Posted on April 27, 2014
A romance, a dream, a fantasy. These cliffs in Quercy Périgord, where the people of the Ice Age once lived. They mark my mental landscape, as they must have also made a deep impression on the minds of the hunter-gatherers.
Romanticism attempts an affective fusion between person & her enviroment. Science attempts to practice detached objective observation. The person outside of her enviroment. The slow methodical sifting through of data & remains… But can we ever truly take off the lens of our own vision that shapes that which we think we are clearly seeing… Also, can we we ever see as these hunter-gatherers saw? What would they have made of my notions & prejudices? As an artist, not as an archeologist with their attempts at objectivity & science. Prehistoric art speaks to me 30 000 years later. Not as they intended it to communicate … But should we delegate all of our human past uniquely to be the domain of science? ‘We will never truly know what they meant’ as the guide drones on at every visit… But human history is a history of evolution, where one understanding evolves into another. Intentionally or not.
The meaning of things aren’t stable. Anything can mean almost anything – Jasper Johns
However, preamble aside… one thing is certain : Birds live in cracks & holes of cliffs , than as of now. OK Doubtless not the same species. No swifts in the Ice Age? Crows maybe. Owls yes. Buzzards probably not.
But the vertigo of looking up & seeing the birds swirling around. Then as now.
I also tried to draw the aviform as part of the cliff, as part of the geology, as growing out from the rock formation itself. As a motif that repeats itself , morphing into various transpositions:
There’s a good research paper about ‘abstract’ geometric symbols & signs in prehistoric rock art by Genevieve von Petzinger:
While animal depictions are a common theme in most known regions where rock art is present, the choice of what to portray seems to be contextual, with image-makers generally choosing contemporary fauna from their local environment (Rice and Paterson 1986; Clottes 1996).
AVIFORM (avi = bird) : Less than 10% of sites worldwide – 30,000 & 13,000 years ago
(aviforms) are also concentrated in the later half of the Ice Age (almost entirely from 22,000 years onwards), strongly suggesting that this may have been a local invention/innovation, rather than having been something that was brought with the first humans who moved to this continent.
Aviforms are also sometimes named ‘Signes du Placard’ , after another painted cave in SW France : Grotte de Placard in the Charente, following the tradition of naming prehistory after eponymous sites, the geographic place where the element of prehistory wa s first found. Hence cro-magnon, Mousterian, Gravettian, etc. (Most of which are found in France by French archeologists & where accompanied by proud nationalist rhetoric of ‘Les Premiers Francais’ …) Apparently most aviform signs in prehistoric rock art are concentrated around South West France, with a particularly high density of repetition around the Célé valley in the Lot.
In the nearby painted cave of Pech Merle, not far from the cliff in my above drawing, there’s the famous ‘wounded man’. A conjugaison of aviform sign & a figurative depiction i.e. the sign doesn’t exist on its own (but we don’t know if this is intentional or not, other than comparing to other groupings of drawings in the cave, where again sign & figuration co-exist in the same grouping). The aviform sign is attached to a drawing of a man with lines coming out from his body. Some have interpreted these as spears. Others such as Professor Lewis-Williams reads them as suggestive of as symbolic depictions of the physical cramps that shamans sometimes undergo before entering a trance state.
A stray thought : why not wings? The dream of flight occurs to most children & lucid dreamers… a prehistoric superman power cape? Prehistory is full of depictions of humans dressing up as other animals.
Posted on April 8, 2014
Stone lithograph of a cliff – “the elephant”
We, mankind, arose amidst the wandering of the ice and marched with it. We are in some sense shaped by it, as it has shaped the stones. Perhaps our very fondness for the building of stone alignments, dolmens, and pyramids reveals unconsciously an ancient heritage from the ice itself, the earth shaper.
– Loren Eisley
Mountains do not lack the characteristic of mountains. Therefore they always abide in ease and always walk. Examine in detail the characteristic of the mountains’ walking. – Dogen: Mountains and Waters Sutra
Mountains’ walking is just like human walking. Accordingly, do not doubt mountains’ walking even though it does not look the same as human walking. You should penetrate these words. If you doubt mountains’ walking, you do not know your own walking. – Dogen: Mountains and Waters Sutra
I came to realize clearly that mind is no other than mountains and rivers and the great wide Earth, the sun and the moon and the stars. – Dogen: Mountains and Waters Sutra
Posted on March 20, 2009
Large Oil on Canvas
81 x 65 cm (approx 32 x 26 inches)
© The Artist.Detail
Ink, papier Moulin Larroque
© The Artist.
