A Time and Place (as it appeared in Art New England, 2002)
By Charles Giuliano
Charles Giuliano is the director of exhibitions for the New England
School of Art and Design at Suffolk University. He is a contributing editor
and columnist for Art New England, publishes the on line, Maverick
Artsletter and contributes to Nyartsmagazine.
"There is a time to plant and a time to sow. A time to pluck up that
which is planted. There is a time and place for everything. And everything
in its place," Old Testament.
During the Neolithic period of England, some five to eight
millennia ago, the peoples of that time erected great stone megaliths. The most
famous and widely visited of these is Stonehenge in the South of England
near Salisbury. Today, this post and lintel great circle, shaped like a key
hole with a central altar is understood to have served as a clock and
calendar as well as a site for ritual celebrations of the solstices. The
circle is so precisely configured that twice a year the rising sun perfectly
dissects the great circle. And the daily deviation for this center line
marks the progression of the months and seasons.
This is a level of technology that was derived globally by many
cultures. It was a crucial evolutionary step as early man developed from the
phase of hunter and gatherer to agriculture and domestication of animals.
This allowed for creating cities and societies of ever greater complexity.
All of this is known and readily understood today. The study of
geomancy, (divination by means of some aspect of the earth, particularly by
the observation of points and lines on the earth), is the frequent subject
of documentaries on the Discovery Channel or other television networks. It
is a discussion that continues to intrigue children and students. Tourists
flock to such sites as Stonehenge, the Pyramids of Egypt and Mexico, and
sites all over the world that evoke such celestial reckoning and divination.
Perhaps, we too readily understand. It is too easily explained as a
global phenomenon of Early Mankind. This tends to purge great sites of
their mystery, power and poetry. They are about more than just inherent
information and links to human development.
In our greater understanding of such architectural and archaeological
phenomena we have become distanced from their greater humanistic,
shamanistic resonance. They convey the important message of a time when
mankind had a more intimate connection to the earth and natural phenomena.
Indeed, their very lives, on every level, depended upon this fragile
connection to nature and divination of the very earth itself.
To plant and sow based purely on the weather, a bright, sunny Spring
day, for example, might be followed by a frost and the disaster of a crop
failure. This would translate into starvation and death. Today, if a crop
fails that just translates as higher prices for produce shipped from some
other part of the world. We have become accustomed to paying more but
enjoying fresh strawberries and asparagus during the winter season. But for
the Druid people of Neolithic England the development of a reliable calendar
was crucial to their very survival. There was no margin for error in
matters of planting and harvesting.,
It is the power and poetry of these great megaliths that inspired
the video, "Stones," by the artist, Jane Hudson. The footage she shot on
location in Avebury, a British site some 5000 years old, has been digitally
altered to resemble grainy old film. This is to enhance the feeling that it
is vintage documentary footage. But there is no narrative and just a sound
track of the howling March wind and the inclemency of a nasty British Spring
The video piece, projected in large format approximating the actual
scale of the original "Stones," is intended not to be a documentary. It
provokes many interesting questions but offers no answers. The video asks us
to experience these ancient objects in and of themselves. To get a feeling
of just what they are. To become intrigued while sensing their presence and
Indeed, the experience is artful. There is a zoom in on an isolated
stone. As it comes into focus there are occasional special effects, changes
of lighting, flashes of lightning, signifiers of an artistic experience.
Presented as a loop, we determine how much or little of our time to
experience the work. There may be a trance like involvement or an abrupt
termination. The monumental simplicity tends to linger long after we leave
the work itself. Powerful works of art have that ability to stay with us.
Particularly when impregnated with simplicity and poetry.
" I have traveled extensively to what remains of a number of ancient
civilizations, having been drawn to the question of origins, really since
childhood," Hudson said recently after we had viewed the piece. " From the
pyramids of Mexico and Guatemala to the Neolithic structures of Sardinia and
Ireland, and the great stone temples of England, I have been drawn back,
before history, to the presence of stone. I wonder not at the elegance of
the classical, its precision and aesthetic familiarity, but to the
proto-plinth, the substructure of structure that history has built upon. In
these marvelously obscure constructions, lacking recorded use-value, one is
faced with a production that eludes meaning while insisting on its lost
purpose and its present 'thingness'. There is always a determined shape,
whether enclosure or processional that engenders awe and a connection with
powers both earthly and celestial.
