A Match made in heaven? Art, archaeology & cultural heritage

Room:    Auditorium 1
Time:      09:00­–15:30
Format: Standard paper session
Organisers: Marja Ahola (University of Helsinki) – Tiina Äikäs (University of Oulu) – Anna-Kaisa Salmi (University of Oulu)

Multiple collaborations and interchanges have been conducted between archaeologists and artists during the past 20 years or so. Archaeology has, for example, inspired street art, performances, and literature to mention but a few. Aside from art itself, these projects have created a new venue in which archaeological topics and interpretations can be expressed to a wider audience that might not be interested in traditional museum exhibitions. However, as has been pointed out, the traffic has mainly been moving in one direction: from artist to archaeology. Indeed, even when archaeologists have invited the artists, archaeology has worked as an inspiration to art while artistic practices as methods to understand the past have not been as commonly explored. However, art could provide archaeologists with e.g., tactile, sensual and non-discursive knowledge of the world, not easily obtained by standard scientific practice. Art can also be employed to engage the public with cultural heritage and the past.

In this session, we want to further explore the field of artistic-archaeological collaboration and see how archaeologists and artists themselves see these collaborative projects. Does this collaboration work only for the benefit of art, or does it also give new insights into archaeological research? Can art bring new perspectives to heritage discourses? How have archaeologists collaborated with artists, and what kinds of projects or knowledge production has this collaboration resulted in? Conversely, how does archaeology “inspire art” and what is it like for the artists to collaborate with archaeologists? To get a fuller picture, we invite both archaeologists working with artists as well as the artists themselves to give an oral presentation and/or present the art itself within the session. We welcome a broad spectrum of papers dealing with e.g. the concept of art/archaeology, artistic research and archaeology, artistic practice and experimental archaeology, as well as any theoretical considerations of the topic.

1. Path to the Past: Artistic practices as means to research and explore archaeological hypothesis

Author(s): Katri Lassila

During the year 2021, I took part in the project Antler Stories, funded by Kone Foundation and led by archaeologist Marja Ahola. Its members were, in addition myself and Dr. Ahola, sound designer Viljami Lehtonen, linguist Sampsa Holopainen and shadow play artist Elviira Davidow. This presentation will present the project focusing on the art produced in it and discuss how the approach involving artistic research was able to yield new ideas in the field of archaeology.

My task in the project was to design and produce photography and video art based on an antler artefact, c. 8000 years old, found from Lepaanvirta River in the 1950’s. Elviira Davidow used the artefact in her shadow art performance. Lehtonen and Holopainen provided soundscape by creating ambience sound and utterances in hypothetical but linguistically sound paleolanguage. I documented the process, as well as Davidow’s performance. Final artistic outcome will be an installation, which will combine all of the aforementioned elements in a museum setting.

In the presentation, I will describe the production of the artworks and their path from the initial ideas to the finished works. I show examples of my own art produced within the project, including In the presentation, I will describe the production of the artworks and their path from the initial ideas to the finished works. I show examples of my own art produced within the project, including digital photography, video and analogue photography. I will exhibit some of the works in the conference premises, if the space allows. I will tell about the findings achieved through artistic practice, revealing new animal forms from the object, previously uncharted. Special attention will be given to my own artistic and scholarly interests, involving images of landscape of which I am writing my dissertation for Aalto University. Finally, I will tell about the future of the project and present some of its research outcomes, including research articles and exhibition plans.

2. Shadows of past, present and future

Author(s): Elviira Davidow

In this performance, I will explore the important milestones in a woman’s life – birth and childhood, youth and initiation rites, mating and motherhood, aging and death – by using a 3D replica of a Stone Age antler artefact as a storytelling device. The story will take place as a shadow theatre performance, in which the antler item not only produces shadows for the story, but also inspires the story with the shadows its casts. In this sense, the performance is a mix of a predetermined storyline, in which the antler artefact travels with the woman during the course of her life, and improvisation theater relying on the agency of the artefact itself. The performance was created within an art/archaeology project entitled ‘Antler Stories – Combining 3D-Technologies, Artistic Research and Archaeology to Bring Mesolithic Storytelling Practices Back to Life’, funded by the Kone Foundation, Finland. The performance can be held either live in Oslo, or presented digitally as a video recording.

