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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After starting the month speaking at The Parlour Showrooms in Bristol on tools and people in the city, I’ll be ending the month with another public event, this time in Cricklewood in north-west London. This discussion event will be taking place next to a piece of waste ground in Cricklewood as part of a month of events by Spacemakers investigating the lack of public space in the area, based around the idea of a Cricklewood Town Square. More info here.
The discussion will aim to be quite practical, and focus on how people can get or create public space for real and I’ll be speaking alongside Sarah Goventa from CABE and Finn Williams, a planner from Croydon Council among others to be confirmed. I’ll be using my research in archaeology and public art to look at how public and private spaces come to exist, how they change status and identity, why that makes people angry and how that anger can be used as a creative force.
See you there?
Next weekend, Sunday 1 September, I will be in Bristol to take part in the In The City series of events organised by The Parlour Showrooms. As part of a weekend dedicated to work and tools, I will be speaking in a session called ‘Tea Break Talk: Tools of the City and Movements of Work’ alongside artists Clare Thornton and Paul Hurley and Sang-gye of Tibetan Therapies. More information here: http://inthecityseries.co.uk/programme
My role in the discussion will focus on how and why tools are created and used and how tools, bodies and natural and built landscapes intersect. Full details revealed on the day but I’ll be starting with Japanese macaques washing potatoes and ending on why we don’t wait for the green man before crossing the road.
Tickets available here: http://inthecityseries.co.uk/tickets-august