IRAC Intervetion #2 - Theoretical Archaeology Group, York (2007)

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In December 2007, IRAC inserted a participatory intervention into the experience of the Theoretical Archaeology Group, The Kings Manor, York. 150 replica Cycladic figurines (an iconic illicit artefact) were placed throughout the building and grounds. IRAC were interested to see how professional archaeologists would respond to found objects. Some were moved, some were destroyed, some were stolen, some were collected, others were never found. Few were recorded and documented. IRAC stands for Ian Russell and Andrew Cochrane (the designers of the collaboration). IRAC is Welsh for Iraq – and at some level signifies the looting of the Baghdad Museum – the acquisition of antiquities. The pieces were conceived and created in Cardiff, Wales.

The original Cycladic figurines were mostly made from carved stone – the production method might therefore be thought of as reductive. As a means of creating many figurines – mass production and the production of mass – this process was inverted and serialised. Crushed and fragmented Bath Stone was mixed with water and dental plaster to form a whole and a stereotype. This object was then consolidated and marked with an identity number (e.g. IRAC 128). The form of the Cycladic figurine was chosen in part as a result of the illegal collections that are sometimes formed, and the decontextualised and un-provenanced manner in which they are often acquired. The figurines raised issues of a contemporary past. In November 2008, an intervention occurred at The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich. Here, the work was initiated by first placing the figurines behind glass (beyond haptic senses) in sanctioned display cases – later these objects leaked out the cases and into the public galleries. The strategy was to make the audiences familiar with the figurines by handling the escaped objects from the vitrines. As a result, audiences were able to touch the figurines, move them, break or steal them. The most noticeable response to this object was their subversive insertion into other people’s art installations – most were taken away.

Beyond questioning at what point does an object render itself applicable to archaeological methodology and consideration, IRAC highlight that when presented with opportunities to engage with figurines, some people today are destructive, mischievous, possessive and playful. Figurines allow expression – whether one has made them or not. Are prehistoric figurines therefore articulations of just their makers – or can they illustrate other peoples thoughts? Did prehistoric figurines act as subversive elements that did not require rigid belief systems? Is it possible that engagement with them was sometimes ad hoc and unexpected? Did prehistoric figurines ever stimulate people to desire them for personal possession?

At Cardiff University we would like to thank and acknowledge the support and specialist knowledge of
Kate Waddington, Ian Dennis, Yiota Manti and Phil Parkes.


Video responses by Katherine Adams

One participant at the 2007 Theoretical Archaeology Group in York was motivated to attempt to collect as many figurines as possible. Here are some of the videos she made of her efforts and subsequent remediations.

Designed by iArchitectures (2007).

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