Accepted Paper:

What do caves do? Heterotopic space and Upper Palaeolithic cave art  


Philip Tonner (University of Glasgow)

Paper short abstract:

This paper argues that cave space is heterotopic: caves represent, contest and reverse the relations constitutive of cultures. Human experience in caves reveals that such relations are imposed on the world and because of this the cave enables the creative opening of worlds through art.

Paper long abstract:

Shortly after their appearance in Europe modern humans entered deep caves and produced art. They did so for around 20,000-25,000 years. This long period of human prehistory that is marked by the steady cultural appropriation of caves is unique: outside Europe caves were mostly avoided while in Europe the few painted caves seem to have been visited only on rare occasions. This prompts two questions: what is it about a cave that makes it significant for human beings? And further, what do caves do in order to enable their appropriation in art? My paper will explore these questions. I will argue that cave space is heterotopic: cave space is central to a culture but such space represents, contests and reverses the relations constitutive of the culture itself (Foucault). Caves are uncanny, numinous spaces; because of this they enable human beings to produce art as a world opening event (Heidegger). Human experience of the uncanny reveals that we are 'not at home in the world' (Heidegger): because of this we are bidden to create human cultural worlds. In essence, I will argue that because the cave is heterotopic it enables the production of world defining art: the cave enables art to occur as a bringing forth of worlds. In conclusion, I will suggest that it is because caves are heterotopic and their art world-forming that they can be considered 'sacred spaces': that is, the art on the cave wall puts up for decision the highest values of the group (Heidegger).

Panel S20
Going underground: caves, science and theory