I am a Senior Lecturer in Screen Media in the Department of Film & Television, University of Bristol. I am interested in place, materiality and screen media, specifically, in how screen media (including TV, artist video and cinema, online video and ethnographic film) produce the communities, material cultures, pasts and places that they represent. I am currently focusing on the screen landscapes of Olympics cities, developing archaeological methods for understanding how screen media matters place.

I have an interdisciplinary background. Following a BA in Art History / English from University of British Columbia (1990) and MA and PhD in Archaeology (Celtic Constructs: Heritage Media, Archaeological Knowledge and the Politics of Consumption in 1990s Britain, 1999) from University of Sheffield, I worked on geographies of heritage at University of Wales, Swansea (1995-97), looking specifically at contemporary articulations of a ‘Celtic’ Iron Age in Wales. I then produced guidebooks and commissioned photography and print as Publications Officer for Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments (1997-2000), before joining Bristol in 2001.

Pacific Archaeologies

In my last Day of Archaeology posting, I seemed to spend a lot of time waxing lyrical about the rhythms of academic administration.

This year has involved personal introspection, unexpected auto-archaeology and thinking about the various ways in which, yes, I still count as an archaeologist.

Today, for a number of reasons, I decided to stack work activities into the early morning and to meet friends – a former MA in Archaeology for Screen Media student and a Geographer – in a municipality of Metro Vancouver called White Rock. One of the benefits of being a knowledge worker is that wherever my laptop rests, I can work. So, I can be just as productive in my University of Bristol job working from a formica table in Vancouver as I can be from my university desk. Before we went to White Rock, I found this film for us to watch, to remind us of the halcyon days of the seaside resort. I wonder if the woman in the orange coat, third from the left, is my mother:

My friend spent her teen years in White Rock. I frequently visited, from the time I was very small with both of my parents through to visiting my father, when he owned a Spanish rancher styled home in the area, complete with stalactite plaster ceiling plaster, circular living room, gold-veined mirrored bar and a stunning collection of louche lamps, the kind with the nude girl in the middle, surrounded by dripping oil threads. This particular domestic collection was troubling, and didn’t sit easily with my idea of ‘normal’ families. It was an interesting material performance alongside the archival records of my father: an Italian from post-war Friuili who, in 1956, stepped off the Saturnia at the Pier 21 immigration processing building in Halifax (cf. Monteyne 2015); who quickly gave up his Italian citizenship; who worked his entire life (apart from a few years laying railroad ties and in the pulp and paper mill) as a waiter in cocktail bars, including the infamous Inquisition; who has managed somehow not to gain a criminal record, despite stop-and-search police harassment in the ’50s and a healthy interest in running bootleg grappa from the Okanagan; who has a very full medical paper trail despite his rude health at 80. All that is to say that I have a personal connection to this place and I continue to try to think through how archaeology differs from history.

So I arrived on the 351 White Rock Centre bus at 12.30pm. I’d caught the bus at Bridgeport Skytrain Station in Richmond, having travelled from Cambie and Broadway on the Canada Line, the newest transit line, constructed for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games. While the discourse may focus on ‘Super Natural’ Vancouver, if you look you see not a city of glass, but a city of concrete. Lots and lots of concrete. A civic love affair that links to Italian immigration, a resource-based economy and shady property market, to which Rudyard Kipling fell victim, writing about it in From Sea to Sea (1899). I’d not been to White Rock in years. Outside the first thrift shop I passed on my way down to the pier I saw the pram.

1967 Lewis Collin pram

1967 Lewis Collin pram

I instantly knew it, having spent important years in it as a baby and more memorable time as a young child with my best friend Carmen playing ‘family’ with the bassinet section. I think I always made Carmen be the dad and I was either the baby or Carmen’s wife. Encountering this pram for the first time in over 40 years, I was immediately struck by its familiarity. I knew how the brakes worked and how to detach the bassinet from the frame. And I was hit by an odd yearning when I saw how the backrest was set. I could feel the textured pattern of the vinyl interior covering. Although it’s highly unlikely, I immediately projected my past into this pram, imagining that yes, really, this was mine. That it was infused with my baby oil and my mother’s cigarette smoke. The paper tag on the main handle, proudly proclaiming that the pram was ’48 years old!’ added to its magic. Manufactured in 1967 and I was born in Spring 1968. And it was a very rainy day filled with odd events and so, according to the laws of correlation and serendipity that rule some archaeologists’ lives (despite invocations of empiricism), I decided that it might as well have been my pram.

In this choice, based on feeling and desire rather than fact, I was then oriented quite carefully to the built environment through which I walked to access the pier.

