Urban Socio-Archaeology

Using the materials and methods familiar to Archaeologists we surveyed the Urban landscape for clues into the lives of those who made an impact on a particular site. Rather than unearthing/discovering artifacts from the ancient past, we discover artifacts from the recent past, weeks, days, or often only hours previous to our arrival.

We have identified the garden islands of Wal-Mart as an ideal location to gather information regarding the habits of the common American individual.  We believe Wal-Mart to be the ideal site for exploration as it is the largest American retailer, employing more people than any other American institution, second only to the government. One need only look outside the city limit and tax boundaries to arrive at multiple locations ideal for analysis.  Once the location is selected and documented we conduct a site survey of the parking lot. Upon choosing a small garden-island, in close proximity to the entrance/exit for optimal interpersonal dialogue, we set to work dressed in khakis, Birkenstocks, white button-up shirts, and straw hats.

First we demarcate the area we will be collecting artifacts from with orange cones and caution tape.  The area is further divided into sections marked A,B,C and so on, for ease of recording data. These sections are then approached systematically.  Each artifact found is given an identifying alpha numeric blue sticky tape tag which is then relayed through exaggerated vocalization, further drawing attention to the object and task at hand, to the archaeologist recording data.  The sticky tape applied to each artifact ensures that the tag will not become separated from the artifact and also functions to draw additional attention to the artifact itself.  This pattern of marking, identifying, and recording the artifact is repeated until every piece of visible litter is labeled.  By the end, the garden is a sea of blue tape.

Wal-mart digs could happen day or night. We were interested in what a difference it would make in the quality and quantity of viewer interaction, which is our primary interest. Heidi fashioned cigarette butts out of unfired earthenware clay. Using non-toxic water based material they are painted to resemble a squashed butt. These are offered to any curious onlooker or Walmart associate that takes the time to speak with us. Thus we have an opportunity to simultaneously discuss sculpture, litter, performance art and consumerism. We explain that our sculptures can never be litter for long, as they would decay quickly in the elements.

The artifacts found were displayed at the Ogelsby Union Art gallery housed in handmade wooden cases on the wall. They were accompanied with photos from our digs and documentation of the litter artifacts found. This was expressed in tables and pie charts divided by site and by material. Quotes from some of our interactions were on display as well as a video montage of several digs. The piece de resistance was a diorama of a painted Wal-Mart façade with a sunset sky over a sculpted parking lot complete with small scale shoppers, cars, carts and us. Miniature cones and caution tape around a little garden patch, one of us with a notepad and the other crouched down to tag an artifact. The ground was littered (pun intended) with little blue bits to represent our labeling process. It looked as much as possible like a museum installation.