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A new short film about our 2014 Cambridge University commission, 'Tomorrow, Today' edited by Neil Lenthall

Nice Wee Film

We spent a day a while ago with our new-to-us editor Neil Lenthall making this short from previously unseen footage of our 2014 public art commission at North West Cambridge (now christened 'Eddington', and inhabited by actual people and buildings too).

Enjoy and share!

Prospection on show at Kettle's Yard
Photo: Nina Pope


The last of our 3 Cambridge Festival of Ideas events:

WHAT’S THE FUTURE FOR THE PAST?- from Portakabins to nuclear waste

Saturday 29 October: 5:30pm - 7:15pm, Free but Bookable in Advance

Institute of Astronomy, Sackler Lecture Theatre, Madingley Road, CB3 0HA
Inspired by our 25-year (Yep, you heard that right folks) multi-disciplinary survey of NW Cambridge, ‘Prospection’, this event presents a panel of leading heritage experts including Sarah May (Research Associate, UCL Institute of Archaeology), Rachael Kiddey (Research Associate, University of York & Editorial Assistant at the Independent Social Research Foundation) and James Dixon (Museum of London Archaeology & 'Prospector') who will present a thought-provoking array of fieldwork and research exploring what the future holds for the past and what the past holds for the future.
The panel will be followed by refreshments and a chance to browse the archive boxes of the first two years’ findings of ‘Prospection’.

John Lambert at work on an old manuscript - Cambridgeshire Archives' Mr Paper

TIME CHANGES (ALMOST) EVERYTHING - what, even a meringue?

Another brilliant, free event we're doing for Cambridge Festival of Ideas:

Saturday 29 October: 2:00pm - 3:00pm
, Free but Bookable in Advance - Limited Spaces!

Gravel Hill Farm, Artist Studios, Madingley Rise Madingley Road, CB3 0FU

Have you ever wondered how to look after your treasured possessions? Why newspaper cuttings yellow, elastic snaps or whether silver tarnish is a good or a bad thing?
Challenge our experts - bring along a personal possession of (almost*) any kind and find out just how the passage of time will affect it, and how a museum would or could look after it for posterity. (Karen is bringing a vintage meringue if you need inspiration)

Julie Dawson & Kirstie Williams from Cambridge Museums and John Lambert of Cambridgeshire Archives (pictured here) will make a selection from the audience’s items and share their opinions and knowledge in this lively and accessible forum.

*Please limit size to max. 40cm x 40cm x 40cm, and be sensible - no pets / nasty substances please

Summer 2016 - with the NWC development encroaching on the horizon


As part of Cambridge's Festival of Ideas, we are working with Cambridge Archaeological Unit for this once-in-a-lifetime chance to smash up a bit of our art, at our invitation!

Saturday 22 October: 11:00am - 3:00pm

Gravel Hill Farm, Artist Studios, Madingley Rise Madingley Road, CB3 0FU

As part of the Prehistory and Archaeology Day, join professional archaeologists on a hands-on dig with a difference: Excavating a contemporary art work. The NW Cambridge outdoor sculpture 'Tomorrow, Today' by artists Karen Guthrie and Nina Pope was completed in 2014 with the help of many volunteers. Handbuilt from thousands of tons of soil excavated for the site's archaeological survey, the artwork will eventually be buried under the encroaching NW development. In the meantime, weather erosion has begun to reveal small artefacts in the sculpture's surface, that can be excavated and recorded for posterity - with your help. Expect to see worked flint, prehistoric pottery and more emerging as you learn about both this unique artwork and how to dig, identify and record artefacts.

(See for more)

Free places but book ahead here

(NB Equipment provided but wear outdoor clothes and bring along lunch etc)

Karen & Nina at NW Cambridge, Nov. 2015


We're quietly getting on with a new project called Prospection, which you can see more about here. It's a 25 year survey of a new area of Cambridge, under development by the University and where our artists residency a few years back took place (and where we built our mudopolis 'Tomorrow, Today').

Working with a mixed team of sociologists, archaeologists and artists we're visiting each year and surveying anything about the place and its inhabitants that takes our fancy. We then put the stuff in a box in the county archives for posterity.Simple!

This week we work once more with the wonderful editor Alice Powell on a short film drawn from our two days filming at the site in November 2015. Expect much high-vis, wind, rain, tea and hard hats....

