Last Drinks at the Hibernian Hotel

Tracy IRELAND (Photographer), Ursula Federick (Photographer)

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Abstract

Artist statement
This series of photographic works is based on silhouettes of ‘classical’ archaeological vessel types, some of which are overprinted on their surface with images of common, colonial artefacts, often found in large numbers at archaeological sites in Australia. The form, size and material properties of the ‘vessel’ varies significantly across artefact assemblages throughout the world. Yet as an object which functions to contain, hold, share and carry, it represents an enduring aspect of culture despite differences of time and space. With a vast repertoire of vessel shapes to draw upon, this series of works reflects on how sites, assemblages and collections become repositories of meaning and on how that is carried and communicated into the present. To create these images we have used archaeological artefacts from the dig on the Hibernian Hotel site, near Queanbeyan, in the Canberra region. These artefacts are commonly studied according to categories based on material and function; such as horseshoes, clay smoking pipe fragments, ceramic sherds, nails, etc. The work documents a process in which we are exploring how archaeology functions as an aesthetic frame through which the past is remembered. Photography has always been central to archaeology to provide scientific, evidential authority, while concepts such as seriation and typology are encyclopaedic, world-ordering techniques which use objects to create narratives about both culture and time.
Research statement
While 50 years ago Australian society debated the importance of the material remains of the recent, colonial past, the value of this material is now more widely accepted as important to the national story. Historical archaeology in Australia has thus had to justify its importance by demonstrating how it is different to mainstream history, how it reveals silences in historical archives and can give voice to marginalized or forgotten groups. Through the social context of heritage, archaeological practices are used to produce a visible, material heritage, culturally validated through the ‘science’ and expert authority of archaeology, which groups can then use in struggles around identity and recognition. Archaeological heritage is thus always political and often contested and this has perhaps constrained thinking around how the aesthetic qualities of archaeology provide experiences of object-mediated empathy with people in the past, and around how heritage places become locales of ‘affective contagion’ in the present. This work presents an aesthetic juxtaposition between ‘old-world’ archaeological artefacts and the ‘modern’ detritus of the recent, colonial pasts in Australia, to explore how archaeology is a creative response to the ordering of the material world, as well as a ‘trope’ or frame that uses an encyclopaedic structure to classify the ephemera of individual lives into narratives of common experience.

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationAustralia
Media of outputOnline
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jul 2016

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