SSW 08: Borderline Archaeology

Site and Subjective Writing (SSW)

15.11.2010 15 - 17 : SSW Session 08: BORDERLINE ARCHAEOLOGY


Brith Gof's concept of 'Placeevent'

“Brith Gof [1981-2003] is part of a distinct and European tradition in the contemporary performing arts - visual, physical, amplified, poetic and highly designed. Rather than focusing on the dramatic script, its work is part of an ecology of ideas, aesthetics and practices which foregrounds the location of performance, the physical body of the performer, and relationships with audience and constituency.

Brith Gof's works thus deal with issues such as the nature of place and its relation with identity, and the presence of the past in strategies of cultural resistance and community construction. The company works at all scales, from small solo works of storytelling to large epic works staged in locations such as disused factories, sand quarries, ice hockey stadiums, railway stations, abandoned farmhouses and even deep in the forest.

Brith Gof was co-founded in 1981 by Mike Pearson and Lis Hughes Jones. From the beginning its theatre was focused on physical performance rather than the dramatic text, and it rarely works in the conventional theatre with stage, proscenium arch and auditorium.

A shift to explicitly site specific work occurred in 1988 when Clifford McLucas joined the company. He brought a complementary interest in the architectonics of scenography.”

Gododdin TV Docu - 1 of 6


Nick Kaye in book 'Site-specific Art':

“Using explicitly 'hybrid' practices, and seeking to provoke a series of dialogues and confrontations between performance and location, Brith Gof construct their site-specific work through exploring unresolved relationships between various channels of address, creating a field of activities' (McLucas et al. 1995: 17) rather than linear structures.

Confronted with multiple, and often interpenetrating narratives and voices, their audiences are invited to encounter the site in which these works are realised as re-framed and overlaid by narratives which challenge and draw on the place of their presentation.

Rather than look toward a synthesis of elements through performance, the guiding metaphor for the construction of Brith Gof's work in these places has been the coexistence of distinct 'architectures' inhabiting on another and the site itself without resolution into a synthetic whole.

It is a relationship between elements which amplifies a fundamental exchange between site and performance, where, McLucas suggests, the installation of 'ghost' architecture seeks to engage with and activate narratives and properties of a 'host' site.

In this context, McLucas observes, the site may offer

  • a particular and unavoidable history
  • a particular use (a cinema, a slaughterhouse)
  • a particular formality (shape, proportion, height, disposition of architectural elements, etc.
  • a particular political, cultural or social context

(Kaye 1996: 213)

“Conceiving of their work, Pearson suggests, as 'the latest occupation of a location where occupations are still apparent and cognitively active' (Kaye 1996: 214), these performances are presented as a continuation of their sites' 'use'.

Yet, just as these events constitute another inflection of their sites' meanings, so they also define a process in which the reading of a site is opened up.

In these performances, Pearson argues, 'a complex overlaying of narratives, historical and contemporary, [creates] a kind of saturated space, or scene-of-crime, where […] “everything is potentially important”' (Kaye 1996: 214).

Here is architectural metaphor through which this work is constructed serves to bring a series of thematic, formal, 'found' and built structures into relationship.”

(Kaye, Nick, 2000: 53-54)

Such approaches to site “open up a reading of performance and site to multiple viewpoints..”
“in confronting these fractured works, the audience discovers that 'there's not a single viewpoint […] 'there's now way to stand outside it to try and define or divine the material' (McLucas, Morgan and Pearson 1995: 17)

Rather than present a specific or single reading of site, such a fractured work disperse the site, consituiting 'different groups of audience in different places' such that 'every single member of the audience is going to have a different reading of the piece' (McLucas, Morgan and Pearson 1995: 33).”

(Kaye, Nick, 2000: 55)


Tri Bywyd/Three Lifes (1995)

"Site: Esgair Fraith, Clwedog. An abandoned farm in a conifer plantation, west Wales.
Two new and temporary architectures, designed by McLucas, were introduced at the farm:

16 meter steel scaffolding cubes, running through the ruin and among the trees. They were made up with floors and rudimentary features - stairs, furniture, lighting.