One Day, an Expedition Arrived at a New Place….

Very pleased to have heard that we have some very welcome Arts Council support offered for our epic 25 year project, Prospection - a multi-disciplinary survey of the evolution of a new place and community from 'Year 0'.
A prototype of what we're doing was first shown at Kettles Yard in Cambridge last year and we are hoping the survey will take place annually at North West Cambridge - where our residency in archaeology that inspired the project was - for the next 25 years.

The site for Tomorrow, Today a few weeks ago!

Roman Irrigation Anyone?

Prompted by this news piece today on more discoveries by the archaeology team we've been working with at North West Cambridge I thought I would post a bit more on the process that led us to Tomorrow, Today our big fat cob project we're currently recruiting for!

We have now been have been working as the artists in residence on the new NWC development site for almost a year and it has been a really fascinating chance to work alongside the archaeologists and become involved with the site in a very hands-on way. As we were part of the 'first wave' of artists to be appointed we felt quite keenly that we've been given a unique chance to look back at the history of site, to record its present condition and to try and imagine the future part of the city about to be built.

At the beginning of our residency we joined the team actually digging on site, this was a very muddy, extremely cold week but one we wouldn't have missed for the world! It gave us a chance to think about all these aspects of the project whilst engaged in a very literal way with the physical place. We were completely engaged with the process of the archaeology and caught up by the enthusiasm and expertise that surrounded us on the rather windswept moon-like landscape we were digging. Somehow the archaeologists were able to transport themselves (and us) back in time and really imagine how this part of Cambridge may have previously been 100's of years ago. Meanwhile in spite of lots of fly throughs, models and talks we seemed to be finding it very difficult to imagine what these muddy fields might look like even 5 years into the future.
This experience on the dig in many ways generated both of the projects we're now exploring - Prospection and Tomorrow, Today. Prospection is a proposal for a very long term repeated survey of the new site and tries to 'forward face' the on-going creation of an archive for the place. Tomorrow, Today engages with the present nature of the site, and the current unique archaeological access to the past that been revealed through the dig.
The work will be a large-scale (circa 80m in diameter), outdoor, sculptural model of the future development - which places scale replicas of all the planned streets and buildings right next to the archaeological dig on site. This 'model village of the future' will be hand-built on location using 'cob', a traditional, ecologically-sustainable material made primarily from the earth excavated in situ by the archaeologists. The artwork will remain in place for at least a year, before being buried beneath this new part of Cambridge for future archaeologists to discover!

We're very keen for others to enjoy the experience we've had on the site and so the project offers a unique opportunity to be part of building this sculpture. We are seeking individual members of the public, and formal or informal groups of adults who would like to learn the traditional craft of cob building and to use these skills to help construct the model during its 6-week build, working with the UK's leading cob experts. Each participant will be expected to commit 5 consecutive week days to the project, which will include expert training in cob, in-person guidance from us and hands-on practice creating the model itself. Facilities, tools, parking and refreshments will all be provided.

Participants should be 18 years of age or older, and aware that whilst cob building is a safe and easy-to-learn skill, taking part in the project does require a reasonable degree of physical stamina and is regrettably not suitable for participants with limited mobility.

Interested people and groups are encouraged to register their interest as early as possible - from now until Monday 31st March. Contact cob 'at' for more info.

Some previous 'cob' material uncovered by the current excavations

Photo: Nina Pope

What Lies Beneath?

Archaeology just might be The New Black. Or The New Rock 'n Roll, what with Richard III and all that. Last week we kicked off our new artists' residency with the archaeologists of Cambridge Archaeological Unit, spending 3 wintery days as volunteers on a dig. The team are tasked with scouring the farmland in North West Cambridge that is earmarked for a vast new University development, whilst we (Nina and I) are tasked with saying or showing (eventually) something meaningful about that. The finds to date here are Roman, possibly Bronze Age and Iron Age, but more of them later, and this phase stops when this season's crops are sown this spring, so time is of the essence.

