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3.2 Act 2: in pursuit of Art.ifacts

The Rhynie Woman group, based in Aberdeenshire, were distinct from the other groups who participated in ACCORD in their imaginative approach and creative motivations for engaging with the technologies. From the outset, due to their experimental and playful approach, they could not fail. In contrast to the CGDT group, they made it plain from the start that they were not that concerned about the product, since in their eyes process is always given precedence. The Rhynie Woman is a feminist artists' collective that engage in collaborations with their local community, archaeological projects and other artists. Group members all defined themselves as creative individuals or artists (two individuals were employed or currently studying in the arts), and at the time of our project members were engaged in writing, storytelling, music, photography, ceramics, sculpture, cookery and weaving. All were interested in exploring the local landscape via geology, foraging, crystal energies and healing. They are also fascinated by the local past in the area and in some sense regard themselves as 'modern Picts'. Although they were already informally meeting up prior to the discovery of Pictish remains in the immediate vicinity (Noble and Gondek 2011; Noble 2014), getting involved in these recent excavations has catalysed and solidified the group. Their adopted logo is the outline of the famous Pictish carving from the local area known as the Rhynie man (Canmore ID 17218), reinterpreted as a woman holding a teapot. We recorded four monuments together as part of ACCORD, all of which are archived on the Archaeology Data Service website (Jeffrey 2017).

The Rhynie Woman group attempted to mediate the objective lens by embracing the process and context of making. As one group member expressed 'we're approaching this [i.e. engagement on ACCORD] from an artistic point of view [and] see the objects we will record as Art.ifacts'. The main highlighted potential of 3D visualisation was its potential 'as a creative tool' for storytelling, while sculptors in the group were particularly interested in how techniques such as photogrammetry might offer a different viewpoint to facilitate understanding objects and places in three dimensions. From the first moment of meeting the group they were keen to get making and doing. The focus group was cut short and we grabbed the closest thing to hand in order to playfully experiment with photogrammetry - a locally harvested hogweed plant - then placed it on a lace tablecloth.

Rhynie Hogweed (3D PDF. Right-click to download)

The group were also keen to use these technologies as exploratory tools and later on that same evening some individuals keenly took up on our suggestion of going out at night to have a go at RTI. With no strict plan we set off into the dark in the direction of the local St Luag's burial ground (Canmore ID 17196). Everyone took their turn in controlling the recording exercise. In homage to the group's adventurous spirit, we recorded the headstone dedicated to explorer and missionary Alexander MacKay, who died in Uganda in 1890. Alexander MacKay had also been the subject of a recent art project commissioned by Deveron Arts (an organisation based in nearby Huntley and with which Rhynie Woman frequently collaborate). We then chose to record one of the oldest 18th-century tombstones in the churchyard with particularly attractive but unreadable lettering that covered its whole visible surface. On our way back we stopped in the village square and recorded a stone that was believed by the group to have Pictish symbols on it, but which were not clearly visible in normal lighting conditions. RTI uncovered a Pictish figure with staff incised on this stone, and for all in the group this was the first time they had seen what was believed to be a myth. We linked it to a stone listed on the Royal Commission of Ancient and Historical Monuments' database (Canmore ID 17185), which had first been illustrated over 150 years ago by the well-known Scottish antiquarian James Logan. RTI requires close-up examination of the object being recorded, affording a very immediate interaction with it, an experience that was enhanced in the pitch darkness. The bright light of the torch brought out the tactility and textures of the stones, while in the case of the stone in the village square it even revealed hidden carvings. Three members of the group voiced how their creative control of the process of RTI, and its power to 'reveal things I had never seen before', strengthened their relationship to place.

Figure 4a
Figure 4a: Photogrammetry data-capture of the Crawstane, Rhynie, Aberdeenshire. Image: ACCORD with the Rhynie Woman group
Figure 4b
Figure 4b: Photogrammetry data-capture of the Crawstane, Rhynie, Aberdeenshire. Image: ACCORD with the Rhynie Woman group

The following blustery and changeable day, laden with cameras, the magic pole and tripods, we promenaded up to the exposed Pictish Crawstane, which dominates the ridge as you enter Rhynie from the southern end of the village (Figure 4). Everyone mucked in, and I stood back while Clara and the skilled photographers recorded the standing stone for photogrammetry. Despite making attempts to capture enough overlapping photographs in fleeting momentary cloud cover, the fact that the light and shadow is represented in our final photogrammetric model captures the immediacy of being there in that exact moment. This tangible corporeal feeling was transferred to the processed Agisoft Photoscan result and, as one member of the group expressed, viewing the photogrammetric model of the Crawstane was like an 'out of body experience', while another described the crisp and unsettling 'hyper-realism' of the digital images. In addition, traces of the making (such as camera shake in the RTIs) were not deemed detrimental.

Figure 4c
Figure 4c: Photogrammetry data-capture of the Crawstane, Rhynie, Aberdeenshire. Image: ACCORD with the Rhynie Woman group

Therefore, throughout this weekend project there was a palpable sense of the group trying to collapse time through engaging anew with their local relics from the past. Photogrammetry and RTI were attractive media for this end, as they both sensitively and accurately captured the monuments that they already knew so well, while often enhancing what can be seen with the naked eye. Results were regarded to be actually 'more engaging' than the real thing. In sum, and in keeping with how the data capture itself had been approached by the group as a communal event (Figure 5) with the air of a celebratory occasion, for this group it was the group effort and taking part in the process itself that was of interest and importance; its creative possibilities, transcendent and exploratory power for communicating and enhancing their strong connection to the Pictish past.

Figure 5
Figure 5: Keeping a-hold of those tarps! Preparing for Reflectance Transformation Imaging of the Crawstane, Rhynie, Aberdeenshire. Image: ACCORD with the Rhynie Woman group

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