Low Memorial Library Rotunda, 2-4pm

Friday February 21st 2020


Reception to follow 4-5pm

Anthropology Lounge, Schermerhorn Ext., Room 465

Columbia University

In the fall semester 2019 Jeffrey Benjamin (Anthropology) taught the course “Principles of Art in Archaeological Practice.” This show, mounted in Low Library Rotunda in January 2020, is the culmination of a semester’s work by students in the course. Its title  — “The soil is sentient” — is a phrase from a final paper by student Mira Baum. A few visiting artists have gracefully lent work to complement the work of the students; Ben Kinmont, Marko Marila, Tim Flohr Sørensen, Suvi Tuominen. The show is on view until 2021. Below Jeff Benjamin explains more about the course and the show:

“Art/archaeology is a growing interdisciplinary field of study which combines art making with archaeological research in practice. In this class, each week students were asked to read a selection of works by artists and archaeologists, works which were thematically related around basic principles of art such as line, color, texture. They would then create a ‘response piece’ in lieu of a written response paper. One of the motivating premises of this class is that ‘critique’ has hijacked academia; we are being taught that to ‘think critically’ is the only way to think. But this is simply not true; one can also think creatively, which is also to say responsibly.

Archaeology — like art — is a creative force in the world: archaeological representations of the past serve as perpetuations and also as projections into the future. Our goal was to embrace this responsibility fully, to dream up new forms of archaeological research by harnessing the metaphorical power latent within the idea of archaeology: its relationship with revelation, discovery, serendipity and mystery.

Towards the end of class, I looked around campus for venues to exhibit, and with the support and help of Lillian Vargas in Art Properties, we found ourselves in Low Rotunda. I should also say that I was blessed with a wonderful group of students, all of whom came to each class with a level of seriousness and engagement that I have rarely experienced. This rare group dynamic caused me to shift the focus of the class a little bit, I wanted every one to have ample time to talk about their work each week.

As the course progressed, we realized that we were making some very interesting work. I felt that the work should be shared with the wider community, as a record of what we accomplished but also as a creative gesture in itself, because when the works are assembled in proximity new forms and associations emerge. (In this exhibition, I feel we created a new life form.)

Mid-way through the semester, we were also blessed with the opportunity to conduct an archaeological excavation on Morningside Campus. This allowed us to shift “archaeological practice” from a hypothetical to a real event. With the help of Clara Chang at Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, we conducted soil analysis and collected plant and artifact samples. Some of the results of this excavation (which we also conceived as a performance piece or “happening”) are on display in Low Library.”


Below is a gallery of the finished exhibit cases. Please click on any image to open in a larger format.

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