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‘DROPPED’ History in the Breaking

A time-based installation by Syann van Niftrik working with filmmaker Zan Barberton

What is it?

It is a stand-alone exhibit that can be easily assembled by a gallery or museum comprising a sculpture and a film (20mins, on a loop) displayed on a flat HD screen occupying the space of a few square metres.

A potter – Jonathan Garrett – makes a vessel, which is then dropped and smashed. Archaeologist Lorraine Mepham reassembles it, simultaneously trying to piece together a picture of its maker. The potter and the archaeologist will be filmed, speaking their thoughts as they work. The words from the film are then written on the pristine and the reconstructed pot. The relationship between the pot and the film is circular and interactive, challenging the audience to engage with and question the assumed histories and motivations of the artist.

A collaboration between sculptor Syann van Niftrik and a filmmaker – working with a potter and an archaeologist.

Why is it?

The theme of this piece is the nature of the creative process. The idea behind this is the question: What of a maker’s soul is imbued in the object as it is being made? Is this abstraction of existence discernible to others now and into the future – and what does the scientific mind of an archaeologist make of it? Through watching the process of making, breaking and remaking, on film, the audience is drawn untrammelled, beyond the ‘activity,’ to viewing the object as a poetic repository of the thoughts, emotions and cultural landscape of its maker. The pot itself – bearing the scars of its history and allows the audience to connect with the physicality of the object.


The work born from a cross-disciplinary project “Creativity in the Bronze Age” (CinBA), with Professor Joanna Sofaer, Southampton University. British artists who work using Bronze Age techniques were invited to participate in research in Budapest, Saszlambata, Copenhagen and
Devizes, culminating in a conference and exhibition at Cambridge University. From this work came the exhibition: “Re-making the Past”, which opens at the Devon Guild in Bovey Tracy on 20th March 2015.

The idea and shape of this project came from my own thoughts, inspired by the CinBA project, on the meaning of objects in time. Through discussions with my daughter, documentary filmmaker Zan Barberton, we saw the possibility for using film as a way to create a
time-based installation.

The Exhibition

The first venues for showing this work were at the Devon Guild in Bovey Tracy and the Crafts Study Centre at the UCA and then to Bilston Gallery, Wolverhampton. The installation has been on tour independently from October 2015.

The People

  • 1st October 2017 - 21st December 2017
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