Attending to Absence

Sarah Bell (US)

To dwell in the world during the Coronavirus pandemic is to witness the collision of theory with experience.  As we live through this unique historical moment, experiencing isolation, emptiness and absence in almost unprecedented ways, it is worth reflecting on the manner in which our bodies respond to a world drained of physical presence.  I argue that an awareness of absence—and thus, conversely, of presence—should be considered as one amongst the almost infinite number of senses with which we are endowed. This sense should be understood as a physical and an emotional sensitivity not only to the absence of human presence, but also to the absence of things—a condition that is made appreciable through the complex relationship that exists between part and whole, non-place and place, here and gone.  As is evident in so many instances, it is in the interstitial “spaces between” these categories that both meaning and material accumulate.   Taking the remains of the abandoned Rocky Point Amusement Park in Warwick, Rhode Island as a case study, this presentation explores the ways in which the material environment at the park has been altered by visitors to reflect an awareness of absence through mark-making and graffiti.  

Future Prospectors: How can we sustain a forward-facing archive?

Karen Guthrie and Nina Pope (UK)

Online workshop on Monday 26 October 19.00 GMT

Join Somewhere (artists Karen Guthrie & Nina Pope) and other past ‘Prospectors’ from different disciplines, to consider possible futures for their cross-disciplinary Prospection project.

Prospection is an annual multi-disciplinary project which studies the growing community of Eddington in Cambridge across a 2-day period each year. Participants include artists, archaeologists, sociologists, designers and archivists, each using their expertise to portray the place and its people as they see fit. Initiated in 2013 by Karen and Nina (aka Somewhere), there have been six Prospection surveys to date: almost a quarter of an anticipated 25-year commitment.  Developing from an artists’ residency with Cambridge Archaeological Unit and part-supported by Eddington’s University-funded Public Art Programme, the project has resulted in short films, texts, photographs, drawings and data being collated and stored in Cambridgeshire Archives, with one survey exhibited at Kettles Yard Gallery in 2014 in Somewhere’s retrospective, ‘Past, Present, Somewhere’.

Hosted by the artists, this discursive workshop invites CHAT members and other contributors to brainstorm new ideas for Prospection, as it sits in suspension due to the global pandemic. With diminishing funding available, the project is at a crossroads, offering CHAT the opportunity to help the artists steer the project into a new phase. We invite ideas and discourse on what works (and doesn’t) in the methods used by Prospectors to date, how our manifesto might change, how other diverse contributors to (and hosts of) the project could be found, and what is it about the methodology we have used to date that we consider important and unique. 

We also hope to explore some of the practical challenges of sustaining the project over a long timeframe and to draw comparisons with other relevant projects.

More information about Prospection (including its original manifesto).

We strongly encourage workshop attendees to first view Somewhere’s five short films made for Prospection and released exclusively for festivalCHAT in a world premiere on Sunday 25 October 20.00 GMT.

Book your ticket here.

Imagining the Future: How do you co-curate in a pandemic?

V&A Dundee’s Young People’s Collective, with Elizabeth Day, Mhairi Maxwell & Tracey Smith (UK)

Join V&A Dundee’s Young People’s Collective and watch their video discussion (link coming soon!)

24 October 19:00 BST Live Q&A on Twitter about the dicussion and curating the COVID-19 pandemic (follow #festivalchat2020 and @VADundee).

V&A Dundee’s brand new exhibition, Now Accepting Contactless, has been co-designed by teams from across the museum, including our Young People’s Collective (henceforth known as YPC). The group of 14-24 year olds focussed on the section entitled ‘Imagining the Future’, wherein the team discussed our current moment as a turning point. What can we learn from the pandemic thus far? How can we progress in a positive and environmentally conscious manner?

In our video discussion we discuss what exactly makes a future artefact and how you can curate something which is live and changing daily. What is the role of a design museum currently? And how can this morph to represent the social implications of COVID-19?

