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Graffiti Archaeology

Posted by Timothy Webmoor

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A group of photographers and artists are documenting the accretion of the 'underground' urban landscape through graffiti art. Based in San Francisco, but also looking at graffiti in Los Angeles and New York, Cassidy Curtis and his team at Graffiti Archaeology document the changes through time of graffiti art at several tagging locations. All of the photographs are then 'photoshopped' together, placed in sequence, and made freely available via a custom flash program on the web. Arresting our web-enhanced gaze, it is a visual record manifesting what is routine and intimate, yet often simply hurried by.

Samir Patel at Archaeology Magazine is doing a story on this unconventional archaeology of the contemporary past for the summer edition. More familiar to the wranglings of theoretical archaeology, the publication of this project in a popular venue is sure to bring attention to urgent questions regarding the definition of archaeology, the proper subject matter for the discipline, and the archaeological imaginary in the public realm. Like other pioneering work in modern material culture studies and archaeology of the present, Archaeology Graffiti pushes the edges of what is considered properly archaeological. Principally, it resonants with the notion of an archaeological sensibility that foregoes defining the discipline upon subject matter criteria ('the remote past') and instead emphasizes what is unique to how archaeology understands our complex relationships to things. Attention to minutiae of the everyday; detailed documentation of change through time; the processes behind the accretion of an archaeological trace; the individual and creative acts of even 'marginalized' groups. This broader and bolder view of what is unique to archaeology takes action and practice over etymology and definition to contribute a specialized perspective to deep time and modern material practices. As a shared sensibility, rather than a parochial discipline, archaeology indeed has a place for the interesting and challenging work being done by the graffiti project and others who bring to the fore, if only for a question begging moment, our assumptions about the material world.

Read Archaeology's entire piece here: Download file.