Graffiti Archaeologists!

Posted on October 28, 2015


Most people don’t know this about me but as an undergraduate I double majored in Anthropology (Archaeology) and Art Studio. With my AS focus being drawing (graphite and charcoal)  and street art. I stuck to mainly stencil work (a long time to make the stencils but much quicker to put up) but always had fun with free hand street art. So I was especially happy to be able to film the session on graffiti at the EAA’s. Mind you much of the discussion was on contemporary archaeology so lots of great modern graffiti was discussed along side some of the older stuff. Please enjoy the videos-

Session Abstract:

Dr.Alex Hale, RCAHMS/University of Glasgow. Dr.Jeff Sanders, Dig It 2015. Dr.Jeff Oliver, University of Aberdeen. Dr.Laura McAtackney, IRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow. Dr.Cameron McAuliffe, University of Western Sydney

Graffiti Archaeologists!Recent years have seen increased interest in the archaeological study of graffiti. From Roman Pompeii to 21st century London, Archaeologists, we argue, are bringing fresh historical and methodological insights to a topic once restricted to studies of criminality. This session will bring together work that explores the spaces and places of acts of inscription, whether ancient or modern, urban or rural, dissenting or conformist. What can an archaeological approach tell us about graffiti? Do archaeologists offer a unique perspective to its study, preservation, and appreciation? To what extent can graffiti reveal the social norms and or exceptionalism of the societies and cultures that created it? Do modern understandings of graffiti fit with earlier forms of inscriptive practice? Should graffiti be viewed as purely an urban phenomenon, as suggested by earlier studies of graffiti? Should graffiti be considered heritage? What are the dangers of opening up graffiti to broader definitions of inscriptive practice? We welcome papers that examine graffiti with an archaeological perspective in mind: how to research, how to record, how to understand, how to engage with these (at times) subversive, (at times) disruptive and (at times) mundane forms of human expression? This session will also take delegates out into the city of Glasgow and its environs, to explore graffiti.

Revolutionary graffiti? Locating, recording and interpreting at Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin

Laura McAtackney
Graffiti studies in social science have traditionally interpreted ‘street art’ as manifestations of young men and their struggles with authority (including Ferrell 1993). Whilst in archaeology there has been more nuanced interpretation of who created graffiti, why and where (see Oliver & Neal 2010), there has been little consideration, to date, of the issues in how we determine what is graffiti, the challenges of recording it and how we can mitigate those challenges. As archaeologists we have a long history of working with partial and marginal survivals of the past but consideration of these qualities in the study of graffiti are infrequently articulated. This is despite the possible issues that arise in interpreting graffiti remnants in various
contexts that are graffitied over long periods of time.
Using the case-study of Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin graffiti assemblages that date from the final years of the functional site – from the revolutionary period of c1919-1924 – have been the subject of graffiti recording and analysis since 2012. Prior to recording there was knowledge that graffiti existed in the area but the issues of divergent survival, impact of time, dereliction, deliberate (and often repeated) whitewashing, selective defacement and later, often indiscriminate additions have had a number of impacts on the graffiti assemblages making their recording difficult and interpretation even more so. This paper will focus on one particular recording exercise in the prison in order to question our ideas about what graffiti is, how we identify it, interpret it and indeed record it.

Banksy is a woman: gender and femininity as displayed in graffiti

Erin Osborne-Martin
By and large, our default image of a graffiti artist is male. Unless the work is signed with a feminine name or deals with ‘feminine’ themes, most people tend to assume that the people behind this largely anonymous art form are men. In Roman Pompeii, where graffiti is sometimes signed and gender is easier to identify than it often is today, we can see that much of the output is created by men and a significant portion of it is about women. But there are also examples of graffiti created by Roman women, from prostitutes talking about their clients to wives discussing their husbands and domestic lives. Themes of gender and identity are equally present in modern graffiti. In particular, by using graffiti to subvert advertising – itself a
commentary on femininity and womanhood – female artists are able to negotiate gender roles within the public landscape.

Wild times in wild places: Counter-cultures, graffiti and the wild at the Devil’s Spittleful

Andrew Hoaen
Whilst graffiti is often considered to be an urban activity it is also an essential element of the rural scene. Exposed rock faces, buildings, trees and other living surfaces have often been painted and inscribed over long periods of time. This paper wishes to explore how wild places are used and modified by modern urban populations and how we as heritage professionals might approach and theorize those activities. This paper will explore the role of the wild as theorized by Thoreau and examine how recent counter-cultures take that concept of wildness to use spaces designated as ‘wild or natural’ to express their identity. The case study will be based on the record of graffiti, rock art and monuments constructed at the Devil’s Spittleful,
Worcestershire, UK, wildlife reserve and SSI. This nature reserve is surrounded on three sides by post- WW2 urban sprawl and in its 60 years of existence has become a location for a range of ad-hoc recreations. In local folk lore it has a long history as a location for revelry and the sandstone crag at the centre of the reserve has become the focus for a significant concentration of graffiti and ‘naïve art’ carved in large continuous panels on the surface of the rock. I aim to include in this discussion how we should see graffiti as part of a suite of behaviours that lead to landscape modifications in the “wild”.

