ASA14: Anthropology and Enlightenment

(P52)

Art, politics, ethnography

Location Chrystal Macmillan Building, Seminar Room 1
Date and Start Time 20 June, 2014 at 11:00

Convenor

Roger Sansi (Universitat de Barcelona) email
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Summary

The aim of this panel is to move the discussion forward on the relation between anthropology and art, by focusing more specifically on how ethnography is used as a political device in art interventions and art activism, and how art activism, practice and theory can inform anthropological practice.

Long Abstract

At the dusk of the Enlightenment, Friedrich Schiller famously declared that we arrive at freedom through beauty. Inspired by Kant and the French Revolution, Schillers' aesthetic utopia starts from the notion that through the aesthetic judgment we learn to relate to objects in the world free of need and interest. Aesthetics is the foundation of an education into the 'common', as a transcendent goal that is not limited to individual will, passion, prejudice or need. The contemporary philosopher Jacques Rancière affirms that from the Enlightenment to contemporary artistic practices, art has consisted in constructing spaces and relations that reconfigure materially and symbolically the territory of the common. How can we address this "territory of the common"? Ethnography seems like as an obvious answer; there's nothing surprising in the popularity of ethnographic methods amongst contemporary artists. In this panel, we want to move forward the discussion on the relation between Anthropology and art practice, including politics into the equation. We want to focus more specifically on how ethnography is used as a political device in public art processes and art activism, and reciprocally, what can anthropologists learn from these artistic uses of ethnography. In spite of the reference to Rancière, this panel will not focus on this author; we want to invite papers on the ethnography of art projects in general, and contributions on how art activism, practice and theory can inform anthropological practice.

Chair: Isaac Marrero

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Ethnographic conceptualism: gift/knowledge relations at the exhibition of gifts to Soviet leaders

Author: Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov (Higher School of Economics, St Petersburg)  email

Summary

This paper discusses methodological and aesthetic implications of using conceptual art projects as tools of research into this art’s multiple audiences. What kind of interventions and ethnographic experiments are such projects? What kind of exchanges they perform, and what kind of exchanges they describe?

Long Abstract

"Ethnographic conceptualism" refers not merely to the use of ethnographic methods in contemporary art but also, conversely, to ethnography conducted as art. It takes its cue from "conceptualism" that creates art objects out of concepts as well as out of audiences and their reaction to these objects, and it adds an important research dimension to this relationship. This paper's case in point is the exhibition of gifts to Soviet leaders (Kremlin Museum, Moscow, 2006). It focuses on audience's reactions to this exhibition that ranged from comments in the viewers' response book to a decision of the Kremlin Museum to gift a copy of the exhibition catalogue to President Vladimir Putin. The goal of this paper is to reflect on the "territory of the common" that this exhibition chartered as well as produced — on the complex space of museum politics in post-Soviet Moscow. In contrast with currently prevailing linguistic and object-centred analyses of these "territories of the common", this paper approaches this space through the lens of exchange theory, linking the gift as the exhibition topic to the exchanges that it generated. Its goal is to demonstrate how relations of knowledge, which configure this complex post-Soviet audience in the form of social memory, perform the gift; and vice versa how gift-giving performs these relations of knowledge and power. In doing so, this article contributes from a new angle to the gift theory and also to the anthropological understanding of performativity.

How to decorate the interior of an ethnographic episteme

Author: Alberto Corsin Jimenez (Spanish National Research Council (CSIC))  email

Summary

The paper describes a collaborative project between anthropologists, artists and architects in developing an open-source urban pedagogy. Open-sourcing the ethnographic method, it is suggested, makes it confront its epistemics as an architectural and interior design challenge.

Long Abstract

This paper describes a collaborative research project we are currently developing with two architectural and art collectives, Basurama and Zuloark, in Madrid. Originally conceived as a conceptual workshop for thinking through the challenges of open-source architectural and urban projects, the platform has since expanded into a 'prototype' for experimental urbanism at large. Thus, over the past two years the project has mutated and migrated, in form and space. Our platform has been recruited by, or enlisted to a variety of initiatives: as a training workshop on do-it-yourself architectural techniques

for Madrid Occupy assemblies; as a 'citizens panel' to help City Hall consult on matters of participatory urbanism; or as a grassroots urban interventionist project at an art centre. The collaborative project has therefore become a prototype - a boundary object in permanent 'beta' - for intervening in and through the experimental fabric of the urban condition. The paper reflects on the latest form the project has assumed when turned into an itinerant academic seminar on boundary-experiments in the city. Under the name, 'Taking critique out for a walk', the seminar, which took place in the open air

at various squares and sites in Madrid throughout the spring of 2013, offers a privilege vantage point from which to explore the contemporary status of anthropological experimentation as itself a project in the interior decoration of epistemes.