3. The place of aesthetics in art/archaeology

Author(s): Marko Mikael Marila

One of the generally accepted objectives of art/archaeological practice is to challenge canonised narratives and uses of the past. This imbues art/archaeological work with political responsibility, but risks rendering the aesthetic register subordinate to the anticipated socio-political effects of art/archaeological projects. In this talk, I will reflect on the nature and relevance of aesthetics in the ethico-onto-epistemology of art/archaeology and, in drawing from my own art/archaeological work, I will propose that a very particular conception of aesthetics as a mode of connection and causation remains at the heart of art/archaeology’s political disruptiveness.

4. Finding Nothing? Revaluing discovery and disappointment in practice-based  research through art/archaeology collaboration 

Author(s): UK Frederick & Sue O’Connor

Amongst art practitioners, uncertainty, speculation and failure are commonly acknowledged as inevitable aspects of the creative process; there are numerous ways in which mistakes, wrong turns and faults have been accommodated productively within the work of art and its discourse. Despite a growing awareness of archaeology’s ‘messiness’, unpredictability and the possibilities of unruliness, archaeologists appear less adept or willing to integrate and narrativize what may be perceived as shortcomings and disappointments. This paper discusses a specific art-archaeology collaboration that emerged out of an archaeological field survey undertaken in the northeast Kimberley region of Western Australia. It reflects on what was found and what wasn’t and considers the different capacities of art and archaeology to embrace and adapt to the unpredictable outcomes of practice-based research. We discuss how the creative approach developed generatively and collaboratively in the immersive environment of the field and how different survey experiences ultimately came to be mediated and materialised as an installation of glasswork. By drawing inspiration from images, insights and more-than-human encounters shared in the field, the artwork is intended to provoke reflection on art and archaeology as embodied and experiential modes of discovery. With a particular emphasis on ideas around expectation, knowledge and value-creation we ask if (and how) the pursuit of archaeology, including its attendant frustrations, may be reimagined and re-evaluated through artwork.

5. Digital heritage, contemporary art and epistemic justice: the cases of “Digital Colonialism” and “The Other Nefertiti”

Author(s): Monika Stobiecka

The notion of epistemic justice guides many of the arguments for decolonization in heritage studies and related disciplines and practices. Museums and academies are eagerly promoting and discussing dissonant and negative heritage of colonization and its various and multiple aftermaths. One of the means used to popularize the notion of decolonization is digital technology (both digital exhibitions, online and virtual displays, as well as social media, like for instance dedicated Instagram profiles). However, when combined with the latest technologies, heritage practice might be susceptible to neocolonial forms of subjugation which was vividly exemplified by the creation and promotion of the copy of the Syrian Arch of Triumph in 2016.

In the proposed paper, I would like to claim that even though technology might be seen as yet another tool of oppression (Mignolo 2007, Stingl 2016), it may also serve as a vehicle for decolonization. An ethical dimension, empathy, political engagement, and sensibility can be found in projects at the intersection of art and digital archaeology. I will apply the art/archaeology theory (Bailey 2018) to analyze and interpret two artistic projects (Moreshin Allahyari’s “Digital Colonialism”, 2016-2019; Nora Al-Badri and Jan Nikolai Nelles’ “The Other Nefertiti”, 2015) to prove how art can support digital archaeology in promoting and engaging in epistemic justice. 

6. Labyrinths and (sauna-)knots: an excursion into art, pseudo-archaeology and the extraordinary underground

Author(s): Oula Seitsonen and Vesa-Pekka Herva

While doing fieldwork in 2020 in Kilpisjärvi, NW corner of Finland, we encountered an enigmatic rock carving with a spiral dominating the scene. This turned out to be a piece by American-Japanese artist Ken Hiratsuka from the 1990s. In 2021, while visiting a pseudo-archaeological site known as the Temple of Lemminkäinen – Lemminkäinen is one of the Kalevala’s protagonists – near Helsinki, we were excited to spot another piece of Hiratsuka’s art there. This ‘temple’, a natural cave-like formation, is perhaps the most famous pseudo-archaeological site in Finland, as ‘excavations’ at the site were conducted in the 1980-1990s with the Finnish mystic-eccentric Ior Bock. The ‘temple’ is associated with the fanciful alternative-historical ‘Bock family saga’ and allegedly contains the greatest treasure of all times. The digging at the site is due to be continued in 2022. This paper discusses Hiratsuka’s art in relation to real and imagined pasts in Finland, with a particular focus on the Temple of Lemminkäinen. According to the excavators, Hiratsuka’s carving is a (mental) map to the treasure hidden below it inside the cave. We examine how Hiratsuka’s work is related to the very practice of digging at this site, and how his artwork mediates between real and imagined pasts and the this-worldly and the otherworldly in the context of the ‘temple’. These reflections are further related to broader age-old ideas about the subterranean, extractive practices and hidden treasures.

