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Experimental Heritage as Practice: Approaching the Past through the Present at the Intersection of Art and Archaeology

Bodil Petersson, Danny Burke, Maria Kerin, Mary Nunan, Michael Walsh, Helle Kvamme, Patricia McKenna, Ros Ó Maoldúin, Déirdre Carr and Stefan Bergh

Cite this as: Petersson, B. and Burke. D. et al. 2020 Experimental Heritage as Practice: Approaching the Past through the Present at the Intersection of Art and Archaeology, Internet Archaeology 55.


This article presents the emerging transdisciplinary practice of Experimental Heritage as performed within an ongoing Irish-Swedish research project involving artists and archaeologists. The project is undertaken simultaneously in western Ireland and south-eastern Sweden. It explores the chosen Irish and Swedish landscapes of Clare and Öland, their similarities and differences, with the aid of combined and integrated artistic and archaeological practices. The starting points for common explorations are: stone and water, movement and time/the multitemporal, and the tangible and intangible aspects of landscape experience. In a transdisciplinary process, we explore new ways of combining art, archaeology and heritage within and between these landscapes.

One path towards fulfilling the aims is to explore art, archaeology and heritage through the senses. A phenomenological landscape perspective and an eco-cultural approach is combined with Performance Studies and movement-based practice. These perspectives and methodologies are paired with artistic and archaeological approaches to research, such as those conducted through poetry, music, performance, visual arts, physical surveys, mapping and excavations.

Still from Moving the Ship
Still from Moving the Ship video

Methods of working have developed from walking in the landscape to sketching, through visuals, sound and movement, group dialogue, team building and exploring the materiality of making. Group movement-based workshops are used to support receptivity and inner listening for decision making through somatic principles and the senses. The project encourages transdisciplinary as well as translocal practice to arrive at new approaches and perspectives on how the past matters to us in the present and how it might have an impact on the future.

To achieve both transdisciplinary and translocal ways of working through art and archaeology/heritage, we need to expand beyond conventional art and archaeology/heritage research, communication and presentation within the well-known framework of universities, cultural history museums and art institutions. The constraints of these conventions are substituted by alternative settings in the landscape. This landscape-based practice includes method development across disciplines, times and geographic distances. It also includes collaborations with people from local communities that can contribute their perspectives, experiences and stories to the explorations.

The advantage of Experimental Heritage as practice in the landscape is its ability to challenge our current worldview to better understand other times and cultures as well as our own. This in turn provides us with new tools to create alternative futures resting on care and respect for the need for diversity and breaking not only with boundaries set up between nature and culture but also hierarchies of centre and periphery. We intend to find out more about the multitemporal layers in the landscapes surrounding us and how they relate to our inner landscapes of multitemporal perception. The combination and equal roles of artists and archaeologists as well as the contributions of researchers and members of the local communities in this work is crucial. Equality and diversity encourage transdisciplinary knowledge development.

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  • Keywords: experimental heritage, arts, archaeology, phenomenology, performance studies, landscape, translocal, transdisciplinary, multitemporal, community engagement
  • Accepted: 6 Sep 2019 Published: 15 Sept 2020
  • Funding: This publication was funded by Linnaeus University.
  • PDF download (main article text only)

Corresponding author: Bodil PeterssonORCID logo
Department of Cultural Sciences, Linnaeus University, Sweden

Corresponding author: Danny Burke

Co-authors: Maria Kerin

Mary Nunan

Michael Walsh

Helle Kvamme

Patricia McKenna

Ros Ó Maoldúin

Déirdre Carr

Stefan Bergh

Full text

Figure 1: The Experimental Heritage practice combines art, archaeology and heritage in a landscape setting. Photo of the Iron Age Ismantorp fortress on Öland, Sweden, containing the ongoing Experimental Heritage blanket project inside its walls. Photo by Helle Kvamme and Sisters of Sättra, July 2017

Figure 2: Map showing the location of the landscapes of Öland, south-eastern Sweden, and the Burren area of County Clare, western Ireland. Map by Michael Walsh 2019

Figure 3: The Karum landscape of the alvar kind, with stone monuments belonging to the grave field with the same name and situated on the island of Öland, Sweden, and dated to the Bronze Age and Iron Age period. Photo by Bodil Petersson, July 2017