The YPC are joined by V&A Dundee curators Kirsty Hassard and Mhairi Maxwell. YPC introduce what the group does on a weekly basis, and how their presence within the museum effects programming for young people in local communities. There is a live Q&A on Twitter wherein YPC members will explain how you can get involved in their project(s).

PROSPECTION 01-05: World Premiere


Karen Guthrie & Nina Pope (UK)

Film premiere and Q&A Sunday 25 October 20.00-21.30 GMT

Prospection is an annual multi-disciplinary survey of the recent inhabitation of North West Cambridge (aka ”Eddington”), planned to take place from 2015 until 2040. Join the project directors for the world premiere and a post-screening Q&A of short films documenting the first five years of this new community.

Prospection aims to follow the evolution of Eddington from its inception onwards through its first quarter century. Each year artists Karen Guthrie & Nina Pope invite a varying team of Prospectors drawn from the arts, sociology and archaeology to visit the site for two days and to make records of the place and its people in any way they see fit. The archive of original records – analogue and digital – is collated each year by the artists and placed in a new ‘finds box’ which is deposited with Cambridgeshire Archives for anyone to access and study, in perpetuity.

As their annual contribution, Karen and Nina make a short film, shot over one day and looking at the changing development through the eyes of one person living or working there. With five of these films now complete, this is a unique opportunity to see them all for the first time. 

Following the screening the artists will host a directors Q&A on Zoom and welcome questions and feedback. The event will be recorded for this year’s ‘finds box’.

More information about Prospection (including its original manifesto) can be found here

Book tickets here. Registration ends 12.00 GMT Sunday 25 October.



Jasper Coppes (Netherlands)

Live film screening 24 October and Q&A 12:00 CET (11:00 BST).

Recent footage of melting polar ice in Greenland as shown in the global mass media has represented the country as both the ground zero of climate crisis and a vast expanse for resource exploitation. The film Aasivissuit aims to provide a different view, showing instead the landscape and its inhabitants, focusing on people’s discussions about climate change and how they adapt in their complex relationship with the changing environment.

The film follows two park rangers at work and on expeditions through the sunlit grasslands of West Greenland. As they talk, they exchange new and old knowledge of the land, for example, how ancient fertile sediment from Greenland is used to fertilize depleted soil abroad, and how microbes have adapted to deal with pollution. In the meantime, the landscape and its inhabitants perform their acts.

For more details about the film, click here

Note: the film will be available to view on Vimeo on 24 October (only).


The Museum Inside Me: An online socio-cultural connector in times of physical isolation

Marlen Mouliou (Greece)

Live talk on Friday 30 October 16:00-17:00 Eastern European Time (14:00-15:00 GMT)

How can an unprecedented global crisis, like COVID-19, be a catalyst for the making of an online socio-cultural project about museums and the museum itself as an institution? How can the museum as a concept and frame of mind provide an intellectual tool and the evocative process for understanding our personal and collective identities and the meaning of our cultural experiences and life through them? How can an online community participatory project strengthen the idea of the museum as a field of inspiration and connection that concerns us all and gives us agility and hope to overcome personal fears and physical (perhaps also social) isolation?

These, and many more, open challenges were behind the initiative The Museum Inside Me, a museum of positive thinking composed of two photo collections on Facebook and Instagram. Created in March 2020 by a team of three professionals in the field of museums and cultural management, The Museum Inside Me acted as a bridge of communication and expression between citizens in the difficult period of lockdown (mainly in Greece). Based on the force of its participatory, evocative and anthropocentric spirit, it also envisioned to widen up its activities and role after the lockdown was over in order to enhance the exposure of museums in the public domain and their relevance in everyday social life.

In the presentation, I’ll outline the principles behind the creation of this project, the practical steps of its making, its content and meaning, its social impact among the community of its followers, and its potential as a strategic option for bringing ‘non-believers’ closer to the meaningful mental and psychic space of the museum.



