The Invisibility of Hi-viz

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Urban archaeology with the Origins of Doha Project

Over the weekend, hundreds of thousands of people protested in France, demanding that French President Emmanuel Macron resign over increased fuel taxes. These protests have become increasingly violent and draw from anarchist and extremist far right factions, all aligned in working class struggle. The banner that these disparate groups have used to signal their solidarity is the gilets jaunes, the “yellow vest,” a ubiquitous piece of clothing worn by those in construction and industrial labor. Also known as high-vis or hi-viz these vests are part of what is called “PPE,” personal protective equipment and is mandated in jobs that deal with heavy machinery and protect the user against hazardous working conditions. In France, it is mandated that drivers carry one in their vehicle.

Wikipedia states that Scottish railway workers in the 1960s were the first to wear “fluorescent orange jackets, known as ‘fire-flies’” to keep them safe. Since then, motorcyclists, cyclists, cops, hunters, even chickens wear the reflective vests to direct attention to their presence. Which is ironic, as I’ve often noticed an increased invisibility as a result of wearing hi-viz. (Though this invisibility can help, as previously mentioned, with a bit of productive urban exploration.)

That the protestors are wearing hi-viz is no accident. This uniform codes the wearer as working class, and hides and homogenizes identity. As Elaine Glaser notes, politicians often don hard hats and hi-viz while simultaneously eroding workers rights, but the contrast between the expensive wool jackets of Macron and his colleagues is stark when compared to the black and yellow worn by the protestors. As an archaeologist, I wear hi-viz while working on construction sites that have active, heavy machinery present. Yet this measure of safety while on construction sites can also contribute to a surprising invisibility while wearing hi-viz on the street. I have never felt so reviled as when walking through the City of London, amongst businessmen in suits, as when I was in hi-viz, carrying a hard hat and walking in steel-toed boots covered in Victorian excrement. Okay, being a punk in Texas might have occasionally come close.

The protests in France continue. The #giletsjaunes have published their list of demands and have been joined by students and ambulance drivers, amongst others. The list is a mixed bag with a bit of racism thrown in for good measure. The protests stay in France, but perhaps people in hi-viz will be a bit more visible in the future.

Update: I’ve been told that they’ve moved beyond France, so look for a hi-viz jacket in a locality near you.

Teaching They Shall Not Grow Old

Peter Jackson’s collaborative documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old was released for the centennial anniversary for the end of WWI. Using archival footage from the Imperial War Museum, Jackson and his legion of effects wizards stitched together a 99 minute long take on soldiers’ experience of the front in color, filling in frames to smooth out motion and adding a voice-over that was drawn from oral histories. Happily, miraculous restoration of archival footage was released the week before my “digital futures” lectures in Communicating Archaeology (second year undergrad) and Analysis and Visualisation (Master’s module). I switched up the syllabus (don’t tell teaching committee) and added the documentary.

The purpose of assigning the documentary was to incite discussion around three major points:

  • The creation of narratives with archival materials–whose story is being told and for whom? Who is being omitted and why? How is this similar to the ways we tell stories using archaeological remains?
  • What can we do with digital technologies to tell stories about the past and are these effective? Should we just leave it to the professionals, ie forming collaborations with Peter Jackson instead of trying to do it ourselves?
  • What are our responsibilities to the people that we are digitally resurrecting? As these technologies become more accessible, it is easier to use dead people in ways they have not imagined or authorized.

The students were up to the challenge, and we also discussed the “Wizard of Oz” moment when the soldiers arrive at the front and suddenly transform from ragged, black and white figures from the distant past to full-color, real people with faces and names. Archaeologists are familiar with this feeling of the past becoming more real to us through our multiple encounters with traces of the past, and Peter Jackson was able to bring that feeling to general audiences.

To accompany this discussion I also played this “making of” video:

The video shows the painstaking process involved in colorizing the footage, and the creation of the sound effects–my postgraduate students, deeply involved in creating multimedia interpretations of the past for their assessment, groaned in recognition. Peter Jackson’s description of retiming the footage, of the excitement of the filmmaker in the field as they cranked their camera and the unscientific way that they had to translate this irregularity was an excellent lesson on learning how to look for embedded meaning in media archives. Finally, will Jackson’s “restoration” of this film be seen as a new archival standard, sought after to meet our HD standards for the visual record?

