ON DIALOGUE ISSUE ONE
FROM THE EDITORS This first issue of ART/E/FACT is the product of exploring the possibilities which stem from the mystique behind artistic and social processes, and the result of collaboration between the fine arts and the social sciences. ART/E/FACT is designed to be a platform for both artists and anthropologists to explore connections between their practices. This collaboration begins with a colloquium; a dialogue on critical thought. Consequently, the theme for our inaugural volume is On Dialogue, exploring the idea that anthropological practice contributes to the art world, and vice-versa. It is our belief that the connection between the two disciplines is inherent and does not need to be created.
The current space for dialogue is confronted by a need to define a correct way of using ‘art’ or ‘anthropology.’ This leads to a constant critique of the wrong ways to make use of art within anthropology and anthropology within art. We find that this critique creates a non-dynamic environment where true dialogue is replaced by multiple monologues. Perhaps the most constructive approach to defining dialogue is as both a conversation and a practice. Dialogue is a conversation; a mediation between artists and anthropologists, reconciling opposing theoretical discourses, ethical boundaries set to ensure the integrity of subjects is retained. It is also a practice in the interdisciplinary actualization of these theories, where the methods employed in artistic and anthropological practices no longer adhere to strict disciplinary ‘codes’.
We have encouraged artists and anthropologists internationally to submit essays and media submissions from previous or current work to identify connections between anthropology and art. To provoke a constructive dialogue, we have asked for submissions that focus on the similarities or differences between the two disciplines, examining the experience of interdisciplinary inquiry while retaining their integrity as unique practices. Evidence of these similarities are accounts of experiences; where artists have used anthropology in the shaping of an art-piece or anthropologists have used the visual, aural and audiovisual mediums within their respective disciplines. For contributions from anthropologists and artists alike, the desired submission has been one that is both accessible and intellectually stimulating to an informed public.
We are happy to see that other projects and publications with a similar area of interest as ART/E/FACT have been launched within the last year – we interpret this as a sign from both the arts and the social sciences that there is a need to create possibilities to replace monologues with a true dialogue. We don’t believe in any specific definition of how anthropology and art can or should intersect, but we do believe that the best way to create a dynamic dialogue is to constantly challenge the framing of dialogic process. This is the primary aim of ART/E/FACT, both as a publication and curatorial endeavor. The result of our search is presented in this first issue with international contributions from anthropologists, media artists and practitioners between disciplines, which lend to a constructive dialogue. We welcome you to join in the conversation. - Simone Cecilie Grytter & Ely Rosenblum
TABLE OF CONTENTS
MAKING DO Agency And Objective Chance In The Psychogenetic Portraits Of Jaume Xifra. DR. ROGER SANSI
H AV I N G J U S T B R O K E N T H E WAT E R P I T C H E R
D R AW I N G L I N E S
Aesthetic Engagement Through Drawing-As-Process ELIZABETH HODSON
23 31 35
OTHER PEOPLES’ GARDENS EMMA McGARRY
COFFEE FUTURES DR. ZEYNEP DEVRIM GÜRSEL
DIALOGUE A Gesture To Be Used Only Very Sparingly, When You Feel Very Strongly DANIEL PELTZ
MAKING DO AGENCY AND OBJECTIVE CHANCE IN THE PSYCHOGENETIC PORTRAITS OF JAUME XIFRA
DR. ROGER SANSI GOLDSMI THS’ COLLEGE UNIVERSI TY of LONDON
A rt has been traditionally marginalized in the interest of social anthropologists. But in the last years it has come to the center of the theoretical debate in the discipline. This is often attributed to the single-handed influence of Alfred Gell (1998, 1999). Gell ’s basic contention is that we shouldn’t look at artworks simply as cultural symbols or texts, but as social agents. This radically unconventional approach has allowed a whole new generation of anthropologist to have a very innovative look at art 1. On the other hand, contemporary artists and curators are increasingly interested in the discourse of anthropology as a means to rethink their own practice. What has been called “relational art” (Bourriaud 2000) engages artists and public in events of exchange and reciprocity that become works of art in their own right. riaud 2000) engages artists and public in events of exchange and reciprocity that become works of art in their own right. In Barcelona in the last years, artists like the 22A group ( Mitrani et al.2004) and curator Rosa Pera (2006) have worked on the political implications of this approach to art as an event of social exchange, addressing issues of immigration, public space and real estate speculation. Both ideas - that art works can have agency and that art can be an act of exchange - have developed independently, but they are very close. In fact, both have been inspired by the seminal text of anthropology, Mauss’ “The Gift”. However, so far no active dialogue has been established between the new anthropology of art and contemporary practices of relational art 2. The objective of this article is to initiate this dialogue, discussing the mutual relevance of anthropology and contemporary art: the common ascendancy in Mauss is indisputably central to this end. But for that end we should go back to the sentence with which I have started the article: “Art has been traditionally marginalized in the interest of social anthropologists.” Is that right indeed? Perhaps not for all traditions of anthropology: ethnology and surrealism were strictly related in its origins in France, and one of the things that brought them together was precisely the work of Mauss. The mutual influence of ethnology and surrealism should not be underestimated: it is not only visible in peculiar figures like Leiris, but also in sacred cows like Lévi-Strauss: the notion of “objective chance”, for example, is central to Levi-Strauss’ argument of the “logics of the concrete” in La Pensée Sauvage( 1962).
If we want to set in motion a dialogue between anthropology and contemporary art, we should start by recognizing their common origins. In a final instance, what brings them together is a systematic doubt of the ontological distinction between people and things. This has been more clearly brought to light by recent theories of agency and relational esthetics, but it is implicit since its very foundation. In this paper, I will argue that surrealist notions of the “found object” and “objective chance” are in fact central not only to contemporary art, but also to the anthropology of art. The notion of “objective chance” can help us articulate theories of agency and relational esthetics in a single frame. As an example of the relevance of this approach, I will present the work of an artist, Jaume Xifra, with whom I have been working in the last years in a number of projects. AGENCY In The Gift, Mauss says that “On se donne en donnant” (Mauss, 1950: 227), one gives one’s self while giving. With that expression Mauss implied that social persons may not be just single minds in single bodies, but they can be constituted by an ensemble of elements, including bodies, things, names, that may be physically detached from one another while remaining the same. These Maussian discussions of ‘person’ and ‘gift’ have been reassumed and extraordinarily developed by Marilyn Strathern in The Gender of the Gift (1988), where she introduces the notion of the ‘partible person’. Strathern affirms that “objects are created not in contradistinction to persons but out of persons.”(1988:172). Through gifts, people give a part of themselves. They are not something that stands for them, a symbol: but they are “extracted from one and absorbed by another.“(Strathern 1988: 178). This continuity between people and things is what she calls a ‘mediated exchange’, as opposed to the unmediated exchange of commodities, which is based in a fundamental discontinuity between people and things (Strathern 1988:192). Alfred Gell developed further the idea of the “partible person” in Art and Agency (1998). Works of art can be seen as persons “because as social persons, we are present not just in our singular bodies, but in everything in our surroundings which bears witness to our existence, our attributes, and our agency” (Gell 1998: 103). This could be true of many kinds of things, and in fact many of the cases Gell uses are objects of magic, like parts of the body or pictures used in volt sorcery (“voodoo”) or religious idols. For
For example, in the work of Octavi Rofes (2003, 2006).
I first addressed this issue in a previous paper ( Sansi 2002a). This paper is actually the continuation of that previous one, developing its theoretical implications.
Gell this is not only an exotic belief of Hindu priests and Voodoo sorcerers, on the contrary he affirms that works of art, in particular contemporary works of art, are the more accomplished objectifications of human agency. Gell’s proposal is to look at works of art, and objects used by humans in general, as indexes of agency. Indexes of agency are the result of intentions: “Whenever an event is believed to happen because of an “intention” lodged in the person or thing which initiates the causal sequence, that is an instance of “agency” (Gell 1988:17). To have intentions means to have a mind. The “life” we attribute to things, and works of art in particular, is the result of a process of abduction or indirect inference of a “mind” in a thing. Gell’s proposition is very courageous in many senses, because it confronts directly the interpretative/deconstructive tradition that has dominated Anthropology for many decades. He is not looking at art as a “language”, an abstract code whose relation to the world is arbitrary. He is not looking at what objects symbolize, what they stand for, how they can be read as “texts” to understand a social “context”. He is looking at works of art and things in general as actors, as participants in social action. Gell has an extremely anti-intellectualist idea of “representation”: art works can be representations, yes, but also in the sense of ambassadors, heralds- tokens of a distributed agency that carry forward its intentions through time and space. What is central is not what they “represent” in the sense of what they symbolize or make reference to, but if this representation is effective – if they bring forward the interests, the objectives, the actions of the person they are an extension of. What matters is not what they stand for, but what they do. In this sense, he is not saying that the artwork is just a “distributed agent” of the artist. He goes further than that: artworks can contain several different agencies- from the artist, to the person represented or the person who commissioned it, to the person who bought it, to the curator that is displaying it in a context- an art work can be a “trap of agencies” some times contradictory, some times complementary (Gell 1999). Gell has fallen like fresh water in the field of the anthropology of art and in anthropology in general. Many of the anthropological studies of art before Gell rumbled around issues of identity politics, questioning the legitimacy of certain forms of representation, using artworks as excuses or examples through which one could explain a political and social context. There was nothing wrong with that, but the idea that art is not just a symbol to be decoded, but also a trap of agencies, has stimulated radically different studies. Looking at the life history of Muntadas’ CEE project, Rofes(2003) is not just elucidating what does the piece represent or symbolize for the author or what it can explain as a “text” about a certain political-cultural “context”, but how through time and space it has accumulated representations, entrapped agencies, in ways that may not be even foreseen in its origin. As Rofes convincingly argues in this volume (Rofes 2006), the idea that art works can contain different agencies fosters our understanding of works of art not simply as extensions of an individual creator, or even a single cultural tradition- but they can also be seen as sites of mediation between individuals and cultures. In this sense, Rofes is certainly going much further than what Gell had envisioned.
