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‘The Technological Sublime’: Combining Art and Archaeology in Documenting Change at the Former RAF Coltishall (Norfolk, UK)

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JournalInternet Archaeology
DateAccepted/In press - 18 Jun 2021
DatePublished (current) - 20 Oct 2021
Volume56
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Since at least the 1990s, archaeologists and artists have been documenting military installations following the withdrawal of service personnel. They have usually embarked on these recording opportunities separately, experiencing these sites as derelict, lifeless places, with stripped buildings devoid of much of their meaning after their occupants have left. Archaeologists have typically created maps and made photographs. Artists have also taken photographs, but in addition made films and created soundworks. Wherever the medium and the motivation, the assumption is usually made that only those closely familiar with the rhythms and rituals of service life can begin to understand the emptiness of what remains. And being secretive military installations, creating a record during their occupation is never an option.

Uniquely, in the months leading to the closure of RAF Coltishall (Norfolk) in 2006, the RAF granted the authors unprecedented access to record the base's drawdown and closure. The project brought artists and archaeologists together to see what could be achieved in unison, while still maintaining some degree of research independence. In undertaking this survey, three related themes emerged: the role of art as heritage practice, new thinking on what constitutes landscape, and the notion of a 'technological sublime'. Following an earlier publication, we now reflect again on those themes. In doing so, we offer this collaboration between art and archaeology (traditionally considered two distinct ways of seeing and recording) as an innovative methodology for documentation, not least after the closure and abandonment of such military and industrial landscapes, where occupational communities had once lived. In this article, the words represent our ideas; the images and films are an example of the result.

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