Coming soon – What’s the Future for the Past?, Cambridge Festival of Ideas,29 October 2016

On Saturday I’ll be at Cambridge Festival of Ideas taking part in a panel on the future alongside long-time compatriots Rachael Kiddey and Sarah May considering pasts, futures and the varied presents in between. I’ll be talking about Nina Pope and Karen Guthrie’s Prospection and our recent art-archaeology fieldwork on the North West Cambridge development site where I’ve been working for three years. The gist of my work there – carried out as part of a multi-disciplinary research team – has been to avoid standard archaeological recording and instead allow the site to impact on my own practice. On Saturday I will talk a little about this work and some of the concepts arising from it under the tentative (and maybe undeservedly grand) title, A Visual Manifesto for the Archaeology of Construction, and featuring such fun as the juxtaposition of different stages of completeness, erratics, seepage, palette and my favourite: construction pastoral.

Construction pastoral?

Here’s the abstract for the event. Tickets available here:

Who or what decides what data, what objects, will survive to tell future generations what we were like? How do we know what should or could become the ‘heritage’ of the future?

‘Prospection’ is a visionary art project tracking the development of the new NW Cambridge development and its inhabitants, by artists Karen Guthrie & Nina Pope. With their team of archaeologists, sociologists and creatives, they will visit NWC annually for the next 25 years, recording its places and people and storing these for posterity at Cambridgeshire Archives. Now into year 3, the Prospection team’s records have ranged from archaeological surveys to short films to soil samples.

Inspired by ‘Prospection’, this event presents a panel of leading heritage experts including Sarah May (Research Associate, UCL Institute of Archaeology), Rachael Kiddey (Research Associate, University of York & Editorial Assistant at the Independent Social Research Foundation) and James Dixon (Museum of London Archaeology) who will present a thought-provoking array of fieldwork and research exploring what the future holds for the past and what the past holds for the future.

The panel will be followed by refreshments and a chance to browse the boxes of the first two years’ findings of ‘Prospection’


Coming soon – World Archaeological Congress, Kyoto, Japan

I’m going to be at the World Archaeological Congress next week talking about urban archaeology, art and sustainability.

On Thursday 1 September I will be taking part in the session, Breaking the Frame: Art and Archaeology, with the following paper:

Site-specificity in an international context

This paper arises from a collaboration between four organisations in the UK and Japan which has, over the course of 2016, examined the practical relationship between art and archaeology in urban regeneration contexts in both countries. Drawing on group fieldwork, an international seminar in July 2016 and my own long-running research into developing art-inspired site-specific archaeologies, the paper will outline the results of the London-Japan project, present some initial conclusions arising from it concerning the practicalities of site-specific working in an international context, and detail the contribution of the project to wider debates in art-archaeology.

That sounds very generic, but the paper will be looking at whether different kinds of interpretive framework in art/archaeology give us different understandings of site and how we might work differently to overlap or join these. It will be looking primarily at the work of Nobuaki Date (Date-san), Toshio Matsui, Laura Oldfield Ford and Hilary Powell.

My second paper, part of a session called Urban Heritage and Sustainability will look at the idea of archaeology for sustainability, the different kinds of archaeology that we might develop in pursuit of environmental, social and economic sustainability, and the liklihood that these different archaeologies cannot be reconciled into one central effort. Abstract below:

Sustainability and politically-engaged archaeology.

Economic, environmental and social sustainability are different things and do not necessarily have the same motivation. Each benefits different people in different ways and what is objectively best for any people in any place at any time is rarely clear. This paper contends that different kinds of sustainability require, or create, different relationships with archaeology and require archaeologists to be socially and politically aware of the situations in which they find themselves working. Archaeology can mitigate or mobilise, provide direction or distraction. This paper will outline the benefits of promoting more politically-engaged practice from private consultancy to community archaeology.

My attendance at WAC is part of a collaborative research project on comparative art and archaeology practice between the UK and Japan supported by the Daiwa Foundation, MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) and OCCPA.


Coming soon – Architecture, Archaeology and Contemporary City Planning, Valencia, Spain – 16-20 May, 2015

In a couple of weeks I’m heading off to Spain for the second installment of the Architecture, Archaeology and City Planning workshop, with colleagues from Italy, Sweden, Spain and Finland. Last year’s event in Florence was really great, lots of different perspectives on archaeology and architecture. Valencia will be equally stimulating I’m sure. Last year’s event has been published here.

Here’s my abstract for 2015:

Human-nature relations in built heritage and urban places, present and past.

The inter-relation of people and the environment is a central theme in post-industrial planning. This paper will examine this relationship archaeologically. First, the paper will outline the potential contribution of contemporary archaeology to developing site-specific understandings of this relationship that can be of use to architects and planners. Archaeological methods have the potential to be able to uncover the relationships between people and things in the present day in such a way as to help architects in their aims of making places good for people, but also in following what happens to these developments after they achieve physical reality. With reference to international architects Turenscape, Snøhetta and Jan Gehl, this part of the paper will explore how archaeology can become a more intentionally proactive discipline in place-making. 