Jaume Xifra is a Catalan artist of the same generation of Muntadas - in fact they are close friends. I have been working with him since February 2002, when he asked me to participate as an anthropologist in his project in the Centre d´Art Santa Mónica, in Barcelona. The project consisted in organizing a survey of the opinions that the visitors had about the center. A team of students of the University of Barcelona, under my supervision, had to collect the opinion of the visitors These opinions should be analyzed and organized in a number of ideas, or concepts, which would describe the center. Once defined, the artist would translate these concepts into forms, working with a system of emblematic transposition - through which he would make the “psychogenetic portrait” of the center (see Xifra 2002; Sansi 2002a). In the following months, Xifra organized a second project in Barcelona, at the Metrònom gallery. This time the objective of the show was to display an ensemble of 10 portraits of people from Barcelona who would in a way represent the city. I coordinated another team of students of the University of Barcelona, who chose the subjects of the research, interviewed and filmed them. The final portrait was a result of the discussion between the ethnographer and the artist on the person. In exchange of their participation, the people interviewed were given a signed copy of their portrait- and the interviewers were paid for their research. The whole relationship, of interviewer-interviewee-artist, was signed in a contract. It is not easy to describe these psychogenetic portraits. They are not figurative: they do not resemble the physical appearance of the person. But they are not abstract either: they are made of ensembles of emblematic figures that represent the character of people and things. These ensembles of emblems represent the “interior”, and not the “outside”, the appearance: they are “psychic” portraits, portraits of the mind, of the soul. But they are not either a form of writing: the emblems are not ideograms that transpose a discourse about the person. This is not a language, but plastic forms laid out on a space. These emblems have a color, a direction, and o position over a grid, a symbolic space and time, between hot and cold, the conservative and the progressive. However, the grid is not either a statistical graph, because it is not based on scientific data; psychogenetic portraits do not represent their object in universal and scientific terms, but in the particular terms of the object itself. Xifra’s project could seem extremely ambitious: to invent a new system of representation! But Xifra’s objective is not to talk about the postmodern “crisis of representation”. His objective is more basic and, as such, even more ambitious than that: he is encompassing the object of representation in the representation. Xifra, the artist, builds the system and provides the means. But it is the object of representation who decides what and how they are going to be represented. In this manner, Xifra rejects the critical question: who legitimates the representation? In this case, the answer is clear, simple: the object of representation itself.
Figure 1 (left), Nina, Metrònom April 2002.
In Santa Mònica, the objective was not painting a figurative portrait of the building, but to portray the social life of the building, through the people who were using it. In Metrònom, the city as a whole was represented by 10 people, who were interviewed and filmed by ethnographers and then transposed in the portraits. In the show, the portraits were complemented by the filmed interview and a short text of the ethnographer on the person (see Figure 1). In these cases, Xifra delegated a part of his authority to the anthropologist, and through him to the subject that is represented. The relation between the artist who delegates, the ethnographer, and the object of representation is a social relation formalized through a contract. Xifra’s work could be seen as a curious example of the art work as a “trap of agencies”, or a trap of minds, in Gell’s terms. It is a portrait not only of a “mind” or a “spirit”, but of several agencies in interaction in a living space; in this case the people portrayed, the ethnographers who made the survey, the anthropologist who coordinated them, and the artist who transposed their work. And yet it could be said that the final result is not only the result of a series of “abducted” agencies, either singular or collective. The artwork is something more - and something else than the abducted agency of the people involved in the project. I remember the first impression I had when I saw the portrait of the Centre d’Art Santa Mònica. It is indeed an incredibly bizarre painting. In a strange way it reminded me of the bottom of the sea: it was deeply blue in the background and the forms in the foreground were like corals and sea weeds. This made sense for me: in a way I could see the discussions that we had during the course of the definition of the concepts transposed in the figures. Two contradictory ideas emerged: “popular” and “elitist”. On the one hand, the center was popular because it is free and in a convenient location in the center of Barcelona. On the other hand it was elitist because the art works displayed are extremely contemporary and often incomprehensible for a part of the public. An image of the bottom of the sea seemed to incarnate this contradiction: the sea is at once open, accessible for everyone in the coast, and full of hidden, inaccessible mysteries in its depths (Sansi 2002a). I recognize that this may be a silly metaphor. But the important point is that this impression is something beyond the description of the network of agencies it contained; for me it was an effect of the painting itself. There is always something new, unexpected in an artwork. There is something that goes beyond a theory of “agency” here: this is not just a transposition of persons or agencies. What is this “something else”, this “new thing”? Perhaps the exchange, the social relation? Maybe it is not just a network of agencies but an objectification of social relations? Relational Art. Nicolas Bourriaud has described “relational art” as “Art taking as its theoretical horizon the whole of human interactions and its social context, rather than the assertion of an independent and private symbolic space”( 2002a:14). In Relational Esthetics, Bourriaud talks about the work of artists like Félix Gonzalez-Torres or Rirkrit Tiravanija. Gonzalez-Torres made piles of candy that resembled minimalist sculpture; but his intention was to allow people take the candy away, therefore transforming the installation by taking tokens of it. Tiravanija’s installations are made of a very simple, transportable set of tools, like camping tools that he uses to cook food. The real object of the installation is invite people to eat and talk to each other, to build a social relation. For Bourriaud, art nowadays is a situation of encounter (Bourriaud 2002:18) That is to say: “All works of art produce a model of sociability, which transposes reality or might be
conveyed by it.“ The form of the artwork is in the relations it establishes: to produce a form is to create the conditions for an exchange. In other terms, the form of the artwork is in the exchange with the public. In these terms, the artist becomes more a mediator, a person that fosters and provides situations of exchange, than a creator of objects. For Bourriaud, relational art practices are looking to establish particular social relations for a particular people; the artist tries to keep a personal contact with the public that participates in the exchange, fostering what he calls a “friendship culture” (Bourriaud 2002a:32). According to Bourriaud, the objective of these practices is to offer an alternative to the mass production of the culture industries, the society of spectacle which transforms culture and art in commodities addressed to an impersonal, undifferentiated and massive public. Relational art on the other hand would not see the public as a passive consumer but as an active partner. Bourriaud has complemented his writings on relational art with a second book on the subject, Postproduction (2002b). If Relational Esthetics was discussing practices that involve interpersonal relations, as opposed to the impersonal relations of consumption produced by mass culture, Postproduction discusses artistic practices that involve processes of re-appropriation of this mass culture, or better, the means of production of the culture industries, to produce relational art forms – or simply, social relations. Technologies like sampling and the internet have made available a wide range of cultural products that can be re-appropriated, transformed, and re-distributed, autonomously from the formal market of intellectual property and copyright laws - or better, in direct contraposition of it. The culture industries paradoxically provide the spaces through which artistic practices can contradict its foundations on property laws. The relational esthetics that Bourriaud is describing, these forms of exchange that create personal relations, friendship, are in many ways familiar to anthropologists. That is what Marcel Mauss called the “gift”. This model of exchange would be opposed to the model of the commodity, in the sense that commodity values are not personal values, but the result of a universal equivalent: the value of a commodity is perfectly external to the subjects of exchange, and this ensures the impersonality of this exchange. There is no necessary personal relation between the seller and the buyer. The commodity does not produce personal relations; it only renews the validity of a contract, the contract that ensures its conventional, external value. Gifts, on the other hand, are a form of exchange in which we give something with a personal value (something ours) without asking anything in exchange, to produce something new, something more, essentially a personal link between people who are in fact giving part of themselves by exchanging values. Relational art can certainly be seen in the terms described by “The Gift”, as a sphere of personal exchange through which people create society. And yet which society are they creating? This society could be restricted to the artist and his friends, an elite, not very differently to what Bourdieu (1994) describes as the typical movement of distinction of the cultural field in regards to the culture industry. If the artist really wants to make a “social” statement, it is clear that his activity as a social mediator has to go a bit beyond his immediate sphere of activity. In this sense, ethnography becomes an invaluable resource. Ethnography is precisely creating a sphere of social exchange based on personal relations with a community of total strangers; nothing more, nothing less. It is not at all fortuitous that one of the first things that an-
