Performance, documentation and collection of objects
The initial part of ‘Sondage’ happened during a week in July 2021 in the backyard of Sporta 2 quarter in Riga. It is the same industrial block that used to be a sweets factory and where now Kim? is located. An experimental archaeological excavation was documented, and the findings were kept for future presentation as a part of digital and physical exhibitions.
The project started with identifying a plot of land, suitable or rather most interesting for a ‘try dig’ as a first step, which came to be a plot behind one of the buildings with a visible remain of another building’s foundation and a number of bricks half buried in the ground. It looked like it could have an archaeological potential and something to dig into.
Before going for the dig, I had a dream about uncovering a piece of blue tarp in the trench. The piece of plasticky fabric was poking out from the soil and as I was brushing the soil away and digging around it, I gradually became terrified of what is going to appear next. Like the bones of a prehistoric creature the tarp was a piece of something mournful that has happened at some point in time in this particular spot, and the fact that you didn’t know anything about it made it eerie.
A couple of weeks before that I was having a conversation with a friend of mine how the term ‘sondage’ is an archaeological method of ‘sounding the earth’ and determining an archaeological worth/potential of an area. Something that archaeologists try out, before biting into the most promising piece of the earth. Venturing into finding something that can hold past and future meaning.
For me, the dig lasted for two days, with a hope of finding anything at all.
While digging, I was peeling layers of soil, one after another, attempting to see but not to disturb the unearthed landscape. Keeping the found objects exactly where I found them to be able to make out their dependencies and context later on, when every step is documented.
As an archaeologist, not unlike in the art practice, you would go on a quest of finding objects of cultural value, perhaps mostly assigning value to the pieces shoveled out from mountains of dirt. Weaving history, or something that wants to be history out of shells, marbles, cuts of glass and plastic. I was hoping to find a crisp packet as a never degrading symbol of consumerist culture, but instead, the pit was filled with a large tree root, worms, and stones.
The process of going on an archaeological mission, again, making parallels with the art research, is filled with the ritualistic attitude of digging, sorting, discarding until found and naming artefacts, charging previously unidentified pieces of excavated gravel with meaning. Archaeology perfected the model of the object-oriented world, objects which fall into context and depend on each other, while the workers keep looking obsessively deeper and deeper into the ground. Even though this obsession with every day, micro-historiography and small objects in the arts is being criticized as a result of ideological fatigue, in the post digital universe that we reside in these days, the smell or earth feels captivating enough to want to worship a rock.
The closeness of the site to the gallery space promises a context for the ‘Sondage’ excavation and its artefacts. Digging for the communal and artistic past of the area, I was hoping for signs and messages from the gatherings of the factory workers, discussing their labour and creative practices, revolutions, histories, and sugar. And instead, I found a vast number of things that talk to each other.
With warmest thanks to Richard for supervising the digging and to Vlad for polishing the rocks.
Anastasia Starikova (Latvia) is a Latvian visual artist and researcher, currently based in Birmingham, UK. In her practice Anastasia is looking at fringe/experimental archival practices and collecting, as well as the aspects of how fictional, archival and digital matter together can produce knowledge. She mainly works with personal archives, non-intentional collections, digital non-institutional or institutional hoarding, structures of knowledge and different types of verbal and speculative artefacts. In the last two years, she has been working closely with her maternal grandparents on a number of projects regarding their relationship to digital, new media, photography, fictional narratives, collecting and art.