Friday, 6 June 2014

So speak, you dead: thoughts about archaeology. 12 ― summary

six degrees of separation
image: Laurens van Lieshout
In looking for a suitable lead graphic for the last episode of this series, I finally settled on the six degrees of separation. It's not perfect, however:   we can envision each node as a static state, some moment frozen in time ― like a bronze dancer caught in mid-step behind the glass in a museum case; a fleeting thought of a painting; a few lines of poetry on a page.

But nothing is really static, everything is in a state of flux. The same things can seem quite different   to different people and all people are different.

The person who made any object had their own unique experiences over a period of time, and so did the person who now looks at such an object. Yet, for the most part, all of these experiences are silent when we read about the object. The voice that comes to the foreground, for the reader, is that of the author, but the reader does not know that.

Archaeology also studies a moving past, but just as with the physics of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, by freezing that moment, most of its nature is lost and we have to guess where it came from and where it was going.

When I first started to reclassify the coins of the Celtic Coriosolite tribe of Brittany, I was seeking evolution in their designs. What I actually discovered were numbers of processes over time that had contributed to the reality of those coins. I could not break the coinage down into discrete units or classes as the taxonomist calls them. I could determine that there were three series in the coins I was studying, but I found no classes other than what had been imposed on them. Each die was its own class. The only way to express the subject was with flow charts that plotted the decisions of the artist. I made three flow charts for each series and each flow chart exhibited a different way of thinking restricted only by the tenets of the art-form that the artist had embraced. Each artist was working from a different viewpoint and personality. I tracked their day to day thoughts, I tracked the sources of their inspiration in their art, religion, and history. As I ordered the material, the material ordered me.

This series was an experiment, an attempt to show that the experiences of the researcher contributes in a very real way to the finished product and that if we do not communicate this idea, we have not really communicated the past at all. I am reminded of what Joseph Campbell wrote in his introduction to the Masks of God series on mythology:
"They are all given here, in these volumes, with many clues, besides, suggesting ways in which they might be put to use by reasonable men to reasonable ends ― or by poets to poetic ends ― or by madmen to nonsense and disaster. For, as in the words of James Joyce in Finnegans Wake: "utterly impossible as all these events they are probably as like those which may have taken place as any others which never took person at all are likely ever to be."
See you on Monday with something different.

No comments:

Post a Comment