Sunday, 11 March 2012

Ai Weiwei rubs on archaeology again

Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei will feature in the Serpentine Pavilion in  Kensington Gardens  this year. They have proposed excavating a hole in the park and letting it fill with rain. The excavation will reveal the foundations of former pavilions, and what not! We will be able to see the hole through a glass roof which will be built onto it.  

See more on the Financial Times 


  1. Sorry for the late response! This topic made me quite uncomfortable, so I didn't know how to respond to it or even if I wanted to post a response or just look away and pretend I never read it in the first place. This line in the article specifically disturbed me "The designers appropriately liken their role to that of archaeologists".

    And then there's the "excavation"* itself! I know of archaeological artefacts being presented as works of art, but I've never heard of an archaeological excavation being presented as a work of art.

    And last but not least what also disturbs me is that I don't really understand what the designers wish to accomplish with their design... There was this short explanation "The investigation of the museology of the site is a particularly post-modern approach to what has become an engrained institution now obviously worthy of a study in its own right". But I (and I'm going to assume quite a few people with me) don't know enough about post-modernism to understand what kind of approach is meant or why this approach is taken.

    Perhaps it will look very lovely once it's finished and it won’t matter to me why or how this design was accomplished, but for now I really don't know what to think of it or even whether I like it or not.

    * I'm not sure if you can call this an excavation as no archaeologists are involved but only designers playing pretend. And I would be very surprised if they kept a record of everything they found. Having said that, I wonder what they unearth and what they will do with the "excavated" finds... Will they be dumped somewhere in an archive? Thrown away? Be exhibited in the gallery as if they were artefacts dug up during a real excavation?

  2. Thank you for your views, Iris!
    Personally, I quite like the fact that artists (or anybody) feel inspired by archaeology. Of course Weiwei is notoriously irreverent, but it is not clear to me what kind of commentary he is trying to make here.
    It is also not really clear how the 'archaeology' will take place, they provide no details. But it is quite likely that it will be done by trained archaeologists. Let's follow this up and try to find out more.

  3. While I agree with you and also like the idea that artists feel inspired by archaeology, I'm not so sure how I feel about this approach. The problem I have with these artists is that they liken their role to archaeologists. So not only are they inspired by archaeology, but they say that what they themselves do is akin to what archaeologists do.

    And that of course is not true since what archaeologists do is done in order to further our knowledge about the past, and what these artists do is done to entertain people as well as for other personal and unknown reasons that I do not understand.

    That's the other thing that disturbs me. That I don't know how the "archaeology" will take place. After reading the article I didn't get the idea that the "excavation" was undertaken by trained archaeologists, but I could be mistaken of course.
    Unfortunately I won’t be able to have a look at the site myself, but I would love to hear more about the project once it’s started! Maybe you can have a look at the project when it’s being installed and perhaps make a few pictures or have a chat with the people involved with it and working on the site if you’re in the area? That would certainly make for a very interesting follow up!


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