These three ‘houses’ became the setting for three interpenetrating and episodic performances, each involving three sections of thirteen two minute parts, with physical work, commentary and spoken source materials (records, police statements, newspaper accounts), and amplified sound track.

Five live performers, including two local actors who had known Esgair Fraith in the 30s and 40s. A dead sheep. Various artifacts including flares, book, buckets of milk, sheets and a pistol.

The audience of 300 were seated in an auditorium built of scaffolding running through the neighboring plantation. Buses bringing the audience were parked in a quarry over the ridge, where also were sited the generators."

"The three lives.

One. 1869: a cottage in the village of Llanfiangel ar Arth, Lletherneuadd Uchaf, near Pencader west Wales. Site of the death of Sarah Jacob, the Welsh Fasting Girl, who, it is said, survived without food or water for two years, one month and one week. She died when nurses from St Guy’s hospital London locked her door and watched the result.

Two. 1965: Esgair Fraith, Llanfair Clydogau, Lampeter. Rural poverty and suicide.

Three. 1988: 7 James Street, Butetown, Cardiff, site of the murder of Lynette White, a prostitute, and associated with the miscarriage of justice in the false conviction of the Cardiff Three."


Tri Bywyd Notes by Clifford McLucas


In Tri Bywyd, rather than present these different sites and stories as a series of interlinked narrative and formal structures,

“'architecture' and 'event' are invested one within the other, in 'a hybrid of architecture and event' where 'a place and what is built there bleed into each other and constitute another order of existence – something like “placeevent” (McLucas 1996).

Indeed this is a strategy which aims at an upsetting of the boundaries of performance and site, and which, while constituted in these architectures, McLucas emphasises, is a work which 'exists in real time, in real space' (Kaye 1996: 234).”

(Kaye, Nick, 2000: 56).



In Mike Pearson & Michael Shanks' 'Theatre/Archaeology' book of 2001, the fractured, fragmented view of a site and performance, over real time was extended, bringing together an encounter of two disciplines, of archaeology and performance.

The following lays out what maybe shared in common..

"Fragments and assemblage:

Both performance and archaeology work with fragment and with trace. Performance and social practice, and their subsequent documentation or representation, through surviving traces and fragments, constitute heterogeneous [Consisting of dissimilar elements or parts; not homogeneous] assemblages.

Archaeologists excavate an indeterminate mess of flows of things and particles in the ground.

They discern categories of evidence and compose these fragments in images, diagrams, inventories, collections, reports and writings, forging links to make sense. But these connections remain as pieces of evidence, stored in museums and libraries, to be reworked, reassembled, recontextualised.

Devised performance, as contrasted with conventional theatre, results from identification, selection and accumulation of concepts, actions, texts, places and things which are composed and orchestrated in space and time according to a set of governing aesthetics, ideologies, techniques and technologies. It comprises a spectrum of strategies, practices and procedures which attend to questions of real-time presentation and representation. What begins as a series of fragments is arranged in performance: dramaturgy is an act of assemblage. It then immediately falls to pieces as traces and fragments of a different order, ranging from documentary photographs to the memories of its participants:


(Pearson and Shanks, 2000: 55)


"Partiality and pluralism:

Assemblages - performance and document - are inevitably partial.

Rooted in uncertainty, they all require acts of interpretation.
And there is no end to what can be said about them, to how they might be interpreted.

The assemblage of performance may be entirely schematic, requiring the spectator to elaborate a mental construct from a limited range of illusionistic or even two-dimensional clues:

She may need specific cultural competence to interpret it. It may work with extremely limited material and performative means. Everyday objects maybe included, though their placement, ratios and combinations are governed by extra-daily principles.

Semiotic economy is an essential feature of performance: it is by nature synecdochic [A figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole (as hand for sailor), the whole for a part (as the law for police officer), the specific for the general (as cutthroat for assassin), the general for the specific (as thief for pickpocket), or the material for the thing made from it (as steel for sword).].

A limited repertoire of sign-vehicles generates a potentially unlimited range of cultural units.
It is interpreted according to the expectation, experience and background of the watcher. "

(Pearson and Shanks, 2000: 56)


"Documentation and the ineffable:

Assemblage is construction, production, representation and documentation.

