Images in the Making: Art-Process-Archaeology

Posted on April 21, 2017


Here is a session we filmed at the TAG conference:

Session Information

Archaeological approaches to visual images have tended to present images as flat, static and lacking in dynamism; as evidence of this, semiotic or symbolic approaches still remain the prevailing approach to imagery in archaeology. This is a shame as research in a host of other fields including anthropology, history, art history and art practice approach images very differently (e.g. Anderson et. al. 2014; Barrett and Bolt 201; Bynum 2015; Ingold 2013). What happens to our understanding of art and imagery if we begin to approach images as things that are made, rather than things that simply signify?

Archaeologists have recently realized that a consideration of process is critical to our understanding of past human-material interactions (Jones 2012; Lucas 2012, Alberti et. al. 2013, Gosden and Malafouris 2015). These authors argue for the critical importance of thinking in terms of ‘modes of becoming rather than modes of being’ (Gosden and Malafouris 2015), exploring the open-endedness of human interactions with the material world. The aim of this session is to explore the implication of process thinking for our understanding of art and imagery. Once we think of images-in-the-making we begin to realize that images might be involved in complex and extended processes. How might this alter our accounts of art and imagery?

Andrew Meirion Jones, University of Southampton and Ing-Marie Back Danielsson, Uppsala University
Alberti, B., Jones, A.M. and Pollard, J. 2013 Archaeology after Interpretation. Returning materials to archaeological theory. Left Coast Press: Walnut Creek, CA.
Anderson, C., Dunlop, A. and Smith, P.H. 2014 The matter of art. Materials, practices, cultural logics c. 1250-1750. Manchester University Press: Manchester.
Barrett, E. and Bolt, B. 2013 Carnal Knowledge. Towards a ‘New materialism’ through the arts. I.B. Tauris: London.
Bynum, C. 2011 Christian Materiality. Zone Books: New York.
Gosden, C. and Malafouris, L. 2015 Process Archaeology (P-Arch). World Archaeology 47(5): 701-717
Ingold, T. 2013 Making. Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture. Routledge: London.
Jones, A. M. 2012 Prehistoric Materialities. Becoming material in prehistoric Britain and Ireland. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
Lucas, G. 2012 Understanding the archaeological record. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

An Archaeology of Anthropomorphism: upping the ontological ante of Alfred Gell’s anthropological theory of art Ben Alberti, Framingham State University

The question that drives this paper is how to understand anthropomorphism in archaeological material, particularly in three-dimensional artefactual forms. Typically, anthropomorphism – in artworks, ceramics, architecture, and so on – is understood as a form of scheme transfer in which meanings associated with the human body are transferred to other materials. Alternately, it is understood as a representational practice in which cultural narratives are played out in material form. More recently, cognitive approaches have stressed the connection between body metaphor and practice.
The underlying premise I begin with is that of ontological pluralism, by which I mean that peoples’ truths and experiences of reality are varied. What anthropomorphism means in a given context depends upon the nature of underlying ontological commitments. Drawing from Amazonian ethnographies that show making and image to be ontologically of the same order, I develop an alternative theory of anthropomorphism in relation to a series of anthropomorphic pots from first millennium AD northwest Argentina. In doing so, I turn to Alfred Gell’s writings on style as an interpretive guide.

Dirty RTI Ian Dawson, Winchester School of Art

‘Humankind lingers unregenerately in Plato’s cave, still reveling, its age-old habit, in mere images of the truth.’ Sontag (1977) On Photography

In RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging) a shadow thrown a multitude of times is used to generate complex narratives of sequencing and duration, tracing ghosts unseen by the human eye. The RTI image is an algorithmic synthetic construction, creating a portal to the past. RTI of the Folkton drums (Jones 2015), for example, revealed reworking; a surface arrived at through both carving and erasure, hinting at an open process of drawing.
With fellow artist Louisa Minkin (University of the Arts) and in further collaborations with Jones and Diaz-Guardamino (University of Southampton) RTI was used a part of an experimental art process. Spaces and surfaces within a derelict modernist tower block awaiting gentrification were recorded to discuss a politic of software and space. Objects were built specifically for the RTI process and the spatial and temporal environment of a workshop have been captured.
‘Technology is where we in the west preserve our ancestor’s’ writes Sean Cubitt in the Practice of Light (2015), and this paper will consider earlier vision technologies – such as lenticular, integral and metric photography alongside these experimental ‘dirty’ RTI’s.
“Our eyes are armed, but we are strangers to the stars” writes Emerson in his poem Blight (1847) in which he perceives of a debilitating gap caused by a growing instrumentalization towards the natural world and this paper will consider the complex and changing position between techne (knowing how to make things) and poiesis (the production and poetry of things)

Beyond form: Iberian Late Bronze Age stelae in-the-making Marta Diaz-Guardamino, Southampton University/Cardiff University

Late Bronze Age stelae (c. 1400/1250-750 BC), found mainly across western and southwestern Iberia, are formally diverse. Most of these carefully carved stones were found in the landscape, as un-stratified remains, and mainstream archaeology has consistently focused on the formal analysis of the images engraved on them. As a result, these large stones and the carvings they bear have been categorised into groups, types, and subtypes which are then read as expressions of a variety of symbolic frameworks (e.g. ethnic identities, ideologies). There are problems with this kind of approach, being one of them the lack of critical reflection on the very concept of similarity and, more fundamentally, on how form came about.
This paper focuses on the process of stelae-making. It aims to draw attention to the limitations of formal approaches to the analysis of prehistoric imagery and highlight the potential of adopting a bottom-up approach, that is, of looking at the interaction between people and the stones when the latter were shaped, carved, re-carved, and so on. I will draw on the recent analysis of the surface texture of a sample of stelae by means of digital imaging methods (i.e. RTI) and the results of a replication experiment to reflect on the many factors (e.g. properties of stones, knowledge, skills) and interventions that have been involved in the making of Late Bronze Age stelae as we know them today.

Connectivity and the making of Atlantic rock art Joana Valdez-Tullett, University of Southampton/FCT/CEAACP

Atlantic rock art is a specific type of prehistoric tradition. Characterised by carved, or pecked, motifs, the tradition is found across a variety of countries along the Atlantic façade. Its widespread geographical distribution means that it is also known by a number of regional designations that, in some cases, reflect the scales of analysis that have been carried out until now (i.e. British rock art, Galician group of rock art).
The main characteristic of Atlantic Art, is the homogeneity of the motifs, whose morphology is very similar in all the countries where it can be found. Cup-marks, single and concentric circles, penannular rings, spirals are some of the geometric designs typically included in this group, carved on the wider landscape of the British Isles and Iberia. To a certain extent, similar shapes can also be found in the great monuments of western France and Ireland, stressing a global use of the iconography that has been considered a unified phenomenon. We should, however, question whether a simple non-figurative image, such as a circle or a cup-mark, can be used to verify the universal character of Atlantic Art, particularly during prehistory.
The present study set out to investigate the differences and similarities of Atlantic Art in the aforementioned regions, assessing the unity of the practice through a 4 scale methodology. The detailed scrutiny of the motifs, their shapes, morphological characteristics, techniques used in their execution and making were some of the aspects investigated which yielded interesting results and a deep knowledge of their structure and conception. These enabled inferences about the expansion of a style that encompasses more than morphological resemblances, and the inter-regional connections.