Figure 4: Creevagh/Craobhach, scrubby land with lots of hazel. Photo by Danny Burke 2019

Figure 5: The Creevagh wedge tomb in the townland with the same name in County Clare, Ireland. This kind of tomb is roughly dated from the Chalcolithic to Early Bronze Age period. Photo by Bodil Petersson, December 2018

Figure 6: Members of the Kilshanny community and custodians of the monuments and ritual landscape of Kilshanny, photographed after a religious ceremony celebrating St Augustine's Holy Well. Photo: Danny Burke 2019

Figure 7: A group of artists and archaeologists exploring aspects of past and present through embodied practice at an Iron Age Öland site called Gråborg. Photo by Michael Walsh 2019

Figure 8: The Lyngdoh of Nongkrem performing a domestic ritual on the occasion of a family member purchasing a new car. The ritual included the cutting and 'reading' of areca-nuts as offerings to the ancestors. The areca-nuts can be seen laid on betel leaves, a combination that is widely chewed as a mild stimulant in the day-to-day life of Hynniewtrep people in Meghalaya, India. Photo: Danny Burke 2013

Figure 9: The Doloi of Nongbah Elaka performing part of a state-level ritual. The gourd on the right contains rice-spirit, the brass vessel water, the oranges are locally grown and the flat discs under the oranges are rice breads. Photo by Danny Burke 2013

Figure 10: In this photo the elders of Lamin village in the War area of the Jaintia Hills, India, are concluding the rituals in a clan-level ceremony at the insertion of the cremated remains of a member of the Passah clan. Rice spirit is being scattered on offerings to the ancestors which include food items and betel-nuts. Photo by Danny Burke 2013

Figure 11: Artwork named 'Wish Tree' in Wanås art park, southern Sweden, where visitors are invited to write their wishes on paper and hang them in the trees to move in the wind. Example of artistic addition of sensory/emotional perspectives to a specific site. Photo by Bodil Petersson 2019

Figure 12: Dance/movement/music performance exploring the possibilities of preverbal landscape experience. Maria Kerin and Danny Burke within the Experimental Heritage project under the bridge by Dealagh river in Clare, Ireland. Photo by Michael Walsh 2019

Figure 13: Artists and archaeologists within Experimental Heritage Swedish-Irish Explorations exploring the environments of Carn Connachtach in Kilshanny parish, western Ireland. Photo by Michael Walsh 2018

Figure 14 (a, b, c, d): Comparisons without the constraints of chronology or geography. Photo from the publication La langue verte et la cuite. Étude gastrophonique sur la marmythologie musiculinaire by Asger Jorn and Noël Arnaud (1968) depicting a student rebel, Albert Einstein, motif from a Norwegian stave church and a Hindu figure. © Donation Jorn, Silkeborg

Figure 15: Perennial forms, art work by Richard Long, Jesus College, Cambridge (Renfrew 2003, 39). Photo by Colin Renfrew (used with permission).

Figure 16: Perennial forms, art work by Richard Long, Jesus College, Cambridge (Renfrew 2003, 48). Photo by Colin Renfrew (used with permission).

Figure 17: Walking the labyrinth, a theme within Borderline Archaeology, from the book of the same name (Campbell and Ulin 2004, 139)

Figure 18: Image from Ingold 2007, representing weaving containing patterns of lines from a Navajo blanket, example reproduced from Gladys A. Reichard’s book from 1936 with the title Weaving a Navajo Blanket

Figure 19: The making of baskets in the sand near Aberdeen beach in north-east Scotland. Photo by Raymond Lucas, previously published in Ingold 2013, 23

Figure 20: An almost complete basket. Photo by Raymond Lucas, previously published in Ingold 2013, 24

Figure 21: The Bell, film and the museum objects related to it. From the exhibition 'History Unfolds' at the Swedish History museum. Photo: Bodil Petersson 2017

Figure 22: LIV no. 8 (LIFE no. 8 in English) aerial view of Anne Hamrin Simonsson's land art installation near Algutsrum, Öland. Photo by Nils Hamrin, ©Anne Hamrin Simonsson

