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EASA is a member of


EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


Anthropologies of art

Location M-225
Date and Start Time 03 August, 2014 at 09:00


Roger Sansi (Universitat de Barcelona) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

The objective of this laboratory is to articulate the Anthropology of Art interest group, recently formed within VANEASA. Instead of a business meeting, we propose a lab as the ideal format for discussing the conceptual and practical issues around the formation of the group.

Long Abstract

The objective of this laboratory is to open the discussion on the activities and objectives of the Anthropology of Art interest group, recently formed within the Visual Anthropology section of EASA (VANEASA). Many members showed interest in the group but we need to articulate its objectives and activities more clearly. Instead of a regular business meeting, we think that the lab is the ideal format for discussing both conceptual and practical issues. For that purpose, the lab will invite short presentations of each of the participant's work and interests, in any format. Rather than a programmatic definition of what the "Anthropology of art" is or should be, the group will be defined by the ensemble of the practices brought to the table by its members. Hence the plural "Anthropologies of Art". From the discussion of each member's work we will move to the discussion on the objectives and activities of the group.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Creativity, ethics, patronage and the anthropologies of art

Authors: Jonas Tinius (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)  email
Alex Flynn (Durham University)  email

Short Abstract

Based on ethnographic fieldwork with state-funded theatre institutions, new performance arts centres, and protest movements in Germany and Brazil, this paper explores the relevance of an anthropological engagement with creativity, ethics, and patronage for this interest group.

Long Abstract

Creativity, ethics, and patronage are not just at the heart of recent transformations in the contemporary German and Brazilian performance arts scene. Anthropological attention to the artistic, social, and political negotiation of these concepts also sheds a different light on a number of fundamental developments in contemporary (European) societies, such as the role of artistic subjectivities in contesting or perpetuating entrepreneurial ethical imperatives, protest movements and agonistic pluralism in contemporary 'democracies', the relation between art patronage and the so-called creative industries.

Art/science: commitment as link between the individual and the social in processes of making knowledge

Author: Sandra Fernandez (UNED)  email

Short Abstract

My research deals with processes of artistic production with diffuse borders between different areas of knowledge such as science and art, on the one hand and, on the other, forms of action and social organization that generate work dynamics based on shared meanings due to commitment processes.

Long Abstract

My research deals with the processes of artistic production in liminal places with diffuse borders between different areas of knowledge such as science, technology, and art, on one hand and, on the other, forms of action and social organization that generate work dynamics based on shared meanings. These practices are generally influenced by the ways free software programming is organized and by the idea of "commons" or public utility. These network relationships, in which the focus is moved away from the artistic object and onto the process, involve a kind of artistic generation that has a very marked political focus, and this provides the opportunity to investigate the spaces of culture as political spaces. My research focuses on an ethnographic analysis of the practical construction of this concrete form of what we call artistic objects in our contemporary urban society. The objective is to understand the relationship of this kind of object and the practices that produce and distribute it with the model of social relations in which it is inserted, as well as the production of political (urban activism) meaning that this relationship generates. Each of these hybrid objects is an epistemic embodiment, a materialized epistemology (Wise 2006), which produces new material realities incorporating ways of understanding knowledge by means of a process of bodily involvement that generates commitment. This knowledge-making process allows relating social relations (Bourriaud 2008) with production dynamics, linking the individual and the social level through the body learning to be affected (Latour 1996).

Researching community art in Poland: notes from the field

Author: Weronika Plinska (University of Warsaw)  email

Short Abstract

During my doctoral research project I have been interested in exploring the role of materiality in managing community art events. I have examined the ways in which material objects, such as artworks and photographs, mediate social agencies of differently situated subjects in a social field.

Long Abstract

I have explored the potential of materiality in creating relationships between humans but also between human and non-human agents. I also looked at the memory of the artistic events.

During fieldwork I focused on the notion of personhood and looked at how it is being crafted through one's participation in a community art project. I was interested in investigating the type of values that are transmitted. I therefore discussed some of the practices of dealing with objections (Mosse 2006) as a way of managing community art projects. The final shape of the project is an issue of renegotiation, as public institutions also aim to take some control over the meanings shared by the 'project community'. I was interested in learning how these reflect on what takes place through collaboration set up in the name of the common good.

