EASA2012: Uncertainty and disquiet
Nanterre University, France, 10/07/2012 – 13/07/2012
Confronting uncertainty: imagination in art and material culture
Date and Start Time 12 Jul, 2012 at 11:30
The workshop on art and material culture - as major cultural, economic, and political phenomena - addresses the dynamics of uncertainty and imagination for shaping good life. Three topics should be debated: collecting; imagination in art and design; which aesthetics in the present globalized world.
Uncertainty and mobility are, in the contemporary world dominated by neoliberal capital, two notions which have been elevated to new qualities in the shaping of the individual's future life-worlds. They nevertheless create fears regarding the shaping of one's "good life". Societies were and are imaginative in order to confront such sensations and aspirations. Among the many cultural elements so created, material culture was early recognized by anthropologists as means for the development of human societies and the shaping of life. Particular objects, as loci of imagination and aesthetic attention, were considered powerful images for influencing the lives of people - they also became objects of collecting, and entered Western museums as art. Today, collecting art and material culture are important phenomena for individual collectors, as well as for cultural, economic and political regimes.
Focusing on the dynamics of uncertainty and imagination in the shaping of "good life", the workshop wishes to debate the following questions:
• The role of private and public collecting;
• Imagination in art and design of everyday material culture;
• Which aesthetics in art and material culture under present world conditions.
Chair: Thoma Fillitz / Paul van der Grijp
This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.
The anthropological significance of posters in a multimedia age
Posters as products of material culture publicly displayed for general social interest or commercial purposes often have an important artistic feature able to capture particularities of the era or social landscape in which they arise
The expansion of media and multimedia seems to cause a decrease in the impact of classic posters. However, due to financial reasons, but also to some important cultural factors, we cannot yet imagine an ad campaign which wouldn't rely on poster display. The main components of the poster - static image and impact text - have, due to simplicity of the stimuli, an increased persistence in individual and collective cultural representations. Posters have a distinctive identity in physical space as opposed to most of new multimedia 'virtual' advertising.
To discuss the poster as a representative product, endowed with sufficient information to provide us an interpretative framework on its cultural background, does not constitute a new approach, but it is certainly a less explored one, especially in a cross-cultural comparative manner. Comparative method, established by anthropology, has the advantage of inducing a holistic perspective, able to draw valid elements of analysis that can be used to compose adequate patterns every time we interact with products of a specific culture.
Nowadays advertising is used not only as means to promote products, but also to raise awareness to several global causes and concerns, such as AIDS, pollution or smoking. My research focuses on a comparative analysis of some of the "no smoking" European campaigns, illustrating the way classic advertising can have significant impact by associating in a creative (artistic) manner a general interest topic with various local cultural issues.
Donations from private collections to public museums
The future of private collections depends on the life spans of their owners. The latter may deal with this uncertainty by donating their collection to a public museum before or, by will, after their own death. Museums, however, are not always eager to accept such donations.
This paper is about the relation between private and public collectors. This relation is asymmetrical because private collectors are individuals, sometimes couples, and public collectors are institutions. We could also speak about individual versus institutional collectors, although it is individuals within institutions who take decisions about the extension and other vicissitudes of collections. In the cases of contemporary, modern and ancient art, popular art, tribal art, and other aesthetic forms of material culture public collectors are usually museums. Characteristic for private collections is their dependence from and uncertainty of the life span of their initiator. In most cases a fundamental break occurs when the latter dies. Public collections, however, continue their existence in spite of the death - or the retirement or transfer - of their initiator or administrator (director or curator). Via a donation of their collection to a museum, disquiet private collectors can deal with this uncertainty and may extend the life span of their collection far beyond the limit of their own death. Such a donation, however, may result in another uncertainty since museums, in view of accompanying conditions imposed by private collectors, are not always eager to accept entire collections.
Is this still a window? The cultural life of double-glazed window
The most visible element of the recent Romanian “rejuvenations” of urban and rural landscapes seems to be the domestic environment, especially the double-glazed windows replacing the classic wooden-framed windows. Turned into an article of consumption, the window became the geometrical place of modernisation and emerging aesthetics.
