Michael Shanks’ wonderful Metamedia site was host both to the AHRC Landscape and Environment Network that I ran with Jo Carruthers (Piccini_investigatorsreport_final[1]) and to my 2009 fieldwork notes from my time in Vancouver before the 2010 Games. As the Stanford team sought to consolidate its work, it archived some of these older projects. I want to include the Olympics archive material in its raw state here:


This page will be a working space for research undertaken while resident in Vancouver from Jan-Aug 09. I am a Visiting Scholar at UBC, based in both the Centre for Cinema Studies and the Department of Anthropology. I am grateful to UBC and my colleagues there for their support. These months represent the final research period of my RCUK Fellowship at University of Bristol. Send me an email if you wish to contact me about any of the above: a.a.piccini AT bristol.ac.uk. I’m also Skypeable…. And I’ve wound up falling into Twittering on all of this (search my name) and sharing web content via F/book. My activities fall in to the following areas:

N.B. This working site out of date by about a month. Also requires reorganising to reflect current state of research. But priority between now (12 July) and return to UK (20 Aug) is finishing interviews and other writing, so this space has to continue in this scrappy form.

The headline summary of this research: While on research leave I am looking at Vancouver filmmaking practices that are in conversation with the 2010 Olympic context. These might be moving image practices that are produced/commissioned/acquired through 2010-related funding or works that are in some way about the Games and the city. I am specifically interested in how Vancouver is mapped, marked and enacted through the moving image – with a focus on different conceptual-aesthetic regimes and production contexts. So, I’m not looking at sport, per se, but at how this specific mega-event engages with and produces experiences of the city space via the moving image.


From January I will begin research into the ways in which television and the internet mediatises archaeological heritage to produce the City of Vancouver as an Olympic City. This is part of my wider work on archaeology and the media. The next 9 months will also see me writing up a couple of conference papers on this subject and preparing a draft monograph on contemporary archaeological imaginations on screen.

The definition of ‘archaeology’ that I work with is in keeping with recent departures from the traditional idea that it studies the past through the medium of material things. Instead, I am interested in how material traces have residual afterlives in living communities (following Lynn Meskell at the ASA conference). Those afterlives are enacted variously, and are entangled with policy, power and control networks. It is a matter of archaeology both in and of the world, which calls for practices that acknowledge the fact that ‘archaeology’ is always-already reliant on co-production. Participation and collaboration have attracted much academic attention across the arts, humanities and social sciences and are ideas that run to the heart of popular Web 2.0 rhetoric. It is an important ethical move, which can all too easily be flattened. Archaeology as a stance in the world attempts to work through relationships among human and non-human actors in order to maintain some sense of the unknowability of fundamental otherness. And yet, I need to remain alive to specific cultural context. Here in Vancouver archaeology is still seen to be about the traces of ‘the past’, where pastness is left other than it is not-now-ness. The kind of contemporary archaeologies that we practice in the UK do not grab people’s imaginations here. That has something to do with the political stakes of archaeology here. First Nations archaeology is still seen as distinct from Historical Archaeology. There are both good and not-so-good reasons for this, but I am an incomer and don’t wish to set myself up as a critic of that structure. The point is that most people I speak with see archaeology as distinct from cultural heritage or contemporary material culture. So, there is a need to reframe this as more of an archaeo-graphy? Will material culture and urban space make more sense to people? By focusing on the 2010 Games I am keen to work with many communities to think through the contemporary relevance of archaeological heritage as it is co-produced via screen media practices.

The research focuses on the many ways in which Vancouver’s built environment is presented across a range of screen media practices in the run-up to the 2010 Vancouver/Whistler Winter Olympic Games. That means I’m looking at everything from activist documentaries to social and independent media to the official representations from CTV and Vanoc. I’m interested in the kinds of locations, buildings and artefacts that are used to construct a sense of the city as an Olympic space. This obviously touches on a number of issues from Vancouver as Coast Salish territory to questions about gentrification and displacement of peoples. It also grapples with how Vancouver is ‘framed’ – in terms of documentary practice, which locations are being chosen, how are they composed, who is asked to participate and so on. This research combines ‘conventional’ survey research that leads to writing with my own documentary practice that explores relationships between fact, fiction and archive.

Where some may see this work in the context of ‘representation’ and ‘ideology’ – and I refer above to the mediatisation of archaeology – I am especially interested in how media technologies actually propel and enact what we come to understand as heritage. There is no such thing as ‘archaeology’ out there. It is a co-production that relies on specific, material relationships – especially relationships (networks) among media. It emerges from the specific, yet multiple and shifting relationships among the local TV and documentary film landscapes; individual reporters and filmmakers; Olympic organisers and anti-Olympic activists; First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities and multicultural settlers; traditional media practitioners and social media advocates; museum curators, archivists and tourism offices.

