Stream of Conscience

By Birnbaum, Daniel | Artforum International, November 1999 | Go to article overview

Stream of Conscience


Birnbaum, Daniel, Artforum International


Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song. The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers, Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends Or other testimony of summer nights. The nymphs are departed.

--T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

T.S. Eliot was wrong. You can find all that in the Thames and more--or so I learned one morning as I walked along the banks of the river with Mark Dion. It happened to be the day of the recent solar eclipse, so we were on the lookout for the right kind of colored glass for viewing the black sun. The foreshores in central London are archaeologically rich, and we discovered curious things among the anticipated tin cans and used syringes: a fragment of Elizabethan ceramic, an odd-looking shard of bone from a pig, a beautiful fragment of Dutch porcelain, depicting two human figures. I wouldn't have been able to identify any of this, but a summer of intense beachcombing has made Dion something of an expert in riverbed archaeology. Every six hours the tide provides him with a new layer of material, centuries-old treasures and yesterday's trash in an unpredictable mix. It's this complete lack of hierarchy that appeals to Dion. The Thames is a museum with a collection that reaches back to the Romans, its display strictly democratic and continuously in flux.

In July, Dion organized two week-long digs, at Millbank, across the river from the old Tate Gallery, and at Bankside, just below the future Tate Gallery of Modern Art, which opens in May. With the help of some twenty-odd volunteers--who were asked to collect and then identify anything that caught their attention--they systematically scoured the foreshores in the first phase of the Tate Thames Dig, an ambitious project culminating in the exhibition currently on view at the Tate's Art Now room. The complex process that led up to the show matters as much to Dion as the final display:

I think about this project as consisting of three stages: the

dig, the cleaning and preparation, and the exhibition in a

cabinet. For me they are all equally important. Then there

is a significant appendix, which is the lecture series. One

way to describe this project is to say that it visualizes the

entire process leading up to the final exhibition. It's a bit

like going to the cinema and being able to see not only the

film but also the production. The whole operation is made

public, and I'm not interested in distinguishing between

the parts that are art and the ones that aren't. Instead of

keeping everything to myself, it's all acted out in front of

an audience, the group of volunteers being the first circle

of viewers.

For a month this past summer, passersby could stop at the three archaeologist's tents set up on the lawn outside the Tate and observe the cleaning and sorting of the finds. When I visited in August, the team of volunteers was busy in two of the tents, one devoted to Millbank, the other to Bankside. They would carefully wash an object, try to identify it, and then put it in the appropriate box: ceramic, bone, glass, organic, shells, wood, leather, metal, plastic, electrical, textiles, concrete, and so on. Occasionally, some exceptional find would create a stir of excitement. Of course, the number of categories and subcategories increased constantly. In the third tent, a small display of objects had been identified and studied more closely: an assortment of rusty keys, the tiny sole of a baby shoe, a bullet shell, and a mysterious doll that brings voodoo rituals to mind.

Among the more intriguing finds are three bottles with messages inside, one of them representing a real enigma. The Arabic text at the beginning and the end of the message is a prayer. The rest is a secret numeric code as yet indecipherable. Who wrote this note, and for whom was it intended? We'll probably never know. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Stream of Conscience
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.