White Rock Pier

White Rock Pier

They say that the big rock was white with guano in the past. Today, it is kept white through regular applications of (Cloverdale?) paint. On a grey day like today, I could be at Clevedon, near Bristol, UK or near any British seaside resort. The innocuous pier, colonial imposition on the waters and territory of the Semiahmoo First Nation. And I wonder if what gives away my lingering archaeological disposition is my wondering about the make and make-up of the paint on the rock (and how many layers?); the different states of wood rot along the pier; the changes in the tarmac as 16th Avenue descends from White Rock Centre to the sea; the few remaining early 20th-century beach houses; the locating of the White Rock Archives on the beach front; and the lines of train track, road, hedging, street furniture and how they organise movement.

And these meanderings do not constitute a rigorous archaeology, but they help me to think about the other projects I’m involved in that do constitute my professional work. My Day of Archaeology helped me to think again about the Know your Bristol on the Move project, which links film and photographic archives to place via a participatory mapping interface. It helped me to reflect on the work that some of us have been doing to contribute archaeological methods and thinking to the ‘media archaeologies’ generated by media and technology scholars. And it helped me to focus on what I need to do in September as part of the Archaeo-Cube project, an archaeology of Cube Microplex, a volunteer-run arts-and-media space in Bristol. In advance of a significant building project, a small group of archaeologists and Cube volunteers are producing diverse archaeological responses to the site and thinking through the possible futures of the Cube following the build project and what might be worth ‘preserving’ and how.  And these things remind me of archaeology’s links to the modern individual and, in addition to the collaborative work in the field and within communities, how central lone practices of attention are to the archaeological project.

References

Kipling, R. 1899. From Sea to Sea. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/32977/32977-h/32977-h.htm

Monteyne, D. 2015. Pier 21 and the Production of Canadian Immigration. In C. Loeb and A. Luescher (eds). The Design of Frontier Spaces: Control and Ambiguity. Farnham: Ashgate, pp 109-28

A Day Somewhere between Vancouver & Bristol

DoA_ANSO2

I’m very privileged to be on sabbatical at the moment (supported by a University of Bristol Institute for Advanced Study Research Fellowship) and I’m spending my time as a Visiting Scholar in the Anthropology Department at University of British Columbia (http://anth.ubc.ca/). While my PhD was in Archaeology & Prehistory from Sheffield, I have always focused my research on the expressions and performance of archaeology in the contemporary world, paying specific attention to archaeology and the moving image. That means I research and write about TV documentaries, the archaeological information in home movies and video, the ways in which artists engage with archaeological themes, places and material in their film and video practices, and even the archaeology of screen landscapes. So, it’s really archaeology on screen and the archaeology of screens. While I’m employed by University of Bristol in the newly renamed Department of Music, Film, Theatre (previously, Drama: Theatre, Film, Television), I co-run the MA in Archaeology for Screen Media with colleagues in Archaeology & Anthropology.

My sabbatical is meant to be focused entirely on writing up my research on the screen landscapes of the Vancouver and London Olympic Games and I try to maintain a blog on this and everything urban screen related (http://aapiccini.wordpress.com/). However, the ease of networked communication means that my days out here in western Canada are not so different from my days in western England: a mix of administration, communication, fragmented writing, editing, proof reading, commenting on others’ work, maintaining research networks, struggling with universities’ conflicting network preferences, supervising PhD students, applying for funding and looking for new opportunities, having meetings, coordinating social media, and sending resource requests for next year’s teaching. Before the days of constant communication, I could focus on a single task but now it’s all about multi-tasking and ensuring that I’m circulating that information more widely. Often just beginning one thing on my ‘to do’ list will generate ten more things that all seem to need to be done simultaneously. However, I take heart in being reminded of Walter Benjamin’s essay on ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, in which he argued that distraction and the mass absorption of art by the people had a more progressive political force than the studied attention to aesthetics (see Paul Graves-Brown’s blog http://slightlymuddy.com/kuriosum/?p=183) and also in Jonathan Crary’s great book, Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle and Modern Culture (2001, MIT Press). While we might want to follow Guy Debord (The Society of the Spectacle, 1967) to criticize all this spectacle, it’s useful for me to remember that focused attention is historically and politically contingent, too.

Piccini_tasks

So, you get the picture that the academic archaeologist is always time-space shifting. We might have tasks to finish every day, but often those activities force us to occupy multiple times, spaces, scales. A bit like being in the field, except the trench is replaced by a strange assemblage of computer screen, office window and the illusion of mindful interior contemplation.