Because I seem to appear to people as stateless, or British, and because of the always-present politics of entering situations as a ‘researcher’ there are various things that require succinct statements and public reflexivity. While I do not necessarily hold that biographical information amounts to research reflexivity, it seems appropriate in this research context:

1) I was born in Vancouver and lived in the city til 1991, when I was 23. My father came on a ship from Italy in 1956 and worked as a broke beater up in the mill at Ocean Falls and as a navvy on the CPR before beginning a successful career in bars (The Inquisition, The Cave, The Penthouse, The Villa, The Airport Inn). My mother came from Chile in 1948 and worked as a secretary for years before the 1980s recession and illness put her out of work. She was involved in SPEC (Society Promoting Environmental Conservation) in its first years in the 1960s and in early Greenpeace actions, but disliked the politics of most organisations. She was a very active member of her downtown Vancouver co-op from 1988-2002 and was an extremely proficient electrician, plumber and fixer-upper. I went to 8 different schools and lived in 8 different houses/apartments (a downward move from Kerrisdale to East Van to Marpole to downtown), moving around a lot due to our economic circumstances.

2) I left to do an MA in Archaeology in the UK, in order to pursue what I thought would turn into a career making documentary television. I failed to realise then that I should simply have got a job as a runner and by the time I discovered that, I had debts to repay.

3) And they gave me money to do a PhD so I became an academic, but that has given me some space and resource to develop different kinds of documentary practice that sit between doc/art + fact/fiction. I wound up watching too many TV archaeo-historic documentaries for my PhD and other research so I find it difficult to enjoy them now.

4) This 2010 project allows me to revisit the city and consider it in terms of a UK-engendered archaeological imagination. What happens to a city when you consider its built environment and material culture from an archaeological and documentary practice perspective, rather than through the various lenses of geography, architecture, social policy and so on?

5) This is also an attempt to make the familiar strange and vice versa. I feel the city in my bones and muscles. I know how to get around and which of the one-way streets will get me to bridges or avoid jams. I am guilty of simply taking the Downtown East Side at face value as it just always seemed to be part of my landscape, whether as a child walking with my mother and volunteering at what were then called soup kitchens, or as a teenager shopping in the second-hand stores and going to galleries and gigs. I only notice the mountains when there’s a particularly fine sunrise/set. Instead, it’s the muffled sound of crows and ravens when it rains and the seaplane engines that remind me that I am of this place. I’ve re-discovered my old running practice, too, so am gulping in the city in great lungfuls of moist sea-air.

6) My project isn’t really an anthropology project and I can be easily criticised for being interested in how the traces of people – buildings, litter, curbs – make the city as much as the people do themselves. My politics are disorganized but I do have a commitment to communities’ self-determination and to critical engagement. My involvement with Brislington Neighbourhood Partnership (www.brislington.org) occupies the difficult space between independence and working with the very systems that we might oppose. This is inconsistent and emergent but aims to remain alive to change and collective responsibility.

7) I am interested in diverse groups across the city who specifically tackle the 2010 olympics through a focus on place/space/heritage. This obviously touches on different First Nations issues as this is Coast Salish territory. It also collides with questions about homelessness and poverty. It definitely engages with discourse around the DTES as a woefully ignored historic landscape and living place. The work also returns me to social media – and Vancouver is teeming with video journalists and social media companies and charities. The project needs to discuss diasporic, settler communities of all kinds. Their Vancouver heritages – whether the disappeared Italians of Commercial Drive, or the slow decline of Chinatown, or the erosion of Ukrainian culture on South Main – tend to be ignored in the march of gentrification and demolition.

8) Although my research does not involve human subjects, as such (according to the definitions set out by University of Bristol), I aim to comply with the university’s research ethics policy. I am committed to sharing interview notes and any other materials generated with communities and individuals, prior to any form of dissemination. This means that information continues to be owned by contributors and that any subsequent use by me in any format needs to be negotiated on a case-by-case basis. Participants are free to withdraw from this process at any time.

How are different communities’ screen practices – from broadcast TV to Florence Debeugny’s video installation about Maillardville at the Evergreen Cultural Centre – making the city, right now? And to what extent are these activities informed by, or are in response to, 2010?

So far, we were greeted at the airport by the 2010 Winter Olympic Games logo, which uses the Inukshuk that was donated to Vancouver in 1987 by the Inuit people of the Northwest Territories following Vancouver’s Expo ’86. In other words, nothing to do with Vancouver or with Lower Mainland First Nations communities, but a highly recognisable image of Canada’s indigenous cultures. Most conversation about the Games is overshadowed by the economic chaos rocketing through the nations.

‘If it hadn’t been for the full support of the Four Host First Nations in our bid, we likely wouldn’t be talking about Vancouver 2010 today.” – Jack Poole, VANOC Board Chairman

The plan for Jan-March was to get to as much of the Cultural Olympiad as possible: [link]. There’s a huge amount of performing arts work happening (112). Only a couple of film-related things: the film festival theatre is screening films about hockey and its place in the Canadian national psyche and in Whistler Village there are 2 nights of outdoor screenings of sports-related films, projected on to a screen made of ice; ContaineR – the shipping container showing sporting films outside the public library downtown. Lots of outdoor, mixed-media things too. But surprisingly few aboriginal contributions, which I’ll need to explore. Among the reasons are protests against the Olympic commodification of aboriginal culture and land, financial/cultural/social exclusion of First Nations communities from the Olympic discourse, lack of interest, feelings of lack of relevance, the use of ‘native’ as an Olympic brand rather than living urban communities.


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