“Athos had a special affection for limestone – the crushed reef of memory, that living stone, organic history squeezed into massive mountain tombs. As a student, he wrote a paper on the karst fields of Yugoslavia. Limestone that develops slowly under pressure into marble – Athos describing the process made it sound like a spiritual journey. He was rhapsodic about the French Causses and the Pennines in Britain; about “Strata” Smith and Abraham Werner, who, he said, “folded back the skin of time” while surveying canals and mines.
When Athos was seven, his father brought him home fossils from Lyme Regis. When he was twenty-five, he was entranced by Europe’s new sweetheart, a limestone goddess that had risen from the earth fully formed, the ” Willendorf Venus.”
‘Fugitive Pieces’ – a novel by Anne Michaels
Posted on March 1, 2009
from Lascaux – Le Puit (The Well)
Fr.Wikipedia.org has had a site update on Lascaux. All the info you could want is here (in french) including a precise history of the mould attacks (but not with the accompanying/precedent preservation actions).
La ministre de la Culture Christine Albanel s’est rendue sur place le 25 juillet 2008 pour visiter brièvement la grotte. Soulignant l’importance de la régulation de l’air dans la grotte, elle a annoncé le changement du système de climatisation installé en 2000. Elle a par ailleurs envisagé l’élargissement du Comité scientifique à d’autres experts, notamment étrangers .
(The Minister of Culture Christine Albanel visited in person the cave breiefly 25 July 2008. Underlining the importance of regulating the air quality in the cave, she announced the changing of the climatisation system installed in 2000. She also foresees the enlrgement of the Scientific Commitee to include other experts, including foreigners. – my translation).
You can find a detailed account from The Art Preservationist in Chief here:
|Lascaux : la rechute
Conservateur en chef des monuments historiques, chef de projet chargée e la coordination des travaux à Lascaux
Adapted from an article in Time Magazine, 2006/5/29 by James Graff
The fusarium fungus, inset, has spread from the floors to some paintings, such as this horse in the Main Gallery, pictured in 2005; restorers now remove the growths by hand.
Photo: CG Dordogne; LRMH (inset)
I see that Renaud Sanson’s Lascaux III (with Monique Peytral’s paintings , who BTW then went on to paint animals in her own personal style – I exhibited with her once) is going to Le Thot this May.(source : Jérôme Glaize, Article L’expo transférée, Journal Sud Ouest, édition Périgueux, du 27 février 2009).
Le Thot is the open air educational site near Lascaux (& Lascaux II) which has lots of good info about life in prehisto times. Fibre glass mamouths & that kind of thing. My four year old boy loved his visit. All in good educational taste. Difficult to imagine how mass tourism could be different. Lascaux III has 270 000 visitors each year! The internet site, Lascaux II & III, Le Thot are good entry level education/experience. A night sleeping under the stars with bears balloo-ing would be more auhentic, closer to life circa 18 000 BC.
The Abandoned Cradle’ (Sergeac, Dordgne),
43 x 36cm.
© Adam Cope
Posted on February 27, 2009
“Pendant deux jours, scientifiques français et étrangers doivent se pencher sur le problème de la conservation du site, qui se trouve actuellement “dans une phase d’observation” selon la ministre de la Culture Christine Albanel.”
“During the two days, french & foreign scientists will concentrate on the problem of the preservation of the site , which is actually ” in an observed phase” according to the Minster of Culture, Christine Albanel (my translation).
«Aujourd’hui, la grotte est une grande malade dans un état de relative stabilité, affirme Marc Gauthier, président du Comité scientifique.On voudrait que le malade se reconstruise et se rééquilibre de lui-même.»
“Today the cave is sick but in a state of relative stability” afirms Marc Gauthier, President of the Scientifiic Committee ” One would like that the sick patient to rebuild himself & re-stabilise himself.” – my translation
Adam says: I didn’t know it was andre MALRAUX who took the decison to shut the cave to public visits in the 1960’s. A good & brave decision, taken by a caring custodian. Malraux also did a great amount to help preserve the medieval town of Sarlat; there’s a square in the town named after him…. Beautiful Sarlat; beautiful France; incredible Lascaux.
Posted on February 26, 2009
Watercolour of an Owl Hut built into a Cliff in Dordogne
The little construction above is a pidgeonnier – or dove cot. Actually I suspect it’s not a pidgeonnier but rather an owl’s nest, as the owls love to nest in the dark nooks & crannies. This lovely site has two stone sculptures of owls, os the creator of this garden is obviously an owl friend.
Quatre Carte-Postales de Mon Co-Locataire, l’Hibou
Postacrd size – 10 x 15 cm (6X4inches)
© the artists
Here’s a detail of the owl hut large unfinished oil of the same place. Can see where it is in the above watercolour?
International Symposium ‘Lascaux & Preservation in Underground Settings’- The Paintings of Lascaux under Serious Risk
Posted on February 25, 2009
This is the second post of the big art story of SW France. Here is the first part:
Unesco Threatens to Put Lascaux Caves on Endangered List
The Paintings of Lascaux under Serious Risk
” Since the year 2000 the cave has been beset with a fungus, variously blamed on a new air conditioning system that was installed in the caves, the use of high-powered lights, and the presence of too many visitors. As of 2008, the cave contained black mould which scientists are trying to keep away from the paintings. In January 2008, authorities closed the cave for three months even to scientists and preservationists. A single individual was allowed to enter the cave for 20 minutes once a week to monitor climatic conditions. Now only a few scientific experts are allowed to work inside the cave and just for a few days a month.” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lascaux
“Upwards of 50 per cent of the caves’ … art is disappearing under an incursion of black spots, some as large as human hands, triggered by the use of high intensity lights and excess human presence inside the cave.” Mme Léauté-Beasley , (savelascaux.org) – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/six-months-to-save-lascaux-865819.html
“Mais vous savez, le probème n’est pas facile! Dans une grotte, il y a beaucoup de paramètreq qui interviiennent…”- Jean Clotttes, interview in the newspaper ‘Sud-Ouest’, 22 Feb 2009
(“But you know, iit’s not an easy problem! In a cave, there are lots of parameters that come into it…” – my translation)
Caves (‘grottes’ in French) are fragile bio-climates. Distinguish between caves that open to the air, that ‘breathe’ such as Font de Gaume & caves which are shut to exchange with outside air such as Lascaux & Chauvet. This is usually due to the overhanging roof at the mouth of the cavern collapsing & blocking the entrance. For instance, when Chauvet was discovered in 1990’s, it was very quickly sealed off & kept air tight (actually it’s up a gallery or ‘floor’ if you like in a system of different caves). Its climate is monitored by CNRS scientists using the latest in automated technology. The variations in it’s micro-climate are less than a hundredth of a degree centigrade over the course of a year. So imagine what a shock it was to Lascaux to be opened up to 20 000 visitors breathing CO2 & carrying spores of green algae on their shoes. Lascaux was shut to the public in 1963. It was brave & good decision by the French Government, acting as guardians. An exact life-sized replica ‘Lacsaux 2’ is open to the public & it’s well worth the visit. You can also take a virtual visit, freely offered to the world by the French Government.
La Grotte de Lascaux
A Short History of Lascaux
nb. This is what I’ve quickly put together from the internet from various sources.
nb; this is not a scientific report nor is government-sponsored nor is in any way an accusation.
nb. I am not a specialist & don’t knwo anything first-hand.
08-SEP-1940 the 17,000 years old paintings were discovered by boy & ‘robot’ the dog.
1940’s Cave entrance opened up.
Cave floor disturbed before proper conservation measures & archeological explorations were made ( the now current archeological practice of touching nothing was unknown. The principal of recognising that future generations may well evolve more elaborate & sensitive means & methods was unknown. The fact that caves are fragile was unknown).
1948 Opened to the public.
Hundreds of cubic metres of soil & rock removed.
1955 First signs of damage recognised. Higher levels of CO2, humidity via condensation, seasonal temperature variations, green algae,
1958 first air conditioning unit installed; cave floor further damaged.
1963 Closed to the public.
Walls treated with anti-biotics & fungicides.
1990’s climate control machinery changed to combat (white) calcite formation.
2000 climate control adapted.
2000’s digital photography survey with heat generating lights
2001 – 2002 first fungal attack of black spots of Fusarium.
Walls treated with anti-biotics & fungicides.
2008 Urgent appeal made by UNESCO to French Government; Visit of Minister of Culture to Lascaux.
Numeric stimulation model, University of Bordeaux, perfecting various scenarios of climatic control.
Facsimile ‘Lascaux 3’ opened to public, with intention that it could possibly travel to other museums around the world.
