The analysis of material processes is a key component of contemporary art practice. Process has not been foregrounded in much anthropological analysis. The session analyzes material and processual accounts of archaeological imagery, and argues that focusing on image making accesses world making.
An interest in art and imagery has been part of archaeological research ever since the antiquarian paradigm. Traditionally, archaeological art has been interpreted in representational terms, that is art or imagery is believed to refer to or simply to signify something. This approach has tended to direct attention away from the material character of images, or the art in itself. Such reasoning not only downplays the importance of the material (which is of course the core business of archaeologists) but also its potency and potentiality. Rather than thinking of art or imagery as something static, and in terms of representation, we want to move beyond these narrow confines. New understandings of art and imagery emerge from processual understanding of materials and materialities (e.g. Barrett and Bolt 2013; Bynum 2011; Jones 2012; Lucas 2012, Alberti et. al. 2013, Ingold 2013; Gosden and Malafouris 2015), and an exploration of the implications of a symmetry between image making and world making (e.g Alberti 2012; Back Danielsson et. al. 2012; Jones and Cochrane Forthcoming). This panel welcomes contributions from all disciplines who wish to explore the processual qualities and ontological dimensions of art and imagery, and how such perspectives might alter our accounts of art and imagery both in the past and in the present.
This panel aims to foster dialogue between archaeologists, anthropologists and contemporary art practitioners.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Enacting the world: Process and reality in ancient Egyptian images of nature
This paper suggests a processual understanding of bowls and dishes from ancient Egypt carrying Nile imagery. The theoretical interpretation is supplemented by considerations of the ancient Egyptian image-concept of seshemu, which conceptualises images as a 'leader' or 'guide' of what they depict.
Ancient Egyptian objects with depictions of Nile landscapes exemplify a number of parallels between image-making and world-making. This is particularly true of the so-called 'fish dishes' and 'marsh-bowls' from the Middle and Late Bronze Age which can be understood as presenting a processual coming into being of the fertile environment of the Nile. An emphasis on flux and movement belying the apparently fixed and brittle nature of the objects is evident from the conceptual affordances offered by the materials, manufacture, shapes and decoration of the objects, as well as the likely practices in which they were involved. Drawing inspiration from a suggestion by Alberti (2012: 21), such relational connections to the natural world and its coming into being are 'not an analogue or metaphor, but are themselves enactments of it'.
To supplement such a theoretical reading, the paper further draws on the ancient Egyptian image-concept of seshemu, from a root meaning 'to lead' or 'to guide'. The encounter between the modern notion of matter as processual and the ancient concept of (ritual) images as 'leading' or 'guiding' what they depict yields insights of potential interest beyond the ancient Egyptian material.
Creating Experience. How playing with clay can help you loose your mind
The experience of modelling clay raises questions about the validity of Cartesian and Aristotelian divisions of mind from body, matter from form. Clay's plasticity facilitates the emergence of an alternative ontological position in which thinghood and personhood are mutable and interrelated.
Aristotle divided things into the matter of which they are made and the form that matter takes. Decartes separated the mind from the body. From art, architecture and design to psychology and cognitive science, these schisms have had an enormous influence on Western culture. I want to show that playing in a serious manner with clay can not only challenge Aristotelian and Cartesian divisiveness but can also bring forth a more dynamic description of the world in which minds, people and things are in a state of perpetual reconfiguration.
I will present a series of examples from my own experiences of modelling clay to show how, by paying close attention to the process of sculpting from the perspective of Material Engagement Theory (Malafouris 2013), I can create a detailed description of a mutable sense of agency and of self in which intention is experienced as a systemic phenomenon rather than as a property of the person. I will show how this radical ontological re-positioning has important implications for understanding how meaning emerges from artistic engagement. In so doing, I wish also to demonstrate that playing with clay can be used in an investigative manner - as a way of thinking about thinking and as a tool for material conceptualisation.
Malafouris, L. How Things Shape the Mind: A Theory of Material Engagement. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2013.
