Tag Archives: Our Students

Uncommissioned, Commissioned and Official: a different approach to contemporary graffiti

Distinguishing ‘legal’ public art from ‘illegal’ urban art, or ‘graffiti’, was a major theme that I addressed in my Honours thesis, Convenient Canvasses: an archaeology of social identity and contemporary graffiti in Jawoyn country, Northern Territory, Australia, which I submitted a few weeks ago. I have noticed a recent increase in the number of posts on this blog, including those of fellow students Susan Arthure and Daniel Petraccaro, which discuss ‘graffiti’ and its place in heritage and archaeology. I thought I would join in.

Throughout my research I approached graffiti as a vital artefact in the understanding of social identity and its capacity as a vehicle for protest against governmental policy, such as the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007. Essentially, I treated the contemporary graffiti of Jawoyn country as ancient landscape-markings, and the graffiti supports as though they were rock shelters. I did not want to approach the graffiti as though they were a manifestation of anti-social behaviour.

I treated these corrugated iron shelters, which featured between 52 and 205 uncommissioned graffiti motifs, as though they were ancient landscape-marking shelters.

My research took place in Jawoyn country in the Northern Territory, where landscape-marking, or ‘rock-art’ has been practiced as a form of communication for thousands of years*. This landscape-marking tradition continues today in Jawoyn country, however we refer to it as ‘graffiti’. My research focused on a particular type of graffiti: the seemingly illegal, opportunistic markings that individuals scribbled, scratched, sprayed, or wrote on surfaces in the natural and built landscapes; however I encountered several other graffiti types as well.

The superimposition of discriminatory uncommissioned graffiti over commissioned graffiti.

During the data collection, while examining a mural in the Barunga community, I began to think about the definition of graffiti and I asked myself: is this really a commissioned mural, or has someone painted it there without permission? Is it graffiti? My understanding of the term ‘graffiti’ evolved over the next few months to include ‘street art’, public art and regulatory signage, such as the example above. There is a whole section in my thesis dedicated to defining graffiti and the justification of that definition, which you can find by downloading a copy here. In the context of my research, graffiti is defined as a form of visual communication and intended human-made marking that occurs publicly on any fixed surface in the natural and built landscapes. Regardless of form, material, technique, legality and social and cultural acceptances, graffiti is communication through landscape-marking be it ‘uncommissioned’, ‘commissioned’ or ‘official’ graffiti.  The difference between these graffiti categories is in the authorship.

Uncommissioned graffiti: markings that do not have appropriate permissions. These are the uncensored and uninstitutionalised markings made by individuals as intra-group (within a group) and inter-group (between groups) messages, often in the form of, but in no way limited to, the ‘tags’ one would find spray-painted on a wall or train. Much of the graffiti in this classification can be construed as vandalism. Practitioners of this landscape-marking behaviour do so to associate and communicate with other members of a group, to propagate personal ideals or even to demarcate boundaries and eternalise their presence.

Commissioned graffiti: public art and advertising such as authorised murals, sculptures, statues, billboards and posters. This is a negotiated community action involving intra-group and inter-group messaging. Prior permission is sought for commissioned graffiti in the form of verbal or written contracts, often with an exchange of capital. There is a fine line between what constitutes commissioned and uncommissioned graffiti. The two classifications are so closely linked that authors, styles, forms, materials, techniques and messages of commissioned graffiti are frequently interchangeable with those of uncommissioned graffiti.

Commissioned graffiti: a mural in Barunga

Official graffiti: markings made to govern, inform, instruct and control. Institutions including businesses, local councils, government departments and other organisations predominantly author these inter-group messages in the form of official graffiti. Official graffiti includes everything from the white lines and arrows painted on road surfaces to geodetic survey markers to traffic signs.

Official graffiti, featuring uncommissioned graffiti

These classifications are based on authorship of contemporary landscape-markings as well as the permissions, or lack thereof, that legalise, or indeed criminalise the practice, rather than the core social attitudes that are attached to it. The diagram below shows that these categories are separate, yet they overlap in some instances.