Amy Cutler (UK)

Live film screening Wednesday October 28 20:00-22:00 GMT

A live-streamed screening of You Call It Sundew (2020), a 51-minute excavation of the moving image archives of the Corby steelworks, the Sundew walking dragline, and the PLUTO pipeline. The film explores the human and nonhuman elements of landscape excavations, mining, and acts of naming/language. It also includes experimental forms of material re-projection, using minerals, metals, limestone, plants, botanical materials, and blueprints. The sound-worlds focus on the ‘lost choruses’ of the minerals and matters which tend to get left out of the original British film narratives of landscape and time.

The screening is followed by an open discussion around its geologies of media, and wider ideas of music, film, and experimental techniques for the performance of archaeological theory (beyond more conventional monologues or ideas of chronology used in documentary narratives). Expected themes include approaches to “the landscape as archive”, and experimental artistic responses to extractive politics, multi-species storytelling, fossils, factory symphonies, carnivorous plants, underwater warfare, and the techno-masculinist voices of the Anthropocene. 


Bearing witness to unprecedented times: The Viral Archive as a record of personal responses to the COVID-19 global pandemic

Rosie Everett (UK), Ben Gearey (Ireland), Matt Pope (UK) and Orla Peach-Power (Ireland)

Live discussion event Sunday 25 October 18:00 GMT

The Viral Archive (@Viral_Archive) was established as a Twitter initiative at the beginning of the UK lockdown, and invited users from across the globe to share images of the responses to the pandemic they witnessed in their local area. The response to Viral Archive was overwhelming and has tracked the progression of the pandemic in its most personal form – everything from support for the health services on the front line to the creativity of those in the community to uplift to the current and the growing problem of COVID-related environmental waste in the landscape. 

As a the group leading the Viral Archive Twitter initiative, we see our contribution to festivalCHAT as an opportunity to reflect on the last six months – what the Viral Archive has achieved, what we are doing currently, what other related ‘witnessing’ projects have developed and what we see for the Viral Archive as the pandemic continues to develop across the world. 

Join us at an open discussion event when we will reflect on the project. Why we started it, what it means to us and what future form the project might take. The pandemic is certainly not over, but as we move into what feels ominously  like the next stage/’wave’, we want to know what you – contributors, spectators, supporters – of the Viral Archive see for the future and how we might move forward as the pandemic develops. 

[Edit] Also see this interesting blog which was based on the project:

“The show must go on!”: how the ‘Made in Migration’ team adapted community archaeology methods in light of Covid-19 restrictions

Rachael Kiddey (UK)

Live talk event Friday 23 October 18:00-19:30 BST (London); 13:00-14:30 (New York)

The ‘Made in Migration’ workshop was supposed to be a 5-day face-to-face community archaeology event held in Oxford. The event would have brought together 12 refugees from 8 countries, to work collaboratively with researchers, artists, a poet, an architect, and a film- maker but, sadly, Covid19 put pay to this. Forced to move everything online, as a transdisciplinary team, we spent three months reshaping the event so that it is now taking place over Zoom, as an ongoing series of fortnightly 3-hour online meetings. Aside from finding ways to meaningfully co-interpret data gathered over two years, we are working across 3 time-zones and 7 languages. The ‘Made in Migration’ team is multi-national, multi-
generational, and of mixed gender, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation.

The initial project set out to blend established community archaeology research methods and practices with architectural spatial mapping techniques, creative writing and film-making, to reflect on the objects, places, journeys, people, and things which people encounter during lived experiences of forced displacement across three countries in Europe – the U.K., Greece, and Sweden. By the end of the 5-day intensive workshop, we intended to have co- designed the primary layout of a public exhibition.

Working remotely since March 2020, we have become a smaller collective. In this co- presented talk we share some of the reflective pieces of work that we’ve produced so far. They are works-in-progress – short films, unfinished maps and poems. We are open to respectful discussion about what works and what is less clear. We champion ‘arts-as- research activism’ – using material culture to advocate for better rights for refugees; to articulate what it is like to be ‘Made in Migration’.