2002 piecing the puzzle | Princeton Museum

piecing the puzzle

a project for the Princeton Museum


piecing the puzzle is an installation that occupies a room in the basement of the museum.  Although its location is separate from, its reference is to the archaeological collection.  The installation will reference both the physical collection, the history of archaeology (in which Princeton has played a developmental role) and epistemological questions that arise around the intentions and the activities of the archaeological pursuit. I have discussed aspects of this in my initial proposal (a copy of which is included below).

In considering the form of the installation, I have engaged in a process of de-constructing an inventory of what the tools, the materials might be, that would serve to form an investigation into the process of archaeology itself—materials and tools that, once engaged and followed through as process would result in a form with an integrity of its own, separate from but still referencing the collection of the museum.  As such it will exist as an installation in its own right.  A preliminary list of materials and process read more like that of the tools for forensic study—but a forensic study to what end? and for what reason?

My intention is to shed light on the activities of archaeology itself; on what appears to be a deep seated human need to make sense of the broken shards of historical discontinuity and incoherent chaos. Rarely as a spectator of an archaeological collection, or any catalogued museum collection of artifacts, does one find one’s self-transported into an intimate space of indeterminacy or chaos; rather one is delivered a vision of reconstruction, an intact image of a culture’s past.  That is after all a primary intention of museology, to provide us a coherent understanding of the past, as subjective as that may be. Nor are we transported into a direct representation of the painstaking questioning itself, into the questionings of the mind of archaeology. These pieces that we do not see, are not shown, are the pieces that I identify as the puzzle.

Translating literally, I have arrived at the form of the puzzle itself: a board with a surface image, die cut into small interlocking fragments.  Each individual fragment, a part of the prior whole, now resembles that archeological keystone, the shard. The shard, that isolated fragment, without which there could be no reconstitution of the whole.  Only through slow meticulous piecing of clues found within the fragmentary image itself, is a whole possible and a full picture regained. This process of sifting through pieces till a singular image is reconstructed directly mimics the science of archaeological itself. Inherent to the process is also the trust that through these minute insignificant acts a whole will become apparent.


The initial phase of the project will be the collecting of images and the construction of a visual narrative—a visual narrative that encompasses the subject matter of archaeology and the ideas I have described above.  The images must stand on their own as individual photographs, as fragments in themselves, and then together as the body of a complete narrative.  They will be the result of research I will do.  Printed as photographs then sent to a manufacturer to be mounted and die cut as puzzles, (in as large a format as budget will allow), they will be returned to the museum disassembled, as boxes of pieces.

The second part of the project will be the installation. I am proposing a process of reconstruction that will progress through the duration of the exhibition: the piecing together of the puzzles.  Open boxes with puzzle pieces, tables (surfaces for re-construction), visual references to the original photographs—a piecing progressing over time, the labor intense focus of the person(s) putting together the whole, reconstructing the original images—when the last piece of the last puzzle is in place the exhibition will be in it’s final form and will remain as such—tables and chairs, completed puzzles and now empty boxes in place, for the remainder of the installation.  The project I have described reflects a two staged process, not just an unpacked and installed exhibition.