TRACES is a three-year project funded in 2016 by the European Commission as part of the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme. Through an innovative research methodology, TRACES investigates the challenges and opportunities raised when transmitting complex pasts and the role of difficult heritage in contemporary Europe.

European cultural heritage is inherently complex and layered. In the past, conflicting or controversial perspectives on different historical memories and experiences have been colliding in the rich cultural landscape of Europe and continue to do so in the present. These contentious heritages are often particularly difficult to convey to a wide public and can impede inclusivity as well as prevent the development of convivial relations. Nevertheless, if transmitted sensitively, they can contribute to a process of reflexive Europeanisation, in which the European imagination is shaped by self-awareness, on-going critical reflection, and dialogue across different positions.

TRACES involves a multi-disciplinary team that brings together established and emerging scholars, artists, and cultural workers to develop a rigorous, creative and all-round investigation on contentious cultural heritages, and to experiment with innovative research methodologies. In order to achieve these objectives, TRACES has initiated a series of “Creative Co-Productions” in which artists, researchers, heritage agencies, and stakeholders collaborate on long-term projects researching selected cases of contentious heritage and developing new participatory public interfaces. Theoretical investigations pertaining to different research fields and disciplines will support and complement these art-based research actions, analysing and expanding their outcomes with the aim to identify new directions for cultural institutions and museums to effectively transmit contentious cultural heritage and contribute to evolving European identities.

Dead Images is CCP4 of TRACES and draws together an interdisciplinary team of artists, scientists and academics in order to explore the contentious heritage of anthropological collections. This Creative Co-Production engages with the complex and contentious legacy of collections of human skulls kept by museums, universities and other public institutions in Europe. These osteological archives, now mostly withdrawn from public view, were amassed during the 19th and first few decades of the 20th century, when a comparative analysis of crania was central to the scientific study of individuals and populations that was, in many ways, foundational to the emergence of modern anthropology. To feed this project, skulls were procured by all manner of means, including being looted from the graves of indigenous peoples at the margins of European Empires.

See the TRACES website for more information.