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Symmetrical Archaeology

Peripatetic video is a form of located media which is intended to manifest previous performances, experiences, or events that occurred in a given place at a later moment in that same place. Peripatetic video works through the active overlay of video and sound footage upon the same physical background through the intermediary of a small video camera with LCD screen and surround stereo headphones—or in the near future through ‘wearables’ computer technology.

This site-specific spaciotemporal layering of the digital and real is what Canadian media artist Janet Cardiff (along with George Bures Miller) does in her video-walks such as In Real Time. Cardiff collates various sounds, voices, emotions, and so on into segments of a video walk through library, museum, garden, or urban spaces (Christov-Bakargeiv 2002). She then presents the video through a small video camera with high quality headphones to a participant while they reiterate the same sequence of the journey following Cardiff’s explicit instructions (Figure 4.3). Past events and experiences are mediated visually and aurally through the video camera, while the fuller realm of bodily engagement occurs in the act of walking through the same locale. The combination of the onscreen visual element of the LCD screen of a digital video camera and the closed off aural environment created with a high quality set of headphones produces a situation where material background and digital foreground converge. This spaciotemporal overlay attends to the blurring of the digital and the real, in effect, playing new media applications off the material world in an effort to confuse, complicate, or indeed highlight the disparities between the realms of new (digital) media and the corporeal environments of archaeological practice.

Peripatetic video, in contrast to more conventional modes of archaeological documentation including text, map, plan, diagram, illustration, etc., mediates aspects of a particular engagement within the corporeal setting of the ‘original’ event, such as the excavation of a structure at Halieis, Greece. The full realm of bodily sensation is implicated as textures, smells, other wider sensory evocations are encountered by the participant. In appealing to the senses on a bodily level, located media evoke more ineffable qualities of place while at the same time overlaying footage and information associated with a previous engagement. This active media overlay involves both exchange and disjuncture between the mode of engagement and the material context focused upon. In this way, located media such as peripatetic video are ideally suited for the reiteration of archaeological practices from walking a survey transect to moving through the excavation of an archaeological site at a later moment 10, 20, or even hundreds of years in the future.

Through this mode of engagement, more ineffable qualities of the area associated with the transect can be manifest for others at a later date. Peripatetic video plays on the illusion of live recording, which is enhanced by the novelty of playing back a video segment while reiterating the path of the transect that was recorded. With peripatetic video the media interface is a small 5 by 8 cm LCD screen. In this way, vision although critically important is secondary to the closed aural environment of the stereo surround headphones.

Complimenting the previous section on acoustic archaeology, the enclosed acoustics of the headphones allows one to replicate the 3-dimensionality of sound associated an event through binaural recording or, at least, suggest such dimensionality if binaural recording is not possible. Indeed, sound is the most decisive aspect of peripatetic video. While, on the one hand, in the distancing and ‘objectivizing’ sense of seeing, as Wolfgang Welsch has argued, ‘we are affected least of all corporally… Hearing, on the other hand, does not keep the world at a distance, but admits it. ‘Tone penetrates without distance’’(1997, 158). For Welsch, ‘vision sets things at a distance and holds them fixed in their place’ (1997, 158) whereas hearing brings the material world into greater proximity (Heidegger 1971, 26; Ingold 2000, 244-50). If we wish to close ourselves off visually we use our eyelids, whereas our lack of ‘earlids’ leaves us acoustically vulnerable. This acoustic vulnerability can be played upon with peripatetic video. Additionally, this is an especially vital aspect in mediating aspects of the corporeality of place.

It is the closed aural environment of a high-quality pair of stereo headphones that is the key element of sensory engagement within the mediated experience. More specifically the aural field of a human being encompasses areas outside that of the visual. If one were to hear footsteps approaching from somewhere over their right shoulder, or hear a person calling from the same direction, ordinarily they might turn to bring the source of those sounds within their visual field. This is all the more effectively accomplished with binaural recording which mediates the 3-dimensionality of a person’s aural field. Given the appropriate staging one can be tricked into believing someone is behind them and thus, an important property of corporeal experience is mediated.

It is precisely here, where we must recall that the corporeality of place extends from the crunch of dried foliage under one’s feet, to the wind rustling the leaves in the nearby carob, to the shrill cry of the cicadas on the olive branch above; these make up the ceaseless and unrelenting background noises of any locale. These sounds are more of Serres’ belles noiseuses. These noises, resistant to inscription, can be manifested through binaural recording and revisited by the participant in peripatetic video.

Still, peripatetic video is predicated on the participant’s willingness to go along with the demands of the mediated experience. This indulgence on the part of the participant facilitates the possibility of blurring the boundaries, or folding events. In giving oneself over to the experience, one has to ‘want’ to be tricked. Yet this potential is what separates peripatetic video from electronic media such as television—peripatetic video demands active bodily participation not passivity. Therefore, peripatetic video facilitates the potentiality for the reiteration of past experience through the site-specific mediation of its re-presence.

Somewhat ironically, it is through this blurring that I believe we can begin to realize the richness, complexity and ambiguity of the material world. Digital experience provokes a return to, and deeper appreciation of, lived experience (Welsch 1997, 196). As we know, digital experience cannot replace the experience of walking through a field of freshly plowed soil after a light autumn rain, but it can be utilized as a supplement to that event. Since peripatetic video is a means of folding our mediations into lived experience, the digital and the bodily can play off one another for disparities between these experiential modes have the potential to spawn connections that would have otherwise not arisen. For not only is it in this confusion that subtle idiosyncrasies of locality, multiplicity, and materiality are thrown into relief, they are also mediated.

A peripatetic video of ''Georgia Granite Circle'' (video forthcoming)

A peripatetic video of site-specific sculpture by Patrick Dougherty (streaming Quicktime)

Chris' PhD Dissertation (social software version)

Articles on peripatetic video

Further discussion of peripatetic video

Posted at Jun 16/2007 10:23AM:
chris witmore: Add photographs!

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