Archaeology in Reverse
C- Type colour print
30 x 24 cms (11.79 x 9.43 ins)
Inscribed on the reverse "Work Print A. I. R Stephen Gill 2006"
'Stephen Gill has learnt this: to haunt the places that haunt him. His photo-accumulations demonstrate a tender vision factored out of experience; alert, watchful, not overeager, wary of that mendacious conceit, 'closure'. There is always flow, momentum, the sense of a man passing through a place that delights him. A sense of stepping down, immediate engagement, politic exchange. Then he remounts the bicycle and away. Loving retrievals, like a letter to a friend, never possession... What I like about Stephen Gill is that he has learnt to give us only as much as we need, the bones of the bones of the bones...' - Iain Sinclair
In many ways the sequel to Hackney Wick, Stephen Gill's Archaeology in Reverse (2007), a series of 100 uncaptioned images of the Lower Lea, is a photostudy of this doomed region of 'bastard countryside' (as Victor Hugo once called such city edgelands). Over a period of about two years, between the beginning of work on the Olympic site and the completion of a plywood fence, 10ft high and around four miles long, delineating the perimeter, Gill haunted an area cast/damned by the ODA as 'contaminated, derelict and abandoned'. Using a plastic Coronet camera bought for 50p at the now-no-longer Hackney Wick market in 2004, Gill documented the rolling out of the first stages of Sebastian Coe's Olympic vision. The result is a remarkable series which, in Gill's words, records the 'marks' of things to come, 'traces' and 'clues' which signal the imminence of mass construction.
Among the first signs were the Compulsory Purchase Orders, which began to be served to the residents of the Olympic Park site soon after London won the bid to host the Olympic Games in 2012 (around 1,000 were moved). Indeed, the opening photograph printed in Gill's subsequent publication of the series, Archaeology in Reverse, is of a plastic-wrapped CPO, attached to a drainpipe. After the CPOs came the surveyors and the labourers. Dozens of images in the series are of men at work: planners, drillers, diggers, drivers, banksmen and the other footsoldiers of large-scale "regeneration".
Of particular interest to Gill is the coded sign language of surveying, a form of mark-making, or graffiti, which annotates and enables landscape intervention. When seen in serial, such marks prove unequivocally disconcerting. Vegetation too, fascinates Gill, at least a third of the images in Archaeology in Reverse feature plant life: phragmites, Japanese knotweed, convolvulus and as well trees, ferns and bracken.
The Archaeology in Reverse photographs in the Hyman Collection, one of an identical series of brick stacks each topped with a rectangular plane of wood and a sandstone block, the other of a band of trees nestling amid dense undergrowth, seem evocative of ritual, of sacrifice- these are condemned trees, painted with red dots, they have been singled out for slaughter. In a bid to keep the wilderness at bay concrete is laid and trees are felled. Also evident in these images is a kind of cryptic potential, there seems some mystery, something inscrutable inherent in the precision and formation of the brick stacks despite the fact the scene is obviously set for construction. There is something of the forensic too about Gill's photograph of trees, appearing as it does to be the site of some unspecified crime.