ArchaeoCube: An Anticipatory Cinema Archaeology

The Cube

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference Paper


Late in 2015, experimental cinema-arts space, the Cube Microplex, will be undergoing a major renovation project. The Cube emerged in 1998 out of peripatetic 16mm film collective, Club Rombus. The Cube took over Bristol's former Arts Cinema on King Square, which since the late 1960s had been the site of innovative avant-garde audio-visual and performance arts practice. The building started its life as a Deaf Institute in 1916. But there are traces of an earlier, nineteenth-century structure underlying the current building. The Cube is volunteer-run and has recently purchased the building and protected its use by the community in perpetuity through its organisation as an Industrial and Provident Society. Fundraising has secured additional money to enable the renovation.

However, internal and external changes to the building are met with not a little anxiety. The layering of posters, graffiti, stickers and tape and the collections of dead technologies in offices and projection room are part of the volunteer, artist and audience experience of place. Will renovation kill its spirit? Might archiving its material traces resist or compound domestication? The Cube is a site of contemporary media archaeological potential, being both a system for enacting and circulating media and an assemblage of dead, dying and leading edge media technologies. On a June weekend in 2015, I worked with a group of archaeologists and Cube volunteers to begin work on the archaeological recording and surveying of the building and its contents to think through the potential agency of the past in the future of the Cube.

In this paper, I ask: what are the methodological and conceptual questions generated through a collision of media archaeology with disciplinary archaeologies? Emerging out of the German intellectual milieu, media archaeology has positioned itself contra archaeology as such due, in part, to the specific disciplinary and methodological contours of archaeology as practised in Germany. While German archaeologies are seen to focus on precise excavation and finds studies (cf. Bintliff 2011), British, Scandinavian, North American and Oceanic archaeological scholarship has been characterized by critical-theoretical innovation, dating at least as far back as Lewis Binford’s processual ‘New Archaeology’ (1968) and David Clarke’s application of systems theory to archaeology (1968). However, even earlier, antiquarian William Stukeley (1740) pioneered early archaeological techniques of observation and visualisation. O.G.S. Crawford realised the potential of aerial photography to illuminate archaeological approaches to understanding landscape use (1928). And landscape historian W.G Hoskins (1955) introduced generations of archaeologists to walking and dwelling in the landscape as a powerful interpretative tool. In short, global archaeology has never really been about digging in the dirt.

As the discipline of archaeology matures, however, even its highly diverse methods tend towards normativity. Archaeologists with interests in media technologies, artefacts, networks and landscapes are seeking to apply rigorous methods from conventional archaeological practice in order to legitimize archaeological interests in the media and to distinguish archaeological approaches from those of the ‘media archaeologists’. This is important work that makes a significant contribution to the field. However, might there also be room for archaeologists to bring the more playful methods used in prehistoric archaeology (McFayden 2012) into the media archaeology arena? Might the empirical evidence base of media archaeology insist on newer methods to trouble normative archaeologies?

The aim of this Archaeo-Cube project was two-fold: to record a multi-scalar assemblage of the cinema’s interior spaces and artefacts and to generate materials that could be re-assembled in future as part of an ongoing artwork to be enfolded in the cinema as part of its media heritage. It is an anticipatory practice in so far as it tries to address anticipated fears, anxieties and ruptures within the volunteer space generated by an architectural project. It is also anticipatory in that it tries to imagine what material traces might be useful to future volunteers, artists and audiences. How might an archaeology of the Cube generate new practices, rather than killing the radical potential of material-discursive practices through the museological? In doing this collaborative project, we hope both to contribute methodologically to the scholarly field of media archaeology and to demonstrate its potential impact beyond the academy.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusIn preparation - 6 Nov 2015
EventAnticipations - Trento, Italy
Duration: 4 Nov 20158 Nov 2015




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