7. Artistic Practices in Mire Landscapes: New Insights into Past, Present and Future Nature 

Author(s): Pauliina Latvala-Harvilahti

The mires form a cultural resource for people as well as an environment of flora and fauna.  Mires represent not only extended periods of past culture, but also future and present-day values. There is a growing number of artists in Finland inspired by the mires. The mires are changing culturally and used by individuals and communities to highlight new aspects in the eco-crisis. 

Landscape-oriented heritage studies on mire art deepens our understanding of the agency of artists, especially their willingness to stand for nature and encourage people to safeguard  mires. Landscape is seen as both mental and physical, subjective as well as objective, including temporally parallel (tangible and intangible) heritages. As part of cultural values, the personal (re-)attachment to mires is rooted in the recognizable intangible cultural heritage of communities and individuals, for example, through representations, expressions, cultural spaces as well as knowledge and practices concerning nature. 

My research material consists of open theme interviews conducted in 2020-2021 as part of the Mire Trend research project. For example, an opera singer, lament performer and photographers shared their experiences and understanding of mires. I focus on the expressions of mire landscapes by answering the following questions: In what way was the  landscape considered controversial? How was mire landscape used as site-specific stage for artwork? What is the role of non-human agencies and mythical nature of mire in artworks? 

8. This Room. Right Here. Right Now.

Author(s): Jeff Benjamin

In this paper, I seek to understand this room, right here, right now; nothing more, nothing less. This is a meditation on speech and language, and how — as philosopher John Zerzan has noted — language (and theory) tends to pull us away from place, leads us away from presence. In this instance, the “elephant in the room” is the room itself. This paper is an attempt to stay embedded in the present place and moment by simply addressing the room that we are in. Of course, we cannot exclude externals; obviously during this presentation we will discuss other things, but we will try to stay focused on the room itself: its materials, its quality of light, the surface treatment of the walls (Are they painted? Are they paneled? Who painted them? Who paneled them?) Towards this purpose, and once a room for this session is decided upon, I will research this room and how it came into being; its origins, all of the various historical forces and events that came together to create this room, as well as its trajectory. This paper will also explore the particulars of this room as experienced on the day of the session, to approach this room as an exercise in a-priori knowledge. Towards this purpose, listeners will be encouraged to form a gathering where we individually and collectively explore, examine, meditate upon and dream about this room, right here, right now.

9. Site-specific art as a creator and interpreter of industrial heritage stories  

Author(s): Suvi Nurmi, Eerika Koskinen-Koivisto and Tiina Äikäs

The connection between memories and places has been the focus of interest for researchers in e.g. ethnographic research, human geography, and archaeology. What do we remember about a specific place and how our memories are tied to places? What kind of feelings arise from our memories? How does place both shape our memories and is shaped by them? Site-specific art has visualized the layers of place-bound memories in a special way. In an on-going Smokestack Memories project, we collect memories, stories, and photos related to factory smokestacks. Smokestack memories are both shared via an online map and reached using interviews. In the project, artist Suvi Nurmi uses these collected memories as material for her site-specific works of text-based art. Here we scrutinize the ways art can be used in order to highlight the multiple meanings given to industrial heritage sites and how combining artistic and humanistic interpretations can help to gain new knowledge about how people experience places.  Our starting hypothesis on the influence of art is three-fold: art can both reflect the meanings given to heritage as well as create new meanings and memories. At the same time, art affects the views of researchers on what constitutes heritage. Art can add new voices to the heritage discourse and bring about new audiences to heritage sites. It offers a way to experience both heritage and places in a multisensory way where past and present are intertwined. 

