Ceramics as an archaeology of the contemporary past

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract

This paper will argue that a socially-engaged ceramic practice may have much in common with the aims of current archaeological approaches to investigating the recent or contemporary past. Both endeavours can be regarded as forms of ‘creative materialising intervention’ in that they may result in the constitution of an otherwise absent material culture, ‘thereby expanding the scope of discursive culture’ (Buchli and Lucas 2001a, p. 15-17). This will be illustrated by reference to my own practice-based research undertaken between 2010 and 2014 as part of a collaborative doctoral project at the University of Sunderland and Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens (SMWG). Responding to the museum’s collection of nineteenth century Sunderland lustreware pottery, this project sought to engage and reflect the contemporary community of Sunderland through the creation of a series of ceramic art works and museum displays. In particular, I will discuss two examples of ceramic artworks I made after holding a focus group and reminiscence activity with a group of eleven Wearside-born soldiers from Third Battalion, The Rifles (3 Rifles). Taking the rich military and naval imagery of Sunderland pottery as a precedent, and concentrating on their embodied experiences and commemorative practices, the project invited the participants to discuss how their tour in Afghanistan, as part of Operation Herrick 11 (2009-10), might be remembered in ceramics. One of the premises of my approach is that ceramic objects have the potential to remedy the widely observed and problematised ‘forgetfulness’ (e.g. Nora 1989, Connerton 2009) and dematerialisation (e.g. Renfrew 2003) associated with the current age. As enduring forms of ‘external symbolic storage’ (Renfrew 2003, p.188), they may act as material conduits through which ephemeral aspects of human-object relations can be disinterred and manifested. As will be discussed, rather than replicating the problematic of modernity by simply moving the responsibility of remembering to monumental sites of forgetfulness, the challenge of such a project is to explore how these ‘micro-local sites of memory’ (Kidron 2009, p.5) may then go on to become socially constituted as active loci of creative remembrance.
LanguageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Ceramics Reader
EditorsKevin Petrie, Andrew Livingstone
Place of PublicationLondon
Pages536-547
Volume1
Publication statusPublished - 23 Feb 2017

Fingerprint

archaeology
museum
reminiscence
Afghanistan
soldier
remedies
modernity
constitution
nineteenth century
Group
Military
art
responsibility
community
experience