During the last decade Romania has been frenetically experiencing a reconfiguration of urban and rural landscapes. The most visible element of these "rejuvenations" seems to be, as in most ex-socialist Eastern countries, the domestic environment (Humphrey 2002, Fehervary 2002, Drazin 2009). If, for the rural environment "the rustic seems to be the most recent statement of taste and distinction" (Mihailescu 2011) for the urban landscape, the double-glazed windows replacing the classic wooden-framed windows may be considered a similar statement. At the same time a series of other artefacts leave the domestic space: window curtains - replaced with vertical blinds - or the old and massive chandeliers, frequently replaced with spotlights that turn homes into a type of exhibition halls. The domestic material culture integrates this artefact with such enthusiasm that it has already lead to the occurrence of at least two lexical derivatives regarding specific materiality: double-glazification, double-glazity. Tudora (2009) shows that recent preferences of Bucharest inhabitants are driven either by a minimal functionalism or by the tradition of stodgy eclectism. The window, an important but common accessory of local households for decades, turned into an article of consumption overnight and became the geometrical place of modernisation (through the idea of comfort and not only). I will illustrate the configuration of the double-glazed window as a contradictory cultural object, as it embodies a desirable modernity in terms of comfort and emerging aesthetics, but also the way in which it becomes a contaminated object, polluting entire contexts through its simple presence.
The image of the City: David Adjaye's Urban Africa photographic journey
The paper discusses the production of a visual discourse concerning African urbanity and presents the possible political and economic effects of its social circulation.
Debates regarding African urbanity, as Garth Myers notes, are obscured by Western discourses. The problem with these is that they are unable to conceive the 'other', to put it in James Ferguson's terms, 'as an inseparable other-who-is-also-oneself to whom one is bound'. The so called 'Africa talk' is rather instrumental, serving as a mediator for the articulation of the Western political subject (Achille Mbembe). In this paper, I focus on the practices related to David Adjaye's project, British architect born in Tanzania, entitled 'Urban Africa - A Photographic Journey'; more precisely, I will take a look at the process of photographing the cityscapes, exhibiting the photos and presenting the project. The scope is to grasp the discourses embedded and articulated by this practices and see how, or if it overcomes or strengthens the 'shadow' laid over the continent. Methodologically, I am concentrating on materials accessible on the Internet: press clippings, video interviews, mini-biographies and available photography. This type of analysis comes along with certain epistemic limits but it can still offer valid, useful and interesting insights of the ready-to-hand visual discourse.
Confronting success: film narratives of social contestation
In this paper, I propose to explore some particular audiovisual examples in order to consider the relevance of art, mainstream films and material culture in confronting uncertainty and both exposing social disenchantment and promoting active contestation.
The notion of "good life" appears in many different times and contexts as the epitome of a brighter future, a path to social success and a way of personal fulfilment. However, such notion is always shaped under specific narrative forms, where material culture -and specifically art- has played a prominent role. Hence, films, due to their extraordinary capacity of penetration into diverse and massive audiences, have been often selected as the preferred vehicle for materializing such expectations and narratives.
Nevertheless, we can notice that art and film are (and have been) also used as a device for the exposure of uncertainty, disenchantment or broken hopes. In material culture, visions of contestation and dissent do face and challenge images of success and "good life". Nowadays, when public contestations to the economic crisis and the dominant neoliberal thought fills all range of graphic and audiovisual media, it is a particularly good time to analyze concrete examples of how disappointment, failure but also contestation are displayed and narrated.
In this presentation, I propose to use some particular examples of Spanish films as empirical repertoire for considering the relevance of art, mainstream films and material culture in confronting uncertainty and both exposing social discontent and promoting active contestation.
Forms, imaginary and identity: some material culture dynamics of the Kanak tombs
This paper will show how kanak people impose their own cultural imaginary on tombs that are bought on the Nouméa market. Subject to little aesthetic modifications, the tombs are reinterpreted through their symbolic construction during the ritual which thus inserts them into local representations.
Among the kanaks (New-Caledonia), tombstones, which have recently been introduced into local material culture, have become culturally invested objects that are central in the making of one's good life because of their connection with the ancestors, who constantly help the livings. They are however not made locally, nor much personalized. Therefore, this paper will show how an item that is not the product of local design can still end up being considered as a traditional artifact ("objet coutumier" in local French) and imbedded in local imaginary. After having developed the imaginary focused on the tomb, I will show the very limited aesthetic modifications of the item that those representations might sometimes imply. To understand how this item came to be so culturally invested and yet little personalized, I will analyze the place of the tomb in the funerary ritual. This will reveal how, by symbolically constructing the tomb during a ritual cycle of one year, the kanak substitute to the actual fabrication of the item a symbolic one, giving it a "ritual biography" that is the key of the tombstone reappropriation. Finally, by comparing briefly the institutionalization of the tombstone meaning through ritual with the one that the "chaîne opératoire" achieves, I will try to explain why the ritual biography can't make some ambiguities of the item disappear, that tend to surface when the kanak take a reflexive posture and speak about themselves to those they want to differ from : the caldoches and metropolitans.
