We’ll be starting the project in earnest in the first months of 2015 through until Autumn. Until then a brief summary of our early explorations, ideas and responses to Public Archaeology 2015 is presented on this blog.
Our project will trace a series of itineraries between defensive structures built, re-used and abandoned along the Thames estuary over the last 300 years. Our sites are peppered along a route stretching from the concrete barges of Rainham Marshes along the Essex coast and to the military research base at Orford Ness on the Suffolk coast, now a nature conservation area. On the south side of the Thames, we jump between sites in Kent, from Cliffe to the Isle of Grain, the Isle of Sheppey to the Maunsell Sea Forts.
Our duo walks the limit between land and water and where the river meets sea, dwelling at sites where successive human intervention has accumulated several layers of defensive architectures. From our disciplinary perspectives of archaeology, human geography and architecture and through our artistic practice, we re-inhabit these ruins in order to re-imagine the original intentions of their builders. The recorded sites, collected objects and chosen itineraries are the building blocks for our own production of photographs, artefacts and maps.
We re-configure these defensive/war architectures as sites of contestation and porosity, now invaded and overcome by entropy. In the gap or slippage between their past uses and present abandonment, we physically and imaginatively insert ourselves. These sites offer an openness to interpretation which encapsulates human memory and the experience of the environment at a given time but equally allows multiple parallel histories to be created and written over them. We play with the materiality of site, taking the solidity of stone and concrete and re-presence the absences that once inscribed them. Our aim however is that what is re-presenced is wilfully fictional, playfully asking questions about materiality, memory and history, and how constructed notions of nature and culture might be dissolved and re-imagined.
Our sites are defensive architectures along the Thames Estuary and south east coast. These obsolete and abandoned forts, bunkers and early warning systems are for us detached from signification, forms that are available as the raw material for an interpretative approach to architecture, dwelling and landscape. Located at the margin between land and sea, in sandbanks, marshland and estuary, the solid materialities of stone, concrete and earth and the fluid, turbulent materialities of air, water and dust are caught between presence and absence.
We explore a concurrence of sign, body and materiality by borrowing the “Seal” from the field of Chinese art and archaeology. Seals bind literary production and language to matter and the body. In visual terms, seals create a matrix of correspondences (or a chain of inversions) between figure and ground. In material terms, seals function as a link running from stone to ink to paper. This way, they help us relate literary production and language to matter and the body, connecting experience to memory. Crucial to our collaboration, seals also function as a tally between people and between people and place.
Our work acknowledges the ‘material turn’ as a shift from representation to process and technic, such as the embodied gestures entailed in our acts of exploration, documentation and co-creation. Through flow, collision and interruption we explore an unfolding relationship between body, material environment and the imaginaries of site and landscape. We develop a repertoire of gestures and tool use – adding, substracting, moulding, casting, printing, piercing, digging – through which our bodies respond and correspond to the material forms we find and the natural processes of erosion, ruination and wilding that fragment them. Emerging from the literal and the imaginary ground of earth, stone, concrete and dirt, our working process folds together body, site and landscape.