Appraising modern cave graffiti in Greece

Niels Andreasen
Modern engravings in caves in Greece represents an archive of names, initials and dates amassed over the last century. While such “simple” graffiti has largely been ignored by formal academic study, it may provide insights about the different ways that people engaged with the rural landscape, something not easily recognisable in other ways. Graffiti point to transformations that the local community underwent and may hint at different intensities of use and value of cave sites over time.
During fieldwork on a Greek mountain, dates, initials and images were recorded at 42 caves. Some caves were situated along major regional transport routes, and depictions of pack animals, boats and sailing ships are likely connected to flourishing trade during the 18th and 19th centuries. Date clusters may suggest increased pastoral activity in and around the caves during specific periods. Extensive land reforms in the inter-war period led to a growing number of dates in an increasing number of caves. Consequently, dates left in caves during the 1930s more than triple in comparison to previous decades.
The 1990’s saw both an increase in tourism and an influx in Albanian immigration. Both groups had an impact on the number of dates being engraved, especially since the latter often found employment as shepherds upon their arrival in Greece. A drop in graffiti dates in the most recent decades can perhaps be related to the introduction of digital cameras influencing how people document their visit to places in the landscape.

Written in Stone: Reframing graffiti at the North Head Quarantine Station, Sydney, Australia

Ursula Frederick
In the contemporary world graffiti is often defined in terms of authority. It is the question of who does and doesn’t have the right to write in place that makes graffiti a contested and intriguing subject. Yet as archaeological work attests, graffiti practices of the past and present enfold a diverse suite of gestures and motivations. In this wider context, graffiti appears in the bush and in the streets, it is made in the domestic sphere and for public viewing, it is vernacular as well as being commissioned. Graffiti can involve considerable skill and be made with great love and respect, while at the same time it can appear ugly and destructive. How a particular society or community responds to graffiti is an equally engaging topic. In this paper I discuss the landscape of North Head Quarantine Station (Sydney, Australia) and the many phases and techniques of inscription activity that have taken place there. From the ‘prehistoric’ engravings of local Aboriginal people across a 150 year history of non-Indigenous mark-making this geography reveals how graffiti accumulates. Charting a variety of techniques, including stone and tree carving, Chinese calligraphy, and drawings in biro and pencil, I consider how an archaeological approach can work to appreciate a breadth of inscription activities while also acknowledging different contexts of production and reception. In doing so I argue that archaeological method and theory play an important role in reframing graffiti research to address its meaning and place-making potential.

52 weeks in a (graffiti) year: disrupting temporalities in archaeology by recording a graffiti wall once a week for a year

Alex Hale, Annie-Leigh Campbell
By considering a graffiti wall as archaeology we are bringing the contemporary into the discipline. But by adopting a practice based approach to recording modern-day graffiti over a temporally discrete period (52 weeks), we are disrupting archaeology’s considerations of deep temporalities, but also seasonality and spatial/temporal belonging. The aim of the project is to document the changing, or static surface, of this urban message board, through sequential visits and observations. The project is on-going throughout 2015 and aims to record the wall once a week. This approach will enable the researchers time to quietly observe and repeatedly return to an urban cul-de-sac, which is providing evidence of contemporary archaeology and temporal rhythms that contrast with much of mainstream archaeology. This paper discusses the idea, approach, results and dissemination of the data from a year-long project. It will discuss the methodology adopted: the recording will take place from the same spot (s) once per week. It will use an iPhone to record the wall and it will post an image or images on a dedicated Instagram account each week. Additionally, it will apply an archaeologist’s eye and brain to interpret any changes, but these will be reviewed through interactions with Followers on the Instagram page. But it will also consider the effects of social media dissemination of non-traditional heritage, such as using Instagram to demonstrate the changing nature of places. There will also be mention of the range of graffiti applied; the mediums used and messages inferred.
@alexgchale #graffitiarchaeology