thropologists discovered when they started doing ethnography was “the gift”. Ethnography is based on the gift: the creation of situations of social exchange that may end in personal relations between people that previously were total strangers. As a result, the ethnographer somehow appropriates the culture of the other: the knowledge of the other provided by ethnography is a means of understanding the anthropologist’s own culture. Relational art has to involve ethnography if it wants to have a social relevance. In Barcelona, the exhibitions organized by Rosa Pera or the 22A collective have demonstrated a clear engagement with ethnography. In the project Jardín del Cambalache, Colectivo Cambalache and Rosa Pera organized a whole network of reciprocity in the pation of the Fundació Tapias. The project was the result of an ethnographic research on the colonos, old immigrants from the countryside who came to work in the industrial sector in Barcelona and who, after they retired, cultivate plots of land in the wastelands of the periphery of the city, most of the times without permission. One of these colonos was invited to transform the backyard of the Fundació Tapias in a horta, a space where to cultivate vegetables. The vegetables were then offered to the public in exchange of some objectwhatever they wanted (see Sansi 2002b). These relational practices have also been developed by the 22a collective (Mitrani 2004; Sansi 2000; 2002b), taking a more clearly political stance, stretching the definition of artist as “mediator”. One of the members of 22A, Pep Dardanyà, has developed several projects with African immigrants. One of his projects, “Modul d’atenció personalitzada”, presented at the Palau de la Virreina in Barcelona, reproduced the space of an immigration office, in which the immigrant was occupying the place of the immigration officer, and the public was taking the position of the immigrant. Then the immigrant would explain his trip from Africa to Europe to the people sitting in front of him. The “relation” here, is not just taking candy or eating noodles, but something more politically charged. In another project, in a room at the Metrónom art gallery - a room called “Africa”, Dardanyà presented the “Sucursal” (“local office”) project. One of the immigrants he worked in for the previous project became his friend. And he introduced Dardanyà to his church - the Pentecostal Church of Ghana. The church is at a walking distance from the art gallery, and yet they are in totally different worlds. Dardanyà’s plan was to open a “local office” of the Church inside the Gallery. It consisted, very simply, of a desk with information about the church, a map that showed how to go from the gallery to the church, and a video of a mass. The objective of artists like Dardanyà is to question and criticize certain social institutions and the divisions between them through artistic practice. By transforming the art space in an immigration office and a church Dardanyà is asking which the limits between these places are. By forcing us to confront directly people who wouldn’t necessarily talk to each other in the street he is forcing us to face the social barriers that divide us in an unexpected manner. We could question the “seriousness of the anthropological method” of these projects: they may not be based on a thorough, systematic fieldwork1. But this is beside the point, since the question here is not the truth of the representation: these are works of art. Colectivo Cambalache or 22A are not pretending to represent the “colonos” or the immigrants in the whole, “true” complexity of their lives. Their objective is different: they are proposing a situation of encounter, of unprecedented social exchange
between two different realities that don’t normally meet. What they are interested in, after all, is in the encounter; it is the truth produced by the encounter what they are looking for. In another project, in a room at the Metrónom art gallery - a room called “Africa”, Dardanyà presented the “Sucursal” (“local office”) project. One of the immigrants he worked in for the previous project became his friend. And he introduced Dardanyà to his church - the Pentecostal Church of Ghana. The church is at a walking distance from the art gallery, and yet they are in totally different worlds. Dardanyà’s plan was to open a “local office” of the Church inside the Gallery. It consisted, very simply, of a desk with information about the church, a map that showed how to go from the gallery to the church, and a video of a mass. The objective of artists like Dardanyà is to question and criticize certain social institutions and the divisions between them through artistic practice. By transforming the art space in an immigration office and a church Dardanyà is asking which the limits between these places are. By forcing us to confront directly people who wouldn’t necessarily talk to each other in the street he is forcing us to face the social barriers that divide us in an unexpected manner. We could question the “seriousness of the anthropological method” of these projects: they may not be based on a thorough, systematic fieldwork 3. But this is beside the point, since the question here is not the truth of the representation: these are works of art. Colectivo Cambalache or 22A are not pretending to represent the “colonos” or the immigrants in the whole, “true” complexity of their lives. Their objective is different: they are proposing a situation of encounter, of unprecedented social exchange between two different realities that don’t normally meet. What they are interested in, after all, is in the encounter; it is the truth produced by the encounter what they are looking for. The question of encounter is central also in the work of Xifra. Although not as directly political as Dardanyà, both artists are choosing to actuate as mediators, to give their space to others, transforming the public in the author of the work. Xifra is not just interested in making an objectified work of art in itself, but in “making do”, making others produce something for themselves; and yet to make them reflect, through this method, on things that maybe they would not have seen otherwise. These new visions, in their turn, can help them see themselves in another way. This element of relational esthetics is especially evident in his later show in Girona, Criptus. There, Xifra simply allowed the public unrestricted access to the psychogenetic grid, through a questionnaire in a computer. The result was printed out and then posted on the wall. (Figure 2)
I am not saying that the field work of relational artist is “scientific” enough nor on the contrary, that anthropologists should learn from artists and be more innovative in their forms of representation. These are methodological questions that don’t have much sense - since in our society, art is art and it’s made with installations, performances and events in museums and galleries, and anthropology is anthropology and it is made in universities writing papers. Trying to mix the two is a noble endeavor, but I have doubts about its outcomes. In any case, “methodological” discussions often are distractive from the real issue: that besides the methods, it is the questions what art and anthropology have in common: and the question is how objects and people mix, not how art and anthropology mix. What we need is dialogue, not necessarily “experimental ethnography” (we probably had enough of that already).
«Making do», the final result is neither just a transposition of the «mind» of the artist, nor of the person represented: it is both, and at the same time, something else, something that is brought about as a result of the encounter, the process of mediated exchange. Talking about “making do” and “mediated exchange”, I am making reference not just to Strathern (1988) but also, and specially, to Bruno Latour (2001). For Strathern, a mediated exchange is an instance of distributed agency; but for Latour it is something else, it is an event - something that is not reducible to the sum of agencies that intervene in its production. Events are defined by their historicity - by the fact that there is a before and an after of the encounter; they bring about something new, something unexpected- the work of art in this case. This event is not reducible to the intentions of the agents, because these intentions - if they ever existed in the first place- are mediated by techniques. And these techniques, in their own turn, “make do” unexpected things, that are never reducible to intentions. In this sense we can look at art works as places of transcultural mediation, as Rofes suggests (2006), but always keeping in mind that this mediation takes the form of an encounter - in which something unprecedented is objectified. Each psychogenetic portrait is the result of an unprecedented encounter between the artist, the public, and the technique. Never do two psychogenetic portraits look the same, even if they involve the same people: they are unique events.
Therefore, it may not be enough to talk about agency, or about exchange, to understand art: we also have to understand works of arts as events. And to understand art works as events, we have to go back to the very foundations of modern art, well before relational art became fashionable: we have to go back to surrealism. OBJECTIVE CHANCE One of the essential axioms of surrealism and the avant-garde in general is the emphasis they give to art as encounter, an event, more than an object. For Duchamp, art is in the eyes of the beholder. What is important from then on is not the material “production” of art, the actual work and craftsmanship of the artist-artisan that builds objects, paintings or sculptures, but the event in which the artist finds the objects that move him. Aesthetic value is an outcome of this encounter, it is revealed through this encounter. What is important is the actual relation that is established between artist and object, and what comes out of it, more than the fact that the artist “made” the object. The value of the object, more than in terms of production or making, could be described in terms of appropriation. Which is not necessarily the same as consumption: appropriating the objects, the artist is not necessarily buying or acquiring something, but just recognising something of one’s own in the object, recognising what is strange as familiar, and the object as a part of the subject. This shift from production to appropriation allowed artists to abandon
the circumscribed spaces of institutional art (the museum, the gallery, the workshop) to look for these encounters in the street nearby or in a foreign country. It is not so important if these events happen in a flea market, or a tropical island, what is more important for the avant-garde artist is the outcome of these events, their revelatory nature. These things, these objets trouvés, or “found objects”, for Leiris come out of “these crisis moments of singular encounter and indefinable transactions between the life of the self and that of the world become fixed, in both places and things, as personal memories that retain a peculiar power to move one profoundly.” (Pietz 1985:12). At that point Anthropology and Modern art shared a common project. The anthropological criticism of museum practice was based on a valorisation of context and events, and how they were irreducible to museographic objectification. After the ethnographic revolution of Boas and Malinowski, the work of an anthropologist was not to collect objects, but to experience events in context. The anthropological project can be understood also in terms of appropriation (Schneider and Wright 2006): the knowledge of the other provided by ethnography is a means of understanding the anthropologist own culture. The task is to describe the exotic as familiar, to render evident how our own culture can be incredibly strange. The surrealist project is in many ways complementary to this: the exoticization of the familiar is one of the keys of surrealist practice. The Surrealists looked for the “magic that surrounds us” in their everyday life in Paris. These objets trouves are not just objects of art, but objects of Magic. Interestingly enough, surrealist authors and anthropologists developed very similar theories of magic. In Witchcraft, oracles, and magic among the Azande (1937), Evans–Pritchard described how magical thinking is not ignorant of the laws of nature, on the contrary, it knows that these are exceptional facts, but in this exceptionality it perceives an intentional correspondence between human and non-human (natural or spiritual) events. Magic does not question that tree branches fall because of natural laws, but magic asks, why then? And why did she go there? This connection does not deny natural laws, it only complements them. Almost at the same time that Evans-Pritchard, in L’amour Fou (1937), Breton defines “objective chance” as a correspondence between the natural and the human series of causality. These events of objective chance have a revelatory nature, in which the total is not only the sum of its terms. These events mark a before and an after in a personal (or general) history, since they bring to light something that wasn’t clear before. I started thinking about objective chance in the work of Xifra while I was working with him in our second project, 10 Retrats de Barcelona. It was quite obvious for me, as the “anthropologist” that was coordinating the project, that the 10 portraits could never represent Barcelona in its true diversity. We were constrained by time, space, knowledge, numbers… contingency.