They Shall Not Grow Old was not uncontroversial; this excellent discussion from Historian Alice Kelly highlights the film’s use of the propaganda magazine The War Illustrated to illustrate battle scenes. Kelly also rejects the word “documentary” for the description of this film, which I found a bit curious. From my experience in making interpretive media about the past, I wondered what her threshold was for authenticity in these narratives–was Ken Burns okay, even though his “animation” of still photography, (now a staple of documentary filmmaking) instills these photographs with a sense of urgency and life? If you let me film you for an hour or so, I could probably recut it to make you look incredible or despicable just through editing,  not to mention using cutting edge technology:

They Shall Not Grow Old was timely and good to teach with and it was nice to be able to take advantage of very current popular media to discuss the use of technology to make interpretive media.

RIP Archaeology in Action on Flickr

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Photo by Marius Loots. “At the end of excavation, the final rites. Mapungubwe, 1995. Mapungubwe, inhabited around 1200 AD is now a World Heritage Site. This was one of the last large scale excavations done on the site.”

All (digital) things must die. But it sure is sad. Archaeology in Action on Flickr has been collecting visual evidence of archaeological work for 13 years, and I’ve been an admin and curator of the group for almost as long. It has over 4,400 photos in it, showing work from all time periods, all over the world. It has slowed down considerably in recent years, as people abandon the platform, but still held as a collection, with some of the most beautiful images of people and archaeology that I’ve ever seen.

In January, Flickr is going to move to a for-pay model that will only allow free users 1,000 photos and will delete any photos above that number. This is going to have rather dramatic consequences for Archaeology in Action, and my own account, which has 3,000 photos, licensed CC-By and available for people to use.

I tell my students that for-profit platforms are not an archive and are not beholden to you and you should not trust them in the least. But it still feels like a blow. Regardless, it may be the final push I needed toward moving entirely to Wikimedia Commons.

Inktober 2018

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 other forms, 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.

New Publication: Teaching Resistance in Maximum Rocknroll

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 teachingresistance@gmail.com.

Continue reading “New Publication: Teaching Resistance in Maximum Rocknroll”

Anarchotourism in Barcelona

Sant_Felip_Neri_-_Barcelona, by MarcelloScotti

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:

Ricard Obiols 1936  Barcelona CNT-AIT

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.

Human, Posthuman, Transhuman Digital Archaeologies…in the flesh!

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)

14:15 Digital Paths to Reveal How Archaeologists Imagine/Construct the Past (Ruth Tringham, University of California, Berkeley)

14:30 Do Archaeologists Dream of Electric Sheep? (Annie Danis, University of California, Berkeley)

14:45 Discussion

15:00 Punk Archaeology, Slow Archaeology, and the Archaeology of Care (William Caraher, University of North Dakota)

15:15 The Enchantment of the Archaeological Record (Sara Perry, University of York)

15:30 “The Slow Regard of Silent Things…” Working Through Digital/Experimental Archaeologies/Deep Mapping (Benjamin Gearey, Orla-Peach Power University College Cork)

15:45 Discussion Slot

16:30 Avatars, Monsters, Cyborgs & Machines: A Posthuman Digital Archaeology (Colleen Morgan, University of York)

16:45 Close to the Bone: Digital Disruption and Practice Based Learning in the ANU Skullbook Project (Catherine Frieman, Katrina Grant, Terhi Nurmikko-Fuller, Sofia, Samper Carro, Australian National University)

17:00 Voices in the Making: Queer, Feminist Disruptions of (Digital) Archaeology (Katherine Cook, McMaster University)

17:15 Discussion Slot

17:30 Pushing the Boundaries of Epigraphic Knowledge: Digital Technologies for Recording, Analysing and Disseminating Roman Inscriptions (David Espinosa-Espinosa, Miguel Carrero-Pazos, University of Santiago de Compostela)

17:45 The Illusion of Immateriality: Towards a Posthuman View on Material Absence and Digital Presence in Roman Archaeology (Eva Mol, Brown University)

18:00 Ecologies of the Digital Synathrope: Selkie Wives and Buffalo Stones (Louisa Minkin, University of the Arts London)

The session will be video recorded and if anyone decides to tweet, we ask you to use: #S363

Here’s a jpg of the conference programme: