Thread is a short film by Robert Pacitti, Lucy Walker and Deveril made for Pacitti Company's 'Performing Collections Symposium'.
Thread references the excavations of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery on Hadleigh Road, Ipswich, in 1906-7, by a local resident, Miss Nina Layard. The 159 graves of these early settlers were mainly burials with some cremations, and included personal weaponry and jewellery (beads and brooches), domestic metal objects, pottery and a few glass vessels. More or less the whole cemetery was dug over, as part of an employment scheme, as more land was needed to house an expanding town. Much of the material is stored in Ipswich Museum, some of it displayed.
The museum ‘after-life’ of the excavated material is complex and disturbed. In 1918, Miss Layard admitted to Ipswich Antiquarian Society that she did not think local people would want to think their ancestors were Germanic.
The material represents complexities and collisions of time interweaving past, present and future, histories in the earth beneath our feet, changing land use, cultural identities and practices, and loss of collective memory.
Thread emerged from extended discussions between Robert and Think Tank Associates, about the process of excavation and the transformation of artefacts or things when curated in a museum; about access and agency, and restrictions on what and how the surviving remains could be handled and photographed. Lucy wrote:
‘I wanted it to reflect that Miss Layard was a scientist. She was interested in human evolution and the process of systematic excavation to provide evidence. As a woman in the early 20th century she was unable to present her own discoveries to the Royal Society of Antiquaries. A male colleague did it for her. I wanted to pay attention to her endeavours.’
As a result, the film Thread reflects the multiple layers of context and meaning embedded within the archaeological material, and also challenges traditional ideas about curation, access, knowledge creation, explanation and interpretation.
Funded by Colchester & Ipswich Museums as part of Unlocked.
Part of Performing Collections - a Think Tank strand investigating arts & heritage.