An Excavation - VISUAL

VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art &
The George Bernard Shaw Theatre

An Excavation

Maeve Brennan

30 Sept 2023 - 21 Jan 2024

11am - 5.30pm Tues - Sat, 2pm - 5pm Sun
Tuesday - Sunday

Maeve Brennan’s An Excavation is part of a larger ongoing body of work entitled The Goods. This work examines the life of objects and artefacts, and how value, ownership, categorisation, and temporality all effect our reading of them.

An Excavation centres on the unpacking and categorising of ancient artefacts that have been looted from southern Italy. The archaeologists examining the works are attempting to understand the whole of the pieces from the fragments available. The viewer, observing this scenario with little context, is placed in similar circumstances to the protagonists, attempting to solve a puzzle.

This puzzle-like nature of the archaeologist’s work is reflected in the sprawling web of different roles - of varying degrees of legality - that conspire to make these objects travel across time and space: looters, smugglers, antiquities dealers, auction houses, and museums all play their role. Alongside the film work An Excavation, are shown two other works: a large print of a polaroid photograph documenting a looted antiquity, taken by a smuggler for documentation purposes; and the cast of the inside of a smuggler’s car glovebox, where a trove of photographs and papers were found documenting the stolen goods.

The film highlights the material nature of these works – the slight sounds as the pieces of pottery touch each other emphasises their solidity. It underscores the nature of these often venerated, museuological objects as things that can be stolen, moved, damaged, repaired and displayed, while having their function or meaning changed or obscured in the process. The complex back stories of these works are often hidden when those works end up displayed to the public – held up as avatars of a disappeared past rather than of a more complicated and compromised present.


Maeve Brennan is an artist and filmmaker based in London. Her practice explores the historical and political resonance of material and place. Working across moving image, installation, sculpture and printed matter, her works excavate layered histories, revealing the unseen or hidden structures that determine our lived environment.

Recent solo exhibitions include Galerie für Gegenwartskunst, E-WERK Freiburg; Stanley Picker Gallery, London; Chisenhale Gallery, London; Spike Island, Bristol; The Whitworth, Manchester; Mother’s Tankstation, Dublin; Wäinö Aaltonen Museum of Art in Turku, Finland; Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria. Brennan’s work was featured in British Art Show 9 (2021-22) and her films have been screened internationally at CPH:DOX; Open City Documentary Festival; International Film Festival Rotterdam; FILMADRID; Sheffield Doc Fest and Sonic Acts, Amsterdam. She received the Jerwood/FVU Award 2018, Paul Hamlyn Award for Artists (2021) and was the Stanley Picker Fine Art Fellow (2019–22). She was awarded the Sainsbury Scholarship at the British School at Rome (2023) and is currently in residence at Somerset House Studios, London.