In-between Times

The semester ended without much fanfare for me–I only had one class and there wasn’t a specific final project for it, just a series of close readings of important texts in Materiality and Actor-Network Theory.  It was one of the best classes I’ve taken, as it had a fairly light load of reading, but the things we did read were well-selected and important within the field.  If I ever teach, and if I have much control over my course content, I’d love to lead a similar class.  It’s also pushed me in a slightly different direction with my dissertation, one that will be more productive.

In the meantime I’ve done a few minor projects, taught myself some new tricks with photoshop and adobe illustrator, geared up for a photography/archaeology stint this summer, and done a lot of reading for an article that I’m writing.  Nothing much bloggable, obviously, but it’s been nice to be able to have a little space to get myself ready for a summer of research.

I’ll be in Jordan for much of the summer, as previously mentioned, working on the site of Dhiban in my dual role as excavator and digital documentarian.  Later this week I’ll have a link to the project blog, a collaboration with some Knox college undergrads.  After the excavations there end, I’ll be attending the World Archaeological Congress inter-congress in Ramallah, then going back to Turkey to finish up a few things at good ol’ Catalhoyuk.  By that time it will be late August, and I’ll be back in Berkeley to help teach Archaeology and the Media and attend to some undergraduate researchers continuing work on Okapi Island in Second Life.  Expect to see more about the Bahrain Bioarchaeology Project, a couple of conference papers…and I’m thinking about taking Arabic. Y’know, because I won’t be busy enough.

So, for the next few days I’ll be tying off ends, cutting, changing a few colors, keeping many the same, and then restarting the steady weaving–hoping for a good pattern, or at least something that won’t come apart once off the loom.

New Problems, New Projects

This summer I will be joining Benjamin Porter’s team at the site of Dhiban in Jordan, excavating and doing some of that lovely digital documentation that comprises my dissertation.  This is a pretty big change, as I’ve been digging at Catalhoyuk for the last three years, but it’s a very welcome change.  Catalhoyuk is such a large project, and has so much extant scholarship that it’s a little hard to get your ideas in edgewise there.  I will miss the people and the lovely archaeology and it isn’t like it will be completely gone–I still need to write up my various projects from the site and go through with this semester’s Second Life project.  And I might stop by this summer on my way to Jordan.  We’ll see.

I’m struggling a little bit with my dissertation, but this is a semi-perpetual state for graduate study.  It probably wouldn’t be much of a dissertation without frustration and set-backs.  But I’m looking forward to digging in Dhiban, even if the work day starts at 4:30 in the morning (!) and there is no drinking allowed during the week (!!).

In other news, I started a tumblr blog called Middle Savagery (lite).  It’s just a collection of miscellaneous media scraps that I come across during the day.  I’m not very good at keeping more than one blog (indeed this one stumbles a bit sometimes) so we’ll see what happens with it.  Tumblr is nice because it’s a more informal way of sharing than fully structured blog posts and doesn’t pester your friends as much as updating on Facebook all of the time.  Anyway, here it is:

http://middlesavagery.tumblr.com/

Community Service

I figure I should look up from the stacks of books occasionally, blink my eyes, and look at my surroundings.  As most of you probably know by now, I’m midway through my fourth year of grad school.  Four years!  I took my qualifying oral exam last spring and I’ve been hammering out the shape of my dissertation, due in Fall of 2011 (or so).  I’ve gotten to the point where people pretty constantly ask when I’m finishing.  My answer varies depending on my mood.  I still seem to go between being incredibly inspired by my research, and utterly disillusioned about the whole process and academia in general.  All of this is apparently typical.

I made a couple of “best of” blogging lists, and am picked up in a few of the Four Stone Hearth blog carnivals and in that spirit, I wanted to share a few places where I get inspiration when the dissertation seems particularly bleak.

A pretty constant source of joy is the Moore Groups blog, which covers a wide range of topics with Irish…snark?  Is that the right word for it on that side of the pond?  I met Declan and friends at WAC, where he showed us how to make beer and how to drink beer. Of particular delight is his recent coverage of Obama’s Irish roots and the archaeology of the associated area.

Shawn Graham’s Electric Archaeology always provides interesting links and commentary–I consider his blog the first and last word on developments in digital archaeology.  He adopts an explicitly pedagogical approach to the subject, which I really appreciate.  I do wish he’d switch back to a single column style though!  It’s hard to believe I’m a traditionalist when it comes to blogging.

Testimony of the spade is Magnus Reuterdahl’s blog about archaeology in Sweden.  I particularly liked his recent post about patterns that he was seeing in the doors of cabins–classic archaeological vision at work.