The act of creation – tangible engagements in the making and ‘re-making’ of prehistoric rock art Lara Bacelar Alves, University of Coimbra, Portugal
The long-term tradition of rock art investigation in Iberia relied, to a large extent, on the use of recording techniques that imply a close interaction between subject and object. However, until the last decade of the 20th century, studies concentrated on classifying what was inscribed on rocks – the motifs – and were particularly interested on their shapes, sizes, types and execution techniques. Yet, as the paradigm shifted into a major focus on the placement of rock art in the wider landscape, a new generation of students kept using traditional recording techniques in research grounded on entirely new perspectives, in which rock art was perceived as a dialogue involving the imagery, the natural backdrop and particular features in the landscape. Recording rock art by direct tracing, for instance, implies spending time on site, replicating the original gestures of who created the imagery in the past. Hence, it enable us to unveil subtle details of his or her skills and behaviour as well as the techniques and implements employed in the process of painting or carving signs on rocks.
This paper discusses how rock art research, as praxis, may allow us to capture a glimpse of how mind, body and matter come together in the primordial act of creation, drawing on recent investigation at two Portuguese sites belonging to different prehistoric art traditions: the Schematic Art painted rock shelter of Lapas Cabreiras, in Côa Valley, and the Atlantic Art carvings at Monte Faro. It goes further to examine how the processes involved in the making of rock art ultimately assists us to thinking about how matter was collected, manipulated and used to create the settings in which visual images played a major role in the life of prehistoric communities in the Neolithic.

A fresh slate: image, practice and multiplicity in the Manx Late Neolithic Andrew Meirion Jones, Southampton University

Situated in the middle of the Irish Sea the Late Neolithic of the Isle of Man differs markedly from neighbouring regions of mainland Britain and Ireland. One of the features that marks out the Manx Late Neolithic is the production of miniature plaques of slate decorated with finely incised designs upon their surfaces. A recent programme of digital imaging has revealed extensive evidence of reworking and revision of designs on these slate plaques. How are we to understand these practices of revision and reworking?
In this paper I argue that the practices of making, working and revising designs on these small plaques must be understood relationally, evincing a series of connections to landscape, other artefacts, monuments and places. The making of both plaques and designs therefore raise questions regarding their ontology, as the practices of making and decorating draw together and bring into being a series of connections. This act of connecting by making, decorating and revising designs enacts a distinctively Manx Late Neolithic ontology of simultaneous difference/distinctiveness and connectedness. The Manx plaques are therefore best understood as ontologically multiple, or as ‘multiple objects’.

Neolithic stamps in the Balkans: the enigma of vibrant tools and their missing imprints Agni Prijatelj, Durham University

Stamps, stamp-seals or pintaderas are some of the most visually striking yet enigmatic tools found at Neolithic settlements across the Balkans: while many of these objects have been preserved across different sites in SE Europe, their imprints remain absent from archaeological records. Previous studies have focused on the typological classification and stylistic comparison of the stamps’ geometric motifs, while at the same time speculating on their functional significance, origins and chronologies. As a critical response to these studies, and in the light of new research on “thing-power” and “image making” (Bennett 2010; Conneller 2011; Ingold 2013; Jones 2012; Jones & Alberti 2013), this paper shifts the focus onto the vibrancy and animacy that stem from these objects’ material properties, and from human entanglements with them. In doing so, it demonstrates a symmetrical relationship between tools and humans, 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 are engaged as equals.

The Nile in the hippopotamus: Being and becoming in faience figurines of Middle Kingdom ancient Egypt Rune Nyord, Cambridge University

Ancient Egyptian grave goods are traditionally understood as relatively straightforward evidence of the material needs of a human being in the afterlife, either literally (e.g. food and drink) or in various symbolic ways. A good example where such symbolic readings have dominated modern understandings is the well-known category of faience figurines of hippopotamuses from Middle Kingdom (Middle Bronze Age, early 2nd millennium BCE) Egypt. Drawing on the materiality of the object and the transformations it undergoes during fabrication, it is argued that the production technique based on chemical efflorescence offers a powerful conceptual model for the ontology 63 TAG 2 0 1 6
of the image. The mode of fabrication where an internal potential emerges from the material by drying and heating on the one hand, and the surface decoration representing the lush aquatic environment of the river Nile on the other, both serve to add elements of flow and continuous becoming to the otherwise fixed and stable form of the glazed figurine, a tension which can be further influenced by the deliberate breaking of the finished figurine before deposition. This tension is mirrored in the ancient Egyptian ontological concept at, ‘moment, impulse’ which is written in the period under discussion precisely using a sign depicting the head of a hippopotamus, indicating a connection between the ‘conceptual affordances’ offered by the object and broader Egyptian ontological frameworks.

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