Graffiti categories according to authorship

My research demonstrates that all communication through landscape-marking can be referred to as graffiti. My definition, which is less concerned with any legal and social issues, situates uncommissioned graffiti as being of equal importance in a network of visual cultures that includes murals and regulatory signs.

Jordan Ralph

This is the first of a series of blogs about my graffiti research. You can also find out more about my research via my blog or by following me on twitter: @JordsRalph

*I prefer to use the term landscape-marking over rock-art because I want to emphasise the relationship that these visual cultures have with the landscape and while I realise that rock-art is the conventional term, I believe that it relies too heavily on a single method and surface type.

Tugging at the Heartstrings: ST Yelta, Port Adelaide

By Cassandra Morris

Yelta was built in 1949 by Cockatoo Docks and Engineering Co., Sydney for Ritch and Smith, Port Adelaide. Yelta spent its active life guiding vessels in and out of Port Adelaide, making local headlines on more than one occasion. Originally coal fired, the tug was converted to oil in 1957. After a busy life on the Port River, the tug was retired in 1976, purchased by the Port Adelaide branch of the National Trust of South Australia. Left moored outside the CSR Refinery at the ‘Sugar Wharf’, the vessel was left unattended with little maintenance performed for nearly a decade. Put up for sale again, the South Australian Maritime Museum made a bid for the historic vessel and, in 1985, added the tug to their collection as a floating museum. Volunteers were asked for to help restore Yelta to its former glory. After extensive restoration and refitting, including preparing the vessel to modern safety standards for staff and passengers, Yelta was relaunched. Currently Yelta sails the Port River several times a year, allowing passengers to experience a piece of Port Adelaide’s history, the Port River itself, and life onboard the vessel.

Yelta, thought to be in Cockatoo Docks while being constructed. (Pre 1964)

After 27 years in the SA Maritime Museum’s collection, Yelta still holds many secrets. In an attempt to broaden current knowledge of the vessel, research was recently undertaken to investigate questions often asked and facts confused by newspaper articles and photographs. Aspects of concern were the colour scheme, historical presentation of the vessel, and general life of the tug and its crew. To uncover the truth of these concerns, slipping reports, requisition reports, monthly maintenance reports, museum documentation and log books were consulted, in addition to newspaper articles and photographs. Two interviews held with former crew members were also undertaken, providing a personalised view of the tug and its working life.

Yelta steaming, before deck changes (Pre 1964)

Through this research, a timeline was successfully compiled. From 1948 to 1953 Yelta featured in newspapers across Australia, linked with the movement of many vessels in and around Port Adelaide. Slipping and requisition reports follow, from 1956, providing details on maintenance and changes made to the vessel. These reports also allowed for the correct colour scheme to be implemented with confidence; red below the waterline, black hull above the waterline, green or red decks, and white deck structures. Two major changes to deck construction occurred in the mid-to-late 1960s. Yelta’s wheelhouse was overhauled in 1964, downsizing the cabin and adding starboard and portside entrances. Furthermore, in 1967, the Crew’s Accommodation entrance was changed from a hatch to a deckhouse. These two major changes assisted in the approximate dating of photographs held by the museum. Information about Yelta’s movements are commonly known from 1976 onward. Retiring from service in 1976, the vessel was purchased by the National Trust of South Australia and later the South Australian Maritime Museum in 1985.

Yelta after deck changes. Note changes to the wheelhouse and the addition of a deck house aft. (Post 1967)

This is the results of my internship with the South Australian Maritime Museum. When first entering the position, I was assigned to work on the HMAS Protector research focusing on creating a Flickr group and contacting the public to gather further information. However, this was where my first lesson was learnt: you do what your boss thinks is important. So I was moved to work on confirming information on Yelta; discovering whether the colours it was currently painted were the correct ones, what the general history of the vessel was and conducting interviews with members of its previous crew. While I was not immediately excited about the task at hand, I launched myself head first into all the records kept by SAMM—and Yelta grew on me. Discovering that all the images of Yelta were undated (I later discovered a handful that had dates associated with them) led me to look for something that had changed at some point and that could be seen in the images. This led to many hours of reading and making notes on the tug’s slipping reports. From these reports I was also able to trace the changes in paint colour across the entire vessel for almost its entire working life. However, answering all the questions left me with one last task: interviewing some of the previous crew.