The second part of the paper will consider the question of how contemporary archaeological approaches to post-industrial architecture can change our understanding of historic buildings, both in the past and as they endure as heritage assets in the present. Taking direct inspiration from Kongjian Yu’s architectural philosophy of bringing historical agricultural rhythms into modern architecture, the paper seeks to create a direct connection between urban ecologies of the present and past. The potential uses of this approach lie both in the interpretation and curation of historic buildings and landscapes, and in heritage-led regeneration and other kinds of development project. With this approach, we can begin to appreciate the past of any urban place not as separate from the present, or as representing distinct historical periods, but as part of an ongoing evolution of human-nature relationships with no clear start, end, or edges.


Coming soon – The Spectre of Non-Completion – UCL Institute of Archaeology, 26/01/2015

This coming Monday I’m going to be giving a paper in the IoA seminar series ‘Future Pasts/Present Futures: critical conversations on the ‘contemporary’ across disciplines’.

My talk will address the temporal uncertainty inherent in the construction phase of every used building; that point in time when work has begun and the building has a physical presence, but still retains the potential not to ever see the completion of that defined phase of work and the building’s intended occupation or use. It builds on previous work of mine where I have investigated the importance of planning committee meetings as places and spaces in which multiple, competing conceptions of a building or site’s past, present and future are presented, promoted and argued, often in very short periods of time, before a decision is taken by elected officials on which of those conceptions will be privileged with physical expression in the world.

Hopefully I will be able to explain the importance of this work and the perspective it promotes to the wider field of buildings archaeology, a field which most usually, taking a lead from art historical approaches to the same material, finds itself confined to the linear progression from architectural design to de-occupation, often with an emphasis on the former, without regard to the extreme precarity inherent in the whole ‘life’ of a building as it moves between different forms of being there and not being there. Is is possible, or even useful, to reconsider our approach to the entire built environment?

Also though, I’ll be discussing the work of some interesting artists who have engaged with the same phenomenon and asking whether their work can provide useful prompts to begin to understand it archaeologically and to present more widely the perspective it brings.

Institute of Archaeology, 4pm. See you there?

Marie-Jeanne Hoffner, 2008.
Marie-Jeanne Hoffner, 2008.

Conference updates 10/06/2014

Couple of quick info updates for those of you who like too much information.

Due to some very efficient organisation, the full conference booklet for the World In Denmark conference in Copenhagen this week can be found here: World in Denmark 2014_net (2)

Similarly, here is the conference booklet for my forthcoming Archaeology and Architecture seminar in Florence: EPUB_AACP2014_Abstract_Collection

Conference reports to follow.


Archaeology and Architecture seminar schedule

A quick post with the draft schedule for the Architecture, Archaeology and Contemporary City Planning seminar in Florence next month. My response to the event will follow in late June.

draft agenda 28_05_2014.


Coming Soon – World In Denmark 2014 – Copenhagen, 12-14/06/2014

Scale and context are very important in urban development. It is always important to remember that any spaces being developed are within local, distinct places with their own identities, problems and aspirations. That very small scale, the one at which problems caused by bad development will be most keenly felt, must however be seen alongside larger scales such as city-wide or regional development and infrastructure. Further, at a very practical level, the need for developers and planners (whether companies or individuals [multiple scales again!]) to take lessons, practices and even visual styles learnt and developed in specific places in response to specific needs and apply them elsewhere creates an interaction between the local and the national and international that is played out every day in thousands of instances and in countless different ways.

Contemporary archaeology has a role to play in understanding that interaction. Using field methods developed over the last two decades and allying traditional archaeological perspectives with those of other relevant disciplines (in my case geography, politics and creative arts) archaeology can go a long way towards creating deep interpretations of what makes individual places what they are. We can add to the more obvious focus on the presence or not of ‘heritage assets’ with consideration of how, over time, built environments in the widest sense have shaped changing local politics, with particular houses, shops, roads or patches of grass becoming more or less important as suits individual ongoing issues. Following on from that, it becomes possible for archaeologists to investigate at that micro-scale the differing impacts of different kinds of developer, different development philosophies, different sources of financial backing, and specific architects or public artists.

In June I will be speaking on this subject at the World In Denmark 2014 conference, ‘Nordic Encounters: Travelling Ideas of Open Space Design and Planning’, in Copenhagen (information here), using my work in Bristol and international case studies to outline how important contemporary archaeological perspectives can be in understanding the multi-scalar contexts of new development. Specifically for this conference I will be adapting ideas developed in the UK to investigate the mediation between changing distinct, local places and the larger-scale project of developing an umbrella ‘Nordic’ urban design tradition. I will be speaking in my capacity as Senior Archaeologist (Built Heritage) at MOLA, who have kindly provided funding towards my attendance.

