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Guttersnipe: on the road to Helsinki
by Angela Piccini

Angela Piccini
Research Councils UK Fellow
Department of Drama: Theatre, Film, Television
University of Bristol
Cantocks Close
Bristol BS8 1UP
United Kingdom

Guttersnipe is a 14-minute video/live-spoken-word performance, which I shot and initially scripted in November 2003. I have revisited the script over the past two years for different events, from archaeology conferences to locative media workshops to local arts and music festivals. My aim in the video project was to explore the potentialities and limitations of a photographic practice as archaeological practice, archaeology in the modern world.

Copyright © Angela Piccini 
Given the central role of camera-based technologies in archaeology and the generative tensions between the live archaeological ‘event’ and its various recorded artefacts (Pearson and Shanks, 2001; Phelan, 1993; Reason, 2003; Rye, 2000; 2003), I wished to attempt a different way of thinking about the relationships between record and event. Rather than seeking to reproduce a ‘commonsense’ use of camera-based technologies to contain and transmit ‘knowledge’, I wished to work with John Grierson’s famous description of documentary as the ‘creative treatment of actuality’ (1926) as a starting point. What might video and live spoken word as media specifically contribute to archaeological practice that is qualitatively different from a textual account of place? How is this practice performative of place? How might this practice organize space – screen space, stage space, suburban space, family space, depth and surface, now and then – and place – the specificity of locale, city, neighborhood, street, gutter, housing, pavement, roadway - as they intertwine variously?

Copyright © Angela Piccini
  The video comprises a largely unedited tracking shot (there is a fade in from black at the beginning and fade to black at the end) along one unbroken stretch of gutter in Brislington, Bristol. The camera focuses in on the 90° angle where the street meets the kerb. I shot the screenwork in one take with a domestic miniDV video recorder, lashed onto a pushchair. In performance I have not used the synchronous recorded sound, but rather a soundtrack composed by Jem Noble, which layers the original synchronous sound with multiple sound recordings of the script. I then read the script in performance.

The screenwork was the initial artefact that I used to construct an archaeological narrative that sometimes references what I saw on the screen and sometimes becomes a departure point from which to discuss a broader archaeology.

This practice is in the spirit of Benjamin’s ‘philosophising “directly” out of the objects of cultural experience’ (Benjamin and Osborne 1994, xi; Benjamin, 1999).

The screenwork also refers to the embodied practices that characterize archaeological endeavour: surveying, planning and drawing, fieldwalking, electronic sub-surface survey, excavation, photography, recording, looking (see also Holtorf, 2001; Wylie, 2002). Thus, a videoed gutter brought me to consider a briefing paper from the Institute for Civil Engineers, which then allowed me to make a connection between pediments and continuity and the notion of the gutter as performative space with its kerbstone proscenium arch. The practice of making the video together with my watching practice shaped an emergent archaeological narrative.


Benjamin, A and Osborne, P (eds) (1994) Walter Benjamin’s Philosophy, London: Routledge

Benjamin, W (1999) The Arcades Project, trans. Eiland, H and McLaughlin, K, Cambridge, MA: Belknap-Harvard University Press

Grierson, J (1926) Review: Moana New York Sun

Holtorf, C (2001) 'Fieldtrip theory: towards archaeological ways of seeing', in P. Rainbird and Y. Hamilakis (eds) Interrogating Pedagogies: Archaeology in Higher Education, pp. 81–87. British Archaeologial Reports, International Series 948. (Oxford: Archaeopress).

Pearson, M and Shanks, M (2001) Theatre/Archaeology, London: Routledge

Phelan, P (1993) Unmarked: the Politics of Performance, London: Routledge

Reason, M (2003) Archive or memory? The detritus of live performance 73 New Theatre Quarterly 82–89

Rye, C (2000) Living Cameras: A Study of Live Bodies and Mediatized Images in Multi-Media Performance and Installation Art Practice. Unpublished Ph.D. Edinburgh: Napier University.

Rye, C (2003) Incorporating practice: a multi-viewpoint approach to performance documentation 3(2) Journal of Media Practice 115–123

Wylie, J (2002) An essay on ascending Glastonbury Tor 33 Geoforum 441–54


Artist Biography

Angela Piccini
Angela Piccini's background is in transdisciplinary research and public-sector heritage work, with a particular focus on the performativity of 'pastness'. Following a B.A. in English/Art History from University of British Columbia and an M.A. and Ph.D in Archaeology (1999 Celtic Constructs: Heritage Media, Archaeological Knowledge and the Politics of Consumption in 1990s Britain) from University of Sheffield, Piccini worked on geographies of heritage and then as Publications Officer for Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments before taking up research in performance and screen media.

Piccini focuses on archaeology as a contemporary attitude towards understanding place, material and performativity. Her research explores the intersections among archaeology, performance, screen practice and mixed-mode research in the contemporary built environment. She currently holds a Research Councils UK Fellowship in Performativity, Place, Space, and is researching the use of Semantic Web in a locative media context.

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