I accepted this fact as a part of the game; and I came to understand that this was central to the game: the representation can never map the totality of the represented, but it is still a part of it; they system of representation always operates in terms of what Lévi-Strauss called bricolage. In La pensée sauvage, Lévi-Strauss introduced the metaphor of bricolage to address how the limits of our knowledge are in correspondence with the limits of our world. We can only work with the things we find in our way; the elements with we organize our world are necessarily “preconcrete”, subject to contingency. This contingency forces us to adjust our project to our possibilities. “Once it is done”, says Lévi-Strauss, the project “will be inevitably in disproportion with the initial intention (which is always, in any case, just a project); an effect that the surrealists rightly call “objective chance”(Lévi-Strauss 1962:35) The objective chance that Lévi-Strauss finds in the savage mind is systematically applied in the work of Xifra. His portraits can be arbitrarily generated by starting up the program, like the combinatory books of Borges’ Babylon Library. But what is more definitely the result of objective chance is the final form of the portrait. As if the program had become the unconscious of the artist, organizing the sensory data of his experience, a sort of empty organ, a stomach that absorbs and structures, a fetish-machine. The emblems look like they have been thrown on the graphic grid, like one throws the cards of Tarot or the cowry shells in the Oracle of Ifá, like cuttings or prints of a template (“pochoir”), creating a collage effect that is precisely central in what Lévi-Strauss calls the poetics of the bricoleur. Taking elements from here and there, the bricoleur builds an organized ensemble. This ensemble is the result of chance, but this chance is not seen as arbitrary, but necessary - as any signifying process; hence its objective character. Again, it is in the Criptus show in Girona where these elements of objective chance are more developed in Xifra’s work. Instead of selecting a number of people to describe the city as a whole, Criptus leaves the computer opened to everybody’s access. The accumulation of portraits thus becomes a sort of collective and random landscape of the city.
Figure 2 (left). Criptus, Girona.
CONCLUSION: ART BEYOND AGENCY In this article, I have proposed to explore three central questions in the Anthropology of Art: agency, relational esthetics, and objective chance, through the work of a contemporary artist, Jaume Xifra. I have tried to show how these three questions are strictly related, and how they can help us building an active dialogue between anthropologists and contemporary artists. These three questions are linked by a common thread: since Mauss and the surrealists to Alfred Gell and relational art, anthropology and modern art have shared a critical approach to the ontological separation of things and people established by modern discourse. Discussing practices of magic and gift exchange, anthropologists and artists have always been interested in understanding how people can become things and things, people. I started by addressing the issue of the distributed person and agency. The central idea of Gell’s distributed person is that we can extend our “person”, our social agency, beyond the borders of our actual body. These processes involve an exchange in the terms exposed by Mauss in “The Gift”, through which we give ourselves while giving. The more elaborated examples of this process are works of art, in which we can perceive different agencies trapped in an object. But are artworks just traps of agencies? Is there something else in them? If we see art works simply as surrogates of human agency and intentionality, as “secondary agents”, we may be missing a part of the picture. A theory of agency, and a theory of the “mind” in more general terms, does not help us overcome the divide between persons and things in an ultimate instance, because things remain surrogate seconds to the primacy of the human “mind”- as primary origin of all social action, all social value. In an ultimate instance, is it enough to trace back the intentionalities that have produced an art work? Maybe we are more interested in are the effects that the art work produces. A theory of minds, intentions and agency is not enough to understand art. Maybe relational aesthetics can give a different account of its strange effects: if we look at art works as acts of encounter, we are taking a different perspective. We are not only interested in the origin of the artwork, but also in the social exchange it is producing. This exchange, however, is not just a contract - a symbolic social ritual that objectifies a partnership. It is also an event; something that produces something unprecedented. The object of exchange is not just a token of the other: it brings about something new. It has a historicity. A theory of art based on the notion of the event has to be in many ways different to the notion of agency. One common misreading of structuralism is that it opposed structure to agency (Ortner 1984), when it fact what
Lévi-Strauss was distinguishing was structure from event 4. For LéviStrauss, the savage mind was constantly trying to encompass events into structure. What Lévi-Strauss didn’t discuss, though, was if these events would eventually change the structure. It was only a generation later that anthropologists like Sahlins’ (1981) argued that structures are constantly changed by the conjuncture in history: that by encompassing events into structures, these structures change. And so does history. Objective chance is that moment of uncanny encounter between the life of the world and the life of the self. An event in which a strange object reveals something that was hidden, or forgotten, repressed. By this act of recovery, the self is the life of the self. An event in which a strange object reveals something that was hidden, or forgotten, repressed. By this act of recovery, the self is changed. If we think about artworks as events, we can think about them as embodiments of structures of the conjuncture. As objects they are encompassed in the self, and by this act of encompassment, they transform the self. Now, it may seem a bit pretentious to say that the psychogenetic portraits of Xifra change history. If we think of history in terms of revolutions, wars, catastrophes, and miracles, it is indeed pretentious. But it is not so if we think that the small events which change history in the everyday life are most of the times imperceptible in the big picture. The small events of everyday life make the world change in the long run. The work of Xifra, regardless of its position in the grand narrative of art history, makes history with small words, by creating a whole new world in its own right - a world that is neither inside or outside of us, neither totally his or ours, not science nor poetry. It creates an intermediate, slightly disturbing middle space. In Barcelona, Girona and other places these intermediate spaces has been shared already by some people who have seen themselves through other eyes thanks to the psychogenetic method. It is difficult to say to what extent they have been moved, shocked, or changed by it, probably even for themselves. Probably for most this was just one small event that added up to their life histories. But maybe for some it helped seeing certain things in a different way: for example, contemporary art. BIOGRAPHY Dr Roger Sansi-Roca is a senior lecturer at the Departement of Anthropology,Goldsmiths College, University of London. He is currently working on contemporary art in Barcelona.
the structure was not just an imposed “system” that didn’t allow any margin of agency to individuals.. This is a reductive reading of structuralism from a functionalist perspective, that has unfortunately survived structuralism.
BIBLIOGRAPHY BOURDIEU, P. 1993 The field of cultural production. Columbian University Press, New York BOURRIAUD, N. 2002a Relational Esthetics Dijon: Les presses du réel, 11-24. ---2002b Postproduction Lukas & Sternberg BATAILLE, G. 1995 Encyclopaedia Acephalica: comprising the Critical dictionary & related texts. London: Atlas Press BRETON, A.1937 L’ amour Fou. Gallimard, Paris. EVANS-PRITCHARD, E.E. 1937 Witchcraft, oracles, and magic among the Azande. Oxford U.P. GELL, A. 1998 Art and Agency. Clarendon Press, London. ---1999 The Art of Anthropology. LSE, London LATOUR, B. 2001 L’espoir de Pandore Editions de la Decouverte, LEVI-STRAUSS, 1962, La Pensée Sauvage, Librarie Plon. MITRANI, Àlex et al 2004 Space Invaders. Artistic interventions in Barcelona, 22A, Barcelona,.
ORTNER, S. B 1984 “Theory in Anthropology since the Sixties” in Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 26, No. 1. (Jan., 1984), pp. 126-166 PERA, R, 2006 Quorum Publicacions de l’Ajuntament de Barcelona. PIETZ, W 1985 The Problem of the Fetish, I”. In Res, Anthropology and Esthetics, Spring 5-17 ROFES, O. 2003 “Momentos en la Vida de una Alfombra europea” CEE Project Diputación de Malaga ---2006 “Objectes distribuits i consciència discontinua: l’obra d’art com a mediació transtemporal i transcultural.” (In this volume) SAHLINS, M. 1981 Historical metaphors and mythical realities : structure in the early history of the Sandwich Islands kingdom Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press SANSI, R. 2000” Gift and commodity exchange in a contemporary art performance in Barcelona”, CHICAGO ANTHROPOLOGY EXCHANGE ---2002a «Trayectorias de la curiosidad: experiencia estética, dominación simbólica y apropiación del espacio público en un Centro de Arte Contemporáneo», in ACTAS DEL IX CONGRESO DE LA FEDERACION DE ASOCIACIONES DE ANTROPOLOGIA DEL ESTADO ESPANOL, Barcelona, ---2002b “La Antropología frente la Estética Relacional” in ACTAS DEL IX CONGRESO DE LA FEDERACION DE ASOCIACIONES DE ANTROPOLOGIA DEL ESTADO ESPANOL, Barcelona. XIFRA, J. 2002 Scanning. Centre d’ Art Santa Mònica. Barceloa.
HAVING JUST BROKEN THE WATER PITCHER VIDEO and WORDS by
W hile unpacking my library I found a black-bound volume titled ‘The Looting of the Iraq Museum, Baghdad.’ Standing in for the museum’s ambition to manage objects and events into an order of things was the logic of the book, a ‘virtual museum.’ I began to look at this book not so much within its intended rhetoric of loss and recuperation, a debt and return of the same, but as a catalogue of loss itself – an allegory for time and history after Henri Bergson. Documents previously served to classify the provenance of objects - attempts to map a spatio-temporal picture spanning eight thousand years! The image on page ten, the Museum’s Administration Office after it had been ransacked: documents thrown out of order, filing cabinets overturned, shredded paper from a bin, all piled into the middle of the room, a giant heap of debris - history. The anthropologist pieces back the bits of a discontinuous history to tell a story – differentiating order out of the chaos, signal from noise. What gets defined as noise though is largely determined by one’s social and cultural values. Having just knocked over the water pitcher, is a sequence of still/ moving image and voice, framed by the text that references the event of the looting, centering around the ethics and the poetics of ordering. In The Analytical Language of John Wilkins, Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges cites a ‘certain Chinese Encyclopaedia entitled The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge,’ in which animals are sorted into a foreign taxonomy *. The title, Having just broken the water pitcher, references this strange list - a lens into a system of ordering not of our own.
The disorder that followed the US led invasion of Baghdad in April 2003, an attempt to establish order, toppled a regime perceived as a threat to the West. Ironically this event opened up a gap for the pillage of the museum’s artefacts. In a long history of perceiving ‘the desert’ as a space lacking order, the US did not recognize its own history embedded in the sand. The many statues of kings who’ve been subject to physical laws of oblivion, chaos, dust. - Ben Tong, June 2011. BIOGRAPHY Ben Tong (b.1981) is an artist based out of Los Angeles and Toronto. He has a Bachelor of Science from the University of Toronto and is completing a Master of Fine Arts at the California Institute of the Arts. His research and artistic interests include: art and autonomy, the shape of the cosmos, monads, lists, alternative classification systems, hieroglyphs, Borges, Bergson, Kant, logic.
a. belonging to the Emperor, b. embalmed, c. trained, d. pigs, e. sirens, f. fabulous, g. stray dogs, i. trembling like crazy, j. innumerable, k. drawn with a very fine camelhair, brush, l. et cetera, m. having just broken the water pitcher… I first addressed this issue in a previous paper ( Sansi 2002a). This paper is actually the continuation of that previous one, developing its theoretical implications.