Though it’s hardly fair, I’m always a fan of John Lowe’s Where in the hell am I?.  He’s an old friend and is posting about his experiences as a professional archaeologist in Texas.  He’s been moving up in the world lately and has started managing projects and the accompanying headaches.  Good luck, John!  (and ew…move away from blogspot!)

Fotis’ Visualizing Neolithic is exactly where we need to be with archaeological photography.  It’s just…wow.  In the same vein is Ian Russell’s relatively new blog, culturge.  He highlights art and culture with particular attention to material culture.  Of course, I particularly liked his post about killer robots.

Obviously these are only a few of the blogs that I read (look that way for more! —–> ) but these few particularly resonate with my perspective on archaeology.  If you have any more suggestions, I would be happy to hear them!

Fake Dead People

joey-ramone-doc-martens

What exactly is the agency of the virtual non-human human? This question hit me when I was in the midst of editing what is shaping up to be my first publication, (Re)Building Çatalhöyük: Changing Virtual Reality in Archaeology, a text refashioned from my more stridently titled paper presented at the World Archaeological Congress, Get Real: A Manifesto for Virtual Reality in Archaeology.  In this paper I establish Second Life as a pretty good venue for changing the way we reconstruct archaeological sites and examine the use of avatars and non-player characters (NPCs) in these reconstructions. My good friend (and professional copy editor!) Lei-Leen had done me the favor of proofing it and she highlighted my use of “person” while I was discussing these NPCs.  Certainly these people-created constructs were not people themselves.

In the paper I argue against the creation and use of NPCs in virtual archaeological reconstructions:

NPCs are “non-player characters,” entities generally created as a kind of set dressing, present to answer scripted questions about the reconstruction, or to provide ambiance. This tends to bring out the worst in reconstructive impulses; in one example, Julius Caesar reclines on his couch, reciting information about his villa to the user. A recent simulation of an African American site in Oakland, California contained prominent members of the community who stood by the side of the road to robotically impart their knowledge when approached by the user’s avatar. Turning people of the past into mere mouthpieces for their architecture diminishes the rich potential of reconstructions to impart information about complex lifeways. Using programmable objects such as the previously mentioned mano and metate allows avatars to act as their own guides to the past, populating the re-created ancient landscape with avatars of people interested in the past, interacting with artifacts and taking on roles suggested by these artifacts. This is simple for archaeologists who are accustomed to telling stories through objects and adds another level of interactivity to the virtual reconstruction.

I still believe this to be true, that fundamentally we are better off wearing Caesar’s crown for ourselves rather than asking a poor simulacrum about the weather in the Republic.  Thinking of Caesar as a non-player character in history is a stretch by any means.  But game developers (and digital archaeologists) will probably not stop populating virtual worlds with fake people.  These NPCs are nonhuman manifestations of a network of agents (polygons, “modern” humans, fiber-optics, and the dead person herself) and the relationships between these agents and as a result should be studied as such.  But does this understanding of an NPC as a network make it ethical to take such liberties with the visages of the dead? What does it mean when Joey Ramone comes back from the dead to sell Doc Martins?

Of course, I could just be reading too much Latour.  Let’s ask Eliza.

* Hello
> How are you today.. What would you like to discuss?
* Latour
> Tell me more…
* Have I been reading too much Latour?
> Can you elaborate on that?
* He’s a modern social theorist.
> What does that suggest to you?
* That I should be reading him for my dissertation.
> Say, do you have any psychological problems?
* Possibly.
> Tell me more…

Red and Hands

Red and Hands

I finally made something that just might be Archaeography worthy, so I abused my limited moveabletype knowledge and posted an entry over there about the wall paintings and Second Life.  Let’s hope I didn’t break anything in the process.

(I reposted it below as Archaeography is no longer)

This past summer I excavated a series of paintings on a platform at Çatalhöyük, the last being a spectacular series of five hands, negative white with a red background, all pointing west. While collaborating on the archive report with my fellow excavators, I decided to reconstruct the “red phase” of Building 49 in Second Life so we could see how the building might have looked while in this phase. The painting of the hands was part of the phase, and I began “fixing” it in photoshop, removing animal holes and replacing patchy areas of the paint, so I could import it into the virtual reconstruction.

The process made me uneasy, and very aware that I was not presenting a “real” or a “fake” representation of the past, but something in the hazy middle, a third space that does not exist for the archaeologists or the people of the neolithic, but a space that exists digitally. I decided to push this boundary, and made an even more figurative version, an unambiguous white and red representation that would better suit the cartoonish world of Second Life. It would look more real, make more visual sense in the context on Second Life than an if I had used an actual photo, baked on to the texture of the platform.

