound track.
I need to make a correction to yesterday’s blog. Brian who brings food for the diggers explained that he and his partner are no longer part of Orkney Zero Waste. They are now working independently as a not for profit organisation called Food Fairy Mary – a perfect name for the service they provide.
Tomorrow they will begin to cover the trenches – a time when I need to collect more drawings but at the same time have conversations with people not involved in the heavy lifting of sandbags and tyres. It could be a busy day…
The photo of my corner of the Art Hut represents half the artists’ space. Yesterday was Open Day and we had 100 visitors. As we can only fit in two or three people at one time, it was a busy day. The only drawing achieved was a quick sketch from the Art Hut doorway of three of the diggers during their tea-break.
It is now the last week of the dig and everybody is trying to get unfinished business cleared up before the trenches are covered over to protect them until next season. There is a lot of planning going on – and not in the sense of looking forward. Planning in archaeological terms means making a carefully drawn plan of a piece of the trench. Even though advanced technology can make detailed photographic records of the site, drawing is still an important element of the documentation. One of the archaeologists told me that there is currently some debate on whether drawing still serves any purpose. She personally feels that the subjective nature of drawing acknowledges the interpretive nature of archaeology, and is a way of passing on her thought process to the next person who works in that context. Obviously this appeals to me – as a combination of drawing and human perception.
So while the archaeologists were drawing, I engaged in some archaeological analysis in my own haphazard artist’s manner. Over the season Martha the ‘Rock Lady’ has been giving me little pots of ‘sweeties’ – pieces of silt stone, which I have been sorting into ones that make good marks on paper and putting those into small bags. They have now been graded according to colour and assembled into a colour chart.
The Ness of Brodgar dig relies on donations and support from many people. This does not always take the form of hard cash. Almost everyone on site is a volunteer and this is our method of support. Then there is Brian from the local Zero Waste charity, who comes every day to bring the diggers various food stuffs, including home-made hot soup and cakes made with ingredients that have been rejected for sale. These gifts are delicious and most appreciated – especially on a cold wet day.
If you, or someone you know, would like to make a donation the dig, this can be done online at: www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk/crowdfunder
The mood on site was sad today. The Director’s much loved dog Bryn, who I have drawn several times over the years, passed away after a long illness. There is a lovely tribute on the Dig Diary.
Added to this mournful atmosphere, a strong Orkney wind from the north was not conducive to drawing or sound recording outside. So I stayed in the Art Hut and recorded the sound of the wind whistling.
Then I drew my fellow Artist in Residence, Diane Eagles, making a basket out of Neolithic materials – willow stems woven with water iris cord. Following her residency last year making pots around the ideas of ‘Feast and Found’, this year Diane is working on both pots and weaving, and is looking at Apotropaic (to ward off evil) mark marking and the ritual placing of pots and objects.
No blog tomorrow as we have the day off ahead of the Open Day on Sunday