"Everyone can be a collector": contemporary art scenes in Istanbul
Anthropological approaches to the art market are tested with new data from Istanbul. In this boom-town of contemporary art in the wake of the Istanbul Bienal, contemporary art has become a lifestyle marker in a goldrush economy.
Anthropological approaches to the art market are tested in this paper. Fresh data from Istanbul - boom-town of contemporary art in the wake of the corporate-funded Istanbul Bienal - are presented. Several interviews with relevant players in Istanbul's contemporary art scenes are tried against Andrea Fraser's analysis that not a country's wealth, but the difference in wealth furthers the art market.
Istanbul's contemporary art scenes are dominated by large family holdings, who run museums and art schools as well. Numerous visitors flock to blockbuster shows, and love to be "seen and scene" at the Modern Café. Turkish Contemporary, a label for some years now, is auctioned at Sotheby's London, and an office has already been established in Turkey's prime city - a further homogenization of the global market-place is advanced. As both old and new elites compete for promising works, contemporary art has become a lifestyle marker in a quickly developing goldrush economy.
The contribution will explore:
- Which functions of distinction does collecting of contemporary art provide, and for whom?
- How is this demand fuelled? and
- Which structures cater to those new demands?
Present uncertainties and imagination in art
There is a contradiction between the ongoing financial crisis in Europe, and the present success of the global art world. This contribution focuses on imagination in visual arts as a possible attraction to the public, and questions whether it may be transferred into our life worlds.
With globalization, Appadurai envisaged that imagination becomes a major tool for all social actors in shaping their life worlds. The present financial crisis supports more than ever the call for more imagination for our life worlds, for more visions regarding EU-politics.
Interestingly, the global art world - in particular the art market - do not seem to be affected in a similar way: when Lehman Brothers crashed (15|09|2008), British artist Damian Hirst completed a record-breaking sales at Sotheby's London with a turnover of € 144 Mio. Moreover, sales of contemporary art (!) reach unprecedented heights in 2010 and 2011. Visitors of museum of contemporary art as well boom, in 2010: Tate Modern more than 5 Mio., Centre Pompidou more than 3 Mio., or the mega event documenta 12 (2007 over 750.000 art addicts within three months …
One can argue that collectors search for a stable commodity value in investing in art: but they buy contemporary art, a field that is yet not stabilised in terms of values. Furthermore, the visitors to art mega events are not those masses who are dragged on tourist tours into the Louvre. In my contribution, I would like to scrutinize closer this idea of imagination in visual arts: what makes it so peculiar, can we consider its materialisation in the work of art as an aspect of its attraction? Can such an imagination be transferred into the spaces of our life worlds, or are other social fields much more under system control?
Transgressing the grid - questioning context and comparison through the creativity of architects
Architects operate with grids when they are drawing their ideas, “making nature” through creative acts. In aiming to compare the metaphysics of creativity with the everyday realities of inventing new cityscapes this paper asks: What is the context of the architect’s imagination of the real?
Architects operate with grids when they are drawing their ideas, whether it's the lines in the urban landscape or the placing of furniture in an office landscape. In inventing new cityscapes architects are "making nature" through creative acts.
According to scholars on creativity (e.g. Crapanzano, 2003) people are innovative when imagining something that is beyond the horizon of the known. The imagery of these theories resonates with Latour's idea of the vast hinterland of material that is simply unconnected, not yet formatted (2005). This he calls plasma. Anthropologists might call it just another context. What we are all aiming at is describing the outskirts of the relational grid, the transgression of the social terrain. But is this where creativity is located?
Through looking at the everyday creative practices and discourses of landscape and interior architects in two branches of the same company, located in Norway and USA, and their continuous struggle to cut the networks of relations in order to be simultaneously innovative and effective, this paper argues that the conventional imagery of creativity through metaphors as "flow", "mobility" and "flexibility", disguise the real nature of idea making.
Instead, in aiming to compare the metaphysics of creativity with the everyday realities of "making nature" this paper asks: What is the context of the architect's imagination? Through asking what is at the outskirts of the relational grid of the "real" anthropologists might also reveal the context of their own imagination.
This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.