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Community Archaeology

Artist Report: Angela Davies at Bryn Celli Ddu

As part of the Bryn Celli Ddu public archaeology project in June 2015, we worked with Angela Davies, our amazing artist in residence during the excavation. It was fantastic to work with such an inspirational artist, and we are hoping we can develop some of the ideas we started last year in this year’s project. Catch up with some of Angela’s themes and approaches in this blog! 

I undertook the residency for Cadw at Bryn Celli Ddu for a 2 week period in June 2015 during the excavation of the outcrop on the neighbouring field to BCD. The residency enabled me to further explore ‘Time, people, place’ and to map ancient sites and routes across north Wales. Placing contemporary visual arts within a ‘non-art’ venue was an exciting challenge.

Bryn Celli Ddu intro shot

Bryn Celli Ddu as seen from the rock art outcrop

It was a rich and intensive period which enabled me to make links and create opportunities to forge trans-disciplinary connections; to learn from others in the field of physics, computing, electronics, engineering and archaeology, to inform the development of the project. The open dialogue and sharing of knowledge and experiences with the archaeologists was an enriching experience, alongside their approach to unearthing the past and placing value and meaning on discoveries found.

Ritual blue combined

Exploring light and shadow with Ultra Violet light inside the chamber at Bryn Celli Ddu with Dr Ffion Reynolds

The creative exploration was informed by the conceptual nature of triboluminescence. Ffion Reynolds and I collected quartz and investigated methods to generate light through crushing, scratching and rubbing the material. This provoked ideas around trying to emit light from the quartz through the application of ultrasonic frequencies. I met with engineers and scientists at Bangor University to explore using multifrequency ultrasonic structural actuators to generate sound waves, to emit light from the quartz. There was limited time to explore this in detail but it did prompt further investigations into discoveries found, particularly of art and technology.


Cup mark discovered at Bryn Celli Ddu

A series of cup marks: a form of prehistoric rock art, were discovered on the outcrop during the excavation. I considered how the raw material would have been carved to craft the cup marks as impressions of the past. Moreover, I contemplated the notion of Flow (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) and the states of consciousness that may have been experienced during the intimate carving of the rock; the performative nature of this, the rhythm and the repetition the ‘artist’ may have engaged in and the very act of striking on the rock could fracture the crystals within the tool to cause triboluminescence, thus emitting light.

I explored light as a medium to provide optical experiences with the anticipation of altering the viewers’ perception of space. It is this relationship with light and journeying that I was interested in conveying as a form of meditation for the viewer to encounter. The relationship between materials and perception were key to the development of creating an immersive installation at BCD.

I created a series of clockwork constellations informed by plotting cairns and burial sites across Anglesey. The ‘constellations’ were used to initiate the cross-disciplinary collaboration with Lyndsey Thomas, a dancer from the Lowry, Manchester. The nature of the performance was semi-choreographed. I captured footage of Lyndsey navigating the landscape around the burial chamber. We explored the performative nature of triboluminescence and improvised ceremonial happenings. Joseph Mearman documented movements across the landscape from aerial perspective using a UAV camera drone. A series of short films were captured and edited. The results were wonderfully poetic and suggestive of ritualistic behaviour.

clockwork constellation

Clockwork Constellations

Discoveries were made through the exploration of light and lens based media. I explored using an infrared camera, as in the images below. I recreated the constellations using UV thread within the chamber and projected UV light. However, it was the performative nature of triboluminescence and the ritualistic behaviour that I was concerned with conveying.

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 12.47.31

Infrared documentation of the performance at BCD with Lyndsey Thomas by Barry Pole

To give the illusion of triboluminescence from within the chamber, I explored digital software for sound and light output. To correlate light flashes with the sound of quartz being struck, I used Arduino micro controller to control a series of LEDs. The sound of quartz being struck was synchronised to light emission. This was achieved by recording the sound of the quartz and manipulating the recording using Audacity sound editing software. The sound was stretched and reverberated.


Illuminescence video stills with Lyndsey Thomas

The resulting investigation concluded with a temporary site-specific multi-sensory installation within the BCD burial chamber. This was installed for the open day in June. To entice the audience into the chamber, a series of LEDs were positioned under pieces of quartz around the perimeter of the internal wall of the chamber. The pieces of quartz were illuminated with flashes of light, they individually faded in and out at random sequences to give the illusion of triboluminescence. The sound of the struck quartz was projected from a series of surround sound speakers, the haunting sounds reverberated and perhaps provoked a memory of the ritualistic behaviour of the past.


Illuminescence Installation at BCD

A large scale lens like disc was suspended deep within chamber, gravitating space. The film illuminated movements of journeying through a ritual landscape, thus giving the illusion that the dancer was weaving her way through a rite of passage. The lens acted as a metaphor magnifying moments in time and illuminating the notion of journeying within the chamber.

During the residency I explored quartz as a performative material and as a material of time. This has reaffirmed a passion to further explore lenses and the kinesthetic language of light. I am interested in illustrating experiences triggered by audience interaction to mirror and magnify movements within different spaces, to bring the human element to the experience.

A Blog of the residency can be found here, which includes a range of images taken across my journey: http://angeladavies80.wix.com/bryncelliddu

Illuminescence can be found here: https://vimeo.com/147037483

 Angela Davies


About FfionR

I’m Ffion, Honorary Research Fellow at Cardiff University and Heritage and Arts Manager for Cadw, the historic environment service for the Welsh Government. At Cadw, my role is to oversee projects that link heritage with the arts, inspire new ways of engaging people with our built environment and to link people with their local heritage and archaeology.


5 thoughts on “Artist Report: Angela Davies at Bryn Celli Ddu

  1. This is amazing work. As an artist myself I used BCD during my M.Å. studies. It’s certainly a place where the contrast of light and dark can be intense. Love Angela’s work too, having enjoyed her installation with Karen Heald at Chirk Castle. Unfortunately did not know about this when it was happening.

    Posted by Diana Baur | February 29, 2016, 9:48 am


  1. Pingback: Materials as Media @ Bryn Celli Ddu | Day of Archaeology - July 30, 2016

  2. Pingback: Materials as media @ Bryn Celli Ddu | Tinkinswood Archaeology - February 3, 2017

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