Starting from a dot. Imagery making traditions in Iberian prehistoric art.
This paper draws on contrasting rock art traditions that coexisted in north-west Iberia from the Neolithic. It explores the means by which different processes of giving form and manipulating matter bring together evidence about the essence of opposing, yet complementary, worlds.
Rock is both the backdrop and the raw material for the creation of prehistoric art on natural formations. Insights into manufacturing processes, from the techniques and raw materials employed to the arrangement of motifs on the rock face may help unveiling parts of the worlds to which different stylistic traditions were attached. North-western Iberia is a particularly interesting to study this question for it is the area of convergence of two major, and partly contemporary, European prehistoric art traditions - Atlantic Art and Schematic Art paintings - that echo different supra-regional connections. The former appear as carvings on open-air granite outcrops, is an eminently abstract style dominated by curvilinear motifs and its distribution spreads along the Atlantic façade. The latter is typically painted on rock shelters, it is characterised by the depiction of the human figure and is mostly found across western Mediterranean regions. Coincidentally, the transition area between the two corresponds to the limits between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean biogeographical areas of Europe.
This paper will examine how the dialogue between matter and materials in the imagery creating process incorporates the essence of each of these rock art traditions.
"Guldgubbar" as entangled material practices
In this paper I will explore how image making accesses world making through a discussion of a Scandinavian archaeological material called "guldgubbar". "Guldgubbar" are tiny figures made of thin gold foil and they belong to a part of the Scandinavian Late Iron Age (AD 550-1050).
Gold foil figures are only known from Scandinavia. They date to c. AD 550-800, that is, to the period before the more well-known Viking Age (AD 800-1050). Gold foil figures are tiny (c. 1-2.5cm) and they weigh less than one gram. Despite their small size, the figures may be very detailed in their execution. A few may further be highly stylized, and some figures have been manipulated (e.g. crumpled up). The thin gold foils may show human-like single figures, couples, and from one place of discovery, also animals. In Swedish the figures are called "guldgubbar". This notion entered into books in the eighteenth century, and it has persisted ever since. Despite a great variety and being a multi-facetted material in terms of execution, size, gold content, treatment, geographical location, and dating, all figures are treated as one and the same material: "guldgubbar". In line with this categorisation, researchers have sought to find the real function of the "guldgubbar", what they represent, and express the view that the symbolic system of the figures has not yet been solved. While these images may well represent, and have symbolic values, such interpretations follow traditional archaeological epistemic and ontological norms that reduce complexity and seek closure. In this presentation, I instead start from the assumption that the "guldgubbar", can be seen as to be continuously in the making, where Karen Barad's concept of intra-action and her agential realist ontology are especially helpful to illuminate the open-ended and generative character of the figures.
Neolithic stamps in the Balkans: material and processual account of the Neolithic image making
Stamps are some of the most visually striking yet enigmatic tools found at Neolithic settlements across the Balkans. This paper explores the vibrancy of image making that stems from stamps' and imprints' material properties, and from human entanglements with them.
Stamps, stamp-seals or pintaderas are some of the most visually striking yet enigmatic tools found at Neolithic settlements across the Balkans: while many have been preserved across different sites in SE Europe, their imprints remain absent from archaeological records. Previous studies on stamps have focused on their typological classification and a stylistic comparison of their geometric motifs, while at the same time speculating on their functional significance, origins and chronologies. The analysis of material processes associated with imprinting, on the other hand, has been thoroughly overlooked.
In the light of new research on processual understanding of materials, "thing-power", and the symmetrical relationship between image making and world making (e.g. Bennett 2010; Conneller 2011; Ingold 2013; Jones 2012; Jones & Alberti 2013), this paper explores the vibrancy of image making that stems from stamps' and imprints' material properties, and from human entanglements with them. In doing so, it demonstrates a dynamic relationship between tools, imprints and people, and shows that the meaning of stamps and their imprints may be found in the constant flux of becoming, changing and negotiating; through distinct performative processes in which people and tools were engaged as one functional unit.