Until now my experience of archaeology was limited to dusty field-trips when at the British School of Rome in the 90's - erudite scholars took us to some Very Important Sites which generally underwhelmed us artists. Tangles of brambles and piles of indistinct rock reminded us of Piranesi etchings but we failed to grasp the experts' anticipation of what lay (possibly) beneath. We were polite though - we always had a good lunch in a local trattoria (they seem to like their food, archaeologists) and enjoyed these rather eccentric pilgrimages. Stories of their wildly orgiastic research digs on Italian islands (complete with excellent mobile catering) occasionally filtered back to us, we were ironically incarcerated in the rather stiff boarding school atmosphere of our corridors of studios. Many artists and curators I know cite a teenage archaeological experience as their creative epiphany (one also involved - post-dig - their first experience of Class A drugs, but that's another story) so I'm keen to find out firsthand what's so hot about this thing called archaeology.

Anyhow, here under the milk-white sky, on the outskirts of Cambridge, at first glance the scenario reminds me of building sites I have (unfortunately) known: White vans, site huts, portaloos, high vis jackets, shovels, buckets, barrows, boots, sandwiches, lunchtime banter. And mud, my God, the mud. The sticky Cambridge clay coats everything it makes contact with and then everything those things make contact with. A week on I'm still finding it everywhere, and as I write this from Scotland, I've probably dispersed the Cambridge soil seed bank farther than it was ever dreamt possible in the prehistoric time we were digging up.

The similarity between this encampment and those of the building trade does end there though. I didn't spot any grimy calendars showing whatever the archaeological equivalent of a brand new power tool held by a grinning topless girl, is. (If you've never seen these bizarre promotional items, I recommend you seek them out). There are women on site, albeit heavily disguised - but we discuss hats, lipsalve and other girlie things. Nor does work proceed along to a deafening soundtrack of shit local radio. Unless some of the archaeologists at the edges of the site are discreetly feeding that through their iPods, but I doubt it. It's probably Wagner they're listening to, or Mumford & Sons, or maybe Squarepusher.

The archaeologists themselves are muffled in layers upon layers of muddy clothing, genderless and ageless from afar, like Arctic explorers. On closer inspection they have none of the physical characteristics of builders either: they have fine hands and quick eyes, they must be able both to dig for long periods of time as well as delicately unearth the sought-after treasures. Our small volunteer group are distinguished by our brand new high vis vests (filthy by day 2) and of course (at least in Nina and I's case) by our evident lack of experience, though we know well how to handle a garden trowel. Nina has brought her own, I evidently stopped reading the email before I came to that bit and have to borrow Hayley's - it's like a delicate half size bricklayers trowel. One day, when the ground has frozen overnight, we're allowed to hack in with a mattock initially, it's a cathartic process though not without risks, as I mashed up the bone that was the sole find in that morning's hole. Shame on me.

Dotted across the moonscape of the site, topsoil and subsoil piled high, puddles everywhere, are very distant single figures, occasionally a barrow and bucket by their side - it reminds me of a Jeff Wall photograph. At the designated teabreaks and lunchbreaks the figures slowly migrate back to the site huts. At one point I go into the main lunch hut when full, it's like opening the door to a cargo hold of stowaways - a damp, warm fug of food and bodies and gossip.

The flat fields lying between the distant motorway and the shabbily genteel back gardens of Cambridge, show (to the naked eye) clearly defined dark zones all around, and these depict likely digging spots for finds. (Apparently archaeologists, like film-makers, cherish the dusk 'magic hour' for its revealing light quality). I'm reassured by the simplicity of this, and a later tour of the previous excavations introduces everything from a WW2 'practice trench' to cremated human remains and wells. A smart visitor from the Developer's office accompanies us on this tour, gamely traipsing around though clearly horrified by the mud, and making the sympathetic noises people use with puppies and kittens, when words like 'skeleton' and 'grave' come up. Grasping what's hot about archaeology is clearly challenging without a trowel and a few hours digging, as I am to find out.