DRAWING LINES AESTHETIC ENGAGEMENT T H R OU G H D R AW I N G - A S - P R O C E S S
ELIZABETH HODSON UNIVERSI TY of ABERDEEN
A rt offers a way of seeing and knowing founded in the processes of its making. This paper shall explore the applicability of art’s way of seeing and knowing to the practice of anthropology. This is premised on the idea that both the artist and the anthropologist are creative practitioners and through the practice of art - in particular, drawing - knowledge may be transformed or re-presented as it is transferred from one medium to another. Can anthropology, then, use ways of gathering, representing and resolving specific to art-making? To explore this further I will draw on my recent ethnographic research amongst contemporary Icelandic artists, and ask what pursuing a graphic anthropology might entail for both the researcher and informant within this context. Countering the tendency to take the finished artefact-object as the starting point of analysis, I shall consider how drawing might function both beyond and through its role as a mode of artistic construction. An exploration of drawing could help to integrate the fields of both anthropology and art-making and thereby to construct a discipline with the potential to embrace the theories and methods of both.
INTRODUCTION To trace and ruminate, to fix and denote, and to create and imagine are all properties imbued within drawing. As both an object and gesture it offers an expansive resource through which we can come to explore the connections and disjunctions between anthropology and art. Within this paper I wish to narrow my field of enquiry to drawings that are created as artworks and the role that these drawings can potentially play in ethnographic fieldwork and subsequent anthropological analysis. This article draws on my ethnographic research in Reykjavík, Iceland over a twelvemonth period between 2009 and 2010. My project centered upon the con
temporary drawing practices of a small number of Icelandic artists who live and work in the capital. Whilst there I participated as a practicing artist and volunteered at a local gallery, obtained a studio space and took part in art residencies and exhibitions. More broadly, the research was envisaged as a collaborative endeavour that would bring my skills and experience as a practicing artist into a constructive dialogue with the artists with whom I would be working. Echoing visual anthropologist Marcus Banks 1, I anticipated that my project would run along three distinct lines: (i) research through producing visual images; (ii) research into images or representations already in existence and; (iii) collaboration between researcher and the community through the making of visual images and representations 2. For the purposes of this paper I will focus on the third form of research, that of collaborative engagement. Research of this type is in line with the work of anthropologist-illustrator Manuel Ramos 3 and artist-ethnographer Roanna Helleri 4 and can be characterised as a form of visual exchange in which the data represents an outcome of the interaction. In reference to the use of drawing especially I take my lead from Ramos 5 and suggest that this project can more aptly be described as graphic anthropology.
M. Banks, Visual Methods in Social Research, London: Sage Publications, 2004. I first addressed this issue in a previous paper ( Sansi 2002a). This paper is actually the continuation of that previous one, developing its theoretical implications.
Cited in S. Pink, L. Kurti and A.I. Afonso (eds), Working Images: Visual Research and Representation, London: Routledge, 2001, p. 30. I first addressed this issue in a previous paper ( Sansi 2002a). This paper is actually the continuation of that previous one, developing its theoretical implications.
A. I. Afonso and M. J. Ramos, ‘New Graphics for Old Stories: representation of local memories through drawing’, in S. Pink, L. Kurti and A.J. Afonso (eds), Working Images: Visual Research and Representation in Ethnography, 2004, pp. 72-89.
R. Heller, ‘Becoming an Artist-Ethnographer’, in A. Grimshaw and A. Ravertz (eds), Visualizing Anthropology: Experiments in Image-Based Practice, Bristol: New Media Intellect, 2004.
M. J. Ramos, ‘Drawing the Lines: The limitations of Intercultural ekhrasis’, in S. Pink, L. Kurti and A. I. Afonso (eds), Working Images: Visual Research and Representation in Ethnography, London: Routledge, 2004.
Figure i (left). Soffía Guðrún Kr. Jóhannsdóttir 2010 (pen on paper)
This enquiry is further rooted in the interdisciplinary practices across art and anthropology that have proliferated in recent decades 6. Within anthropology its threads reach back to the crisis of representation articulated by Clifford and Marcus in their Writing Culture critique 7. A collapse of ethnographic authority has given weight to alternative forms of reflexive analysis and presentation that have to date found their most efficacious reception in visual anthropology, among others 8. But these developments are still marked by a strikingly narrow field of what constitutes valid ethnographic data, and corresponding, what can be understood as anthropological knowledge re-created once back from the field. More productively, interdisciplinary approaches can be better observed within contemporary art practice 9. The history of twentieth century Western art is a record of the progressive move towards the dematerialisation of the object, one that has aided and now underscores the pursuit of interdisciplinary 10. In his writing on the subject art historian Arnold Berleant 11 characterized the reorientation of the object within art discourses as a result of a move towards engagement and a rejection of the trope of aesthetic disinterestedness instigated with Kant in the 18th century. The privileging of engagement, particularly of the audience, has rendered explicit the devalued status of the finished autonomous art object as the sole function and purpose of art. The most radical manifestations of this reorientation can be seen in Conceptual and Performance art, and especially Happenings and Fluxus, both of which are direct precursors to contemporary Icelandic art. Thus, Iceland’s heritage draws specifically on discrediting the art object as the singular site of meaning for either the artist or the audience. Outside of Iceland these developments have engendered forms of art practices more broadly epitomised as collective 12. They offer a logical alternative to work that is not concerned with final outcomes, their ephemerality offering a counterpoint to the rarefied objects of modernism. It has also allowed creativity to be re-imagined beyond the artist and posed through the idea of the ‘network’. As detailed by Nicolas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics in 1998, artists are seeking interlocutors for the production process itself. This has led to the use of the diverse methodologies appropriated from other disciplines, such as anthropology, and in so doing elevated artists beyond their role as ‘makers’ to social and cultural commentators 13. Central to this shift is the idea of the artist as a social facilitator, best theorised by Foster’s ‘artist-as-ethnographer’ paradigm 14. Conversely, their responses have opened up the potential for interdisciplinary analysis within the social sciences, suggesting new ways forward for the anthropology of art and its representations. A consideration for practitioners of anthropology, and the key to this paper, then, is how to invert this trend; can we envision an ‘anthropologist-as-artist’ 15 ? I want to use this article to think through some of the ideas that emerge when the ethnographer takes seriously the potential of such a collaborative dialogue with their informants and, specifically, when you attend to the anthropologistartist concept. I C E L A N D I C D R A W I N G : Ethnographic Images Analogous with other contemporary Western art traditions the status of Icelandic drawing is ambiguous and multivalent. Today they occupy a profile that flits between a refutation of their legitimacy, often dismissing
them as purely preliminary, and one that champions their sensitivity and worth. For the early pioneers of the Icelandic avant-garde the influence of Fluxus and Conceptual Art in the 1970s left a legacy that appropriated drawing as part of its toolkit. But like the movements foreign instigators drawing was interpreted through the lens of a strict deconstruction of the hand of the artist, leaving the drawn mark bereft of corporeality and devoid of any signal to illusion and figurative representation 16. More recent application has seen a return to its expressive fecundity, the technique now revered for its openness, immediacy, unfettered speculation and imaginative simplicity, characteristics that once again unite Icelandic drawing to discourses outside the country itself. In line with broader transnational tendencies drawings are also rarely exhibited as the thematic centre or even subject of an exhibition within Iceland 17. More likely they are composites of the whole and act as subsidiary explanatory pieces that offer a window onto the thinking processes of the artist’s practice, and thus becoming a means through which to foreground other concerns.
Such as A. Schneider and C. Wright, Between Anthropology and Art, Oxford: Berg, 2010.
J. Clifford and G. Marcus (eds), Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.
See A. Grimshaw and A. Ravetz (eds), Visualizing Anthropology: Experiments in Image-Based Practice, Bristol: New Media Intellect, 2004.
A. Coles (ed.), Site-Specificity: The Ethnographic Turn, De-, Dis-, Ex-, London: Black Dog Publishing, 2000.
L. Lippard, The Dematerialisation of the Art Object, California: University of California Press, 1973.
A. Berlant, Art and Engagement, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991.
See L. Lippard, The Dematerialisation of the Art Object. California: University of California Press, 1973.
N. Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, France: Presses du Réel, 1998.
H. Foster, ‘The Artist as Ethnographer?’, in G. Marcus and F. Myers (eds), The Traffic in Culture: Refiguring Art and Anthropology, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.
Or perhaps more accurately, the anthropologist-artist, which instead of suggesting the anthropologist mimicking the approach of the artist recognises a movement between them, enabling the potential continuation of both. The Icelandic avant-garde group, SÚM, in keeping with broader trends deconstructed the technique of drawing and removed any recourse to technical dexterity. Thus drawing became a conceptual statement removed from the need for the artist to engage in the making process itself. But for those not subscribing to SÚM’s manifesto this inadvertently confirmed the medium secondary status, as not befitting of what an artist should present as art.
Although in recent years this has begun to change outside of Iceland and there has been a proliferation of events and exhibitions that have signalled its re-evaluation.
