From the Art Hut – looking back…
By Karen Wallis
On July 5, 2018, I paid my first visit to Trench Y.
Mike Copper and his team were searching for the enclosure wall beside the Stenness loch. My interest was caught because it was to be a quick, one-season excavation, in contrast to the slow and thorough pace of the dig elsewhere on site. They would dig the trench quickly, find the wall and fill it up again. I was therefore anxious not to miss any exciting events and became a Trench Y groupie. Digging was fast and energetic, which meant my drawings were even sketchier than usual.
By July 9, the first test pit was being dug and anticipation was high as they found what might be the wall – but that hope was short lived. As the season progressed, digging continued all the way down to water’s edge, the trench became very deep and the spoil heaps high. Although some interesting bits of archaeology were found – there was no sign of a great wall.
The situation of the trench away from the rest of the site, and the unusual speed of progress gave Trench Y a certain outsider status, so the team called themselves pirates, proudly flying a pirate flag on the spoil heap, beside an inflatable parrot. It gave an air of defiance in the face of the continuing lack of wall.
2018 was my third year on site as an Artist in Residence and when I arrived in that first week, people began asking what my plan was for the year. There was an assumption that there is a clear route in my work, which is far from the case. If I have any sort of plan, it is simply to continue – putting one foot in front of the other. But alongside this gradual perambulation I need to allow time for reflection.
In I Swear I Saw This Michael Taussig says: “The way I see it, a plan of research is little more than an excuse for the real thing to come along”. So my hope is always that my “research” in the form of drawing and conversation will throw something up. The unexpected moment of discovery when I make a connection between my artwork and the archaeology is just as exciting for me as it must be for an archaeologist discovering a find – or making a connection to a past action.
When I reflected on this in my blog for a-n, a comment on Twitter asked: “Do Artists in Residence need a plan?” I decided the answer was not necessarily.
The whole point of being an Artist in Residence is to interact with the host context and for that you need an open mind, just as you do when meeting people. For me a residency is a leap in the dark, which is why I resisted any previous study on archaeology and stoutly continue to maintain my artist’s status. To see uncluttered by preconceptions is to see with clarity.
Each day I arrive on site not knowing what I will do. Walking round the site I draw and make sound recordings of anything that catches my eye – and wait for that moment when I encounter some thing, or an idea, or even the absence of a thing.