10. Lines of Rupture, Lines of Flight (Pegwell Bay 2022)

Author(s): Lara Band

In Art and Archaeology: Uncomfortable Archival Landscapes Wall and Hale (2021) call for the archive to be dismantled, reassociated and reimagined in order to to disrupt authorised discourse, allow new critical readings, thereby creating para-archives that continuously cross between public/private, fact/fiction and discovered/made. These ideas, plus recognition of memory as a constituent part of landscape, frame my film based installation Lines of Rupture, Lines of Flight.

Pegwell Bay Hoverport in Kent, UK, opened in 1969 but closed 13 years later, unable to compete with larger, cheaper cross-channel ferries. Built on shale waste from nearby Chislet Colliery, it housed police during the 1984 miners’ strike. Neighbouring the popular seaside resorts of Ramsgate, Broadstairs and Margate it whisked people away for newly affordable continental holidays. It’s contaminated land with abundant nature, a popular place to go for a walk or other social activities. Having employed both film and sound in previous work as an archaeologist I turned to time based media to negotiate the multitemporal, multigeographic and multiscalar, to apparate the ghosts that accumulate and persist across the Bay. Lines of Rupture, Lines of Flight is film as method, archaeologist as artist as archaeologist; a call for more a/effective, more disruptive, less linear archaeologies of place.

1. Archaeology and art in Son – an old port of trade by the Oslofjord

Author(s): Marianne Johansson

The archaeologists in Viken County Council have collaborated with several artists to promote cultural heritage. Sometimes the goal has been to make replicas of artefacts, but the artefacts have also served as an inspiration for the artists. Viken County Council also has an in-house product designer who works with the archaeologists to make exhibitions, information-signs, short info movies and so forth. Her skills as a product designer allow us to present cultural history in exciting and new ways.  

In this presentation, I will give some examples from the collaborations the archaeologists have had with different artists, including our in-house product designer. I will mainly focus on the work we have done promoting the small town of Son. The town of Son, in eastern Norway, is today mainly known as an idyllic small town and yachting harbour, with cafés, galleries and gift shops. However, this town was one of the region’s main export ports for timber products, especially in the 16th and 17th centuries. From the 15th to the late 18th century this trade was dominated by Dutch ships that came to fetch Norwegian timber, while also bringing trade goods from many other countries to Norway. Another site, the site of Labo just northeast of Son, is seen as the town’s forerunner. The site goes back to the Viking Age and was active until the mid-18th century.  The site was likely a place of trade at least from the 13th century onwards.

12. Enlarged 3D-models of Stone Age findings and a monumental mural picturing a Corded Ware pot – the Stone Age made visible through art in the city of Vantaa in Finland

Author(s): Andreas Koivisto

In the city of Vantaa in Finland, Stone Age history is made visible through art. A big mural of a Corded Ware pot on the far end wall of a high story house, a Stone Age park, a restored red ochre grave and Stone Age-themed pictures on apartment buildings are some examples of making the history of the city known. In addition, a stone age inspired work of art by artist Tommi Toija picturing enlarged 3D-models of actual stone age findings in the public space in one of the city centers is currently in the making.

The Stone Age is mostly hidden underneath our feet and visible structures from the time period are very rare. While there are no monuments showing ancient history, the Stone Age needs other ways of getting visibility. This is where art steps in. Bringing forth history through art is important on many levels. It makes people aware of history, it helps them grow roots to their surroundings and it makes history fun, lively and accessible. 

Vantaa is a young city. It has turned from a rural countryside to an urban city only in the last 50 years. The population of the city has grown very fast and a lot of the people in Vantaa don’t know the history of their new hometown. In many parts of the city, history is seen as an important identity maker. Art is a good way of making buried history visible again and the inhabitants proud of their local heritage.

13. Performance Proposals on Cultural Heritage

Author(s): Suvi Tuominen

My presentation will be a constellation of video, sound, movement and objects. The genre of the presentation will be a performance lecture. In the presentation I will discuss a collaboration I did with the Finnish National Museum called Performance Proposals on Cultural Heritage. During the collaboration I was creating different relations to the museum which informed me to do episodic performance acts inside and outside the museum building. In the performance, dance movements, discussions, museum walls, digital screens, archaeological artefacts and art objects twisted together current questions of performance and cultural heritage studies. My presentation will bring forth important notions on the relationship between art, archaeology & cultural heritage.