Figure ii (left). untitled 2009 (pen on paper)
However, this is not to suggest that artists do not consider the medium to be of underlying significance for their work. Although contemporary artists are not usually schooled in the techniques of traditionally draftsmanship, the art schools reflecting a wider reluctance to focus on dexterity at the behest of concept and theory, the use of the medium is nevertheless ubiquitous and spans an array of divergent systems, methods and applications. People professed attachment to the process, as well as a belief that there was something inherently intriguing, addictive, and personal about the technique that singled it out as distinct. I became quickly accustomed to the confession by artists whose primary medium lay elsewhere that they were not ‘good drawers’, but did it frequently and enthusiastically anyway. During interviews artists of all genres would unearth from dusty boxes or abandoned folders years of accumulated drawings, pleased that someone was taking an interest in a subject that has been given little credence to date. The artist that I will discuss in the following section is perhaps, then, unique in her advocation of drawing as her primary form of expression, but it is to her work and our collaboration that I will turn in the next section of this paper. M O V I N G B E T W E E N F O R M S and changing lines A drawing is perhaps a continuation of daily movement. It adds to the everyday, recording movements – or an interpretation of daily activities; the line that appears when a kitchen drawer is opened. I draw instances and forms of nature that are either visible to us or not. Like now, when I write this text, I really am forming a drawing. This drawing isn’t large but if I had ink on my fingers it would make a pretty picture, the repetition of the movement. I like repetition, the movement and the structure in the drawing. -Soffía Guðrún Kr. Jóhannsdóttiri 18 Soffía Guðrún Kr. Jóhannsdóttir drawings are a medley of fine black lines that intersect and dance across the paper in a way that conjures up images of biomorphic specimens and cellar structures (see figures i and iii). Small masses of marks cluster together on large sheets of paper, holding no central composition the lines extend outwards and can be imagined to slip off the paper, as if the edge holds no weight or concern and the marks can easily be imagined to exist outside the confines of the paper’s edge, extending back into the pen and body of the artist as she draws them. Her work eschews any overt theme and relies instead on the process of making and the gestural action to give the image meaning. Hers is a kind of embodied line. I had caught sight of her work in an exhibition catalogue in Egilsstaðir in the east of Iceland only a few hours after I had disembarked from my boat from Denmark. Freshly arrived in the county I was keen to begin my research forthwith and contacted her on the first day of my arrival in
the east. Her thematic interests in nature, performance, and the use of the lines interwove with my own. Early on in our conversations she had confessed a passion for lines and excitement for talking with someone who was similarity keen. Thus the initial contact was made on the basis of a desire to talk with someone whose manner of working was akin to my own. I had being renting out a studio space in SÍM’s (The Association of Icelandic Visual Artists) Seljavegur studio complex in the west of Reykjavík for a number of weeks before I finally had the opportunity to met with Soffía. Chance had given us studio spaces next door to each other, and upon realising in our first meeting that we were neighbours she expressed an immediate interest in seeing my artwork. I had recently returned from the Gullkistan Arts Residency in Laugarvatn in the south of the country with a portfolio of drawings so I was happily able to comply with her request. I had arranged our first meeting as an informal interview in her studio and visualised it as an occasion to discuss her work with her. My broader intention was to see how our interviews developed and, if appropriate, ask if she would consent to letting me see her draw, and ideally, record it in some way, either by camera or through my own drawings, or both. I had expressed the project to her in these terms and had imagined it to be a chance to record how she worked, detailing the surroundings of her studio and her position and movements whilst drawing. Her initial interest in seeing my own work suggested, however, a more fruitful possibility for future meetings and a more long-term reciprocal project. In due course I acquired her permission to film her drawing in her studio. But her reluctance, as she envisaged it, to be ‘performing for the camera’ on a regular basis ensured that this was a one off event. However, going through this process, and in conjunction our first few meetings, did secure the continuation of our dialogue. She was happy to let me carry own drawing her and we meet on a regular basis for the duration of my fieldwork. These occasions were informal affairs that were arranged on an ad hoc basis. Each session lasted an hour or so depending of how happy she was with my presence and her feeling towards her work, and could be conducted in either of our studios depending on how we felt at the time. Each meeting would be interspersed with coffee breaks and occasional conversation, but more usually conducted in silence. Towards the latter stages of my research I undertook a residency with SÍM and lived in the same building as her studio, the proximity allowing for impromptu visits and chats that further supported our collaboration.
Taken from exhibition catalogue 7000IS Hreindýraland (2009) which was held at the Slaughterhouse in Egilsstaðir in the east of Iceland.
Figure iii (right). Soffía Guðrún Kr. Jóhannsdóttir 2010 (pen on paper)
D R A W I N G F O R M S : Ethnographic Lines Throughout the course of my research I flitted between different kinds of lines. The choice was essential in coming to an understanding of the drawings themselves and through them a move from participant observation to collaboration. The images produced in these early stages where predominantly in the form of line contour drawings 19. The aim was to describe the environment in which Soffía worked, the texture of her clothes, scale and proportion of the room, the position of the body and her physical behavior whilst she drew (see figures iv - vi). Envisaged as a kind of descriptive realism, as I recalled in my fieldnotes at the time: I sat in the corner and draw about five pictures for the entire session, all were line-sketches of her working and for the most part concentrated on her, the chair and table and none of the background at all. There was one pose in particular where she was reaching over the table with her left hand stretched out and I quickly drew that, although I do not think I got the grace and weight of it correct. It was heavy physical gesture when she used her whole body to draw with. I had imagined that I would then be able to use my drawings as a form of elicitation in a manner akin to that espoused by Afonso and Ramos 20. For them drawing engendered a deeper involvement and thus immersion with their informants lives through the use of the technique as a memory aid 21. However, in this instance this approach did not work. The drawings produced by Ramos were recreated from Afonso’s written fieldnotes and were illustrative of past events that took place in the community in which she worked. Only then were they used as a mnemonic aid, to substantiate accounts and allow for corrective feedback in follow-up conversations with their interlocutors. Thus my approach of direct observational description differed in manner, but nevertheless I still anticipated its efficacy as a technique. However, Soffía’s response was minimal. This was particularly telling in contrast to her responsiveness to the artworks she had viewed at the very beginning of our meetings. Her lack of regard necessitated a re-thinking of my approach if, as I had proposed, I wanted to achieve a wholly collaborative project. My early identification by her as someone who produced a particular type of drawing that she could relate to as an artist seem to override any interest in work that deviated from this genre. As a result I began to consider what each drawing form offered her. There seem to be, then, a meaningful difference between divergent forms of representation, and corresponding, the anthropologist-illustrator and anthropologist-artist. In the next section I will consider how I moved beyond these initial works and into what I hoped was a more collaborative dialogue.
We confronted and discussed the same problems and in so doing I came to a more nuanced understanding of not only the thinking and working practices behind her art but the rhythm of how she created it. The repetition of this activity was also telling in this respect. We drew together every week or fortnight for the last six months of my fieldwork and we became accustomed to the pattern of our drawing behavior. Arising from this transition was a concern with progress and continuation. In a way that mirrored my own apprehension on the progress of my art practice, as well as my research more broadly, Soffía was equally preoccupied with the direction of hers. Through a comparative analysis I understood how progress was mitigated against the repetition of marks and the persistence or recourse to the usual way of working that we had developed over a number of years. Each drawing was both a move forward and an open-ended exploration that was inherently incomplete. Soffía would return to drawings that she had started years previously and I too frequently reverted to older works. This particular aspect of drawing was not present in the first method of working but was in the second 22. Moreover, offset against our individual preoccupations was the gradually recognition that our drawings grew to resemble and mirror each others. We frequently compared the work that we had been producing between sessions and reflected upon the shared direction that our work was taking. This process gave us an opportunity to see our practice through the eyes of the other artist, often able to articulate and make pronouncements that the other was unable to give. Thus, in focusing upon my work I was able to fully engage with hers. This signals the importance of alternative forms of representation which drawing allows for and the corresponding types of relation, and immersion, that it engenders. The initial drawings enabled observation and description of her movement and behavior whilst she drawn. It was a form of participation, but perhaps not of the kind that I required if I was to offer an analysis of the specificity of drawing as a subject. To do so it was necessary to alter my work so as to come closer to the process of drawing for her. This became collaborative in the sense that the previous one did not. Additionally, this allowed for a different set of research material to emerge, specifically it facilitated a better understanding of progress and the problems surrounding continuation and incompletion within a drawing practice. In reviewing the work at a latter stage it suggested to me
Art historian Patrick Maynard tells us that ‘contour’ is etymological derived from ‘to turn’ and is both a shape in drawing and an outline of an object (2005:77). But as he notes, ‘usually, however, “contour” denotes not the overall surface but the boundary and shape outline of bodies or features of bodies, particularly when they are curved or irregular’ (ibid.). This more normative use of the term fits my intention in this instance. See P. Maynard (2005) Drawing Distinctions. London: Cornell University Press.
A.I. Afonso and M. J. Ramos, ‘New Graphics for Old Stories: representation of local memories through drawing’, in S. Pink, L. Kurti and A.I. Afonso (eds), Working Images: Visual Research and Representation in Ethnography, 2004, pp. 72-89.
The notion of incompleteness is key to understanding and taking account of the specificity of the medium, for further discussion of its role within drawing see E. Dexter (ed.), Vitamin D, London: Phaidon, 2005. There is also a need to consider the role of incompletion within ethnographic fieldwork itself, see A. Schneider and C. Wright (eds), Between Art and Anthropology, Oxford: Berg, 2010.
figures iv - iv (left). untitled 2009 (pen on paper)
D R A W I N G F O R M S : Art Works Heeding these developments I reverted back to a method of working used prior to entering the field. Although more abstract in technique these works were still heavily depended on lines in its composition (see figures ii and vii), and much more densely worked than the single line drawings previously produced. As such the images were not restricted to the time frame of the drawing sessions with Soffía, and like her I would bring in works that I had started in the studio a few days previously and continue them, or start a new piece only to have to complete it when I returned to my studio sometime later. A number of points came to light because of this transition, which in retrospect ensured this process became a collab orative endeavor. In not actively observing Soffía as she worked but drawing alongside her I began to share the experience of the activity with her.
