With no particular plan or preparation, I decided to participate in Inktober this year. Considering it is right in the middle of term-time, I feel pretty good with managing half of the prompts. Some of these small stories I’d told in otherforms, but I really wanted to convey illustrated snapshots of my time as an archaeologist–the moments that somehow add up to years, that shine up in your pocket after turning them over and over until all the details are gone.
I find it interesting that I didn’t include any digital work it in at all, considering that’s apparently what I do. Perhaps the medium didn’t lend itself. In an ideal world, they’d all be the same shape, size and color, but that they are irregular shows that they were rushed, time stolen after Tamsin’s bedtime and before I fell over each night. It was also a good reminder of how rusty I am at drawing, and how risky it feels to put work that you are not completely confident with out in the world. This is particularly relevant as I teach students to engage with media that they’re very unfamiliar with.
Anyway, thanks to Katherine Cook for the prompts, and to my fellow (much better) artists. It’s good to be reminded to have fun and to have fun collectively and creatively. I’ve included these all below, I can’t imagine anyone would want them higher-rez, but let me know. I also combined them together in a pdf here.
Maximum Rocknroll began in 1977 as a punk rock radio show and became a long-running zine–basically my teenage bible. In it, John No of the Fleshies and Street Eaters has been editing the Teaching Resistance column and I knew him through a class at UC Berkeley, so I thought I’d contribute. Some of it is cribbed from my Teach-Outs and the Progressive Stack blog post, but it’s considerably expanded.
I’ve posted my bit below, but John No has a great introduction to the piece so you should pick up a copy of MRR at your favorite record store, or online. Want to write your own? Email John No at email@example.com.
The Plaça de Sant Felip Neri is quiet, despite the constant flow of tour groups. I perched on the edge of the fountain and watched the pigeons, people sipping their coffee at the cafe, the wind in the spindly trees actually audible over the crashing thunder of Barcelona. I had wandered through a few slender lanes, almost missed it once, but backtracked and found myself at the plaça. And sat.
The plaça was bombed by Franco in 1938 during the Spanish Civil War, killing 42 people, mostly children, including orphaned refugees. The shrapnel scars attest to the intensity of the blast. Like Berlin, Barcelona bears its architectural wounds for anyone who cares to notice. I’m constantly crafting a patchwork understanding of history after a thoroughly mediocre American-jingoist public school education.
I half-heartedly took a few snaps of the pockmarked facade, but knew they wouldn’t look like anything in the chiaroscuro sunshine. I didn’t take many photographs at all in Barcelona. I was constantly wading through people shrieking with drunken glee while I was looking for the leaden weight of history. I was unexpectedly consumed by the Civil War and Catalonia’s history of anarchism, and vicious acts of government oppression as remembered in place names and bullet holes. Between sessions, keynotes and dinners for the EAA in Barcelona, I walked between 15-20 km a day, trying to make my own map of the place.
In 2001, a group of artists founded Tactical Tourism, “organizing interventions in public spaces drawing on the practices and language of tourism” to rescue secret histories of Barcelona. Their most famous intervention was the Route of Anarchism, a route “conceived as a guided tour to a hidden Barcelona, silenced and out of tourist view, the ‘red and black city’ of the anarchist movement, a Barcelona that is also known as ‘the Rose of Fire’.” This quote is from Pau Obrador and Sean Carter’s short article, Art, politics, memory: Tactical Tourism and the route of anarchism in Barcelona, which discusses the tactics of the group.
I spent a lot of time in the neighborhood El Raval, at the site of an infamous women’s jail, stopped by La Rosa De Foc, an anarchist bookshop, wandered by lots of mosques and read up on George Orwell and the Myths of the International Brigades. I could feel the voyeuristic spectre of difficult heritage hovering just outside of my eyeline. So I did what any good tourist would do and bought a poster:
Ultimately, I failed as an anarchotourist. I focussed on the oppression, destruction and brutality and did not engage (as much) with the joyful noise of the situationist-led play that characterizes anarchism, “Tourism here is not seen as a passive spectator activity but rather as an active, playful form of engagement with the city.” Instead of visiting squats, I went to the Museu d’Història de Catalunya, which covers the continual Catalonian resistance but also has a fancy rooftop cafe overlooking the harbor. I couldn’t afford the drinks, sadly. So I continued to wander through Barcelona, soaking up as much as I could.