Both archaeology and performance involve the documentation of practices and experiences. Their embodiment in sensoria raises the issue of the representation of phenomena which are, partially at least, ineffable - beyond language."

"Documenting the event:

Theatre archaeology begins with a simple premise: That the description and documentation of devised performance - that matrix of places, objects and activities, of performer and context, worker and workspace, agency and structure - constitute a sort of archaeology, a rescue archaeology of the event.

And the wider issue is how to document/represent social and cultural experience.

This is the archaeological question - what is done with the remains of past lives?

Performance survives as a cluster of narratives, those of the watchers and of the watched, and of all those who facilitate their interaction - technicians, ushers, stage-managers, administrators. The same event is experienced, remembered, characterized in a multitude of different ways, none of which appropriates singular authority. And these may constitute the traces generated by theatre that is not reliant upon the exposition of dramatic literature - the artifacts it leaves behind; these, and plans, drawings, lighting plots, a handful of photographs.

From the watched comes the folklore of practice, coloured by aspiration, intention and rationalization, preserved in memory as anecdote and analect and revealed in discussion and interview and in personal archive as diary and notebook. And from all types of watchers - first-timers, aficionados, critics - springs description, opinion, personal interpretation."

(Pearson and Shanks, 2000: 57)


"It's [performance's] record will need to be adequate and appropriate, necessitating creative acts of representation. And it will need to draw upon disciplines, principles, methods and terminologies, other than those of textual analysis, to describe and document itself, approaches taken from sociology, ergonomics, architectural theory and forensic science. Yet we can neither create the authoritative record nor control its reception.

But is it only about aftermath?

Documentation is generated before, during and after the event by all orders of participants. As Cliff McLucas puts it (1993: n.p.):

Those before the event all refer to something that hasn't happened, that doesn't exist. They are utopian in their nature. They unify. They generate effects. They are pro-active. They propose concept, preference, intention. Those after the event are more verifiable, authoritative, though no less utopian in their need to control and construct an authorized history. They are descriptive and political.

Hence the question of aftermath actually throws into doubt the primacy of the event and the dependency of document and representation.

There are and were only ever assemblages of practices, experiences, tellings, re-tellings, memories, perceptions. Representation is thus less to do with replication than reworking and re-contextualisation.

With respect to narrative as a documentary form, archaeologist Julian Thomas (1994: 158) has observed

that what we are discussing is a particular way of being attuned to performance and its traces, which involves a form of production. That is, the production of narratives which stance for the past, rather than constituting faithful representations of the past."

(Pearson and Shanks, 2000: 58)


“The form of the document

What form might the document take? It is, as we have indicated, to focus upon fragment and assemblage: to define the objects of retrieval of performance around notions of site, time, structure and detail, which direct the attention of the narratives.

This will discuss the discussion:

  • Of the genesis, delineation and formalization of performance space and the creation of playing areas through the nature of the action, the placement of the audience and architectural and scenographic demarcation.
  • Of the effect of spatial restriction and configuration upon the type, nature and quality of the activity and upon the essential contracts of performance - performer to performer, performer to spectator, spectator to spectator.
  • Of the existence of spatial hierarchies, intensities and stratifications of activity, the reservation of particular locales.
  • And of the extent, volume and restriction of the spheres of influence of performers and spectators alike which collide and penetrate during interpersonal contact.

And this will require map, plan, section, axonometric projection.

  • Of the ways in which different time-frames are manifest by performers over time and from time to time in performance, in sequence or in parallel and how they affect the nature of the activity, the expenditure of energy and the application and quality of effort. And the overall dynamic pattern of the event.

And this will require chronologies and time-bases.

  • Of the explicit structure of performance as sets of rules, sequence, route map, montage.
  • Of the juxtaposition of different orders of material and styles and techniques of performance.

And this will require libretto, list, image, graph.

  • Of the dramaturgical detail and the equal importance of kinesic, proxemic and haptic signification: of signs, distances and body-to-body contacts…

.. it may be interesting to select a limited range of activities - walking, sitting, falling - and discuss their particular articulation, their stylistic diversification, within this performance, this genre. Equal attention might be given to the nature of meeting and physical contact.

