A new votives art project by Jedediah Caesar

Jedediah Caesar is an artist and curator based in Los Angeles and Berlin. He is the Director of the Todd Madigan Gallery at California State University, Bakersfield, and a lecturer in their Department of Art and Art History. In his curatorial and art practice he explores various landscapes as illustrative sites that become complex civic space through performative and structural interventions. In this post, he introduces a new artist project on votive deposits and the photographic record, which focuses on the moment of ‘uncovering’.


Votive deposit in the process of being excavated, from Sepino, località San Pietro di Cantoni. Photo from La dea, il santo, una terra, ed. Maurizio Matteini Chiari (2004), fig. 103. © DR

Hello all,

I’d like to share a bit of information about a project I’m working on, one that’s in the very early stages.  In reading and thinking about votives I’ve become increasingly curious about the context in which they are found. As has been pointed out often (for example in some of E-J Graham’s posts on this site, like ‘Votives on Display’ Part 1 and Part 2), the display of a votive is bound up with its spiritual and social function. I’m interested in the ways that uncovering these deposits during the activity of an excavation, and within the practice of archeology, reactivates this display of objects whose adjacency is a component of their function. That such deposits are always (as far as I know) disassembled and cataloged individually during the course of their excavation, makes any record of this brief transmission all the more compelling. My position then is that the uncovering of votive deposits not only reactivates them, but does so in a collaborative context which conjoins the world views and methodologies of archeology with that of votive cult practitioners. This in turn produces a finite and temporary exhibit, both experienced and co-produced by the persons systematically uncovering the votive deposits.

Excavation photograph from Roccagloriosa I; L'abitato: scavo e ricognizione topografica (1976-1986)
 By Maurizio Gualtieri and Helena Fracchia, fig. 109.
Excavation photograph from Roccagloriosa I; L’abitato: scavo e ricognizione topografica (1976-1986)
 By Maurizio Gualtieri and Helena Fracchia, fig. 109.

To document this history of exhibitions I am looking for photographs of ancient votives in-situ; that is, at the point of their being uncovered during excavation. These photographs will, I hope, span the history of the use of photography as a tool for documentation in archeology, and cover a wide range of cultures. I’m focusing on photographs rather than drawings or written accounts because photos minimize subjectivity in recording these events (relative to drawings). That said, I am interested in collecting drawings of votive deposits in situ as well, perhaps for a separate publication at a later date. 

This is a project about exhibitions, linked to the display practices in both ethnographic or archeological collections and in contemporary art practices. It is of course itself very speculative, perhaps even a form of fiction, but I hope that it will express something about the dialogic aspect of votives that often seems to get lost in records of these works. I think that a book of the images would make for a good artist project, and hopefully have some interest for classicists and archeologists, artists and art historians.  

If anyone has any resources or leads to share in terms of books or archives, or questions about what I intend to do with all this (or critiques of my premise) please feel free to email me at jedediah.caesar@gmail.com, or post to The Votives Project Facebook group.

Photograph of the excavations at Pontecagnano (from the online publication by G. Bailo Modesti, P. Aurino, & I. Bragantini).

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