An esoteric code of numbered sandwich bags flapping on nails in the ground seems to make perfect sense to our team leaders and we are set to the task of excavating post holes which are suspected to be evidence of long-gone Roman building. I'm amazed how quickly the time goes by, and I realise I'm easily mesmerised by soil and stone, I could dig and move it forever even if I never found anything, like a toddler in the back garden. Nina - a few metres from me - raises the alarm quickly and begins holding up large, black pottery shards, enough to establish that they may in fact be one large pot. We fleetingly wonder if the team planted them there to encourage us, like an Easter Egg Hunt, but if so they certainly kept up the pretence well: the finds are bagged up and then the tricky bit of paper recording starts: Paper-based records are still the lingua franca on site, the archaeologists tell us other higher-tech means have tried and failed and that it's all quickly digitised off site anyhow. By the very next day, Nina's pot is dated to the early Iron Age. We're both thrilled and experience one of those rather cliched 'time travel' epiphanies that the people on Time Team used to go on about.

After digging for a while, Hayley encourages me to 'clean up that hole a bit, Karen'. That seems bordering on the insane ('Hayley, it's a hole in some mud. It will never, ever be clean' was what I was really thinking) but soon I notice the professional finish of her and Toby's holes. Who would dream that the walls of a professionally-wrought hole could be so admirable? 'Trench envy' is common on digs, but for me it was as much about the walls as the finds.

One site hut contains mainly office stuff and studious young archaeologists (in fact they are mainly young here, are all the older ones in offices?), heads down, drawing on large boards with real pencils. Impressive - I haven't seen this done since art school in the early 90's. There is also a Very Important Folder of paper and these are the find sheets, and we need to learn to do one. Toby and Hayley are very patient with us, Nina is quickly giggling as she reads my mind - she knows this is the kind of thing I find very trying. I endeavour to keep up but as usual I'm easily distracted from the numbers, I just hope to God no future academic has to rely on my notes. The system - at first - seems Byzantine. There is some to-ing and fro-ing of digits on different sheets, and I'm still not sure how the 'Slot Number' is arrived at, but you soon realise that these very brainy folk have worked it out to minimise error and where they do occur, to enable it at least to be found. Later I try to do a find sheet alone and after a few minutes leafing, numbers becoming ever more confusing, I have to interrupt one of the silent drawing people for help. Their trance is ruined but they indulge me, probably thinking 'For God's sake, all this for a smashed bone from some Iron Age barbecue'. Or maybe archaeologists never think such things, after all, wasn't Richard III just a bone in the ground once?

The walk back to base camp (the Unit office, where the finds go nightly) takes us past a Site of Special Scientific Interest that Toby says is full of coprolite - its sounds like the name of a Victorian medical elexir but Wikipedia says it's 'a fossilized feces'. I can't remember why this ancient shit is important (now there's a title in the making!), but it seems they are not allowed to dig there. We also pass what is to be soon our Artists' House - a former farmhouse (though more 1970's than 1870's) that looks rather far from being inhabitable still. It'll be good when it's done - we can then clump 'home' muddily for a hot bath. A blonde longhaired woman walking her matching dog chats to us about the dig, we encourage her to the March Open Day on site - it's been planned as a Roman Street Party apparently, though I sense some unease amongst the team about quite how to pull this off with conditions as they are. Sadly Nina and I can't be there to offer any artistic diversion, and we're quite good at that so it's a bit of a shame.

Back at the office - part storage facility - corridors towering with finds boxes, part garden shed - another team has cleaned and laid out some of the best site finds. The delicacy of these objects I find very moving: I recall the acres of gleaned earth, the huge mechanical diggers, the soil mountains, the heavy shovels pitted against these slithers of ancient metal and clay; the boorish builders who will soon be on site. There are brooches, pottery, an exquisite bone needle that looks days old, a bit of an elegant javelin found in a well (one of very few arms found so far - they were a peaceful lot here). A fellow volunteer lends me a magnifying glass to study the coins with, it's magical to see their fine detail. The team are so casual with much of their expertise - I suppose like many specialists are - that it feels faintly embarrasing to show our enthusiasm and awe at the aura these ancient things possess. I guess it's all in a day's work for them. I'm also quickly aware of how much more interested I am by these objects, found in the very soil I've been toiling in, than had I encountered them cleaned up and labelled in a dusty museum case. It really matters when you intimately know their origin, and their aura perhaps (for me anyhow) derives from the liminal space between their 'loss' thousands of years ago and their rediscovery now by these means by these people....

PS I'm realising that this new project needs me to quickly learn how to type the word 'archaeology' correctly - it seems to have more 'O's in it than are strictly necessary and I've not got it right first time once

Photo: Nina Pope

Photo: Dave Webb