EAA 2018 is upon us and we have an absolutely incredible line-up of papers for our session, Human, Posthuman, Transhuman Digital Archaeologies. We’ve decided to pre-circulate the papers amongst ourselves (and a few more publicly) and provide 5 minutes of presentation followed by 10 minutes of discussion. This was a bit of a compromise to stay on time, but still leave as much time as possible to discuss the ideas, as we are expecting to publish the session in the EJA. So, here’s the sesh:
Friday 7 September, 14:00 – 18:30, UB220
14:00 Introduction (Marta Diaz-Guardamino Uribe, Cardiff University; Colleen Morgan, University of York; Catherine Frieman, Australian National University)
Occasionally one of my photos will surprise me. I’ve been uploading miscellaneous high-resolution photos online for over a decade, all licensed CC-BY, lots of archaeology and travel, and some even tagged with metadata. So they’ve been used all over the place to illustrate blog posts, travel websites, various and sundry. I’m a fairly rubbish photographer–well, the skill comes and goes as I go in and out of practice. I’d probably be even better if I could be bothered to photoshop my photos. I give them a couple of tweaks then release them online.
One of my admin roles in the lectureship is media creation for marketing the department. So a lot of my photos are used for various things, a prospectus, postcards, social media decoration. On weekends away with my family I inevitably drag them to a Local Heritage Attraction(tm), snap some photos and sometimes they’re reused as a nice background to a recruitment campaign, or textures in powerpoints. They’re mixed in with lots of photos of my kid…keeping a work/life media balance is a ship that’s long sailed.
I don’t find enough time to take photos, though it’s part of my role as a lecturer. It’s difficult to participate in events and have to photograph them at the same time. I had a fairly hilarious exchange with a condescending parent at the last graduation who asked if I was “just the photographer.” I was mostly annoyed at the diminishing of the role of photographer. I tell my students over and over, that old internet chestnut: “pix or it didn’t happen.” Anyway, the happy side effect of doing event photography and taking 100000 photos of my child is that I’m getting a little bit better at photographing people. Still not amazing though.
I still take most photographs with my phone, which does a fair job for Instagram, but I dusted off the 50mm and took the Big Camera into town today to try to take a photograph for the Cultural Heritage Management MA. I wasn’t able to get the specific one I wanted as the light was bad, but I took a few others that may get used for one thing or another.
It’s not a bad thing to ramble around York, taking photos and calling it “work.” It is, obviously, but it’s also work–it’s getting harder to see new and interesting angles in York. I just breeze by, headphones in, watching everyone else take photographs of the lovely city.
Bury me, my Lovetells the story of Nour as she flees Syria through the medium of simulated text messages. As her husband Majd, you try to help her make decisions–go to Izmir, go to Beirut, try to make the border into Bulgaria, which smuggler to trust. Your responses help guide her actions, but you do not wholly control Nour as she will occasionally overrule you.
The game feels intensely personal, two lovers chatting on Whatsapp, and was inspired by a story published in le Mondethat featured over 250 screencaps of messages that Dana, a young Syrian who fled in 2015, sent to her family. The story also plays out in a modified “real time” and you wait to see the consequences of your direction.
There are some scary moments, as above, or when Nour turns off her cellphone to save battery while dodging brutal patrols on the Turkey/Bulgarian border. This is powerful testimony for the utility of smartphones as a guide and lifeline for vulnerable people. Further, the format of the cellphone to deliver this game is perfect–there is an immediacy and urgency in your interactions with Nour as you make incredibly difficult decisions. The writers were able to convey Nour’s humor, vulnerability, loneliness, defiance and despair through texts.
Bury me, my Love relies in part on immersion through telepresence. Telepresence, where you are when you’re talking on the phone–not with the person you are speaking to, but not quite alone in the room either–is a longterm research interest of mine. Delegation and the extended self play important roles in interpreting the past and building an understanding of past people. The game takes the familiar distant-closeness of communicating with friends and loved ones through digital devices and social media and uses this dynamic to deliver a powerful message about the lives of asylum seekers in Europe’s hostile landscape. Through the simple mechanism of text messaging, Bury me, my Love is an impactful, truthy account of people’s lives, one that may improve empathy and provide some education in human rights.