"At this point in time the experience of such places is relegated
to a touristic distance. Even the earnest New Age devotee projects a
fantastic imaginary onto them. Made of a combination of cobbled mysticisms
and media representations, these ideas serve to glamorize the intentions of
the original builders and promote a romantic narrative onto the contemporary
cultures in which they exist. At the same time it is still within our
capacity to experience the sheer magnitude, the scale, the rough certainty
of placements, the basic material, the mother-of-all-matter, stone. We are
taken back, beyond language, to our root gestures toward imaging the shape
of our being, and our relationship to powers beyond our control."
The decision to shoot the work in Avebury, rather than the more
familiar Stonehenge, was precisely to avoid the familiar and obvious. It is
a much larger site that has had an unfortunate history. During the Christian
era in the 8th century AD, a town was established in the very center of the
great circle of megaliths. This was a largely anti pagan gesture to deny and
defuse its religious connotations. There were deliberate acts of
destruction. Stones were knocked down and broken up to provide building
material. Sight lines were blocked and the intention of the site was
destroyed forever. Because Avebury was rougher and more crude it failed to
evoke the more obvious romanticism of Stonehenge which is more close to our
notions of classical post and lintel architecture.
It is, however, this more tragic, primitive and neglected aspect that
attracted the artist. Her act of art making seems more vital and
restorative, a greater act of respect and devotion, of care providing, than
to just exploit the ready recognition of Stonehenge and its familiar
connotations. No, the Avebury site is more of a stretch, fresher, and more
demanding and rewarding in this artistic context.
It is, indeed, a fascinating site. "It is speculated by historians and
geomancers alike that Avebury lay at the heart of a system of scared circles
stretching from the extremities of Cornwall in the west to Yarmouth on the
East Coast of southern England," Hudson explained. " A 'trackway' or
overland route connected these sites and drew pilgrims toward seasonal
celebrations culminating at Avebury.
"Remarkably, this site has remained somewhat obscured to world
travelers who tend to visit Stonehenge as the archetypal Neolithic temple.
Stonehenge resembles out classical notions of architecture, with its
post-and-lintel construction and relatively modest circumference. It is like
a building. Avebury, and other sites of a like period, tend to be demarked
by the standing stones alone. They mark the land, giving prominence to the
natural, magnetic convergences rather than to an edifice and its human
"There is an acknowledgement of a relationship between man and the
earth and between the earth and celestial behaviors. Often aligned with
movements of the sun and moon, even constellations, these locations act as
calendars, observatories, and as containment or focusing tools for
magical/spiritual purposes. Placed on the land in relation to the presence
of underground springs or geomantically powerful configurations, they served
to identify and archive the laws that govern the behavior of all living
"Constructed between 4-6 thousand years ago, these circles of
stone represent a profound loss. Until this time people had lived entwined
in the progress of the seasons, understanding the integration of human kind
and nature. With the introduction of agriculture, a certain separation
occurred as man gained control of natural production, forsaking the integral
for the symbolic. Human psyche and its projected imaginary were to become
the determining measure of the Divine."
Discussing the work itself Hudson explained, "I shot them from a
low vantage point enhancing their stature in relation to the ground in which
they settle. They become icons, characteristic and somehow, beyond time.
There is little of contemporary life in the images save the flight of a bird
or a diminuated building.
"I have introduced special effects, lightning, glowing, magical
events, to suggest an affect of innate power. Installed on a grand scale,
the projected images place the demand on the viewer of a visceral
engagement. They pulse in and out of a deep space. Rising as if our of a
loct continuity only to fade again beyond recall. The frame of the images
expands beyound its edges, pressing into the present, and then receding to a
null point from which yet another frame emerges. The sound of the wind, and
insistent drone, seems to carry the images like leaves from their invisible