Keywords

  • ceramics
  • archaeology
  • Sunderland
  • pottery
  • memory

Cite this

McHugh, C. (2017). Ceramics as an archaeology of the contemporary past. In K. Petrie, & A. Livingstone (Eds.), The Ceramics Reader (Vol. 1, pp. 536-547). London.
McHugh, Christopher. / Ceramics as an archaeology of the contemporary past. The Ceramics Reader. editor / Kevin Petrie ; Andrew Livingstone. Vol. 1 London, 2017. pp. 536-547
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abstract = "This paper will argue that a socially-engaged ceramic practice may have much in common with the aims of current archaeological approaches to investigating the recent or contemporary past. Both endeavours can be regarded as forms of ‘creative materialising intervention’ in that they may result in the constitution of an otherwise absent material culture, ‘thereby expanding the scope of discursive culture’ (Buchli and Lucas 2001a, p. 15-17). This will be illustrated by reference to my own practice-based research undertaken between 2010 and 2014 as part of a collaborative doctoral project at the University of Sunderland and Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens (SMWG). Responding to the museum’s collection of nineteenth century Sunderland lustreware pottery, this project sought to engage and reflect the contemporary community of Sunderland through the creation of a series of ceramic art works and museum displays. In particular, I will discuss two examples of ceramic artworks I made after holding a focus group and reminiscence activity with a group of eleven Wearside-born soldiers from Third Battalion, The Rifles (3 Rifles). Taking the rich military and naval imagery of Sunderland pottery as a precedent, and concentrating on their embodied experiences and commemorative practices, the project invited the participants to discuss how their tour in Afghanistan, as part of Operation Herrick 11 (2009-10), might be remembered in ceramics. One of the premises of my approach is that ceramic objects have the potential to remedy the widely observed and problematised ‘forgetfulness’ (e.g. Nora 1989, Connerton 2009) and dematerialisation (e.g. Renfrew 2003) associated with the current age. As enduring forms of ‘external symbolic storage’ (Renfrew 2003, p.188), they may act as material conduits through which ephemeral aspects of human-object relations can be disinterred and manifested. As will be discussed, rather than replicating the problematic of modernity by simply moving the responsibility of remembering to monumental sites of forgetfulness, the challenge of such a project is to explore how these ‘micro-local sites of memory’ (Kidron 2009, p.5) may then go on to become socially constituted as active loci of creative remembrance.",
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note = "Reference text: Adamson, G. 2009. ‘You Are Here’, in deWaal, E. Signs and Wonders: Edmund deWaal and the V&A Ceramics Galleries, London: V&A Publishing, pp. 33-47. Arigho, B. 2008. ‘Getting a Handle on the Past: The Use of Objects in Reminiscence Work’, in Chatterjee, H. (ed), Touch in Museums: Policy and Practice in Object Handling, Oxford; New York: Berg, pp. 205-212. Back, Les. 2004. ‘Inscriptions of Love’, in Thomas, H. and Ahmed, J. (eds) Cultural Bodies: Ethnography and Theory, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, pp.27-54. Beckstead, Z., Twose, G., Levesque-Gottlieb, E., and Rizzo, J. 2011 ‘Collective remembering through the materiality and organization of war memorials’, Journal of Material Culture, June 2011, 16, pp.193-213. Brown, G. R. 2013. ‘Interaction, Intervention and the Will to Preserve’, available at <http://www.ceramics-in-the-expanded-field.com/essays/glen-r-brown-phd-usa>, accessed 02.07.2014. Brownsword, N. 2006. Action/reflection: a creative response to transition and change in British ceramic manufacture. PhD Thesis, University of Brunel. Buchli, V. and Lucas, G. 2001a. ‘The absent present’, in Buchli, V. and Lucas, G. (eds) Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 3-18. Buchli, V. and Lucas, G. 2001b. ‘Between remembering and forgetting’, in Buchli, V. and Lucas, G. (eds) Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 79-83. Buchli, V. and Lucas, G. 2001c. ‘The archaeology of alienation: A late twentieth-century British council house’, in Buchli, V. and Lucas, G. (eds) Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 158-167. Buchli, V. and Lucas, G. 2001d. ‘Presencing absence’, in Buchli, V. and Lucas, G. (eds) Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 171-174. Chua, L and Elliott, M. (eds), 2013. Distributed Objects: Meaning and Mattering after Alfred Gell, New York; Oxford: Bergahn. Clark, L. B., 2009. ‘Shin’s Tricycle’, in Candlin, F. & Guins, R. 2009. The Object Reader, London; New York: Routledge, pp. 513-515. Connerton, P. 2009. How Modernity Forgets, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Crossland, Z. 2002. ‘Violent spaces: conflict over the reappearance of Argentina’s disappeared’, in J. Schofield, W. Gray Johnson and C. M. Beck, (eds), Mat{\'e}riel Culture: The archaeology of twentieth-century conflict, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 115-131. Cubitt, G. 2007. History and Memory, Manchester; New York: Manchester University Press. Dendooven, D., 2009. ‘The Journey Back: On the nature of donations to the ‘In Flanders Museum’’, in Saunders, N.J. and Cornish, P. (eds), Contested Objects: material memories of the Great War, London: Routledge, pp. 60-72. Dixon, S. 2012. ‘Why Clay?’, in Interpreting Ceramics, Issue 14, available at <http://www.interpretingceramics.com/issue014/articles/06.htm>, accessed 25.02.14. Gell, A. 1998. Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Harrison, R and Schofield, J. 2010. After Modernity: Archaeological Approaches to the Contemporary Past, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Holtorf, C. 2004. ‘Incavation – Excavation – Exhibition’, in Renfrew, C., Brodie, N. & Hills, C. (eds.), Material engagements: studies in honour of Colin Renfrew, Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, pp. 45-53. Holtorf, C. 2013. Email correspondence, dated 14.09.2013. Ingold, T. 2000. The Perception of the Environment: Essays in Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill, London: Routledge. Ingold, T. 2013. Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Artchitecture, London; New York: Routledge. Kidron, C. A. 2009. ‘Toward an Ethnography of Silence: The Lived Presence of the Past in the Everyday Life of Holocaust Trauma Survivors and Their Descendants in Israel’, Current Anthropology, 50 (1), pp. 5-27. Kidron, C. A. 2012. ‘Breaching the wall of traumatic silence: Holocaust survivor and descendant person-object relations and the material transmission of the genocidal past.’, Journal of Material Culture, 17(1), pp.3-21. McHugh, C. J. 2013. ‘Towards a Sunderland Pottery for the Twenty-First Century: Materializing Multiple Dialogues in Museum Display Through Creative Ceramics’, Journal of Museum Ethnography, no. 26 (March 2013), pp. 71-88. McHugh, C. J. 2016. ‘The Crinson Jug from clay to the grave (and beyond): exploring the ceramic object as a gathering point’, in Christie Brown, Julian Stair and Clare Twomey (eds) Contemporary Clay and Museum Culture, London: Routledge, pp. 121-131. McSorley, K. 2012. ‘Helmetcams, militarized sensation and ‘Somatic War’’, in Journal of War & Culture Studies 5 (1), pp. 47-58. McSorley, K. and Maltby, S. 2012. ‘War and the Body: Cultural and military practices’, in Journal of War & Culture Studies 5 (1), pp. 3-6. MOM 2015. Memory of Mankind website, available at <http://memory-of-mankind.com/>, accessed 29.09.15. Nora, P. 1989. ‘Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de M{\'e}moire’ (transl. Marc Roudebush), Representations, no. 26 (Spring; Special Issue: ‘Memory and Counter Memory’), pp. 7-24. Olivier, L. 2001. ‘The archaeology of the contemporary past’, in Buchli, V. and Lucas, G. (eds.) Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past, London and New York: Routledge, pp.175-188. Olsen, B. 2010. In Defense of Things: Archaeology and the Ontology of Objects, Lanham and Plymouth, Altamira Press. Olsen, B., Shanks, M., Webmoor, T. & Witmore, C. 2012. Archaeology: The Discipline of Things, Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Pennell, S. 2010. ‘‘For a crack or flaw despis’d’: Thinking about Ceramic Durability and the ‘Everyday’ in Late Seventeenth- and Early Eighteenth-Century England’, in Hamling, T. & Richardson, C., Everyday Objects, Farnham, Surrey, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, pp. 27-40. Piccini, A. and Holtorf, C. 2009, ‘Introduction: Fragments from a Conversation about Contemporary Archaeologies’, in Holtorf, C. and Piccini, A. 2009. (eds), Contemporary Archaeologies: Excavating Now, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang GmbH, pp. 9-29. Renfrew, A. C. 2003. Figuring it out: The parallel visions of artists and archaeologists, London: Thames and Hudson. Sarmiento, J. R. 2011a. ‘Ode on a Maori Paddle: Ethno/Graphic Glass Art Practice’, Journal of Museum Ethnography, no. 24, pp. 58–77. Schofield, J. and Johnson, W. G. 2006. ‘Archaeology, heritage and the recent and contemporary past’, in Hicks, D. and Beaudry, M. C. (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Historical Archaeology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 104-122. Schofield, J., Johnson, W.G., Beck, C.M. 2002. ‘Introduction: mat{\'e}rial culture in the modern world’, in Schofield, J., Johnson, W.G., Beck, C. M., (eds.), Mat{\'e}riel Culture: The archaeology of twentieth-century conflict, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 1-8. Sensing War. 2014. A conference held at Friends House, London, 12-13 June 2014. <http://sensingwar.org/>, accessed 29.09.15. Shales, E. 2013. ‘Tools Fit for the External Hard Drive’, in Mydland, A. M. & Brownsword, N. (eds) Topographies of the Obsolete: Critical Texts, Topographies of the Obsolete Publications, pp. 20-25. Stevenson, G. 2001. ‘Archaeology as the design history of the everyday’, in Buchli, V. and Lucas, G. (eds.), Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 51-62. Stewart, S., 1993. On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, Durham: Duke University Press. Witcomb, A. 2010. ‘Remembering the dead by affecting the living: The case of a miniature model of Treblinka’, in Dudley, S. H. (ed), Museum Materialities: Objects, Engagements, Interpretations, London; New York: Routledge, pp.39-52.",
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McHugh, C 2017, Ceramics as an archaeology of the contemporary past. in K Petrie & A Livingstone (eds), The Ceramics Reader. vol. 1, London, pp. 536-547.