Figure 23: Saga Björling and Bodil Magnusson performing together at Sandby borg summer 2018: music, song/recitation and poetry. Photo by Magnus Ekenstierna 2018

Figure 24: The opening of Frances Gill's SOUNDmound at Sandby borg summer 2018. Photo by Bodil Petersson 2018

Figure 25: Still from the film Art Attack, with the army of artists attacking the Eketorp fortress with paint. Photo by Ylva Magnusson 2018

Figure 26: Visitor to Sandby borg with full digital gear taking part of SOUNDmound sound installation. Photo by Bodil Petersson 2018

Figure 27: The layout of the fortress as depicted on the information sign nearby Ismantorp fortress. Photo by Bodil Petersson 2018

Figure 28: Sisters of Sättra and Kristina Jeppsson's sketch of Ismantorp fortress coloured. Photo by Bodil Petersson 2017

Figure 29: Photo from the blanket project performance day 1 July 2017. Photo by Jes Wienberg

Figure 30: Still from Linda Persson's film Astral Women, recorded on the island Blå Jungfrun with three generations of women representing the tradition of females being connected to the island. Photo by Linda Persson

Figure 31: Photo of a returned cursed stone to Blå Jungfrun. Photo by Linda Persson

Figure 32: Photo of letter attached to the returning of a cursed stone to Blå Jungfrun. Text as follows: 'Please! Help me return this stone to Blå Jungfrun. Took it some years ago, without permission, and everything has just turned into misery. Please help me. I am sorry! Yvonne'. Photo by Linda Persson

Figure 33: The brook horse south of Gärdslösa church, Öland. Photo by Bodil Petersson 2017

Figure 34: Irish-Swedish Experimental Heritage visit to Sjukällorna, Öland. Photo by Michael Walsh 2018

Figure 35: Aerial photo overview of Kilshanny parish and the road, with a ring-barrow visible in the foreground. Photo: Matthew Kelly 2019

Figure 36: The pub in Kilshanny. Photo by Bodil Petersson 2019

Figure 37: The River Dealagh at Derry Bridge near Kilshanny. Photo: Danny Burke 2019

Figure 38: The large Carn Connachtach centrally placed in the middle of Kilshanny parish. Photo by Danny Burke 2019

Figure 39: A ring-barrow in Kilshanny parish. Photo by Matthew Kelly 2019

Figure 40: St Augustine's holy well in Kilshanny parish. Photo by Danny Burke 2019

Figure 41: Odins flisor near Karum grave field. Photo by Bodil Petersson 2019

Figure 42: The Karum stone ship as seen from the north. Photo by Bodil Petersson 2019

Figure 43: Traditional old farm buildings at Ölands Museum Himmelsberga, nowadays containing art exhibitions. Photo by Danny Burke 2019

Figure 44: Carl Linnaeus' depiction of Noah's ark from 1741 after he made his Öland journey. The supposed benches and the mast stone, that at the time might have been two stones, are visible in this sketch (from Linnaeus 2005, 162 [New edn])

Figure 45: Drone photo of the group moving around the Karum ship. Adjacent to the ship is a circular grave structure. Photo by Jan Hagelin 2019

Figure 46: A group of artists (Jackie Askew, Sheila Vollmer, Ilse Mikula and Anna Park) in Ireland collecting stones at the estuary of Liscannor to be brought to the performance at Karum grave field in Sweden. Photo by Maria Kerin 2019

Figure 47: Gärdslösa harbour by the east coast of Öland, where the Karum ship was launched after the performance at the grave field. Photo by Bodil Petersson 2019

Figure 48: Drone photo of the estuary of the combined Dealagh and Inagh rivers looking inland up the Dealagh towards Kilshanny. The ruins of Dough Castle, the seat of the O'Connors, former kings of Corcomroe, can be seen to the right of the bridge. Photo by Matthew Kelly 2019

Figure 49: Patterns in the sand forming ships and circles. Photo by Michael Walsh 2019

Figure 50: Participants in the performance/ritual by Liscannor estuary forming a circular shape resembling the coracle. Photo by Jackie Askew 2019

Video: Moving the Ship.

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Experimental Heritage [Last accessed: 19 January 2019]

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