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The interviews with artists and scientists involved in VestAndPage's art film STRATA open doors to a composite, labyrinthic and mysterious dimension – a space with gaps, crevasses, occupied territories and unknown grounds. In a process of memory activation, we explore layers of Deep Time, the history of humankind and the role of art therein. The sites are deep in the earth, with caves guarding under their surface some of the oldest known works of figurative art and enigmatic traces of our becoming. And maybe, they hold the key to trespassing the binary and linear toward a spiral complexity and trust in change.

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DEATH AND REBIRTH

DR STEFANIE KÖLBL, archaeologist and director of the Museum of Prehistory in Blaubeuren, introduces two of the most important known works of art in the history of humankind: the 35,000-40,000-year-old ivory figurines Venus of Hohle Fels and the Water Bird. She talks about the unique features, possible interpretations and peculiarities of palaeolithic female statuettes, offering her insight into the Stone Age social structures and gender roles. She discusses the function of jewellery and highlights the imagination, the purpose of art for the individual and collective, palaeolithic forms of care, and how our ancestors dealt with death and the afterlife.

Gabonese artist ANGUEZOMO MBA BIKORO works on tender transgressions, ancestral healing, transformative justice and future monuments. For this, they merge live art performances with installations, sonic radio and film to analyse processes of power and fiction in historical archives. For “STRATA”, Bikoro realized a performance-for-camera at the historically charged site of the Hohlenstein-Stadel cave. In the 1930s, the SS financed archaeological excavations that took place there. At this site, Bikoro unleashes an urgent discourse about Germany’s colonial past and present structures, oppression and their vision of postcoloniality, and the harm of patriarchy and white liberalism. They share and politically-poetically contextualize narratives of the ancestral archive from Gabon, Morocco and Algeria. They uncover the process of a queer ecology of remembering through the traces of the ecosystem and explain why and how art is a powerful tool in shedding light on and untelling silenced narratives.

SCARS AND MYTHS

KURT WEHRBERGER, archaeologist and from 1985 to 2021 deputy director of the Museum Ulm and its Archaeological Collection, tells us about the 35,000-41,000-year-old masterpiece of Ice Age art: the ivory sculpture he named the Lion Man. He delves into the excavation history of the UNESCO World Heritage Caves in the Lone and Ach valleys and the adventurous story of the Lion Man through his discovery in 1939, as part of the research project SS-Ahnenerbe promoted by the Nazis. Wehrberger recounts the long archaeological process behind the sculpture’s present form of a mythical creature mixing human and animal features. He speaks of this masterwork’s symbolism and cultural-historical significance. He depicts the social background that may have led our ancestors to create it, the finding site of Stadel cave, entwining imagination, shamanism and concepts of time.

NICOLA FORNONI is an Italian artist working in body-based performance art. He talks to us at the cave Hohlenstein-Stadel, finding site of the so-called Lion Man, the oldest known mythological hybrid sculpture of mankind, age ca. 43,000 years. With this backdrop of Deep Time, we look into the "geological body" and Fornoni’s artistic becoming. He speaks about the connection of rocks and nature with the human body in the process of stratification and becoming through stillness and motion. We look at wounds and scars, as well as elements of transformation and healing that art can bring about. He brings examples of his own performance work ranging from the social and the political over the personal to the universal. He tells us how anatomical diversities and physical differences can be dealt with in a performance art discourse that is both anthropological and ecological.

STRATA AND TIME

PROF NICHOLAS CONARD, archaeologist and prehistorian, is the director of the Department for Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology and the founding director of the Institute of Archaeological Sciences at the University of Tübingen in Germany. He speaks with us at the UNESCO World Heritage site Hohle Fels Cave, which has yielded critical archaeological finds dating to the Upper Palaeolithic. He illustrates some of the artefacts found in the cave that represent the earliest ever discovered examples of prehistoric art and musical instruments, analyzing their unique features and discussing possible interpretations and what they represented in the life of early humans. Examining their symbolism and the spiritual afflatus permeating the art of the Ice Age, eventually, Professor Conard tells us about his scientific approach to successful archaeological excavations.

DR RALF PETERS is extended-voice and performance artist, a doctor of philosophy and a Roy Hart Voice teacher based in Cologne. For “STRATA”, he performed with his voice from sunset to dawn in the Sirgenstein cave. At the same site, we speak the next day about time perceptions specific to durational and site-specific performances. Peters tells us about the experience of his night performance. He outlines his vision of the voice as a body, and how far the exploration of a durational performance shows parallels to archaeological excavations. He shares with us insights about the communicational aspects of voice and looks into the mystery of time, space and artmaking.

BREATH AND FIRE

JOHANNES WIEDMANN is an archaeologist at the Museum of Prehistory Blaubeuren. With a special focus on experimental archaeology about prehistoric flutes, he introduces to us the different approaches that early modern humans had in the creation of musical instruments. He speaks about how the caves in the Swabian Jura have been used through the times.

RUDOLF WALTER is an experimental archaeologist based on the Swabian Jura with a focus on the working techniques of Stone Age replicas. He exposes the idea of Deep Time at the Hohle Fels cave, which has yielded a number of important archaeological finds dating from the Upper Paleolithic. Artefacts found in the cave represent some of the earliest examples of prehistoric art and musical instruments ever discovered. He also introduces us to the process of making a fire with Stone Age tools.

ACCESS AND PERMISSION

DR GUIDO BATAILLE is an archaeologist with a research focus on lithic technologies, the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition and industries of the late Middle and Early Upper Paleolithic. He is a consultant for the UNESCO Archaeological World Heritage "Caves and Ice Age Art of the Swabian Alb" at the State Office for Cultural Heritage of Baden-Wuerttemberg. At the site of Geißenklösterle he introduces us to the special features of the World Heritage caves and talks about the responsibility of World Heritage management. He explains the transition from Neanderthal to modern humans, and what questions are still open. He outlines the concept of technocomplexes, according to which archaeology classifies its finds, and how these reflect Paleolithic societies and their cultural interactions and mobility.

BORIS NIESLONY is a performance and conceptual artist based in Cologne. For "STRATA", he looked into the possibility of man entering and acting on sites. In a somehow koanic approach, he questions the right and the modes of passage and how a dialogue between site, object and human can be achieved.

CANONS AND CONSIDERATIONS

BARBARA SPREER is a cultural scientist at the Museum of Prehistory in Blaubeuren. In our conversation, she gives us insights into the idea of culture as a tool for building understanding and art as a "secret weapon" in the transition from Neanderthals to modern humans. She sheds light on the connections in evolutionary development between music and language and contextualises early Stone Age social structures and a possible canon of art.

DR BERNHARD STUMPFHAUS is an art historian and philosopher specializing in emotions in the arts. On a walk through the Lone Valley to the Hohlenstein-Stadel cave, he discusses the possibilities of interpreting early Ice Age art figurines. In the conversation, the interpretive horizons, ambivalences and ambiguities of today's instrumentally guided ways of looking at things are compared with possible conditions of origin of the art on-site. The intensive affinity of forms between today's symbolic use and that of the small sculptures of 40,000 years ago stands out and opens up questions about common forms of consciousness.