And this will require diagram, drawing, photograph and video.

The object of documentation then is to devise models for the re-contextualisation of performance as text and as second-order performance, as a creative process in the present and not as a speculation on past meaning or intention - 'the point is that there is no definitive originaly meaning, since what the "original" performance meant will itself have been fragmented, and experienced in many different ways' (Thomas 1994: 143).

These models must be adequate and appropriate to the task of representing the sociology of this special world, drawing upon disciplines, principles, methods and terminologies other than those of textual analysis, and encapsulated, we are suggesting, in archaeology.”

(Pearson and Shanks, 2000: 58-59)


Locative Media Workshop: Rautatieasema, 2004

29 March-3 April 2004, Helsinki

“The deep-local Helsinki culture of mobility, systems and networks is manifested at the site of Rautatieasema (Railway Station). With it's interior, exterior, surrounding subterranean public-spaces, it is a centre-point of urban Finland; A cartographic and temporal framework for partings, convergences, paths and destinations, all wrapped up in objective data and personal story. The tangible, intangible, physical and informatic.. The static and mobile..”


The Locative media workshop held during pixelACHE 2004 Festival is the first event in the series of 6 "Trans-Cultural Mapping" workshops initiated by RIXC Centre for New Media (Riga, Latvia). Each workshop will have a specific focus on outskirts and interregional networking, in the context of an enlarged Europe. Addition goal is to discover specific, deep and relevant layers of the local cultures, involving specific local communities in the process.

Locative media may be understood to mean media in which context is crucial, in that the media pertains to specific location and time, the point of spatio-temporal 'capture', dissemination or some point in between. The term locative media has also over the last year been associated with mobility, collaborative mapping, and emergent forms of social networking.”


“Some fragmentary words transcribed from real-time replay of the miniDV record”


Angela Piccini: Guttersnipe@Helsinki (2004)

Read: 'Guttersnipe: A Micro Road Movie' (Piccini, Angela, 2009: 183-199)


Mike Pearson: Soundscapes over time in Rautatieasema (2004)

in collaboration with Lotta Svinhufvud

“process started by getting hold of history book of railway station - from station library - archaeology of soundscape - as if sounds were still present - 10 locations - referring to images in book - deep map of locations - 10 x 1 minute texts - photos from mobile - together in website - main entrance start - mike speaking telling story he wrote plus images of contemporary locations - central hall - restaurant - ticket office - platform - during presentation a different way - historical sepia tone photos - conjouring sounds heard into written words spoken aloud - reconstructing a stratigraphy of sound - combining facts of events in history at the site and observations of what is there..”


“How can one participant's practice 'tell the story' about multiple participant's practices?

How can one document ephemeral events/practices which happened in the past, and also allow their evocation in the present, for future inspiration?

Additional insert: being the archaeological producer also means

  • responsibility for the organisation and authorship of the workshop public presentations of the project.
  • responsibility the documentations and Locative Media Workshop.Pixelache2004.artefacts that people made.

*writing an essay for Trans-cultural Mapping Reader, July 2004.

Switch to DV footage of workshop presentations, Silent projection

  • Abstracting, Extracting, Excavating?
  • Turning past to present
  • 2nd person narrative - active
  • Didactic - intended to instruction
  • Future activity”

(Paterson, Andrew G., 2005)


'Negotiating Rautatieasema' Text

“Orientation in the field.  Fuzz your vision so that you are focusing on what you can hear not only now, but what happened a moment, a minute, an afternoon, a year, decades before. 

As individuals and as small groups.  Leaning, moving, sitting, pausing, tracing, and questioning are more or less unusual behaviours.  Some of these actions are negotiated with security guards, the station manager, travellers, other on-lookers, and those doing similar things.  Finding the right communication channels.  Contact microphones applied to social relations are revealing when you sit still, fall asleep, wander round, draw with chalk and paint your face, or indeed, when you consult library books.

