In the early 90s I started working with Mike Pearson*, performance artist, founder and artistic director, with Cliff McLucas, of theatre company Brith Gof.
Our common interests: forms of (re)collection, the gatherings of memory practices; and site and locale – where different events and times endure and come together in the material forms of inhabited places, in the traces and remains of the past in the present.
As Pearson|Shanks we have developed a kind of hybrid practice around the notion of an archaeology of the contemporary past – fieldwork and shared encounter, performed work on a large and small scale, media experiment in documentation and representation, curated itinerant colloquia, research and authoring through sites and landscapes in northern Europe (Wales, northern England and the Scottish borders), the Mediterranean (Sicily and the world of the ancient Greek city state), California, and the online world Second Life.
Theatre/Archaeology – the re-articulation of fragments of the past as real time event
We hold that performance, understood as dynamic, creative, constitutive design practice, offers a fertile and liberating means of addressing some key contemporary concerns regarding the significance of the material past to the present in that vast culture industry of heritage, as well as in negotiations around personal and community identity, and particularly regarding site and landscape. Concomitantly archaeological practice is a paradigm of inscription, documentation, (re)mediation, and (re)presentation of site and performance.
A central proposition is that site-specific time-based media works can be non-representational engagements, interventions in regions, sites and their temporal affinities, open and nuanced works-in-progress that offer critical commentary on univocal and restricting frames of reference, on ideologies of landscape and belonging.
We think that Theatre/Archaeology offers provocative models for the future of the archive, another live focus of contemporary art and the archaeological imagination. We directly address the character of documentation of event, site and artifact in performed practice. We propose that assemblage is one of archaeology’s constituting practices, in the animated archive, where traces and remains of the past are treated not as datum but as active resources in the mobilization of the past in the present, for present and future purpose.
In 2012 we began a new series of collaborative works that build on a revival of forgotten genres of chorography and pragmatography, the early modern and antiquarian pursuit of reasoned and authentic engagement with locality and artifact in place/event, the folding of performance/performed in inhabited site.
This is a fourfold effort involving new performance work, review of past works, documentation of both, and elucidation of the principles of practice of theatre/archaeology in a “how to” primer. These will take the form of a manifold of engagements with different audiences through scripted, performed and improvised dialogues, co-authored publications, and fieldwork and visits.
*Mike Pearson is Professor of Performance Studies at Aberystwyth University. Through his performance work with RAT Theatre, Cardiff Laboratory Theatre, Brith Gof, Pearson/Brookes, through productions with the National Theatre of Wales and the Royal Shakespeare Company, and through his writing, Mike is the world’s leading exponent of site specific performance, a key fulcrum of contemporary performance art. He has also been the most profound influence on my archaeology these last twenty years.
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