What does it all mean?

I was watching the video of a conversation between archaeologist Colin Renfrew and artist Cornelia Parker, held in April 2003 at Tate Modern. He had just written a book, Figuring it Out (2003, London: Thames & Hudson) looking at the relationship between art and archaeology.

The common thread was engagement with material culture, as an archaeologist looking at human history through material remains or as an artist communicating and exploring the world now. Renfew suggested that both the archaeologist confronting a site and the viewer confronting a work of art might ask the same question:

“what does it all mean?”

He compared Richard Long’s interventions in the landscape with those of early man such as the chamber tomb at Quanterness on Orkney. He suggested that archaeological monuments could be as beautiful as art works, though the former were produced by communities and (probably) without artistic intention. He felt that appreciating the work of artists like Antony Gormley and Cornelia Parker had given him greater awareness and sensitivity to materials and to the aesthetic aspects of finds.

Cornelia Parker made one comment that really resonated with me, talking of having to lose or forget one thing to make room for something else:

“forgetting is as important as remembering.” 

I’m thinking about what archiving might mean, and that is of course a form of forgetting – but not entirely.