Different levels of engagement.  All have different authoritative bodies, purposes, contexts, histories and passageways, which spread offering multi-dimensional directions.  Location overlaying location overlaying location - and that is just indoors.  Focus upon what lies beneath the surface, not spread around, lost in the passing crowd scattered with footsteps, rail timetables, and your movement onto the next part of your journey.

Stop the process in motion.  Identify the node of transition and within a certain time period (this might have to be negotiated): what is the deposition?  Close to the ground scratches, scrapes and heels on the stone floor.  You capture photographs of the situation and collect debris.  You write notes about the fragments, before wrapping them up and placing them in plastic zip-lock bags.  These items are part of the flow and agency that is around - traces of movement, transaction and consumption.

And for a moment, stop yourself in motion.  What are you doing?   How do you feel?  What do you remember from another time and place?  Why are you going?  Ask these questions without spinning round.  Listen inside to your feelings and then you can make a map.  Sit calmly, feel comfortable with yourself being there, comfortable with others around you too.

You are not the first, you know, to take a deep breath at that spot, recognising an historical event.  Consider the continuity of a sound which has existed over and over.  Combine it with what you experience now.  Facts in historical journals and storyteller's words spoken-out-loud can be compared.  If you are aware of what is there, events collapse through time.

Occasionally special events collapse through cultural space.  And for the first time a new language is spoken in public announcement.  Should you mind who are listening?  No, it can point at least a few in fresh directions along their journey, loosening social boundaries that exist harder than tape on the floor.  You look for common pathways to co-inhabiting spaces.  You sit down on the floor with the others, claiming some space that did not have description before (these descriptions can of course be used to confuse). 

Precise but ephemeral things.  You make a mark that does not exist now.  You attract attention in your action, observed for a period of time, and the shadow and the observer is gone with their own memory of the occasion.  You place texts in a throw-away place, a moment quickly passed through to encourage reflection.  In everyday life philosophical placards are removed.  Walking, they say, helps you think.  You wish for an enrichment of human emotion, lasting impressions and connections.  I think about you all the time.”

(Paterson, Andrew G., 2004)

Also layed out as a poem, 2005:


Mike Pearson: 'In Comes I: Map of the Book'

“The central part of 'In Comes I' is in three distinct sections, reflecting different scales of apprehension, moving from the very local village through the slightly wider context of the surrounding neighbourhood to the extensive region of North Lincolnshire.

Each section contains:

  • a short preamble
  • an extended account of a particular performance or performative eventually
  • ten texts relating to ten specific locales on an excursion
  • a proposal for a new site-specific performance project to be staged at one of the locales

The first section is entitled 'Village': its texts refer to the immediate locality. The performance is recent: Bubbling Tom, a solo work I created in Hibaldstow in 2000. The excursion is located in the central area of Hibaldstow. The project is sited in the backyard of my former home.

The second section is entitled 'Neighbourhood': its texts refer to the vicinity. The performance is extinct: the Hibaldstow Plough Play, a traditional folk drama. The excursion is located in the parishes of Hibaldstow, Redbourne and Kirton in Lindsey. The project is sited at Gainsthrorpe, a deserted medieval village in the care of the English Heritage in Hibaldstow parish.

The third section is entitled 'Region': its texts refer to the district. The performative event is extant [surviving]: the Haxey Hood, an annual participatory event on the Isle of Axholme. The excursion is located in the county of North Lincolnshire. The project is sited on reclaimed former fenland near Ousefleet, on the northern edge of the Isle of Axholme.

The three accounts of specific performances and performative events include detailed description and critical reflection.

In the three excursions

– a term borrowed from geology in which the itinerary of the field trip includes visits to significant exposures of strata –

the locales serves as mnemonics for reflection upon the theory and practice of performance, upon links between topography and experience, history and identify,

and as a means to elaborate the social, cultural and environmental conditions within which performance is enacted.

Each short text is discreet but relates to other moments on other excursions and elsewhere in the book, in an attempt to expound an imbricated knowledge of the region.”

(Pearson, Mike. 2006: xiii)

“The three projects suggest proposals and plans for a new site-specific performance to be staged at, or in relation to, one of the excursion locales, in an exposition and examination of the conceptual procedures appropriate to creating work within such cultural and environmental specifics.