The fourth image is what brought the photographs together–I happened to glance up at one of the concrete buildings in downtown Berkeley, where someone had stenciled a hand, in negative, with a red background. I felt a nexus in the past/present/real/digital tangle come into sharp relief for one brief second, then become hopelessly, wonderfully intertwined once again.

I’ve been banging away at the buildings in Second Life–they’ll be ready by Wednesday, but only just!  The event is being pretty widely publicized, so let’s hope the servers in Linden world aren’t acting up that day.  I love that I’ve been able to get so much research for my dissertation finished, but I think I need a computer/media black-out week someday soon!

 

Postproduction

Vinyl

“In The Practice of Everyday Life, the astonishing structuralist Michel de Certeau examines the hidden movements beneath the surface of the Production-Consumption pair, showing that far from being purely passive, the consumer engages in a set of processes comparable to an almost clandestine, “silent” production.  To use an object is necessarily to interpret it.  To use a product is to betray its concept.  To read, to view, to envision a work is to know how to divert it: use is an act of micropirating that constitues postproduction.  We never read a book the way its author would like us to.  By using television, books, or records, the user of culture deploys a rhetoric of practices and “ruses” that has to do with enunciation and therefore with language whose figures and codes may be catalogued.”

From Nicolas Bourriaud’s Postproduction.

Color and Sound

I uploaded another one of my videos to youtube so that I could show it in class tomorrow. I’m taking over half the lecture from Ruth, to tell the students a bit about archaeology and new media, since that’s the way that most of them will experience archaeology, outside of television.

It’s not my best editing job (it’s from Fall ’06), but it will have to do for now.  Remind me to take a better microphone to Turkey next year.

Slide1

I’m reusing my 2007 SAA slides, even though they are woefully outdated. (Banksy? Who cares about him anymore?)

Io Saturnalia!

saturn.jpg

I wish I could be celebrating today in true Roman style, but I’ve still got too much work to do.  I’ll have to do it up right next year by having a party.  Friday, the day after the semester ends, I’ll be headed off to Colorado for an appropriately snowy Christmas, then back to Texas until January 8th.  I hope to get down to Mexico, but we’ll see.

Next semester is going to be rough–classes every day, Head GSI for Intro to Archaeology, finishing up my field statements and my dissertation prospectus, and scraping together a bit of cash for my final season at Catalhoyuk.  I actually wouldn’t mind going to a different dig next summer, but the set-up for developing a new media methodology for excavation (done during excavation by excavators) is pretty good there, and it’d be another big step toward finishing my dissertation.

Now, off to the library.

Emplaced vs. Virtual Interpretation

Oof, gotta take a break from negotiating the “visual turn” in text. Sometimes I wish I could just make a film to show at my orals this spring. Anyway, I was chatting with a friend about the recent virtual worlds conference in San Francisco about the world of Second Life and other recreated experiences and both of us expressed some scepticism about the utility of the concept. Admittedly, I am more interested in emplaced interpretation–giving people the tools to better understand the place that they currently inhabit, rather than a virtualized interpretation of a different place, but there is a lot of overlap between the two concepts in new media.

To illustrate, Vassar (a college I actually almost went to, had I not nearly failed out of high school out of boredom and distaste) has brought the Sistine Chapel to Second Life:

2nd-life-sistine-3.jpg

It’s apparently a proof of concept by Steve Taylor for experiencing art and architecture virtually. Neat idea, especially in that you can fly, and aren’t hurried through by crowds and guards. And, apparently, you can sit next to some guy with black wings. I’m curious to see if there is any interpretation, like text boxes explaining the art or the building material.

Lower tech, and closer to home (physically not virtually, I guess!) is the recent Helena Keeffe project which involves drawings of actual San Francisco Muni drivers, along with their stories AND their interpretations of their own routes. While I am interested in the Second Life project, these art installations are exciting and inspirational. First, for the non-Bay Area readers, riding the Muni (bus/train system in SF) can be a full-contact sport, and I’ve always thought the drivers must have near-heroic capacities for putting up with craziness and general mayhem.

fmarket_web.jpg

Second, Helena Keeffe puts a face on these drivers and brings their interpretations of the route they see every day to the thousands of people who ride public transportation every day, not just to a select few who go to a gallery (in real life or online). I love that there are maps, annotated by the driver, along with drawings of different incidents which stand out in their minds.

munimaps-webdetail1-copy.jpg

As an archaeologist, I’d love to harness this interaction with place. As I was riding home from the Pamuk lecture with Burcu and a couple I had just met, Pamuk’s commentary on buildings came up, and the woman (I’m criminally horrible with names) mentioned that she’s now looking at the buildings in a different light, wondering about their histories, wondering who lives/lived there. Yes.

Back to work!