But what about today? What’s specific about 26 July and how does that reflect my ongoing archaeological identity (it’s a tricky one to shake off)? My day begins at 7.30am, when I check my emails and deal with all the urgent stuff while I drink a couple of cups of coffee and oversee my son getting ready to head off to his Mathemagical Minds and Filmmaking summer courses. Today, I’m reminded that I need to update my information for the upcoming Research Excellence Framework exercise. Every 7 years (give or take) the UK engages in an extremely costly exercise that judges the value of the nation’s research outputs, impact and  institutional culture. A bit like a North American tenure process, I suppose, but rather than determining the length of a person’s employment contract, it determines the allocation of core research funding from the Government to the academic institution. My department is one of the highest performing in our Faculty and in the country so I’m lucky to have fantastic colleagues. My co-editors, Paul Graves-Brown and Rodney Harrison, and I have just finished signing off the 2nd proofs of the Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Contemporary World and I’m relieved that this beast of a book will be out in September and can be part of my REF submission. Before the day is out I need to edit and upload my contextualizing statement for my practice-as-research entry, which is a portfolio comprising video, exhibition and publication details for Guttersnipe, what now seems a very distant project.

Piccini_home

Although I often work from home, especially on days like today when it’s sunny and warm and I can make use of the wifi outside, today I’m going to UBC. That’s partly because Jonathan C H King (von Hȕgel Fellow, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge) is giving a talk at the Museum of Anthropology about ‘Ecstatic religion, modernisation, Arctic archaeology and the establishment of the Igloolik Mission in 1937’.

Abstract: In  the 1930s Oblate missionary Fr. Etienne Bazin (1903-1972) established  a mission, in what is to to-day  the thriving Inuit community of Igoolik in Nunavut. In 1937, the year he moved the mission to Igloolik Bay, Bazin was given by  Inuit some 4-500 objects excavated casually from the  pre-Inuit Dorset  (pre AD 1500) site of  Awaaja. These were presented to Graham Rowley (1912-2003), Arctic advocate, explorer and administrator, who in turn donated them to the University of Cambridge. Bazin had become a missionary after a visionary experience at the age of 18; while looking at a crucifix he was told:  “leave everything behind, your family and friends, and come to Me.”  Central to Bazin’s missionary work was countering, and yet working with, analogous belief systems, both shamanism, and syncretic forms of Christianity which developed in the Eastern Arctic in the early 20th century.  This collection is well known archaeologically,  and here is discussed in its ethno-historical context for the first time. Bazin, for instance, was celebrated by Cardinal Cushing, the prelate who married the Kennedys and buried the president, in his 1942 Boston tribute to the Oblates The Battle of Hudson’s [sic] Bay.

 

Museum of Anthropology

My other task for today is to complete a draft of a paper I’m writing on the University of Local Knowledge (http://ulk.org.uk), a collaboration between Knowle West Media Centre, University of Bristol, University of the West of England, Arnolfini and US artist Suzanne Lacy. As part of a much larger project, our bit of ULK was led by Prof Mike Fraser in Computer Science and I was one of the co-investigators. The aim was to take the 900 video interviews of community experts and develop an online learning resource from this, influenced by Mooc culture (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massive_open_online_course) and by work I’d done on the Into the Future project (http://dedefi.ilrt.bris.ac.uk). I’m co-writing an article with Knowle West Media Centre’s Associate Director, Penny Evans, on the aesthetics, politics and ethics of the project, focusing specifically on the relationship between the video documents and website.

I am very privileged to be able to work in my home town, in the unceded shared and traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. The popular refrain in Vancouver is that it’s a city with ‘no history’ and yet there’s been 10,000 years of occupation. Archaeology here, like in many places impacted by ongoing colonization, is complex and conflicted. The British Columbia context means that archaeology in an Indigenous context is only ‘officially’ archaeology when it’s pre-contact. This makes the whole idea of contemporary archaeology problematic here but I’m keen to work with others in the community to contribute to presencing the entangled pasts of descent communities and settlers as part of the archaeological narrative of the city. Archaeology is serious business here. Land claims, rights to resource extraction, hopes for a better future, community authority and de-colonization all rest on archaeological work. It’s about money, power, knowledge, ownership, the environment, sovereignty, recognition, justice. Marina La Salle (http://ubc.academia.edu/MarinaLaSalle) and Rich Hutchings (http://ubc.academia.edu/RichardHutchings) write powerfully about the ongoing (and often unrecognized) relationships between archaeology, capitalism and racism here. Their work is important and when I stop to think about my Day of Archaeology sitting in my office, the seaweed-scented breeze and the occasional hummingbird flitting by, I think about how my privilege comes about through these relationships of inequality. And all of this reminds me that while doing archaeology in the 21st-century academy is often a distracted assemblage of electronic pings into the aether, it really does still matter and I have a responsibility to attempt to account for this mattering in whatever way I can.

UBC_viewfromoffice