I am currently researching public art and community development projects across Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland so please get in touch if you have any news of interesting case studies.


Coming Soon – Archaeology, Architecture and City Planning – Florence, 16-18/06/2014

In mid-June I’m going to be travelling over to Florence to take part in a three-day workshop/seminar bringing archaeologists and architects together to discuss how the two disciplines can work together more closely in city planning and urban regeneration contexts.

The workshop itself is co-organised by archaeologists from the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Gothenburg and the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Florence and led by Per Cornell and Giorgio Verdiani. As well as archaeologists and architects from Sweden, including Stefan Larsson from the National Heritage Board, and Italian architects, we will be joined by Marie-Odile Lavendholme from INRAP and Adriana Velasquez from INAH in Mexico.

Here’s a description of the workshop aims:

 In discussions on urbanism, the need to involve new actors has been a major theme of recent debate. In this field, throughout Europe, various ways of allowing citizens to take a more direct part in planning is stressed. It is also important to look at the role or lack of role played by particular research fields. Architecture plays a major role in city planning. While archaeology has become increasingly involved in field projects in urban environments, the discipline seldom plays an important role in city planning. In several countries and particular cities this situation has been questioned during the last decades. In Sweden, certain studies indicate an increased interest in an active involvement of archaeology from the part of individual municipalities and provincial governments, and even on the state level in certain cases. In France, Lavendhomme at INRAP has discussed various possible new kinds of uses of archaeology in the planning process, and similar discussions start to appear in other countries. In the UK, archaeologists are increasingly involved in mitigating heritage impacts of building projects at the design stage rather than during construction (excavating). To take just one example, in Sweden the archaeologist Stefan Larsson has developed a project with the municipality of Kalmar, in which city planners, architects and archaeologists collaborate in making suggestions for a city plan in a segment of the city. In this workshop we will focus on possible new ways of collaboration between architects and archaeologists. We wish to open a new kind of communication between these research fields and related praxis. The possible contributions from archaeology include questions of conservation, diffusion of archaeological knowledge by different means, but also other fields, including practical knowledge on the development of particular districts over time, general knowledge in comparative studies of urbanism, questions of design or questions of “gestalt” in urban settings, and the intersections between archaeology, architecture and public art. We hope this workshop will help to open this field, and that it will be followed by other scholarly meetings on more limited particular cases and questions and, potentially, by a larger conference building on the workshop’s outcomes.

A summary of my own contribution is here: Florence abstract Dixon.



Archaeology and Barbara Hepworth

There are a lot of different ways you could think about sculpture, or even individual sculptors, in ways that are inspired by or which can complement the ways we work and think in archaeology.

One of these is whether archaeology provides an appropriate methodology to understand the working space of an artist. Is that studio at any point in its life or afterlife an archaeological site? Or is is better thought of as a space of performative action, or is it an installation or a museum? Should we approach it to uncover ‘facts’ towards understanding the artist or is it more important to use that space to inspire creativity in those who encounter it?

Last year I was invited by Tate to take part in a 24 hour seminar discussing questions like these and  with a mixed group of curators, artists, geographers, archaeologists and others. Rather than go into great detail, better to let the project’s outcomes speak for themselves.

There is a short film on the project here and Tate’s report on the seminar and our discussions can be found here as well as a general project webpage on Tate’s main site.

Tate have a major Hepworth retrospective coming up in the near-ish future and I’m really looking forward to it, especially after spending those 24 hours talking about her. The possibility of walking in and seeing my face projected on the wall somewhere, not so much.


Tools of the City and Movements of Work


On Sunday 1 September, I travelled to Bristol to take part in a discussion event on ‘tools in the city’ as part of the In The City series of events run by The Parlour Showrooms. That particular weekend was dedicated to tools and labour, titled ‘A Lexicon of Labour Movements‘. I went down on the Saturday to see artists Clare Thornton and Paul Hurley’s Performance Shift, a fascinating piece of work developed from interviewing manual workers and ex-manual workers about how they use their tools, whether this is in the ways intended by the tools’ makers or in unintended ways that accomplish different tasks. Explanations by me won’t do it justice so you can look at photos here.

The event I took part in saw Sang-gye of Tibetan Therapies and I talk about the relationship between tools and bodies from our own perspectives. As usual, the attempt to draw on seemingly disparate viewpoints revealed a huge amount of overlap and between the two of us and an audience of about 20, we had a really interesting, open discussion on the intersections between people, things and systems of use that went from Japanese macaques to bicycle couriering, via yoga and trowel-tip archaeological interpretation of the past.

Participant Natalie Parsley wrote a blog post about the event that you can read here and I have a recording of my own contribution which I will post a link to as soon as I find a place to put it.