thinking about archaeology

Two days to see Simon Callery show

Simon Callery with a Cut Pit painting

Oh dear, over a month since my last post. One & Other (the original impetus for my starting this blog) has gone, a new British Archaeology has been out for three weeks and I’ve been to several interesting places – including an exhibition by Simon Callery, which is why I’m writing this now: it’s well worth seeing, and it closes on Sunday (November 1).

John Prescott and Tony Blair launched the barking Thames Gateway strategy in 2003 (to site what Jonathan Glancey describes as “the biggest building development Britain has ever known” on a stretch of near sea-level, and still sinking land beside the river Thames). This massive regeneration project has, however, paid for the usual developer-funded archaeological work, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council sponsored Callery to explore the changing landscape. You can see some of the results at the APT Gallery at Harold Wharf, a short walk round the corner from the DLR station at Deptford Bridge, for just two more days. It’s a small show, but especially if you’re already in London and it sounds as if you might enjoy it, I strongly recommend you go.

Callery has a history of working with archaeologists, notably at the Oxford University Segsbury hillfort project (I was shocked to learn that his huge multi-part Segsbury work no longer exists). He has been visiting Oxford Archaeology’s Thames Gateway excavations, and the results are what he is at pains to call paintings – canvasses opened up, disassembled and fixed, to invite a delving curiosity. There’s something about them that reaches back strongly to the RA’s 1997 Sensation exhibition, and all that followed, but without the shouting. Callery talked to me about the project, and he will feature on the back page of the next British Archaeology. In the meantime, you have two days left to see the works.

What else have I been doing? I was treated to a personal presentation about the Stonehenge visitor centre by Denton Corker Marshall architects Steve Quinlan and Barrie Marshall. I was privileged to be able to write about the Staffordshire Anglo-Saxon hoard before its discovery had been made public (though this wreaked havoc with my magazine production schedule, to say nothing of home life), and later I joined the queue on the last day of the hoard’s exhibition in Birmingham. I was much impressed there by both the visitors’ patience, and the tiny, delicate gold work (and also the fabulous winged Lucifer by Jacob Epstein half way along the queue).

Which leads me to Wild Thing at the Royal Academy, a must for anyone who enjoys Epstein, Gill or Gaudier-Brzeska – or just sculpture – with Epstein’s recreated rock drill as powerful as ever (it could fill the space in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall on its own, unlike the more massive Miroslaw Balka’s How It Is now at Tate Modern, which fails to live up to its theoretical promise – though my nearly-three-year-old daughter had a great time running around in the dark). Did a little filming for a future national Geographic broadcast, and talked about the Staffordshire hoard on Radio 3’s Night Waves (I hope to report occasional updates there and in British archaeology – there will be much new to say over the coming months). Heard potentially-future-culture-secretary Jeremy Hunt say he thought he might merge English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund (and give ancient monument scheduling to local authorities) – the chief executives of both remained silent. And the next British Archaeology is under way, with good stuff to read about in early December.

Birmingham queue

Epstein's Lucifer entertains the queue in Birmingham

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