Cosmopolitcs of a wooden plate. Spondylus spp. in the Peruvian Northern coast during the Late Intermediate Period.
This paper analyses the role of the Spondylus through the materiality, iconography, archaeological context, and performative use of a wooden plate, suggesting that this shell have deep implications for Chimu people, going beyond the political field and establishing cosmopolitical relationships.
The Spondylus spp. shell was one of the most valued imported goods in the Peruvian Northern coast during the Late Intermediate Period. Nevertheless, this conch has been studied using mainly colonial and Inka sources, rather than sources from this time and region. This paper analyses the socio-political and cosmological role of the shell through a local piece, a wooden plate of Chimu origin, which despite been mentioned in the specialized literature has been left unanalyzed. Studying the materiality, iconography, archaeological context, and performative use of this object, the paper proposes that this plate depicts the interaction between two worlds through the harvest of Spondyus spp.: the human one, and another where the human order has seemingly been turned around. This analysis suggests that the harvest, exchange, public exhibition, and ritual use of the Spondylus spp. have deep socio-political and cosmological implications for the people of the Peruvian Northern Coast: through these activities they interacted with foreign people and beings, going beyond the political field and establishing cosmopolitical relationships.
Art before Plato: the carved stone balls of Northeast Scotland
Functionality and symbolism dominate the archaeological analysis of artefacts; the legacy of Platonic thought. The paper will examine a pre-Platonic approach to form-in-motion: the forming of Neolithic carved stone balls.
Notions of functionality and symbolism dominate the archaeological analysis of artefacts; artefacts are generally either regarded as functional or symbolic objects. Apart from the obvious dichotomy evident in these characterisations, these descriptions of artefacts also tend to close down or fix the artefact: they assume that artefacts are fashioned for specific clearly defined purposes. Such a view presents the artefact as an object in stasis, whose form is wholly determined by human intentionality.
The carved stone balls of Northeast Scotland are numerous in number (there are over 400 of these objects known), but they defy easy description and classification. Since these objects first received archaeological attention and entered museum collections they have puzzled archaeologists. As curiosities, carved stone balls have been adopted as signifiers of regional identity as public sculptures in several Northeast towns, and in public squares in Scotland more generally; they have also been the subject of analysis by diverse groups, including artists and mathematicians.
Archaeologists, and other interested scholars, have relentlessly applied the logic of functionality and symbolism to these artefacts, with few credible results. The aim of this paper is to instead think with carved stone balls. In doing so, I will argue that we are better considering carved stone balls as materials-in-motion, whose form comes to take the shape it does through a dynamic intra-action between material and maker. I will argue that what marks these artefacts out is not what they are, but what they achieve.
Seeking to make links between art practice, 3D printing, new imaging technologies, object itineraries and processes of mediation and remediation the paper will explore ideas about plasticity in relation to digital aesthetics.
…plastic is the very idea of its infinite transformation; as its everyday name indicates, it is ubiquity made visible. [It is] a miraculous substance: a miracle is always a sudden transformation of nature. Plastic remains impregnated throughout with this wonder: it is less a thing than the trace of a movement.
- Roland Barthes, Mythologies, 1957.
Plastic ever outplays its own entropy, always to find order in its fluid forms. It is little surprise plastic has its own entry in Barthes' classic collection of everyday myths. Writing in the 1950s it was the everyday consumption of plastic things that provided the landscape for a new way of thinking, prompting pop art, pop music, and cultural plasticity of all kinds.
This paper will explore ideas of plasticity and art; of an ever malleable form and consider a relationship to the omni-unspecificity of digital technologies. It will seek to explore questions in art practice around mediation and remediation; of copies, scans, derivations, reconstructions, and virtual models.
We might think of 3D printing and new imaging technologies as 'clean' tools, however the paper will explore the dirty aspects of the process, considering the spoil heaps and the paradata paradox of these objects. The paper will seek to explore an object itinerary of an inherently skeuermorphic product.