Art, craft and aesthetic practice in Oaxacan woodcarving (Mexico)

Author: Alanna Cant (University of Oslo)  email

Short Abstract

My research addresses the village production and circulation of Oaxacan woodcarvings from southern Mexico in order to investigate how aesthetic practices and expectations of artisans and consumers are mediated by the historical, social and material contexts in which people and objects exist.

Long Abstract

My work is focused on Oaxacan woodcarvings which are made for the tourist and ethnic art markets of Mexico and North America. I am interested in how the production and circulation of aesthetic tropes are central to the movement of objects and ideologies of art, and I suggest that aesthetics can be understood anthropologically as an intersubjective practice in which different kinds of actors are engaged. I explore this model ethnographically through the three interrelated themes:

(1) Aesthetic practices: how artisanal production is experienced aesthetically by artisans working in household workshops, and how their understandings of authorship, style and skill are influenced by their participation in tourist and ethnic art economies.

(2) The construction of aesthetic genres: the development of genres in wood carving over time and their relationship to specific artistic forms and markets which I explore through the concepts of practice developed by Pierre Bourdieu and William W. Wood. In particular, I explore how American and Canadian understandings of indigeneity and the form and content of indigenous art have resulted in a new genre of Oaxacan woodcarving, but one that is also 'localized' into more traditional Oaxacan aesthetics of artesanías (craftwork).

(3) The politics of aesthetic practice: how competition, intellectual property claims, and indigenous and national identities are (re)produced through aesthetic practices. I connect this theme to larger debates within anthropology about globalization, the production of value, and the relations of power involved in the production and definition of 'culture.'

Stone carving and tourist arts in Mamallapuram, South India

Author: Sanni Sivonen (University of Eastern Finland)  email

Short Abstract

My research focuses on the Hindu stone carving tradition and its engagement with the international tourist market in Mamallapuram, South India. I am specifically looking at the artistic and religious or spiritual meanings and agency of the sculptures that are made and sold in the tourist market.

Long Abstract

I am currently working on my PhD thesis on the topic of stone carving and tourist arts with religious motifs in Mamallapuram, South India. Mamallapuram is one the stone carving centres of India but also a popular international tourist destination. The town is most famous for its ancient rock-carved monuments and it is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites. In addition, there is an on-going, vibrant stone carving industry that attracts both domestic and foreign visitors. Hundreds of carvers produce mainly sculptures of different Hindu gods and goddesses and their work is based on the age-old Hindu stone carving tradition. Deity sculptures are made for Hindu temples and shrines around the world but also to be sold as souvenirs on the international tourist market in Mamallapuram. The tourist statues are fairly similar to the temple sculptures but usually differ in terms of the stones that are being used, production techniques, size, details and sometimes even iconography. My research focuses on the artistic and religious or spiritual meanings and agency of these tourist sculptures and I am analysing them based on the views of the foreign tourists and local people, mainly stone carvers. In addition, I am also looking at the possible changes that has occured in the Hindu stone carving tradition as a result of tourism in Mamallapuram.

Anthropology, art, evidence: Benjamin Christensen's Häxan and the mastery of the invisible in the human sciences

Author: Richard Baxstrom (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

Irrationality constituted a “legitimizing force” in 19th century human sciences via a purported ability to understand the seeming “nonsense” of “the native” or “the Other.” This claim will be demonstrated via an engagement with the cinematic account of the witch craze in 16th century Europe - Häxan.

Long Abstract

Benjamin Christensen's Häxan (1922) stands as a singular film within the history of cinema. Christensen's "visual thesis" is straightforward: in light of innovations in psychoanalysis and the human and biological sciences, the appearance of witchcraft in Europe during the late Medieval and early modern periods was actually due to undiagnosed manifestations of clinical hysteria and nervous illness. Häxan addresses the empirical mastery of domains such as these consigned to the illogical realm of human social life, a concern that resonates with anthropological concerns regarding non-Western ritual and belief and an empirical method based on experience that would allow field-workers to "see" unknown or irrational forces. I will outline the precursors of these figures as seen in the problem of evidence within the investigation of witchcraft in 16th century Europe, arguing that the problem of establishing proof in reference to the invisible forces that Häxan depicts has durably shaped our modes of investigating human social and cultural life ever since. In short, I argue that the film Häxan, simultaneously a creative and empirical work, must be understood in relation to the fact that from the 19th century forward, human scientists (particularly anthropologists) have privileged the mastery of invisible and irrational forces as a methodological pillar, all the while disavowing the explicitly nonsensical characteristics of the forces under study.