Ceramics as an archaeology of the contemporary past. / McHugh, Christopher.

The Ceramics Reader. ed. / Kevin Petrie; Andrew Livingstone. Vol. 1 London, 2017. p. 536-547.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

TY - CHAP

T1 - Ceramics as an archaeology of the contemporary past

AU - McHugh, Christopher

N1 - Reference text: Adamson, G. 2009. ‘You Are Here’, in deWaal, E. Signs and Wonders: Edmund deWaal and the V&A Ceramics Galleries, London: V&A Publishing, pp. 33-47. Arigho, B. 2008. ‘Getting a Handle on the Past: The Use of Objects in Reminiscence Work’, in Chatterjee, H. (ed), Touch in Museums: Policy and Practice in Object Handling, Oxford; New York: Berg, pp. 205-212. Back, Les. 2004. ‘Inscriptions of Love’, in Thomas, H. and Ahmed, J. (eds) Cultural Bodies: Ethnography and Theory, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, pp.27-54. Beckstead, Z., Twose, G., Levesque-Gottlieb, E., and Rizzo, J. 2011 ‘Collective remembering through the materiality and organization of war memorials’, Journal of Material Culture, June 2011, 16, pp.193-213. Brown, G. R. 2013. ‘Interaction, Intervention and the Will to Preserve’, available at <http://www.ceramics-in-the-expanded-field.com/essays/glen-r-brown-phd-usa>, accessed 02.07.2014. Brownsword, N. 2006. Action/reflection: a creative response to transition and change in British ceramic manufacture. PhD Thesis, University of Brunel. Buchli, V. and Lucas, G. 2001a. ‘The absent present’, in Buchli, V. and Lucas, G. (eds) Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 3-18. Buchli, V. and Lucas, G. 2001b. ‘Between remembering and forgetting’, in Buchli, V. and Lucas, G. (eds) Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 79-83. Buchli, V. and Lucas, G. 2001c. ‘The archaeology of alienation: A late twentieth-century British council house’, in Buchli, V. and Lucas, G. (eds) Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 158-167. Buchli, V. and Lucas, G. 2001d. ‘Presencing absence’, in Buchli, V. and Lucas, G. (eds) Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 171-174. Chua, L and Elliott, M. (eds), 2013. Distributed Objects: Meaning and Mattering after Alfred Gell, New York; Oxford: Bergahn. Clark, L. B., 2009. ‘Shin’s Tricycle’, in Candlin, F. & Guins, R. 2009. The Object Reader, London; New York: Routledge, pp. 513-515. Connerton, P. 2009. How Modernity Forgets, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Crossland, Z. 2002. ‘Violent spaces: conflict over the reappearance of Argentina’s disappeared’, in J. Schofield, W. Gray Johnson and C. M. Beck, (eds), Matériel Culture: The archaeology of twentieth-century conflict, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 115-131. Cubitt, G. 2007. History and Memory, Manchester; New York: Manchester University Press. Dendooven, D., 2009. ‘The Journey Back: On the nature of donations to the ‘In Flanders Museum’’, in Saunders, N.J. and Cornish, P. (eds), Contested Objects: material memories of the Great War, London: Routledge, pp. 60-72. Dixon, S. 2012. ‘Why Clay?’, in Interpreting Ceramics, Issue 14, available at <http://www.interpretingceramics.com/issue014/articles/06.htm>, accessed 25.02.14. Gell, A. 1998. Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Harrison, R and Schofield, J. 2010. After Modernity: Archaeological Approaches to the Contemporary Past, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Holtorf, C. 2004. ‘Incavation – Excavation – Exhibition’, in Renfrew, C., Brodie, N. & Hills, C. (eds.), Material engagements: studies in honour of Colin Renfrew, Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, pp. 45-53. Holtorf, C. 2013. Email correspondence, dated 14.09.2013. Ingold, T. 2000. The Perception of the Environment: Essays in Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill, London: Routledge. Ingold, T. 2013. Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Artchitecture, London; New York: Routledge. Kidron, C. A. 2009. ‘Toward an Ethnography of Silence: The Lived Presence of the Past in the Everyday Life of Holocaust Trauma Survivors and Their Descendants in Israel’, Current Anthropology, 50 (1), pp. 5-27. Kidron, C. A. 2012. ‘Breaching the wall of traumatic silence: Holocaust survivor and descendant person-object relations and the material transmission of the genocidal past.’, Journal of Material Culture, 17(1), pp.3-21. McHugh, C. J. 2013. ‘Towards a Sunderland Pottery for the Twenty-First Century: Materializing Multiple Dialogues in Museum Display Through Creative Ceramics’, Journal of Museum Ethnography, no. 26 (March 2013), pp. 71-88. McHugh, C. J. 2016. ‘The Crinson Jug from clay to the grave (and beyond): exploring the ceramic object as a gathering point’, in Christie Brown, Julian Stair and Clare Twomey (eds) Contemporary Clay and Museum Culture, London: Routledge, pp. 121-131. McSorley, K. 2012. ‘Helmetcams, militarized sensation and ‘Somatic War’’, in Journal of War & Culture Studies 5 (1), pp. 47-58. McSorley, K. and Maltby, S. 2012. ‘War and the Body: Cultural and military practices’, in Journal of War & Culture Studies 5 (1), pp. 3-6. MOM 2015. Memory of Mankind website, available at <http://memory-of-mankind.com/>, accessed 29.09.15. Nora, P. 1989. ‘Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire’ (transl. Marc Roudebush), Representations, no. 26 (Spring; Special Issue: ‘Memory and Counter Memory’), pp. 7-24. Olivier, L. 2001. ‘The archaeology of the contemporary past’, in Buchli, V. and Lucas, G. (eds.) Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past, London and New York: Routledge, pp.175-188. Olsen, B. 2010. In Defense of Things: Archaeology and the Ontology of Objects, Lanham and Plymouth, Altamira Press. Olsen, B., Shanks, M., Webmoor, T. & Witmore, C. 2012. Archaeology: The Discipline of Things, Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Pennell, S. 2010. ‘‘For a crack or flaw despis’d’: Thinking about Ceramic Durability and the ‘Everyday’ in Late Seventeenth- and Early Eighteenth-Century England’, in Hamling, T. & Richardson, C., Everyday Objects, Farnham, Surrey, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, pp. 27-40. Piccini, A. and Holtorf, C. 2009, ‘Introduction: Fragments from a Conversation about Contemporary Archaeologies’, in Holtorf, C. and Piccini, A. 2009. (eds), Contemporary Archaeologies: Excavating Now, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang GmbH, pp. 9-29. Renfrew, A. C. 2003. Figuring it out: The parallel visions of artists and archaeologists, London: Thames and Hudson. Sarmiento, J. R. 2011a. ‘Ode on a Maori Paddle: Ethno/Graphic Glass Art Practice’, Journal of Museum Ethnography, no. 24, pp. 58–77. Schofield, J. and Johnson, W. G. 2006. ‘Archaeology, heritage and the recent and contemporary past’, in Hicks, D. and Beaudry, M. C. (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Historical Archaeology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 104-122. Schofield, J., Johnson, W.G., Beck, C.M. 2002. ‘Introduction: matérial culture in the modern world’, in Schofield, J., Johnson, W.G., Beck, C. M., (eds.), Matériel Culture: The archaeology of twentieth-century conflict, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 1-8. Sensing War. 2014. A conference held at Friends House, London, 12-13 June 2014. <http://sensingwar.org/>, accessed 29.09.15. Shales, E. 2013. ‘Tools Fit for the External Hard Drive’, in Mydland, A. M. & Brownsword, N. (eds) Topographies of the Obsolete: Critical Texts, Topographies of the Obsolete Publications, pp. 20-25. Stevenson, G. 2001. ‘Archaeology as the design history of the everyday’, in Buchli, V. and Lucas, G. (eds.), Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 51-62. Stewart, S., 1993. On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, Durham: Duke University Press. Witcomb, A. 2010. ‘Remembering the dead by affecting the living: The case of a miniature model of Treblinka’, in Dudley, S. H. (ed), Museum Materialities: Objects, Engagements, Interpretations, London; New York: Routledge, pp.39-52.

