Seeking Common Ground for Archaeology and Design

By Immonen, Visa | Estonian Journal of Archaeology, June 2004 | Go to article overview

Seeking Common Ground for Archaeology and Design


Immonen, Visa, Estonian Journal of Archaeology


Lily Diaz-Kommonen. Art, Fact, and Artifact Production. Design Research and Multidisciplinary Collaboration. (Publication series of the University of Art and Design Helsinki, A 37). University of Art and Design, Helsinki, 2002. 272 pp. ISBN 951-558-107-9. (http://www.mlab.uiah.fi/Mulli/e_index.html)

"There is an urgent need for new frameworks of knowledge that enable us, not only to investigate, but also, to create", is the final sentence in Lily Diaz-Kommonen's doctoral thesis Art, Fact, and Artifact Production. The work is a designer-artist's exploration of the traditions of her own field and those of archaeology in the context of the project Illuminating History: Through the Eyes of Media. The project was a collaborative effort in which archaeologists from the University of Turku and artists and designers from the Media Lab at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki created a hypermedia archive. The raw material for the archive was the finds and documentation from the excavations at the Late Iron Age and Early Medieval (c. 980-1280 AD) settlement site of Mulli in Raisio in south-western Finland. The project created an opportunity to investigate the different modes of representation in the humanities through the use of new media and design and to examine the area between visual arts and the humanities. The thesis is an analysis of the meeting of the two distant worlds of designers and archaeologists. Its main research question is how design knowledge can "be defined, articulated, and represented within the space of an academic collaborative endeavour" (p. 13). The point of departure and the envisioned journey is intriguing, but unfortunately this potential seeps away, page after page, like water through one's fingers.

Diaz-Kommonen's focus is naturally on the activity of the designer and on the concept of design. Her challenge is to find a way to integrate theory and practice, her work in design and the analysis of that work. The core of her thesis is in the study of the interaction between a community of archaeologists and herself, and she adopts Alain Findeli's project-driven method to do this. The method is based on the idea that a theoretical inquiry "in design research can be realized through the work carried on as part of a professional project" (p. 40). The gap between theory and practice is reduced in their dialogue, which the designer sets in motion in her work. The description of design research, the archive project, the method and its application cover the first two chapters of the thesis. Terminology and theoretical framework are presented in the third chapter followed by a comparative analysis of art, design and archaeology as activities and their part in making the archive in chapters 4-9. In the tenth and final chapter Diaz-Kommonen concludes that as design is "the skin of culture", it can also be the skin between the arts and the humanities. A designer can act as a uniting mediator.

Already in the introduction she describes the unfortunate circumstances of the project: "Efforts to realize such collaboration were to a large extent handicapped by the fact that only the Media Lab portion of the proposal received funding; the decision by the funding authorities had a deep impact on the overall structure of the project, as well as the feasibility of attaining the proposed objectives" (p. 15). The attempts to develop a common language were met with "a lack of motivation resulting from not having a clear enough idea of the potential benefits" on the part of the archaeologists (p. 165).

Although the circumstances undoubtedly have affected the final outcome of Diaz- Kommonen's work, the main problem lies in its theoretical core, which, in fact, hinders the creation of interdisciplinary understanding. She puts forward her theoretical standpoint in the third chapter titled "Activity theory", which refers to the cultural-historical theory of activity. The theory was first developed by a group of Russian psychologists in the 1920s and 1930s, the central figure being Lev Vygotsky.

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