The Artist and the Archaeologist

GPS day 1

The wild landscape of Orkney lends itself well to collaboration. When the winds whistle across the sea, you soon find out that working with your neighbour is a good way to conduct your life.

In fact, collaboration seems to come naturally in such an environment. And so in this vein Dr James Moore, an archaeologist working at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, and Rik Hammond a visual artist resident in Orkney, came together to devise an innovative programme combining art and archaeology.

The Yesnaby Art and Archaeology Research Project (YAARP) was thus created…melding together the principles of both archaeology and art in order to bring the archaeological landscape of Orkney to life.

The project is in its second year and aims to explore the development of the archaeological landscape of Yesnaby and to consider the ways in which the environment can be interpreted and represented using a range of methods…from the traditional to the experimental. The main area of study this year centres on the area around East Bigging in Yesnaby, West Mainland, Orkney and runs from 18th July to 29th July.

This area of Orkney is particularly interesting in terms of landscape archaeology as there is evidence of human activity from the Bronze Age all the way through to the Second World War. This project will investigate, through the use of gephysics, field walking and test pitting, the evolving landscape of Yesnaby.

Each day during field work the team are presented with one of a series of ‘Provocations and Interventions’ to undertake collectively. One of these creative challenges involved a member of the project team gathering GPS data while they worked on an archaeology project during the day. Each track was shown on a map and in effect the process of undertaking archaeology created art (see the photograph above).

James and Rik take up the story by outlining their first day…..”Seven members of the fieldwork team assembled on Day One at the UHI Archaeology Institute at Orkney College for the fieldwork briefing and equipment check, before heading out to the area around East Bigging/Pickabigging in Yesnaby – the main focus of our landscape survey this season. After parking up and introducing ourselves to the neighbours, team members donned wearable GPS receivers and opened our first ‘Provocations & Interventions’ envelope – a daily task/instruction unknown to the wider team, randomly chosen, which today suggested two team members focus on recording audio and video in the landscape. Sarah Jane chose the video camera and Holly the iPad, and spent the day recording.

We then walked the perimeter of our primary survey area – a couple of fields and an enclosure totalling roughly 8 hectares – orienting ourselves within the immediate landscape, in addition to going through a project health and safety checklist, before breaking for lunch. We shared a packet of biscuits for pudding – and began a daily biscuit scoring chart (expertly drawn out on our portable chalkboard by Holly). Today’s ‘Rainbow Cookies’ didn’t score as well as we first hoped, despite their promising packaging! Will tomorrow’s fare better?

After lunch James instructed the team in the setup of the Trimble GPS (which is used to accurately map out a grid across the fields prior to geophysical survey) as the rain became heavier. We eventually abandoned the field a little early – as the rain was clearly not about to stop any time soon – and the team headed home to dry out and prepare for day 2.”

 

Check out www.yaarp.org.uk for more information on this innovative project.

Photograph by Rik Hammond http://www.rikhammond.com/


Supported by Orkney Islands Council’s Culture Fund.