PY - 2017/2/23

Y1 - 2017/2/23

N2 - This paper will argue that a socially-engaged ceramic practice may have much in common with the aims of current archaeological approaches to investigating the recent or contemporary past. Both endeavours can be regarded as forms of ‘creative materialising intervention’ in that they may result in the constitution of an otherwise absent material culture, ‘thereby expanding the scope of discursive culture’ (Buchli and Lucas 2001a, p. 15-17). This will be illustrated by reference to my own practice-based research undertaken between 2010 and 2014 as part of a collaborative doctoral project at the University of Sunderland and Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens (SMWG). Responding to the museum’s collection of nineteenth century Sunderland lustreware pottery, this project sought to engage and reflect the contemporary community of Sunderland through the creation of a series of ceramic art works and museum displays. In particular, I will discuss two examples of ceramic artworks I made after holding a focus group and reminiscence activity with a group of eleven Wearside-born soldiers from Third Battalion, The Rifles (3 Rifles). Taking the rich military and naval imagery of Sunderland pottery as a precedent, and concentrating on their embodied experiences and commemorative practices, the project invited the participants to discuss how their tour in Afghanistan, as part of Operation Herrick 11 (2009-10), might be remembered in ceramics. One of the premises of my approach is that ceramic objects have the potential to remedy the widely observed and problematised ‘forgetfulness’ (e.g. Nora 1989, Connerton 2009) and dematerialisation (e.g. Renfrew 2003) associated with the current age. As enduring forms of ‘external symbolic storage’ (Renfrew 2003, p.188), they may act as material conduits through which ephemeral aspects of human-object relations can be disinterred and manifested. As will be discussed, rather than replicating the problematic of modernity by simply moving the responsibility of remembering to monumental sites of forgetfulness, the challenge of such a project is to explore how these ‘micro-local sites of memory’ (Kidron 2009, p.5) may then go on to become socially constituted as active loci of creative remembrance.

AB - This paper will argue that a socially-engaged ceramic practice may have much in common with the aims of current archaeological approaches to investigating the recent or contemporary past. Both endeavours can be regarded as forms of ‘creative materialising intervention’ in that they may result in the constitution of an otherwise absent material culture, ‘thereby expanding the scope of discursive culture’ (Buchli and Lucas 2001a, p. 15-17). This will be illustrated by reference to my own practice-based research undertaken between 2010 and 2014 as part of a collaborative doctoral project at the University of Sunderland and Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens (SMWG). Responding to the museum’s collection of nineteenth century Sunderland lustreware pottery, this project sought to engage and reflect the contemporary community of Sunderland through the creation of a series of ceramic art works and museum displays. In particular, I will discuss two examples of ceramic artworks I made after holding a focus group and reminiscence activity with a group of eleven Wearside-born soldiers from Third Battalion, The Rifles (3 Rifles). Taking the rich military and naval imagery of Sunderland pottery as a precedent, and concentrating on their embodied experiences and commemorative practices, the project invited the participants to discuss how their tour in Afghanistan, as part of Operation Herrick 11 (2009-10), might be remembered in ceramics. One of the premises of my approach is that ceramic objects have the potential to remedy the widely observed and problematised ‘forgetfulness’ (e.g. Nora 1989, Connerton 2009) and dematerialisation (e.g. Renfrew 2003) associated with the current age. As enduring forms of ‘external symbolic storage’ (Renfrew 2003, p.188), they may act as material conduits through which ephemeral aspects of human-object relations can be disinterred and manifested. As will be discussed, rather than replicating the problematic of modernity by simply moving the responsibility of remembering to monumental sites of forgetfulness, the challenge of such a project is to explore how these ‘micro-local sites of memory’ (Kidron 2009, p.5) may then go on to become socially constituted as active loci of creative remembrance.

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McHugh C. Ceramics as an archaeology of the contemporary past. In Petrie K, Livingstone A, editors, The Ceramics Reader. Vol. 1. London. 2017. p. 536-547