Do I want these things to be delivered digitally? Is the gamification of the horrendous treatment that desperate people receive at international borders really how we teach ourselves that state-sanctioned brutality is a bad thing? I want there to be important games, impactful games and Bury Me, my Love certainly is such an example. This game is harrowing, but I can walk away. After working with Syrian refugees, it makes me a little queasy to play them, to play their struggle. But perhaps any kind of intervention, especially a very sympathetic, impacting, intelligent game is better than nothing.
This game really begs the question: how serious should serious games be?
I was commiserating with another translocated mother; she’s British and raising a son in Hawaii with an American husband, while I’m exactly the opposite. (Yes, I’m fairly sure that York is the opposite of Hawaii, alas.) We had been speaking about the subtle but substantial differences in nomenclature for British and American babies–everything from nappies vs. diapers to how the wheels on the bus go round and round, either all day long or all through town. London Bridge is rebuilt with different materials (silver and gold??) in the UK, whereas in the USA you take the key and lock her up…my fair lady. Needless to say, this all feeds into my shonky, blinkered ethnography of the UK, with this particular instance falling into the chapter on raising children.
Many of Tamsin’s books are from her grandparents who amassed a wealth of literature through teaching and having four children of their own. These are well-loved, disintegrating, and taped-together but remain compelling and most are still in print today. My favorites are the decidedly psychedelic Meg and Mog books (late 1970s):
Though The Tiger Who Came to Tea (1968) is a close second–its ambiguous (anti-fascist?) narrative of a very large furry tiger who eats all the food and all the drink in a house occupied by a little girl and her mummy while daddy’s away is oddly chilling, and requires a greater literary scholar than I to unpick.
Janet & Allan Ahlberg’s Peepo (1981) is another classic British children’s book that I was not familiar with. Without getting too much into the literary devices in the book, it is told from the perspective of a little baby boy who peeps through a hole cut into the next page at various scenes of family life.
While it is not stated, the book is set during WWII, yet portrays a happy domesticity during a devastating war. This would have probably been obvious to any British readers, with the barrage balloon/anti-aircraft blimp in the background of an image of a park, a bombed-out building in the distance, gas mask on the bed, and the father is shown in uniform toward the end of the book.
This is obviously a idealized, heteronormative vision of the British past, one that probably feels true and right and comfortable. Dan tells me that a lot of children’s books are set during this time; my sample and experience are still relatively limited. What caught my attention is the architecture–we live in a similar Victorian terraced house that backs onto a small, paved yard with a tiny garden.
I started noticing the period-specific features of the house, ones that are mostly gone from ours, like the big stove in the kitchen and the outhouse tacked onto the end of the shed. The traces of these remain in our house, and some of our neighbor’s houses still have the back shed.
I realized that you could figure out the interior of the house and the location of the various rooms from a generalized knowledge of the architecture of these houses. This is how ingrained and ubiquitous these terraced houses are in the UK. In fact, after reading the book at least 1,000 times, I reckoned it was close to this set up:
In this modern version the back shed has been converted into a kitchen and the former kitchen is now a dining room.
The interior scenes in Peepo are remarkably consistent, with objects (artefacts) appearing and reappearing as the everyday things interwoven into life. I wondered if the house was based on one from the Ahlbergs’ past, or if terrace houses were so generalizable that elaborate planning of the various scenes was not required. Of course the kitchen is there, with the stove just so, and the clothes horse in the corner.
I also love the book as potential inspiration for archaeological illustrations and reconstructions. It’s not messy, just full, rich with materiality and every object has a used and purposeful feeling to it. Small piles of toys are a playtime interrupted, but not quite cleared away. According to an interview in The Guardian, the illustrator Janet Ahlberg used The Army and Navy Stores Catalogue, 1939-1940 for reference and “would get waylaid in it and sit for ages looking at bread-bins and kettles.”
The book is from a baby’s perspective, watching his family move around him and the details he picks up that might go unnoticed by adults. It also evokes the “daily round,” of waking, daily activity, then bath and bedtime. Out in the back yard he sees:
A bonfire smoking
Pigeons in the sky
His mother cleaning windows
A dog going by