Archaeology

Visible Diggers – Part 3

Last week our Visible Diggers research project culminated in our presentation in Doug Rocks-McQueen and Cara Jones’ session ‘the Future of Engagement’ at the CIfA 2015 conference in Cardiff. Fellow students Stephanie McCulloch and Liya Walsh and myself put together a powerpoint presentation and an accompanying narrative of the results of our survey and had been practising for several weeks. The nerves definitely started to kick in when we arrived at the hotel where the conference was being held. One last practice in the hotel room and it was time to join the session in which we were speaking, The session had a range of interesting speakers each giving differing views on the future of public engagement with archaeology. The main point that came from many of the papers was that the archaeological profession is currently divided into several different and often idiosyncratic sectors – commercial, academic, community etc. and the lack of communication between them should be addressed before better and more universal public engagement strategies are to be implemented. However, several speakers such as Viviana Culshaw of Clwyd-Powys Archaeological trust, Angharad Williams and Victoria Reid from Access to Archaeology presented some fun and successful public outreach projects. David Connolly of BAJR gave a concluding presentation about how these boundaries between sectors should be broken down and archaeologists from ifferent backgrounds should work more closely together and tell more stories!

One guy in the audience complained that universities ‘cherry-pick’ the best archaeological sites for untrained students to work. He suggested they should really be getting excavated by members of the commercial sector who have much more knowledge and experience. I think he’d forgotten where archaeologists with experience come from! I was starting to worry how well our paper would go down by the time it came to our slot, to an audience seemingly made up of mostly commercial archaeology management types! I made a point to state before I started that its possible to be a community archaeologist, student, and member of the community at the same time and these ‘labels’ that had been flying around in the session were not necessarily mutually exclusive. Our presentation was well-received and we had some great questions from the crowd. Issues about male and female students receiving information differently and students being unsure whether they had made interpretive acts during their fieldwork were of particular interest to the audience and we had lots of people congratulating us and wanting to know more afterwards which was great!

Our poster on display in the foyer at the conference

Our poster on display in the foyer at the conference

We even managed to secure a slot to display out poster in the foyer, and we made some great new connections with people at the conference. I had a chance to meet Raksha Dave from time team who was telling us about the possibility of archaeologists being able to become individually chartered, in a similar way to many other EU countries and what this might mean for community archaeology and people already working in the commercial sector – interesting stuff! I feel i totally made the right outfit choice too – my blue velvet blazer was a hit!

The experience on a whole was absolutely amazing and I feel a great sense of empowerment that even though the three of us are still undergraduates, we can still make a difference and a contribution to the archaeological community. Having some experience in public speaking has definitely been beneficial too (way to be thrown in at the deep end, right?). We’re now currently trying to organise a short piece for ‘the Archaeologist’ journal, where we’ll publish a more complete version of our results. Stay tuned!

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Art, History

Eastern Exchanges

Last week I attended the preview evening for Eastern Exchanges: East Asian Craft and Design at Manchester Art Gallery. This new, free, temporary exhibition replaces the Sensory War on the Gallery’s second floor and features many cutting edge pieces of Chinese, Japanese and Korean craft and design together with a wide range of historical examples. Many of the older objects are on loan from various public and private collections, including Manchester Museum. The exhibition is well-lit and definitely not short on displays – it features over 1500 objects. Gallery director Maria Balshaw was on-hand to give the opening speech and was particularly exited about the opportunity to display a large 19th century Japanese ‘norimono’, a kind of sedan, which has not been exhibited in 30 years.