This signals the importance of alternative forms of representation which drawing allows for and the corresponding types of relation, and immersion, that it engenders. The initial drawings enabled observation and description of her movement and behavior whilst she drawn. It was a form of participation, but perhaps not of the kind that I required if I was to offer an analysis of the specificity of drawing as a subject. To do so it was necessary to alter my work so as to come closer to the process of drawing for her. This became collaborative in the sense that the previous one did not. Additionally, this allowed for a different set of research material to emerge, specifically it facilitated a better understanding of progress and the problems surrounding continuation and incompletion within a drawing practice. In reviewing the work at a latter stage it suggested to me that dialogue is not static and there has to be a sense of growth for those involved. In allowing my work to become part of my sessions with Soffía there was a shift in the expectations between us, and the recognition that like art collaborative practices require growth and renewal. CONCLUSIONS In summary, the nature of the project and the kind of questions that I explored naturally privilege a more thorough engagement with the drawing process than traditional participant observation would allow for. The transition between drawing techniques and their corresponding methods of observation were underwritten with a question of how I could respond to her marks using my own. Thus a dialogue was forged through the use of lines, and its continuation was enabled through shifts in different forms of representation. In this way drawing offered both a means through which to realise the anthropologist-artist as an ethnographic technique, but also revealed that anthropological interpretation can be offered through nontextual means. By way of conclusion I want to refer to Keith Ridler 23, whose thoughts on the fieldwork process can be directly implicated in the transition between drawing forms that I have discussed. As Ridler notes, most material produced in the field by the researcher, be it fieldnotes, film footage, or photos are made knowing that they are preliminary objects and documents 24. But this understanding of the material has an impact on how the researcher deals with the experience of fieldwork itself, as he suggests, ‘the discursive objectives of anthropological research lead fieldworkers to (re)shape experience both retrospectively (s/he shapes the account of that experience narratively) but also, and prior to, projectively (the ethnographer lives experience towards a text)’ 25. I would contend that the move between these different forms of drawing was one that displayed and then ruptured this normative behavior. The drawings I made in the second half of my collaboration with Soffía were not imagined with the idea of an object completed at a latter date. Unlike the more traditional manner of working they contained both the final outcome and the experience of it equally. To quote Ridler further: To live a moment through the optic of research, with the ulterior motive of representation, is already, at the outset, to be committed to the construction of a deeply interpreted, hence selective, experience. The social reality of the ethnographer, in this sense as much as all the others, is existentially different from that of the people with whom we work. Representation constitutes our ‘project’, our means of making totalizing sense of experience. The politics of fieldwork are framed by this ultimate objective 26.
The shift in drawing practice witnessed in my project recognises the validity of this claim but also advocates a move away from it. In the latter set of drawings I came closer to breaking down the ethnographers mandate of projective representation. For if as an ethnographer you are thinking forward it is important to ask if you loss the essence of that which you attempt to understand, in this case, the process of drawing as it is experienced. I would also argue that this intention on the part of the ethnographer is more usually bound to an idea of a completed, sealed or fully formed object, traditionally in the form of text. This has specific resonance for a project that wishes to explore beyond the art object and acknowledge the ambiguity or distain for the autonomous object as it is currently imagined for the artist in contemporary discourse. Finally, my research with Soffía elucidates some pertinent concerns over the role of practice based research in ethnographic enquiry and how potentially nuanced the use of visual representation can become. To merely instigate a project that employs a graphic anthropology as a key methodological tool is perhaps insufficient in realising the potential inherent with the anthropologist-artist role. There has to be a more considered recognition of the role of differing forms of representation and the framework through which each participant in the exchange uses them. What I hoped to of shown in this paper is that the continuation of a dialogue with research informants necessitates a constant renewal and creativity that is open and willing to challenge pre-existing expectations over what constitutes valid ethnographic data and, more especially, valid anthropological knowledge. BIOGRAPHY Elizabeth Hodson is a doctoral candidate in the department of anthropology at the University of Aberdeen. Having undertaken a BA Hons in fine art she moved across to anthropology and completed an MSc at the University of Edinburgh. Her doctoral research focuses on contemporary Icelandic drawing practices with a particularly interest in collaboration and the role of the artist within ethnographic research and anthropological interpretation. Her thesis incorporates her own art practice as a means of coming to understand those she worked with, and is especially geared towards the making and aesthetics of lines. Currently based in Edinburgh, Scotland, she is trying to find a way to merge writing and the drawing of lines.
K. Ridler, ‘If Not the Words: Shared Practical Activity and Friendship in Fieldwork’, in M. Jackson, Things As They Are, 1996, pp. 238 – 258.
Ibid., p. 243.
Ibid., p. 243.
Ibid., p. 243.
Figure vii (left). untitled 2009 (pen on paper)
OTHER PEOPLES’ GARDENS
WORDS and PHOTOS by
T he private garden is so often simply an extension of the private home. However, when that private garden faces onto a public canal, the garden - in particular the end of the garden - becomes an interface. Whether this interface becomes one of detachment, enjoyment, practicality or disuse, the combined approaches to dealing with ‘the end of the garden’ take on a unique character somewhere between nature, function and sociality. Through these images of 8 adjacent London gardens, titled Other Peoples’ Gardens (2009), I am continuing a search for the ‘social life’ of domestic spaces. These gardens are neither public nor private but balanced precariously in between. From an anthropological perspective I am interested in what observing this public-to-private continuum can tell us about the role of display and evaluation in human society. In particular I am interested in the performative spaces that are created when public and private collide. I like to look at the whole body of work as an ethnographic observation of performance activity. I this way the images can be read as minimaps of movement, activity and sociality. The work is site-specific only in the context of the gardens sitting along this continuum of public-to-private. These gardens were situated along a 100 meter stretch of the Hertford Union canal in Mile End, East London although, in a sense, they could be anywhere. I noticed them one week and returned the next ready to capture them. I knew they would be different but this did not matter to the piece. The images are not about capturing the performance itself, instead they are an attempt to explore the aftermath of performance, and the hint of future performances to come. This ‘aftermath’ and this ‘hint’ are conveyed not via human presence but via the material stage upon which, and because of which, this performance takes place. However, despite depicting largely inanimate environments, the images in Other Peoples’ Gardens (2009) remain distinctly human. Performance is inherently embodied and inherently social. Bodies negotiate these spaces, and the material objects or ‘props’ that facilitate this negotiation, continue to harbour and reveal all of the social and physical interactions that went into creating them. By exploring and indulging in
the bodily elements of these non-human worlds, the possibility of a world that is in anyway disembodied, non-human or inanimate, becomes increasingly unfamiliar. There are two elements of dialogue within this work. Firstly, there is what I would call the ‘internal dialogue’, i.e. the thought process behind the work: if dialogue is the exchange of ideas or opinions then the exchange of my anthropological thought-process with my artistic thought-process becomes a dialogue within. For me, this dialogue is open ended and fluid and thankfully happens without too much conscious structure or discipline. Secondly, there is the dialogue that exists between the main themes within the work which are, loosely speaking, performance, embodiment and materiality. For me, this dialogue is (thankfully) far more conscious and structured than the first. All of these themes have a stronghold in the discipline of anthropology that influences my approach. Other Peoples’ Gardens (2009) explores the complexity of public and domestic space, both how we shape this through our daily rituals, and how these spaces come to physically embody those who exist within them. This idea of embodiment, and our landscape as a ‘living place’, combined with a continuous exploration of the materiality versus immateriality of our bodies, is something that runs throughout my work. I was an artist before I was an anthropologist and now I consider myself both. The connection between art and anthropology is a continuous source of personal interest. I recognize that I now always approach art from an anthropological perspective and in some sense see my work as having been embodied by my experience of anthropology. The dialogue between art and anthropology in my work is therefore also an interface; occasionally one of detachment, always one of enjoyment, generally one of practicality and never one of disuse. BIOGRAPHY Emma McGarry is an artist and anthropologist living and working in London. Through her work Emma explores the dynamic link between body and image. Whether by seeking new ways of representing the body in images, exploring the subjective role of the body in image production itself or through investigating the appropriation, collection and circulation of existing images, Emma suggests different ways of knowing, seeing and experiencing the wider concepts of gender, identity and memory. Emma is a Goldsmiths Alumni student. Research pursuits have included explorations of Belting’s anthropology of the image, the human corpse in contemporary photography and the embodied nature of transphobia.