2009 International Symposium.
International Symposium ‘Lascaux & Preservation in Underground Settings
26 & 27 FEB 2009 – International Symposium ‘Lascaux & Preservation in Underground Settings’
Symposium international ” Lascaux et la conservation en milieu souterrain ” les 26 et 27 février 2009
Organised by as an initiative of Christine Albanel, Minister of Culture & Commmunication, & under the chairmanship of Jean Clottes, President of Fédération Internationale des Organistaions d’Art Rupestre.
The symposium will promote comparisons between Comité scientifique international de la grotte de Lacsaux (created in 2002) & other research by other teams of multi-disciplines from other parts of the world (Afrique du Sud, Allemagne, Australie, Espagne, Etats-Unis, Italie, Japon, Nouvelle-Zélande, Portugal, République Tchèque). The Minister has promised transparency & free access to real information.
“Que l’opinion internationale s’intresse à Lascaux, oui; qu’elle gère le problème, non. Cette Grotte est sous la responsabilté de l’État français. C’est à lui de l’assumer” – Jean Clotttes, interview in the newspaper ‘Sud-Ouest’, 22 Feb 2009
(” That international public opinion is interested, yes; that it controls the problem, no. This cave is the responsibility of the French state. It’s up to them to assume their responsibility.” – my translation)
Wikipedia says of Jean Clottes : “After being appointed director of prehistoric antiquities for the Midi-Pyrénées in 1971, he began to study prehistoric cave art in order to fulfil the responsibilities of that position. In the following years he led a series of excavations of prehistoric sites in the region. In 1992, he was named General Inspector for Archaeology at the French Ministry of Culture; in 1993 he was appointed Scientific Advisor for prehistoric rock art at the French Ministry of Culture. He formally retired in 1999, but remains an active contributor to the field.” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Clottes
Adam says of Jean Clottes : Read his books, they are absolutely wonderful! ‘Un vrai grand homme de la Préhistoire’, he embodies much of the passion, the care & the scientific rigour for the prehistoric heritage of SW France. He was also part of the exploratory team of grotte de Chauvet.
John Berger, speaking of the decision to conserve Chauvet intact & unopened to the public.
” So the animals on the walls there are back in the darkness from which they came and in which they have resided for so long.
We have no word for this darkness, this darkness which is very closely connected with light. We have no word for this darkness. It is not night and it is not ignorance.
Maybe from time to time we all cross this darkness. seeing everything that we can distinguish from nothing. Maybe it is the interior from which everything came.”
56 x 76 cm.
© Adam Cope.
Posted on February 14, 2009
International Symposium ‘Lascaux & Preservation in Underground Settings’- The Paintings of Lascaux under Serious Risk
La Grotte de Lascaux – The official website of Lacaux, graciously published by the French Government, just stunning!!!
Here is the big art story of SW France . Lascaux painted caves are apparently under a second wave of fungus attack. It has been in danger for six years now. UNESCO served the French Government (the legal custodians of lascaux) with a six month warning at comes to date this Feburary. This month.
It’s difficult to know the truth as we aren’t specialists & don’t know the caves.
It’s difficult to explain the passion & love there is for these painted caves here in the Dordogne. The French Government has done so much wonderful work in preserving so much culture. ‘Les Grands Hommes des Lettres et des Arts’…. L’Abbé Breuil at Lascaux, André Malraux in Sarlat, Violet le Duc in Carcassonne….
But it would be a great catastrophe if humanity were to loose one of our great jewels of our common heritage.
“Fungicides and antibiotics used in multiple and ineffective massive sprayings inside the cave.”
“The International Committee for the Preservation of Lascaux (ICPL) continues to call for a truly independent, non-government sponsored international council of scientists and experts in cave art and its conservation to monitor and report to the world on Lascaux and its health.” http://www.savelascaux.org/
QUEBEC CITY—Unesco has threatened to put the Lascaux caves in France on its “List of World
Heritage in Danger” if the French government does not make headway by next February in its treatment of gray and black fungi in danger of destroying the site’s 17,000-year-old images.
France, which has experimented with various climate control systems, lighting, and fungicides over the years, admitted last week that though a current treatment with fungicide had appeared to be working, the mold seems to be spreading again.
International experts have disagreed on the best way to preserve the works for years. Last fall, an independent body, the International Committee for the Protection of Lascaux, infuriated the French government by asking Unesco, meeting this week in Quebec, to intervene. But Laurence Léauté-Beasley, president of the committee, was jubilant yesterday. “The requirements placed upon France [by Unesco] are significant and strong,” she said. “France will now have to answer to the world community for actions they have taken in the past and will take in the future.”
