Colleen in Oz (Kinda)

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Are you coming back?

In 2012 when I was writing my dissertation I would post a very small part of an ongoing pulp fiction series each time I’d finish a chapter. I’d fight in space, ride a horse in the Wild West, you get the idea. So when I finished the whole thing, I imaged that I’d finally met the Wizard. The Wizard of Oz.

So I finally went. To Oz, that is. The last few months (make that years, really) I’ve been traveling a lot. The esteemed James Flexner and I (of previous Kalaupapa fame) applied for a visitor’s grant from Australia National University for me to give a couple of seminars and come rub brains with archaeologists down under.

I ended up giving two talks, Critical making, creativity and play for disruptive heritage practice and Archaeology, Augmented Reality, and Avatars, two of my favorite research topics at the moment, met several people in the department, and was generally impressed by the state of things academic. I didn’t really have a lot of time to dwell on the fact that I was in Australia—I have been buried by deadlines for just as long as I’ve been traveling. At that point I was working on an upcoming publication on difficult heritage online, the Introduction to Critical Blogging in Archaeology, and the processing the big Genetics/Heritage conference in Liverpool that I had organized with EUROTAST.

This is where I was, 99% of the time.
This is where I was 99% of the time.

So I didn’t have a lot of time for sightseeing. I was able to check out the requisite koalas and kangaroos, and went on a lot of long runs up and down hills in Canberra. It was Fall (in May) so the leaves were turning yellow and it was getting chilly. The architecture was very modern, and pretty much felt like America, except for all the massive birds.

I think that was the most disconcerting thing—the extremely large birds, just hanging out like pigeons. Cockatoos, parrots, massive, beautiful preening things, scooting around in parking lots and pestering people. So, America, but with big birds everywhere. Strangely, I was accused of not caring about being in Australia and not trying hard enough to experience it. Admittedly I was half dead from jet lag while I was there, and not on holiday. But I was constantly asked, “Are you coming back?” and I couldn’t provide an answer that satisfied anyone in the least.

Look, a zine machine!

Anyway, I like more improvisational travel these days. It’s a little miscellaneous, but serendipity can be a lot more fun than a brutal itinerary.

Graffiti & Archaeology II: The Wandering Wandjina

Perth was invaded in 2006 by a a strange looking being–it had large eyes, a nose, and no mouth, but an oval shape beneath its neck and an aura.  Stencils of this creature quickly covered all available surfaces, and just as quickly was commented on in the press and by the indigenous aboriginals of the western Kimberley region of Western Australia. The wandering Wandjina, a powerful being who was “the supreme spirit of the Worrorra, Ngarinyin, and Wunumbul people of Australia,” the one who “emerged from the sea and the sky, created the landscape, then returned to the spirit world,” but not before leaving their mark on rockshelter walls was reborn as a graffiti stencil on the streets of Perth.

In her Archaeologies article, Ursula Frederick studies the phenomenon of the Wandering Wandjina as part of a fascinating journal article on the interplay of traditional iconography and graffiti art in Melbourne and Perth. The above quotes are from this article, Revolution is the New Black: graffiti art and mark-making practices. In this article Frederick outlines her methodology in studying the graffiti from an archaeological standpoint, rather than that of sociologists who have attributed this art to social malfiescance and the like.  She contrasts traditional studies of rock art with her observations about graffiti, coming across interesting questions that could inform traditional study of ancient art.

For example, she notes the different media used to create tags (pen, crayon, spray paint) and the limitations inherent in each method of tagging–the technology directly influences the size and complexity of the art. This may seem overly obvious to fans of graffiti, but in rock art size is linked with importance, or dominance, rather than functionality.

Frederick also disturbs our archaeological interpretations of rock art having a single meaning, and being viewed by a homogenous community who views this art in a single way. It would be difficult to find people who share the same interpretation of graffiti. I’m sure that more progressive researchers of rock art are already exploring this alternate approach, but the example in modern graffiti is well taken from Frederick.

This past week has generated some buzz in the archaeological world about the place of contemporary archaeology, and indeed it has been very much in the forefront of my mind as I help organize USA TAG 2011, which has the theme of “Archaeology of and in the Contemporary World.” The discussion on the Contemporary and Historical Archaeology mailing list generated good questions from Angela Piccini: “what is the *work* that contemporary archaeologies do? what would *good* contemporary archaeologies look like and how would we recognise their worthiness and who says? what would we (collectively?) aspire for contemporary archaeologies?”

Given these questions, I believe that Frederick has provided a great example utility of contemporary archaeology and its role in informing our larger discipline. Archaeology is necessarily a big tent–we do study the whole of human experience, after all. Why give ourselves arbitrary rules and limits?

ResearchBlogging.org

Frederick, U. (2009). Revolution is the New Black: Graffiti/Art and Mark-making Practices Archaeologies, 5 (2), 210-237 DOI: 10.1007/s11759-009-9107-y