EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006

(W068)

Corporeal vision

Location Biol B37
Date and Start Time 21 Sep, 2006 at 11:30

Convenors

Rupert Cox (Manchester University) email
Christopher Wright (Goldsmiths College, University of London) email
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Short Abstract

Vision is inextricably connected to hearing, touch, smell... This workshop will explore a range of connections between vision and other senses, and trace their implications for developing new practices in visual anthropology.

Long Abstract

'The image does not explain: it invites one to recreate it and, literally, to relive it.' Octavio Paz Paz reminds us that vision is corporeal - it is inextricably connected to other senses, hearing, touch, smell... Vision is visceral and, as Roy Wagner has argued for Melanesian visual worlds, the image has to be experienced in order to be understood - it cannot be adequately reduced to verbal (or written) descriptions. In this light the term visual anthropology is something of a misnomer, and the sub-discipline should be understood as a practice that needs to take full account of the sensual turn recently advocated by some anthropologists.

This workshop will explore a range of connections between vision and other senses, and trace their implications for developing new practices in visual anthropology. Connecting vision to other senses in this way suggests that both the methodological approaches employed, and the artefacts that result from them, need to be explored in the light of what David MacDougall has recently called the corporeal image. We would like to invite presentations of work in a variety of media, accompanied by short papers, or introduced by their creators. The aim will be to use this 'sensory turn' as a way of rethinking the practice and theoretical implications of visual anthropology.

Papers

Skilled visions

Author: Cristina Grasseni (Utrecht University)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper underlies the social and corporeal dimensions of the ways people actually use their eyes, situating vision in a scenario of everyday skilled activities. Consequently, it reconsiders the critique of visualism with the aim of pursuing a rehabilitation of vision. There is no "vision" as such but there are professional, aesthetic, ecstatic, sensual and erotic exercises of vision as a skilled and highly social activity.

The social, political and technical relevance of visual training is witnessed not only in professional realms such as scientific and medical practice; the notion of skilled visions, in the plural, refers to the locality and plurality of embodied visual practice in relation the role of gestuality, of apprenticeship and of social roles.

It is suggested that visual anthropology considers new analytic practices to develop an "anthropology of vision", which goes beyond phenomenology and reflexivity to reconsider the social and material constitution of vision as part of an ecology of practice. These include, amongst the examples I wish to quote (from my own work as well as that of other anthropologists and professionals of other disciplines): an analysis of cultural movements as proposed in cultural kinesics (Carpitella, Putti); the development of "art-kits", ie "activators" of awareness as to the ways in which we look at contemporary art installations; apprenticeship in different kinds of "professional vision" (Goodwin, Grasseni).

'From the visual to the visible and back again': re-formations of the subject in Japanese Zen practice

Author: Rupert Cox (Manchester University)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper will use a short documentary film made by the author, to reflect upon the limits and possibilities of a practice based visual anthropology for investigating questions of representation. The issue to be addressed concerns the use of visual and aural technologies by Zen communities in Japan as part of their attempts to create a structured yet sensuous environment as well as pictorial models for learning through the body.

The modern and popular assertion that practice and appreciation of Zen in Japan should ideally culminate in a physical state that is beyond representation, the spiritually enlightened condition of 'nothingness', (mu-shin) raises epistemological and ontological questions about the role of the body in the use of these visual technologies and their relation to the rich pictorial traditions of Zen art. The paradox is that while in philosophical terms, emptiness is a condition that cannot properly be visibly or audibly represented, which is defined precisely by a total absence of formal or material properties and the negation of the self, nevertheless, image making practices and the creation of a space of and for the body are for participants a central aspect of the teaching and learning of Zen. I attempt to understand this image world through a related but distinct embodied practice, that is by actively participating in it and turning a sensuous engagement into representational forms that aim to show how visual media such as film and photography can be used in creative ways, as more than a subject of study or as a visible documentary record; to respond to and critically reflect upon the visual and aural conventions of a complex process of subject formation.

A Sense of Things

Author: Andrew Irving (University of Manchester)  email
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Long Abstract

Reality, and corpo-reality, are generally understood as those things that we can access through vision, taste, touch, hearing and smell within Aristotle's five-fold classification of sense that forms the basis of western models of perception. Meanwhile, our senses, perceptions and experiences of the world are largely formed through movement, which is the primary means through which we encounter the materiality and textures of our surroundings. Accordingly a sense of self is produced through the combination of movement, our different sensory modalities and the materiality of the world insofar as tools, objects and landscapes not only allow us to orientate the body-in-place but also create a sense of the body's existential continuity through time by their seeming ability to remain constant and transcend temporal differentiation. However, movement and physical decay also displace senses of continuity and simultaneously create the possibility for sensing and experiencing new perspectives, discontinuous selves and different forms of being.

If the senses are constituted as a type of corporeal 'presence' obtained through movement then we must also consider the negation of sense and sensation through the absence of material artefacts in our corporeal lives and what this symbolises in relation to people's senses of self and identity (likewise when the senses are compromised or through a lack or restriction of movement). Accordingly this paper explores different kinds of corporeal absence, material disembodiment and creative methodology whereby the body is 'made strange' and denaturalised within everyday life and practice, for example through illness, art and the imagination, in pursuit of a better understanding of Post-Cartesian bodies and their relationships with the material world.

Dance: more than a moving image?

Author: Felicia Hughes-Freeland (SOAS)  email
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Long Abstract

Dance dramatises the problem of vision and corporeality. In the social sciences, scholars have attempted to resolve the problem by overcoming the Cartesian 'mind-body' dichotomy, and have often over-emphasised the materiality of the body as a result. This paper draws on longstanding research into particular dances and asks how much visible physical gestures constitute the sum of the image. It will argue that shared knowledge based on social identity makes 'seeing' dance a matter of embodied participation, but dance discourses convert the physical image through a complex process of metaphorization into a sign of transcendent disembodiment. This has implications for how we conceptualize 'image'.

Dear Chris and Rupert,

The proposal draws on Javanese material I have referred to before, but reflects my arguments in my latest manuscript. I can expand it if you are interested.

Felicia

Reef Islands revisited: corporeality, sound, and ethnographic film

Author: Peter Ian Crawford (UiT - The Arctic University of Norway)  email
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Long Abstract

The Reef Islands Ethnographic Film Project was started in 1994 by Peter I. Crawford and the Danish anthropologist Jens Pinholt. The idea was to work closely together with two neighbouring communities, one Papuan-speaking the other Polynesian, on the visual documentation of 'kastom', in the Reef Islands of Temotu Province (Solomon Islands). One of the films produced so far was on the death and funeral of a paramount chief. In late 2005 Peter I Crawford revisited the Reef Islands and the close family of the deceased paramount chief to give them a copy of the film. They reacted in a very corporeal way by insisting on performing a new kind of music that did not exist in the Reef Islands when the film had been shot in 1996. The presentation discusses different forms of expression based on a short film on the visit.