Yelta outside the CSR Refinery. The tug can be seen here painted many colours, occurring after its retirement. (Post 1977)

Conducting interviews was not something I had any experience in beforehand, and with only a vague idea of what I wanted to achieve I set off with a camera in hand. Two previous crew members were available to be interviewed at the time. Both of these I conducted slightly differently. With a short list of prepared questions, I took both interviewees, on different days,  for a tour of Yelta to refresh their memories. The first interviewee I filmed on the vessel, allowing for their memories to be caught with the corresponding background. While this produced a wonderful choice of memories for use in a 5 min clip (the desired end result) the film was fraught with bad lighting and minor sound problems. Conversely, for the second interview, after the tour of Yelta I filmed the clips within the SAMM offices. While this fixed the sound and light issues, there was less material to record without the visual stimuli. Between the two interviewees there was also a difference in personality and their comfort levels while being filmed. This would have been the biggest learning experience I undertook while with the museum, and has made me a fraction more comfortable with directing and filming questions, asking someone “can you repeat that?” endlessly, and realising that not everything planned is going to work.

Yelta as it can be seen today.

My time with SAMM showed me a different side to museums. While I began with an interest in collections management and producing exhibitions, I was given the opportunity to work on the research aspect of these interests. My research may in future lead to a small exhibition on board Yelta, focusing on it history within Port Adelaide and has already led to the development of a poster for the upcoming ASHA/AIMA Conference in September/October of this year. In future I hope I can work further with SAMM and with other museums and collections in Australia.

Photos are courtesy of the SA Maritime Museum.

The Flinders Archaeology Blog: one year on

Hello everyone,

As one of the blog admins I thought it might be time to give readers a brief snapshot of how things are going with the blog and also to seek some ideas and inspiration for its ongoing improvement in 2012.

In summary, things have been going extremely well with the blog since we redeveloped it in 2011. We have a steady stream of new posts – on average around two per week –  that  represent  the broad range of activities that our students and staff are involved in. We have on average around 1500 hits per month and around 50-70 hits per day, most of which come from search engine traffic. The most interesting statistics though are for the top  posts for the last 12 months and I’m pleased to report our ‘top 5 for 2011-2012′:

  1. Alex Kilpa’s The Magnetometer and its use in Underwater Archaeology with 488 views.
  2. Kyle Lent’s The Methodology of Dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) with 440 views
  3. Dennis Wilson’s Side Scan Sonar: The Key to Underwater Survey with 405 views
  4. Dennis Wilson’s The Survivor’s Guide to Practicum: One Man’s Journey to Maritime Fieldwork Enlightenment with 352 views
  5. Danielle Wilkinson’s Lights Cameras…Artefact! with 349 views.

So well done to all of you for writing such great posts! There are a couple of strong themes here. First maritime students clearly rock when it comes to writing blog posts as they  made up 9 of the 10 top posts for the year. Second, most of the top 20 posts had one thing in common: they provided tips, guides, or overviews of particular topics or methods that might be helpful to others. That is, rather than writing opinion pieces or posts about what they had done, they wrote to try to help others. Maybe there is something in that for those of you writing over the coming year?

I’ve added a screen grab of the top 20 posts for the year below.

Our top posts for 2011-12

Another important number that I think is worth mentioning here are our subscriber statistics. Last I looked, there were 559 people who are subscribed to our blog! That’s quite a readership and shows just how much interest there is in what we do here in the Archaeology Department. It also illustrates why it is important to make sure you write as well as you can when posting here: who knows who’s reading your work?

