The Post Hole interviews

John Sunderland, Archaeologist & Photographer

Interviewed by Micki McNie, MA Archaeology of Buildings

Watch the Post Hole's interview with the archaeologist and photographer John Sunderland.

Interviewee bio

John holds a BA in Fine art (photography and sculpture) (University of Sunderland, 1991), an MA in Documentary Photography (University of Wales, Newport,2007) and a PhD, Land, Photography and Temporality, (Northampton University 2015) an interdisciplinary study of the depiction and interpretation of changing landscapes drawing on cultural geography, archaeology, philosophy and visual art theory.

Archaeology came to me before my studies on an MSC scheme, where I was trained in excavation techniques and specifically as an environmental technician by the Birmingham University Field Archaeology Unit in 1986-7. This wasn't a career path choice, but more of a great opportunity that launched my archaeological career. This has been in both rescue and research contexts. I now present papers at archaeology and geography conferences about hybrid practices and projects, I exhibit work regularly, and over the last two years, work in research and community excavations training people in the crafts of archaeology. Sometimes I'm an archaeologist, sometimes an artist, sometimes both. In  different contexts I might be representing social science to artists or arts practice to scientists.

Over the last three decades, I have led parallel and interweaving careers in visual art and archaeology. Through this, I have developed a transdisciplinary practice informed by research in the fields of geography, contemporary archaeology and art. This has resulted in a range of projects, from a photographic documentary about the transition from totalitarianism to democracy in the rural landscape of post-Ceausescu Romania (Transitions 1991-1997) to the excavation of a Neolithic settlement in Ireland (2001-2); from the investigation of the link between cave paintings and the Naxi pictographic language in Lijiang, China (2012), to the archaeological deconstruction of Francis Bacon’s studio (London, 1998). Most recently I undertook a project as an artist/archaeologist in residence investigating rural depopulation in the post-industrial forested landscapes of glass production at The Glass Factory in Småland, Sweden (2019). I am a founding member of The Praxis collective, an international group of artists and transdisciplinary practitioners seeking new ways to address contemporary issues through grounded theory and art/science collaboration. My current practice draws on deep mapping and the deep time of the Anthropocene to delve into the past, in the present, with an eye to the future.

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