Ethnographies of the artistic device

Author: Roger Sansi (Universitat de Barcelona)  email

Summary

The concept of "device" is pervasive both in the social science and in contemporary art. In the field of art, the notion of "device" often implies a mechanism of political action. In this paper I will discuss some artistic "devices", how they work, and which notions of politics they articulate.

Long Abstract

The concept of "device" is pervasive both in the social sciences, from post-structuralism to actor-network theory, and in contemporary artistic practice.It is so widely used that sometimes it is difficult to understand what in means. In fact, the problem is that many different things/events ( everything?) can be described as a device.But the contention of this paper is that this is not a reason to abandon the concept. The pervasiveness of the device, on the opposite, may be a sign of our times, that we ( anthropologists) have to address ethnographically. In the field of art, the notion of "device" often implies a mechanism that induces to political action. In this paper I will discuss some artistic "devices", how they work, and which notions of politics they articulate.

Walking the borderland: artistic interventions in rural Germany

Author: Ragnhild Freng Dale (University of Cambridge)  email

Summary

How do artists position themselves to intervene in social life? This paper explores how artists in rural northern Germany cast themselves in an ambiguous role to make community-building interventions. It also casts a light back on the practice of ethnographic research to ask what crossings exist.

Long Abstract

For theatre scholar and director Eugenio Barba, the artist is someone who deliberately places herself at the margins of society to practice her art. This reflexive positioning of the self as both partaking in and observing the social world resembles the role of the anthropologist during fieldwork, but with a different desired outcome: to intervene in and have effects on social life. Following a group that places themselves in this tradition, I examine how theatre artists in rural Germany self-craft a role as Grenzgänger (someone who traverses and walks along borders) to intervene in communities along the Polish border. Their community-building efforts are attempts to ease the region's fragmentation and immigrant hostility, and their modes of intervention range from building new grassroots alliances to making art that engages with the historical background of the region, whilst simultaneously following their own artistic and personal needs. Their practice, I suggest, invites a series of questions in the encounter with ethnographic research. What, if anything, is the effect of this social participation, and how does the act of positioning the self affect the kind of understanding gained? Researching this through the lens of artists actively engaged in transforming the world around them gives a space to explore how different approaches to research blend in the field, and what can be learnt from both sides of the borderland.

“It really helped me to take a good look at myself”: exploring the transformative and politically meaningful power of arts-based research with HIV positive men and women

Authors: Treena Orchard (University of Western Ontario)  email
Tricia Smith  email
Warren Michelow (University of British Columbia)  email

Summary

Using qualitative data from a body mapping project with HIV positive men and women in two Canadian cities, this paper explores the innovative theoretical and methodological contributions this arts-based approach offers ethnographers seeking to use art in their research design and practice.

Long Abstract

Art has long been a powerful vehicle for political mobilization and social change, perhaps most notably during the early era of HIV/AIDS when it was a vital tool in the expression of identity politics, recognition of sexual and human rights, and the fight for equitable access to HIV medications. Despite the critical role played by art and arts-based activism during these years, comparatively little attention has been paid to the relationship between arts-based research and the HIV movement today. This paper addresses this research gap by exploring the transformative and politically meaningful power of body mapping, an arts-based research approach that involves the creation of life-sized body maps to communicate participants’ experiences, identities, and emotional aspirations related to living with HIV/AIDS. This methodology, along with individual interviews, was employed in our qualitative exploration of gender and the body among poly-substance using HIV-positive men who have sex with men (n=5) and women (n=6) in two Canadian cities. Data were analyzed through critical medical anthropology, art therapy, and feminist geography theoretical frameworks, which provide a novel inter-disciplinary approach to conceiving of the body as a creative and emotive touchstone of human experience. This paper examines three themes that illuminate how body mapping represented a conduit for self-actualization; a stepping stone towards greater involvement in the HIV movement; and personally transformative research experiences among our participants. We conclude with a discussion of how our findings can inform the development of more rigorous arts-based theory and practice in contemporary ethnographic research.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.