The early twentieth century saw an increased fascination with the irrational, “primitive”, symbolic and mythical. During this same period, archaeologists began in earnest to explore humanity’s earliest art. Discoveries such as the Paleolithic so-called “Venuses” seemed to testify to a heritage that was radically different, both in its aesthetics, and possibly in its social organization, from the periods that had stood in the center of historical research in the preceding century. Prehistory developed into a malleable complex that was held up to lend legitimacy to both radical and reactionary politics.
This talk will discuss how artists, scholars and political thinkers looked to theories of prehistoric matriarchies as inspiration for rethinking community. Using Jacquetta Hawkes’s archaeological display at the 1951 Festival of Britain as my example, I will begin by discussing the origins of matriarchal theories and how they became linked to modernist art and radical politics. In the talk’s second half, I turn to the resurgence in interest in matriarchies and archaeology among contemporary artists. I discuss how artists today are adopting the practices and rhetoric of archaeology to critically examine (often racialized and/or gendered) claims of “what has always been” and to imagine new ways of organizing society.
Nelson Crespo is Computing & Technology Coordinator Royal College ofArt. Nelson is a tech-driven creative enabler, whose work in tech encompasses abroad spectrum, including coding, intelligent digital manufacturing, visualisation, VR, AR, creative coding, Generative AI, Machine Learning, andRobotics. Between 2005 and 2012 he was a Collection Care Specialist at theTate Gallery where he first became intrigued by the concept of facsimiles.In 2017 he worked with Factum Arte in Madrid, a technologically-driven artistic production studio, where he gained insight into scanning and fabrication methodologies applied to cultural heritage and archaeological sites and artefacts. More recently Nelson's research interests have taken him to explore mixed reality making technologies and how holographic making can aid art and craft practitioners bridge the gap between the analogue and digital fabrication processes.
Colleen Morgan is a Senior Lecturer of Digital Archaeology and Heritage at the University of York. She is the Director of the Digital Archaeology andHeritage Lab, the MSc in Digital Archaeology and the MSc in Digital Heritage.Her research follows bringing digital archaeology into conversation with current theory from feminist, queer, posthuman and anarchist approaches, developing multi-sensorial interventions and digital embodiment through avatars of ancient people, and use of tools and theory in analogue and digital methods within archaeology. Morgan published, ‘Avatars, Monsters, and Machines: A Cyborg Archaeology’, looking at the creative potential in the practice of a cyborg archaeology, which draws from feminist posthumanism to transgress existing constructions of people through history and today.
From tourist paraphernalia to photographic reproductions and artistic re-interpretations, the frescoes of ancient Pompeii have amassed an accretion of surfaces and mimicked layers. Disruptive excavation procedures of the early 1900s physically altered the imagery of the walls, and countless perspectives of the painted characters and their actions have unfolded through gender analysis, psychoanalysis, writing, and art, looking to reveal the mysteries of their scenes. Notably, the male gaze formalised sexist and objectifying stories for many of the women depicted on the walls, being described by the likes of Sigmund Freud and archaeologist August Maiuri as “intruigingly psycho-erotic subject matter”, “the sensual” “voluptuous bodies” being, “perfectly preserved youthful beauties”. With the progression of AI and digital tools, there is an opportunity to reinvestigate the sites through a digital lens. Being mindful of the patriarchal bias that still exists within AI, the project reflects how reinterpreting through digital tools can provide new narratives for both our past and present. This translation of archaeological sites re-envisions lost identities and designs new physical artefacts and architectural environments for the ancient women painted on the walls of Pompeii through a queer cyberfeminist architectural lens. By working in collaboration with AI, the project investigates the role of technology in archaeology and architectural history but also as an analytical and design tool. A queer cyberfeminist analysis can provide a new common language to interpret the architecture of the frescoes of Pompeii and tell revised stories for the painted women that moves away from the patriarchal lens of the past. Using feminist theories on AI and the role of the cyborg from theoretical texts including Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto and Legacy Russell's Glitch Feminism, the project is a visual investigation into how we can critically perceive our digital identities and design new spaces for our gender fluid, transversally thinking, physically-transcending bodies to exist.