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Unearth - Prepare - Display '

Kirsty Reid uncovers the archaeological foundations of Alice Martin's visual art practice. Alice's work transforms ancient museum objects into contemporary artworks, adding new layers of meaning

Artist: Alice Martin

Editor: Kirsty Reid

On a visit to a museum you may expect to see a particular order in the way objects are displayed; mostly out of reach from hands and to be experienced with the eyes only, a relic from the visual form of learning favoured by the Victorians. But what is the result of a contemporary artist working with such objects? Artist Alice Martin reinterprets these historical objects, creating tactile experiences that subvert the traditional methods of museum displays. Her role as an artist bridges the gap between the ancient eras and the modern world, re-telling the stories these artefacts hold.

Martin’s method of working as an artist is reflective of the order in which archaeologists and museum professionals work with objects; by first unearthing, preparing and then displaying. Online museum collection databases are Martin’s excavation sites, where she carefully uncovers an object to work with.

These archives contain thousands of digitised objects, of which a large portion are often kept in museum stores, and so bringing one to light means sharing its story with a wider audience. The object acts as a starting point for percolating new ideas and an artwork is developed from it, which can work in tandem with the original object but also as a standalone work in its own right.


Martin’s work Faded, exhibited at the University of Stirling Art Collection, shows an example of reconstructing notions of time through ageing an object. She placed one of the 3D printed jugs used in Copy in Context in a stone container outside for a month to weather it. She then chose a mirrored plinth to display the jug outdoors at the Art Collection to contrast with the weathered object and to reflect the natural surroundings, which continued the process of decay during the exhibition run. When interacting with Martin’s work, the difference between the materials can only be realised when picking it up and discovering that it is much lighter, or less textured than expected. 

This is a sample of one of our issue 4 articles. Issue 4 launches digitally on Friday September 29th, with physical issues available from Thursday October 5th 2023.

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