Uncovered: earth as archive

Though largely invisible, the earth the our city sits on serves as an important witness to – and archive of – the development of the city, its politics and culture.

This ongoing project visualises, in aggregate, over ten years of excavations in Melbourne’s city centre. It examines the cyclical remaking of the city’s subsurface and offers a counter-image of the city; the buildings peeled back, raw earth revealed. Sitting adjacent to the map of ‘holes’ is a destination: one of the city’s spoil treatment facilities. Recently, an existing landfill was extended to house the troubled spoil from the West Gate Tunnel project. Excavated earth is deposited here, then categorised, placed in new taxonomies and formations. Spoil infrastructure such as this facility highlights the role of spoil in the contemporary city – at once vulnerable and at-risk, and volatile. This is a type of ‘queer geology’.

Repeat excavations, combined with the accretion and relocation of spoil over time renders the city’s surface a record or archive of the city. Encoded in the human- and machine-made strata are the knowledge, technologies and politics of the city.  And though lacking the heroics, craft or cultural values attributed to other excavated materials that make the city – for example stone or brick – spoil and fill remain mobile, animated. Unlike those materials though, spoil and fill are an unsteady geological material that the city makes from, and for, itself. This animation attempts to cast them as ‘vital’Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things elements of – and contributors to – the materiality of the city. 

Virginia Mannering, Uncovered: Earth as Archive, animation with soundscape, 2022