excavate:overlay took place in Caithness, Scotland during 2003. It linked contemporary art and archaeology, bringing together a multidisciplinary team of archaeologists, artists and academics in parallel investigations of two sites on the east side of the county. The project enabled specialists to share their expertise and insights, resulting in a series of performative events, exhibitions and conference presentations. It developed as a result of my ambition to work at archaeological sites on a scale related to the landscape. It combined my former pre-occupation with glass making with a developing interest in working conceptually in environments associated with archaeological enquiry.
I made several temporary structures over three days at two sites using two and half tons of hand cast glass blocks made to the size of a traditional granite sett (six inches square by three inches deep). The blocks were cast by two glass makers, Chris Jones and Katie Brown over three weeks at North Lands Creative Glass. I wanted the piece to reflect specialised knowledge and hard physical labour, attributes I believe are demonstrated through the archaeological evidence from the Neolithic onwards. Physically moving the glass across open fields was arduous and time consuming yet an integral part of the process. I wanted to create temporary installations that would leave little trace of their presence other than memories for those who saw it. To me, this is similar to the study of archaeology, a process of enquiry into glimpses of past endeavor. People in prehistory spent time and resources creating things, whether they were monuments, utilitarian objects or spiritual artefacts, reflecting their deep knowledge of materials and processes and their willingness to put time and effort into realising their ideas.
The project enabled specialists to share their expertise and insights, resulting in a series of performative events, exhibitions and conference presentations. This included glass casting, archaeological geophysical survey, site preparation, land management, academic research and film making. Academic Jane Webb researched archival records to produce historical interpretations of the land as it currently appears revealing how progressive ideas of the day were tested on the inhabitants and their environs. Artist Jane Bailey created ‘recollections from the future’ a DV film about how the project might be absorbed into local folk memory by future generations. Archaeologists Amelia Pannett and Andrew Baines combined their archaeological experience with contemporary art to consider how environments can be explained from fresh perspectives.