Graffiti as a medium to teach and enthrall

Cara Jones1, Caroline Pudney2
The validity of graffiti as an art form has at last become recognised and accepted by ‘establishment’, yet there are still many arguments about what to do with it. The act of graffiti is still filled with tension, with many questions and debates of what to do with the finished result. Within the heritage sector, there are still questions on how (if at all) we should record and conserve this form of cultural heritage and it often seems that it is the context of the site which can lead to the (often professional) decision of whether to record, preserve and value. Yet with controversy comes a unique opportunity to use this subversive art form to engage initially reluctant heritage audiences. This paper will present two different case studies, one based in Scotland and the other in Wales, of where graffiti has been used to engage with new heritage audiences. Both case studies have used graffiti as a modern medium to teach archaeological theory and practice to initially reluctant participants. By using this recent, relevant and recognisable heritage,
participants were able to identify with a cultural heritage that is immediate and relevant to their lives. With these case studies, graffiti was used as a gateway to further heritage work, but was additionally attributed new value by participants and professionals due it’s status as a ‘recorded event’.

Buffing and Buffering: Street Art’s Accelerating Archaeologies

Samuel Merrill1, Lachlan MacDowall2
In previous decades the heritage value of street art was rarely acknowledged (MacDowall 2006), today its recognition is nearly as commonplace as its acceptance as a legitimate and popular form of art. The consequences of street art’s transition into the worlds of art and heritage are complex, but include its effects on the authenticity of subcultural graffiti traditions (Merrill 2014) and its rapid spread through digital platforms to create a ‘wild’ archive (MacDowall 2005). These trends have implications for the role that heritage practitioners (including archaeologists) and public arts organisations should play in safeguarding and curating such subcultural expressions and particularly those that use anti-establishment tactics and engage directly with audiences in everyday spaces. In Berlin in December 2014, Italian street artist Blu took the unprecedented decision to permit the buffing of his own iconic mural as a symbolic gesture against the eviction of nearby squats and the general gentrification of the city. The sequential photographs of the mural’s obliteration quickly went viral and spread through various social media platforms. Meanwhile, other street artists, including those in Melbourne, have started to erase their creations as soon as they digitally distribute them through similar social media platforms, like Instagram, in order to cater for audiences who want to see walls refreshed without buffering delays. This paper considers street art’s accelerating temporalities and archaeologies and by implication the type of graffiti archaeology and the kinds of graffiti archaeologist that may be needed in the near future.

“Harry was here 1945”: Graffiti and the Nazi Occupation of Alderney

Caroline Sturdy Colls1, Kevin Colls2, Rachel Bolton-King2, Tim Harris2, Czelsie Weston2
During the Second World War, the island of Alderney in the British Channel Islands was occupied by the Nazis, who intended to use the island as a strategically advantageous position from which they could invade mainland Britain. In order to facilitate the large-scale construction of fortifications, thousands of people were sent there from across Europe to undertake forced labour. Housed in a network of camps, these prisoners were held in appalling living conditions, beatings and ill-treatment were common, and many were literally worked to death. These prisoners and their overseers left behind a complex body of graffiti which attests to their existence on the island. Likewise, the fortifications built by the prisoners have seen various  layers of graffiti added to them over the years by people who have inhabited or visited Alderney. This paper will consider the contribution of this graffiti to our knowledge about the events of the Occupation and the various ways it can be used to recall individual and collective experiences. As some of the graffiti takes the form of names of prisoners, the role of this evidence in identifying individuals will also be considered. Graffiti created since the end of the Second World War will also be addressed in order to evaluate how these motifs can help assess past and present attitudes towards the Occupation. Looking to the future, this paper will consider the role of graffiti as evidence of recent conflict.

Marking military identity: textual graffiti in nineteenth-century Malta

Russell Palmer
Malta abounds with stone carved graffiti incised into the soft limestone walls of buildings and monuments, ancient and modern. Studies of post-medieval graffiti have traditionally focused on those found on the walls of prisons and churches, often concentrating on votive ships and other pictorial graffiti. Surprisingly little consideration has been given to textual markings. In a move to address this imbalance, this paper will examine the mark-making practices of British soldiers and officers at barrack and mess sites in nineteenth-century Malta. As documentary evidence rarely locates individuals or battalions to their quarters, the graffiti left by highly mobile military personnel provides valuable information as to where individuals lived and died. Furthermore, handwriting, spelling, and duplication of these graffiti shed light on to writing practices and levels of literacy. Through the case study of an officers’ mess and barrack site, textual wall graffiti and scratched markings on archaeological finds will be considered alongside “official” incised markings, such as room numbers. Rather than isolating the text from its materiality and its material/spatial surroundings, it shall be used to reconstruct the practices involved in its production and subsequent “reading.” By considering the graffiti within their context, this paper will argue that mark-making was an important practice in the articulation of regimental “family” membership and a military identity.

Posted in: Uncategorized