In response to a comment by a-n blogs on Twitter: Do Artists in Residence need a plan? I have decided the answer is no. The whole point of being an Artist in Residence is to interact with the host context and for that you need an open mind, just as you do when meeting people. I have regarded every residency as a leap in the dark, which is why I resisted reading anything on archaeology before coming to the Ness of Brodgar. Although the first encounter may be daunting, to see uncluttered by preconceptions is to see with clarity.
Each day I arrive on site not knowing what I will do. Today is my 55th day since I began the residency in 2016. The morning was cold and, being the end of the week, I was tired. But by wandering round the site something caught my eye – as it usually does. The previous four days have been about the mundane tasks of uncovering the trenches and cleaning them up. Then a new trench was started and another extended, which all involves fairly brutal work with mattocks and shovels. In contrast today I focussed on two intricate and extremely delicate areas of the archaeology.
The hearths in two separate structures very different at first glance but sharing an amazing rich variety of colours in the burnt material. Difficult to excavate and difficult to paint.
Finally I saw a large cattle jaw bone lifted out of a structure – so fragile it was expected to disintegrate when moved. But with great skill it came out in one piece.
A good day without a plan…
Two trenches are uncovering new ground. Trench J has been extended and today they are starting to find bits of pottery.
The other is a completely new trench by the loch edge. This is a colour sketch that will be used behind the drawing below, when it becomes a film still.
By sitting low down in the grass, I was pleased to get some sound of actual wind in the grass, rather than noise in the microphone.
I have become aware of the need to achieve a balance:
- Maintaining a public presence on site in the Art Hut
- Keeping abreast of developments on site in drawing and sound
- Maintaining a log of everything I make
- Making lists of stuff to do off site in the evening
- Then in the evening scanning, editing images and this blog
- And finding time to think…
People are asking what my plan is this year. Presumably because it is my third season there is an assumption that there is a clear route, which is far from the case. If I have a plan, it is simply to continue – putting one foot in front of the other. But alongside this gradual perambulation I need to allow time for reflection.
In I Swear I Saw This Michael Taussig says: “The way I see it, a plan of research is little more than an excuse for the real thing to come along”. So I am hoping that my ‘research’ in the form of drawing and conversation will throw something up. Last year the ‘rapture of the archive’ moment happened out of the blue, when I handled a worked stone that appeared to be something a Neolithic person drew with. I really just need to wait and watch.
One of the archaeologists suggested perhaps some group conversation might be interesting. That could be good if it is not to formal and forced.
Meanwhile today’s drawing of a team beginning to extend Trench J could be seen as a metaphor for my situation…
The second day of preparations for excavation, uncovering Trenches T and J. The tyres are removed using a long line or people to roll them to where they will be stacked.
The tarpaulin is pulled from the trench and laid out on the grass to be folded up.
Other more arduous tasks are cleaning out water, earth and dried grass – and, after the tarpaulin is removed, weeding and cutting the grass round the edges of the trench.
Tomorrow the site will open for visitors and excavation will begin in earnest. Time to reflect on the direction of my work this year…
The first drawing of the day. The first actions for the archaeologists is uncovering the site by removing all the car tyres that have been holding the tarpaulins down.
This is followed by bailing out very unpleasant water.
Finally the tarpaulins are removed.
It’s all very hard work and I feel privileged to be able to stand and draw – rather than get dirty like the rest of the workers…