So where are we headed in 2012? Well, we do have a few ideas. For example, we think that there is quite a lot of design work we can do to improve the blog: archaeologists take fantastic pictures and so we would like to be able to use more of those around the site; the overall layout is a little dry, so we’ll be updating to make it more visually appealing; we also want more social media integration to make it easier for people to share our great content through Facebook and Twitter. We’re also toying with the idea of installing Buddypress so that we can build more of a community around the blog (see what they do with Buddypress at CUNY for example).

What I want to know from our users and our readers is this: what do you think we should do? What features are missing? What kinds of posts do you want to see? What don’t you like? Leave a comment below or drop me an email at mick.morrison@flinders.edu.au. They’ll all be taken on board as we develop the site from here forward.

Thanks once again, particularly to our bloggers for all of your hard work and energy and congratulations again to Alex, Kyle, Dennis and Danielle and all of the other top 20 bloggers for the year!

Mick Morrison

ArchSoc’s Trip to Port Arthur

A few weeks have passed since the Flinders Archaeological Society (ArchSoc) sent six of our members and two of our committee to help the Port Arthur Historic Sites Management Authority (PAHSMA) with their artefact collection from the 2011 Hobart Penitentiary Chapel excavations.

From left to right- Back: David Roe, Jeanne Harris, Tom Lally, Ilona Bartsch, Maxim Ayres and Louisa Fischer. Front: Andrew Wilkinson, Leah Ralph, Annita Waghorn, Lauren Davison and Holly Winter.

As you can see from the blog entries that the participants wrote at the end of each day, everyone enjoyed themselves and learnt a lot. This is the first time ArchSoc has organised a field trip like this and it is a testament to the dedication and organisation of this year’s committee that the trip went off without a hitch.

On behalf of ArchSoc, I would like to thank those that helped make this trip possible from the onset. Thanks go to Claire Smith, whose networking made this possible, Natalie Bittner, who along with myself, conducted the initial consultations with PAHSMA, and to David Roe and Annita Waghorn from PAHSMA, who were both more than happy to host several student volunteers.

BBQ in the Plaza @ Flinders

I would also like to thank those that helped in the planning stages and those that helped us in our more-than-successful fundraising BBQ and Bake Sale including the ArchSoc Committee and staff from the Department of Archaeology. There are too many individuals to name, but you all know who you are.

Thanks to everyone that applied to go on this trip, sorry we couldn’t accommodate all of you and to Andrew Wilkinson and Tom Lally who co-ordinated the trip at short notice when it was clear that I could no longer attend.

Lastly, a very big thank you goes to Jeanne Harris, David Roe and Annita Waghorn from PAHSMA for hosting ArchSoc on what was a very successful trip. We hope this is the start of a long relationship.

Bake Sale in the Humanities Courtyard

The professionalism of our committee and participants is highlighted in an email that David Roe sent to me shortly after the trip:

“From our perspective the week was a great success: we were able to get a number of important fieldwork jobs done and a significant hole has been made in the cataloguing task for the Penitentiary Chapel assemblage.  Jeanne, Annita and I were impressed with the Flinders contingent: they worked hard and were a pleasure to have around.  Their enthusiasm and conduct reflects most admirably upon the Flinders ArchSoc in particular and the University in general.  Please accept our thanks for having organised and underwritten the trip; we look forward to more such visits in the future.”

Again, thanks to all involved!

Jordan Ralph

President, Flinders Archaeological Society

Sorting artefacts in the Port Arthur lab

This post originally featured on ArchSoc’s blog @ www.flindersarchsoc.com

Inside the British Museum…

This is guest post by Oliver Spiers, Trainee Curator- British Museum who graduated from our program early in 2011. You can read Olly’s thesis here [pdf].

Having recently completed a Masters in Cultural Heritage Management at Flinders there comes a point where you finally submit, take a sigh of relief and then think ‘what the hell am I going to do now?’ I was lucky enough to come across a traineeship at the British Museum called the Future Curators project.

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