The closing line of Barthes' essay on plastic is eerily prophetic: 'The hierarchy of substances is abolished: a single one replaces them all: the whole world can be plasticized, [...] even life itself since, we are told, they are beginning to make plastic aortas'.
Rock art as process: Iberian Late Bronze Age 'warrior' stelae as a case study
In this paper I combine a processual approach with digital imaging technologies (e.g. RTI, close range photogrammetry) to the study of rock art carvings. Focus will be placed on the dynamic interplay between people, tools and the rock surface.
Formal approaches to rock art traditionally focused on meaning and representation. Rock art images and panels were treated as static representations of symbolic frameworks while their materiality and active role in cultural production were overlooked. Rock art is the product of the dynamic interplay between people, tools and the rock surface. The properties of the rock panel have the capacity to shape rock art production as much as the skill and knowledge held by the engraver/painter and the social context in which these engagements take place. Furthermore, rock art panels may accrue complex biographies via multiple engagements.
Here I combine a processual approach with digital imaging technologies (e.g. RTI, close range photogrammetry) to the study of rock art carvings as a way forward to address these questions. By focusing on Iberian warrior stelae as process (how they were made, reworked, etc.), relevant details emerge: despite iconographic standardisation there is variability in the techniques and procedures deployed which are linked to the interplay between the stone, the skill of the carver and her/his knowledge of local rock art traditions; stelae can be reworked at later stages and reused in a variety of ways, opening up a debate about the temporality of rock art traditions.
Beyond Repair: Iron Age 'Kintsugi' from East Yorkshire
This paper uses a comparison with the Japanese art of repairing ceramics, kintsugi, to consider the motivations behind repairs on a very different group of metal objects from Iron Age East Yorkshire. In both cases, repairs are much more than the restoration of broken object to a functional state.
Kintsugi ("golden joinery") is the Japanese art of mending broken ceramics using lacquer mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum. This type of repair can create a striking visual effect and adds value to pots, as well as restoring them to their functional states. This value is acquired via a specifically Japanese aesthetic that sees the wear, defects and patina associated with ageing not as flaws but as positive characteristics.
This paper uses the philosophical framework within which kintsugi sits to consider the motivations behind the mending and modification of decorated objects in Iron Age Britain. A case study of the use and modification of composite metal objects from East Yorkshire, such as weapons and jewellery, will be used to show that many were well-used and curated over prolonged periods of time. They were frequently damaged and repaired and, at times, deliberately fragmented and reassembled. Repairs and joins between components were made deliberately visible and the accumulation of contrasting decorative patterns on certain objects was used to emphasise the accretion of relations inherent in the processes of use and repair.
In Iron Age East Yorkshire, I argue, certain objects accrued value over time through developing patinas of age and visible histories. This paper discusses the nature of this value and the role of repair and modification within it through a comparison with kintsugi. I will argue that, as well as representing particular Iron Age aesthetics and relations with people, mended and modified objects also told important stories of their own.
The Phenomenology of Byzantine Song
The music of early Byzantine liturgies was not representative, but an embodied practice which shaped the experience of church members. This paper explores the meshwork of affordances out of which the experience of Christian religious music emerged.
Neither materiality and representation are straightforwardly useful concepts for Byzantine religion; a tradition in which allegorical understandings of the world are placed front and centre, and one in which the divine is numinous, unknowable and immaterial. This paper explores the intersections between the new materiality and the immaterial nature of the Byzantine spiritual world (cf Buchli 2016). Through enquiring into the nature of Byzantine liturgical music I am questioning how phenomenology fits within the posthuman turn. Exploring human experience does not necessarily require us to privilege human agency, the relationships between architecture, feeling, allegory and the divine existed prior to the middle Byzantine moments in which they were experienced. I will discuss whether or not there is any such thing as a posthumanist phenomenology, or whether those terms are inherently self-contradictory, through considering the archaeology of song in Byzantine church spaces.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.