Editorial

By Malone, Caroline; Stoddart, Simon | Antiquity, September 2000 | Go to article overview

Editorial


Malone, Caroline, Stoddart, Simon, Antiquity


* Archaeologists have known for some time that the most successful monuments have many layers of history embedded, not only in their structure, but in their built environment (Bradley 1993). The Tate Modern in London, opened on 11 May 2000, expresses the same principle in modern art. This archaeologically tested formula implemented at Tate Modern has proved to be a much more successful arena of political performance for the elite, and attraction to the `people', than the other reclaimed flat brownfield site further down the River Thames at Greenwich, the site of the notorious Dome. Southwark on the south bank of the Thames, as partly explained by the Tate Modern Handbook (Massey 2000), has a long history. We need to turn to the Reports of the Surrey Archaeological Society to gain a fuller account of over three metres of history in this general area of the south bank of London; an important peat deposit, a Beaker settlement and a major presence in the Roman period from about AD 50. The second phase of Roman construction in the 3rd century produced imposing stone buildings (Sheldon 1978) which presaged the buildings of `several magnates, ecclesiastical and lay ... [who] competed with representatives of the King, the City and the county of Surrey to exercise some control over the area' (Turner 1987: 251) (see p. 463). One of these, the Bishop of Winchester's residence, has had much `excavation' since the 1828 antiquarian beginnings. A more recent monument was the Bankside power station which Giles Gilbert Scott built to mirror the powerful monument of St Paul's Cathedral to the north of the river. It is the power station that has become the reclaimed monument. The structure had lain idle between its decommissioning and the initiation of an inspired idea of re-use. This resurrected building has now provided the successful location for an experiment in modern art and architecture. Archaeology revealed evidence of Chaucerian pilgrims (pewter and silver badges to record their devotion). The new religion of modern art has already produced a new set of pilgrims, enticed into the extensive gift and bookshop to gather their souvenirs.

Furthermore, this site has provided a shrine for a new trend in museology. Recent displays from both art and archaeology have turned away from chronological schemes towards what Nicholas Serota describes as `promoting different modes and levels of "interpretation" by subtle juxtapositions of "experience"' (Serota 1996). The new displays in the prehistory section of the National Museum of Scotland collapsed chronology to address themes (ANTIQUITY 73 (1999): 485-6). This same model has been attempted in the Tate Modern, addressing themes of Landscape, Matter, Environment; Still Life, Object, Real Life; History, Memory, Society; Nude, Action, Body. In some themes there is a convergence between the trends of modern art and archaeology, in others they are foreign worlds. The theme of History, Memory, Society sounded promising and we were tempted to launch ourselves directly onto the fifth floor. Once we arrived, the convergence was, however, disappointing. The closest link was tenuous: an attack -- by association with the apartheid regime in South Africa -- on an icon of archaeological research, the Landrover (a 4-wheel drive vehicle of British origin, until recently of German and now American ownership). History here is very recent, dare we say superficial, and Society modern. Nude, Action, Body turned out to be more promising. There is clear influence of Etruscan sculpture on Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) (see p. 463). His elongated human forms have strikingly similar qualities to bronzes from the town of Volterra in northern Etruria. However, the most promising link theme was within Landscape, Matter, Environment. In one case, this was simply the choice of material. Andreas Gurtsky presents the theme of archaeological landscape in Thebes West (1993), an aerial vision of an archaeological landscape. …

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