The book concludes with two short afterwords, reflections on performance, memory and landscape that balance the introduction.

'In Comes I' is orientated around a series of key dates: 1800 – when parliamentary enclosure was in progress and the layout of the parish was being transformed; 1900 – when the first photographs of the village were taken, when my grandparents were children, and when folklore collection began in earnest; 1950 – the time of my own childhood; and 2000 to the present, the period of my academic enquiry.

The text of 'In Comes I' works through these periods, drawing moments into asynchronous juxtaposition – worm holes in its fabric – in an attempt to create a deep map *.

'In Comes I' might serve as a practical guidebook, the texts to be read on-site – the first section best undertaken on foot, the second by bicycle, the third by motor transport. The cartographic grid references in the Contents and at the opening of each separate section of text are to orientate the reader.

Alternatively, 'In Comes I' might serve as a guidebook for a journey through a landscape imagined, the texts simulating and catalysing memories and reminiscences of similar times, similar places, similar experiences – and of other times, other places, other experiences – in acts of biographical wandering.”

(Pearson, Mike. 2006: xiv)

  • Deep Map

“deep map: attempts to record and represent the grain and patina of a location – juxtapositions and interpretations of the historical and the contemporary, the political and poetic, the factual and the fictional, the discursive and the sensual; the conflation of oral testimony, antholoy, memoir, biography, natural history and everything you might ever want to say about a place.”

(Pearson, Mike. 2006: 15)
(Pearson and Shanks. 2001: 64-66)


Non-representational style, a 'valuing and working with everyday practical activities as they occur (Thrift 2000: 216)

“'In Comes I' takes up the challenge to develop a non-representational style, in which there is no last word. In so doing, it meanders through time and across land, drawn to particular historical moments and topographic details, as much by personal proclivity as academic obligation.

For periods, the aesthetic practice of performance is barely mentioned, though the text itself remains resolutely performative: it employs voices of different discursive register in a number of narrative styles, in juxtapositions of material from various disciplinary approaches.

It is a work of story-telling: it tells its tale through elaborate scene-setting and dramatic emphasis of event, through reiteration and non sequitur, via cul-de-sac and wormhole in its fabric.

This it does to suggest approaches to the analysis of performance in which context and action are interdependent, and resonances of person, place, performance and past are multiple.”

(Pearson, Mike. 2006: 17)


References shared in this session:

Campbell, Fiona and Ulin, Jonna (2004), BorderLine Archaeology: a practice of contemporary archaeology - exploring aspects of creative narratives and performative cultural production, PhD dissertation, GOTARC Series B. Gothenburg Archeaological Theses, No. 29, Göteborg University.

Holtorf, Cornelius/Piccini, Angela. (eds.) (2009), Contemporary Archaeologies: Excavating now, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang

Kaye, Nick. (2000), Site-specific Art: Performance, place and documentation, London: Routledge.

Kaye, Nick. (ed.) (1996), Art into Theatre: Performance interviews and documents, Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Press.

McLucas, C., Morgan, R., and Pearson, M. (1995), Y Llyfyr Glas, Cardiff: Brith Gof.

McLucas, C. (1996), letter to Nick Kaye, 3 June.

Paterson, Andrew G. (2004), Negotiating Rautatieasema, In Marc Tuters and Rasa Smite (eds.), Acoustic Space issue#5: Trans Cultural Mapping, Riga: RIXC.

Paterson, Andrew G. (2005), Re-presentations of the Locative Media Workshop.PixelACHE2004",
Wiki pages generated for 'Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past' project page, presented on server. URL: (retrieved 11.2010).

Pearson, Mike and Shanks, Michael. (2001), Theatre/Archaeology, London: Routledge.

Pearson, Mike (2006). In Comes I: performance, memory and landscape. University of Exeter Press, Exeter.

Piccini, Angela. (2009), Guttersnipe: A Micro Road Movie, In Cornelius Holtorf/Angela Piccini (eds.), Contemporary Archaeologies: Excavating now, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang

Thomas, Julian. (1994), Theatre/Archaeology: A response. The Drama Review 38: 133-61.

Thrift, Nigel. (2000), Afterwords, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 18, 213-55.

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