La Grotte de Lascaux – Amazing official site of Lacaux, graciously published by the French Government, just stunning!!!
Protecting the Wonders of the World – TIME, July 11 2008
Les taches noires de Lascaux – -Nouvelle Observateur, 14 Fev 2008
15 December 2007
Fungus once again threatens Lascaux cave paintings — Stone Pages, Archeo News
A web page of some of my art relating to prehistory here in SW France :Prehistoric Cave Art : a contemporary artist’s personal response
Related blog entries :
Posted on October 8, 2008
43 x 36cm
© The Artist.
Watercolour & Ink
30 x 40 cm
© Adam Cope
These overhanging rocks gave shelter in the Ice Age. They projected out even more in that period but have collapse over the centuries. A rock wall behind & a rock ‘cieling’ vault overhead. The night fires flickering over the crevasses. If you go to L’Abri Pataud, you can see that the prehistoric inhabitants carved their vaulted cielings. The below rock fragment was found at Catsel-Merle.
Museum of Castel-Merle
Images everywhere? Even on the vaulted overhangs? Like our ‘info-space’… Images everywhere. Image rich & saturated. Images are maps of the world, & function on a different level from the written word. Preliterate prehistory… these little squggly scratchings called ‘writing’. Writing often blinds us from the full use of our eyes. Most people today simply do not have much skill in visual observation, being more at ease reading a newspaper than sitting quietly in a wood just looking, waiting, like a hunter (or a plein-air painter, who also spends long hours, days observing in situ). Hunter-gathers have to use their eyes by necessity.
These places are also wild places, in the deep undergrowth. Rarely under the harrow of man the agricultor. They are not ‘humanised’ landscapes in the way that most of us are familar with. To see uncultivated nature is rare in western europe, as the spread of concrete & agriculture shapes our world of today.
The actual site of Castel Merle is run by the Castanet family. Marcel Castanet started exacuvating the site in 1910. Monseiur Castanet(fils) is a ‘grand homme de la Prehistoire’ , a Périgordien & savant, who kindly took time to show me around his museum when I was researching what might ( I stress might) be a lunar calendar, found at Castel Merle (will poste about this at a later date).
The museum of Castel Merle in Sergerac is incredible. Some of the many finds from the eleven shelters of Castel Merle are now in America.
The site of Castel-Merle
(Don’t miss the virtual tour – for which you don’t need to read french)
Posted on October 4, 2008
© The Artist.
‘Norbert Aujoulat dessiné dans la style du Grotte de Cussac’
Yesterday evening, I went to a conference at La Musee Nationale de Prehistoire in Les Eyzies after taking down my ‘Vérère / Célé’ exhibition of rocks & grottes at the Tourism Office.
The conference was “Art Parietal et Chronologie – de Chauvet à Lascaux” by Dr. Norbert Aujoulat, specialist in Prehistoric Wall Art at the Centre Nationale de Préhistoire. He has published the reference book on Lasaux: The Splendour of Lascaux: Rediscovering the Greatest Treasure of Prehistoric Art
During the conference Aujoulat presented some really surprising photos of Cussac that really impressed me. I hadn’t seen these ones before. I did the above sketches during the conference whilst ‘under the influence’ of seeing these photos of Cussac.
The Grotte de Cussac in the Dordogne
My brain is trying to ingest the importance of these but as a maker of images, I respond to them strongly. Maybe I don’t understand them nor understand what they meant to the image-makers who made them. I guess there’s scope for influence, even via misunderstanding & the inevitable effects of lifting them out of their social context.
The notion of a separate entity known as “art” is particular to western civilization. “Art” is a historical category of our own cultural tradition. Few other cultures have such a concept, and we can be fairly sure that Upper Paleolithic societies did not – Randell White, The Earliest Images.
stylistic datation of Cussac
Anyway, a little irony : stylistic datation of paleolithic art is a blunt instrument. Simularity of styles doesn’t necessarily mean influence or lineage. It’s just that art historians tend to categorise by same styles. It’s a blunt instrument because two people can arrive independantly at the same conclusion without ever having conferred. Conversely, simularity in styles doesn’t necessarily mean simularity of intentionality on behalf the the image-maker.
Cussac has wonderful lines. Making doodle-portraits is far from the goals of the artist(s) of Cussac. But just seeing those lines was an inspiration for me.
I digress… it was a fabulous conference. The world awaits more photos of Cussac. Well, at least I do.
Related Categories in this blog: Rock, Prehistory
Prehistoric Cave Art – a contemporary artist’s personal response by Adam Cope