Viking Amulet, The Granger Collection, UIG
Viking Amulet, The Granger Collection, UIG

It’s tempting to see art as objects – a painting that hangs on a wall or a sculpture that sits in a park. Performing arts are object-ified, too – just as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band resides in your mobile, or as the Nutcracker appears every December, like gingerbread cookies.

Art as object v art as process

But these things are mere manifestations of art. Because we are now surrounded with so many artworks, it becomes increasingly crucial to understand how these objects become meanings to be made and re-made.

 

 

Peter Gillgren, Anders Zorn professor of Art History, seeks to uncover how people in the early modern period viewed art, both in the literal sense and the metaphorical. Their experiences of art were influenced by architectural and historical contexts, sound (including music) and lighting.

Re-examing how people perceived and interpreted art, taking into account the experience as well as the object contemplated, provides a mirror into our own possibilities. It breaks open the ‘work concept of art’ (a traditional view where art is a timeless object with a correct, limited range of interpretations), into a much wider search for possibilities and resonances.

Ancient history morphs into modern practice

 

 

Anders Andrén, Professor of Archaeology, investigates how Viking artefacts can reveal traces of Norse religious practices. Through unearthing images and deciphering how spaces are structured, the origins of ancient Scandinavian culture come to light. Here, he talks about the significance of Thor’s hammer.

Prof Andrén alludes to the long history of different theories, interpretations, and meanings for Thor’s hammer, aka Mjölnir. The archaeological evidence clarifies (to a certain extent) how the hammer was used: mostly by women, often in burial sites and as a symbol of the Norse god Thor.

Work of art with a [questionable] legacy

After the modern ‘discovery’ of Thor’s hammer in the late 1800s, the symbol was adopted by a number of different groups, all staking claims to its heritage. Neopagans have adopted it as a symbol of their faith, similarly to how a Christian cross is worn. White supremacists have also claimed the symbol, highlighting its ‘Aryan’ roots and embellishing it with swastikas. Although the shape has remained nearly constant, the meanings have radically diverged.

These are only two examples of the issues examined by the profile area Cultural Heritage, Historical Artefacts and Processes. Tapping into the rich resources available, the research area attracts scholars throughout the human sciences: history of all types, ethnology, archaeology, human geography, media studies, and more. They all share the desire to understand the meaning-making processes of how physical artefacts become immaterial legacies.