A 19th Century Japanese Norimono

A 19th Century Japanese Norimono

I recently read Masao Yamaguchi’s fascinating article ‘The Poetics of Exhibition in Japanese Culture’ published in ‘Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics of Museum Display’ (1991). In it, he discusses the various techniques employed in Japanese exhibition spaces to transmit knowledge about objects. ‘Mitate’, is the Japanese art of citation – that is – the transposition of meaning upon an object through association with a broader and usually mythological context (i.e an accompanying image, sounds, or even another object). Mitate could have been a useful technique to employ at this exhibition, where the approach to displaying objects was one of Western familiarity – the objects were mainly displayed in isolation, in a stark, white environment with an accompanying caption. This, however, may well have been the point – after all, the main focus of the exhibition was to appreciate the aesthetics and design of the objects and many of the older objects had been collected for exactly that reason. The fact that this display is in an art gallery rather than a museum did seem to shift the focus of the ethnographic items onto appreciation of the visual, but this was not necessarily reductive of the object. The modern art and craft pieces were displayed separately, presumably to create a chronological dichotomy between the two spaces, and were impressive and beautiful.

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Meiji Period Japanese Satsuma Ware water-holder.

Meiji Period Japanese Satsuma Ware water-holder.

A selection of Japanese Tsuba (sword guards)

A selection of Japanese Tsuba (sword guards)

Japanese laquer box with intricate decoration

Japanese laquer box with intricate decoration

Suit of Japanese armour, on loan from Manchester Museum

Suit of Japanese armour, on loan from Manchester Museum

The exhibition is open for a relatively short eight weeks and I would definitely recommend going to have a look. It aspires to take the visitor on a journey through the last 300 years of East Asian arts and crafts, combining old with new, and I would say it very much succeeds in doing so.

Eastern Exchanges is at the Manchester Art Gallery until May 31st.

Karp, I and Lavine, D. (eds.) 1991. Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display. London: Smithsonian Institute Press.

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Uncategorized

Making Monuments on Rapa Nui

This week, I attended the preview evening for the Making Monuments on Rapa Nui: The Statues From Easter Island exhibition at Manchester Museum, which replaced Siberia: At the Edge of the World in the ground floor temporary exhibition space. The exhibition focuses on the famous Moai stone monuments from the island, the centerpiece being the impressive Moai Hava, currently on a five-year loan from the British Museum. Museum director Nick Merriman emphasised in his opening speech just how colossal these Moai statues are – Moai Hava is a relatively small example at just three tonnes but stil took several hours and modern equipment to transport into place in the museum foyer, and also required structural reinforcement of the basement ceiling. There is still much debate about how the much larger statues on the island, which often extend far underground, were quarried, carved and placed in situ by the Rapa Nui islanders,

Chilean Ambassador Sr. Rolando Drago Rodriguez gave more insight into the island and its position as a territory of Chile. This was the first time in Manchester Museum’s long history, in fact, that there has been an exhibition primarily of Chilean artefacts. Prof. Colin Richards of the University of Manchester and the current head of our archaeology department was last to speak, as he and his team have pioneered recent archaeological work on Rapa Nui, which, in collaboration with Merriman and museum archaeologist Brian Sitch, was the catalyst for this exhibition. His speech was witty and anecdotal – in true Colin style- but informative and captivating at the same time!

Reconstructed Moai standing in the exhibition space

Reconstructed Moai standing in the exhibition space

The exhibition itself is fascinating, if a little sparse – two reconstructions of Moai heads dominate the center of the space and there is a wide range of material, from ethnography to pop culture. One criticism that has been raised is that none of the objects on display have dates. This is understandable with certain artefacts on display as there is still debate of the exact dates the Moai were created, but the dates for artefacts with known provenance are also omitted. This could cause confusion due to the exhibition being a mix of ethnography and modern Western objects which emulate the style of the Moai and could give the impression that Rapa Nui islanders still use the more primitive wooden and stone tools on display, whereas the island has undergone modernisation at much the same rate as other Pacific Islands since its ‘discovery’ by westeners on Easter Sunday 1722. Nevertheless, the exhibition is still well worth a visit and stands as a welcome example of collaboration between the University and the Museum.

The exhibition poster

The exhibition poster

Moai Hava, standing in the museum foyer

Moai Hava, standing in the museum foyer

The Whally Bridge brewery rebranded some of their beers especially for the opening event.

The Whally Bridge brewery rebranded some of their beers especially for the opening event.

Making Monuments on Rapa Nui is open at the Manchester Museum until 6 September 2015.

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