6 June 2011

I thought you might like to see what I’m thinking as I prepare to go to York University on Friday 10 June 2011 to talk to the Archaeology Department about how I use archaeology in my art practice.  This is the first half of my talk.


Who am I?

I have just finished my B.A.Honours degree in Fine Art, studying with the University of Hull in Scarborough.  I hope to be a professional artist, specialising in abstraction that comes from a particular interest in archaeology.


What kind of work do I make?

I construct pictorial space with an archaeological narrative and a contemporary human touch.  A major characteristic of my work is movement, which in turn introduces an awareness of space and time, both of which are vital components in my work.   In my paintings, I make a complex building up of layers with a limited palette, aiming at balance of composition.  Line is particularly important to me, and I produce series of finished drawings employing a body of marks with cartographic overtones to reference maps, and the ceaseless business of travelling as a metaphor, both for learning about the world and for finding my place in it.  As my overall aim, I seek to find pictorial form which will hint at the unseen realities of the world around us and in some way unveil the invisible.


Therefore I am very interested in what the art world refers to as ‘the sublime’, which currently divides into seven areas: the unpresentable; the transcendent; nature; technology; terror; the uncanny, and altered states.  If you’re interested in reading about this I recommend a book called ‘The Sublime – Documents of Contemporary Art’, edited by Simon Morley.  And it’s the first three areas that I’m investigating and which I draw upon in my work: that is, the unpresentable, the transcendent and nature.  To quote from an essay by David Morgan included in ‘The Sublime’, he writes with particular reference to the transcendent:

“Transcendence posits a mystery present in the work of art as the encounter with a metaphysical order beyond or hidden within the ordinary, sensuous world.”

Morgan’s essay called ‘The Spiritual in the Modern Age’ is a piece of writing I am turning over in my mind at the moment, so I am dwelling on this kind of issue, and thinking about how I relate to it in terms of making visual images.


So why the interest in archaeology?

I think it’s the archaeologist Colin Renfrew who sums it up for me.  In his book ‘Figuring it Out’, he writes:

 “When it was first described in detail a century and a half ago, the Ring of Brodgar was very little understood.  The methods were not then available to date it to the Neolithic period, the time of the first farmers in Orkney, nor was its relationship to the great wealth of other prehistoric monuments in Orkney recognized.  Today, as a result of subsequent research, we know a great deal more.  But as a monument, its presence somehow still transcends our knowledge or understanding.  There is more to say, although we do not yet know how to say it.”

 And this describes for me my experience of being at a place of archaeological significance, the sense that the site resonates with me as an individual, that somehow I relate to the people that once inhabited that space, but in a way that I hardly understand, and in a way that I do not experience in any other situation.

I shall be taking all the pieces that made up my exhibition at the Degree Show ‘Yorkshire Mixture’, and a couple of earlier paintings.  If you are free to come to York on Friday, the talk starts at 4pm in the King’s Manor.  It would be lovely to see you.

Carmen Mills




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