The images of absence

Author: Mantas Kvedaravicius (Vilnius University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper, drawing on the visual fieldwork material from Chechnya, explores the theoretical tension between the claims that consider unrepresentable states of being in terms of ontological absences and the analysis that sees such absences rendered (in)visible by specific modes of representation.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the theoretical tension between the claims that consider unrepresentable states of being in terms of ontological absences and the analysis that sees such absences rendered (in)visible by the specific modes of representation. The paper invites to rethink this tension as the limit of representability of the states of bodily pain and mutilation while drawing on the visual fieldwork material from post-Soviet Chechnya and setting up the dialogue between Jacques Rancière and Alain Badiou.

Jacques Rancière (2007) famously argued that aesthetic regime of modernity, concerned to demonstrate that certain objects, materials, and events are always in excess of the means of artistic expression, is actually producing and dramatizing this excess, while placing it back into materiality of things. Alain Badiou (2001) on the other hand maintained that the singularity of unknown or unthinkable should be understood, not solely as the product of a particular regime of representation, but as a rupture of the consensual situation of subjectification and signification, which demands the rendering of unknown into existent rather than presenting it as unrepresentable.

The paper argues that, while this tension could be employed to examine the political implication for ethnographic representation, the account of body and its states remains inadequate in such discussions. Bringing the images and narratives of torture and disappearance in Chechnya, the paper insist on the need of the specific figuration of words and images that would expose the limits of representability while conveying the bodily states it depicts.

Inter and intra relationships between anthropologists and art practitioners

Author: Giulia Battaglia (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3 )  email

Short Abstract

For this lab, I would like to bring examples from my own work in India and reflect on a possible and yet neglected relationship between contemporary non-linear image-making practices in visual/art/media anthropology, and a similar debate emerging in south Asia amongst artists, filmmakers and scholars.

Long Abstract

For this lab, I would like to contribute to discussions regarding art and anthropology at a practical and theoretical level. In particular, I would like to bring examples from my own work in India and reflect on a possible and yet neglected relationship between contemporary non-linear (or multi-linear) image-making practices in visual/art/media anthropology, and a similar debate emerging in south Asia amongst artists, filmmakers and scholars. In order to do this, I should bring to the floor issues concerning participation, collaboration and multi-modal representations as I raise them in my own practice (Battaglia 2014 forthcoming). Furthermore, I should juxtapose them with up-to-date and cutting-edge multimodal imaging practices existing in South Asia. The latter seeks to create interactive platforms of image-making in which artists, activists, researchers and filmmakers can all interact together making use of texts, images and sound (cf. This exploration will be in line with my current research activities conducted at the Musée du quai Branly, where I investigate possible collaboration and cross-fertilisation amongst various disciplines and art practices.

Drawing as artistic/ethnographic method

Author: Anna Laine (University College of Arts, Craft and Design)  email

Short Abstract

This lab addresses artistic practice as an explorative ethnographic method. It invites the audience to draw designs informed by the South Indian kolam as a means to be grasped by its rhythm and hereby understand embodied aspects of the practice.

Long Abstract

The idea of labs brings forth art as practice, as ongoing performative explorations evolving in interactions between people, places, objects and memories. The proposed collaborative drawing workshop aims to elucidate how explorative participation, emphasized in certain forms of contemporary art practice as well as ethnographic fieldwork, can sensitize the researcher. Through a heightened awareness, it can provide further abilities to grasp and convey experiential knowledge, and it may enhance the capacity to understand notions of aesthetics through social (Bourriaud 2002, MacDougall 2006) and political (Rancière 2004) frameworks.

Anna Laine has studied the kolam practice in South India, transposed it into various materials and employed it in a participatory art project in collaboration with Tamil refugees in London as well as in workshops for students in anthropology and material culture (at Goldsmiths and UCL). In Tallinn, kolam migrates into yet another space and invites you to explore new forms and additional meanings in relation to anthropologies of art.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.