WORDS and FILM by
DR. ZEYNEP DEVRIM GÜRSEL UNIVERSI TY of MICHIGAN
D uring the months just preceding shooting Coffee Futures I visited the Tate Modern’s retrospective exhibit of Spanish artist Juan Muñoz. I was particularly struck by those sculptures— Many Times, Seated Figures with Five Drums, and Conversation Piece—which capture figures mid-conversation. Munoz’s work couples suggestive yet vague settings and generic figures with very detailed choreography of gestures and distance between figures. It seemed only fitting that Muñoz also worked on sound pieces and composed work meant for radio, for his minimalist sculptures suggested a master listener, an ethnographer of conversations. Muñoz’s brilliance is that he manages to evoke textures of conversations in still figures. Or perhaps, if conversation is a time-based medium, his conversing figures are never still but always in media res, cinematically paused. If these were representations of conversations, it was not so much the content but the texture of dialogue I felt invited to consider. Coffee Futures is an ethnography of dialogues, successful and failed. I set out with the goal of capturing the rhetorics of prognostication circulating in contemporary Turkey. What forms did the future tense take? How was the unforeseeable future described, particularly by those consulted for their powers of vision? Specifically, I wanted to juxtapose two domains of discourse that don’t usually intersect: the realm of coffee fortune telling in which individual futures are discussed, often thought of as private and feminine; and the realm of EU-Turkey politics in which pronouncements are regularly made about the fate of the nation, a realm typically portrayed as public and masculine. It was the seeming staleness of current political dialogues about the relationship between Europe and Turkey that motivated me to begin work on this project. I hoped that coming at “the EU question” from this lighter angle might open up a possibility for exchanges that went beyond the well-rehearsed lines everyone knew by heart. After all, coffee fortunes are a rare domain which “the EU question” had not yet dominated. I wanted to make a film that might act as a conversation starter rather than a pronouncement. As an anthropologist, one of the things I find most challenging to represent is dialogue. I often record conversations (not just interviews) during fieldwork and take copious notes throughout the day, enabling me to transcribe conversations almost verbatim even when not recorded. Nonetheless, it is one thing to reproduce dialogue and analyze its content, but something else to render the full, contextualized robustness of spoken discourse. Yet when done successfully, I think this is one of the significant
contributions anthropology can make to any topic of inquiry. Participant observation is all about listening in context; it requires taking note of silences and patterns and gestures and timing, things that one can’t really listen “for” but that during extensive fieldwork one experiences. I chose to investigate coffee fortune tellings visually because one of the elements I wanted to capture was the minute details – intonation, looks, silences, raised eyebrows – that render these tellings very intimate forms of dialogue. Another starting point was to see how I might use editing to get at the texture of certain experiences. Anthropologist and filmmaker David MacDougall asks, “Is there an anthropology that can concern itself with the meaning of bearing a culture – with the intricate texture of experience, and its interweaving of the customary and the personal – or must such endeavors always belong to the province of literature?” (62). I believe ethnographic film can provide one medium for such an endeavor precisely because of its ability to render rich multisensory experiences and its ability, through creative editing, to stitch together the customary and the personal, the collective and the individual. Writing on Greek coffee readings and other practices of divination, Nadia Seremetakis, a key figure in phenomenological anthropology who has brilliantly written on the somatic aspects of many rituals, argues that one has to step back from an overwhelmingly visual orientation in order to encounter “Greek coffeecup reading as a “ritualized act of consumption, transforming it into an act of shared substance, that is, social reproduction between the reader and the read client.” (348) It was just this aspect of coffee readings that Coffee Futures attempted to capture, though not by stepping back from the visual but rather by delving into it not only as a topic but as a mode of exploration. Though they were produced quite unbeknownst to one another in different though related national contexts, Seremetakis’ “Divination, media, and the networked body of modernity” and Coffee Futures present parallel investigations in different media which both seek to highlight how these practices of divination extend the body “along a social nervous system” 1.
While I did not have the fortune to read it till a few years later, Seremetakis’ article was coincidentally published in American Ethnologist during the month in which I began editing Coffee Futures.
From the beginning I imagined Coffee Futures as a film for several reasons. Firstly, I wanted to give a sense of what it feels like to have one’s future – whether personal or political - forever speculated on, and I believed I had a better chance of doing that visually. In representing the custom of fortune telling, I wanted not only to show classic tropes employed but to attempt to get at the intimate composition of those dialogues. Secondly, coffee fortune-telling itself is a visual practice about interpreting shapes in coffee grounds. The reader of a cup animates the two dimensional figures. I wanted to underscore that this is a form of knowledge production that is about ways of seeing. Finally, stereotypes are difficult to avoid when making visual representations and I wanted to think about how to confront this challenge since politics trade heavily in stereotypes. Coffee fortunes are both a way of dealing with hopes, fears and worries, and also a way of indirectly voicing matters usually left unspoken. Like any language, this narrative form has its protocols, rules and tropes, and yet simultaneously each telling bears distinct marks of the teller’s personal style and the individual fortune seeker’s condition. So I set out to seek my fortune and flipped my cup for two dozen people, both friends and strangers. These amateur fortune-tellers all read my individual fortune as they might any other day, except that at the very end I also asked for their opinion on the future of Turkey and Europe. No one really reads coffee grinds to decide what will become of this long political courtship but I took the liberty of editing the film as I did because my object of analysis was the rhetorics of prognostication in Turkey rather than the EU question. I was trying to capture the qualities of certain forms of dialogue. July 31, 2009 marked the 50-year anniversary of Turkey’s application to apply to the European Union and so, Coffee Futures had its gala the night before this bittersweet milestone. On this long and seemingly endless path, the film echoes descriptions of a constantly invoked but not yet attained future. Coffee Futures attempts to render the emotional texture of a society whose fate, in relation to Europeanness, has been nationally and internationally debated over a very long period of time; it attempts to hint at the psychology of collective waiting and anticipating a national future. My work in film is nourished by anthropology of the everyday, especially work on the structures of sensory experiences. (eg. Hirschkind, Jackson, Rouch, Serematakis) but also by studies on material culture. I am also continually inspired by how artists render the tactile qualities of conversa-
tion as well as work, both in art and anthropology, that uses objects made dense, whether by history, desire or use, as vehicles for dialogue. For example, in the excerpt I’ve chosen for Art/E/Fact, the particular cups and saucers provided by each reader as well as the methods of making coffee became minor characters in the conversational interplay I try to capture. As I look to my own future as a visual anthropologist and the new film projects I’m pursuing, I will continue to explore how to study and represent the sensory composition of dialogues. BIOGRAPHY Zeynep Devrim Gürsel is an anthropologist who teaches at the University of Michigan. Originally trained in literature, she received her PhD in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley. She researches how things become imagineable both for individuals and groups, and how forms in which the past and today are narrated are shaped by and shape expectations of the future. NOTES Neyse Halim Ciksin Falim (Coffee Futures) Directed by Zeynep Devrim Gürsel 2009, 22 minutes, color. To watch Coffee Futures in its entirety please order a copy from Distributed by Documentary Educational Resources, 101 Morse Street, Watertown, MA 02472, www.der.org/films/coffee-futures.html For more on how the project germinated and where it has circulated please see the film’s presskit accessible at www.coffeefuturesfilm.com. Juan Muñoz, A Retrospective, Tate Modern, 2008 http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/juanmunoz/default.shtm MacDougall, David, Trancultural Cinema Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998. Seremetakis, C. Nadia, “Divination, media, and the networked body of modernity.” American Ethnologist 36.2.pp 337-350.
DIALOGUE A G E S T U R E T O B E U S E D O N L Y V E R Y S P A R I N G L Y, WHEN YOU FEEL VERY STRONGLY
D A N I E L P E LT Z
“All revolutions need pregnant ladies,” I think to myself as I pile my camera, my wife and my unborn child into a former student turned
at the darkening horizon, to write this one-way communication to NY and Boston movements cite amongst their primary requests “a diathe ambiguous space of dialogue, exist alongside a paucity of mainstream media coverage and thriving social media representation.
received to pursue a project in Cameroon, where I revisited a family I’d wandered onto the University of Yaounde’s grounds and managed to meet might be interested in developing a collaborative video project between ings we came up with a plan for a collaborative dialogue between our
Five years ago, along with my colleague Dennis Hlynsky at the Rhode Island School of Design, I started a video dialog project that has gone on to engage media makers in over a dozen countries and led to the de-
Division in Cameroon and arranged for technical support for a videocon-
sponse, is part of an online laboratory for pedagogic experimentation with the potential of networked media environments that we call RISD.tv 1. Call and Response began from a simple desire to experiment with the dialogic potential of video exchange amongst media artists. We decided to use short video “utterances,” no longer than thirty seconds, in order to allow for a quick, spontaneous production process and to emphasize the creative practice of association over that of other aspects of media proond video, that could yield an unlimited number of video responses of an
based project that initially took place through the mail service of the U.S.
submissions, new calls and responses, were uploaded by a grad student to our server and organized into a simple html table designed to represent the emerging dialogue.
their lock bag mail service to help courier the videos to us in Providence in the event that uploading the Cameroonian student submissions proved
CDs of videos, via post from Yaounde, had a mysterious charge of precious-
videos out there on the web from around the world but these ones were just for us and had been made in response to our work [Dennis and I have
We learned a great deal from these early exchanges, one limitation that became apparent was the use of a scrolling html table to display a vast to several existing videos but we had no way of representing this kind student in RISD’s Digital Media department at the time, we set out to de-
and gears that produce the “narratives” they hope will be picked up and disseminated by the “mainstream media,” settling for the thinner analysis of slow-mo shaky cell phone video footage from a dizzingly spray incident between a small group of female protestors, who appear
1 to become a popular domain name amongst the online media community.
Police Commissioner emerges in the demands, resignation and prosecution are the preferred strategies of communication.
S P E A K E R – is called a block a small percentage of our collective design thinking which is informed by feedback from each of the participants and participant educators involved in the project.
C R O W D – is called a block S P E A K E R – when you completely disagree C R O W D – when you completely disagree
At 1 Financial Plaza outside South Station a thin young man in an orange cap is training the crowd in democratic process with the aid of
S P E A K E R – with a proposal C R O W D – with a proposal S P E A K E R – that you feel could hurt the group’s interest
S P E A K E R – We’re going to learn some hand signals C R O W D - We’re gong to learn some hand signals SPEAKER CROWD S P E A K E R – goes like this C R O W D – goes like this S P E A K E R – this means C R O W D – this means S P E A K E R – you like something that you’re hearing. C R O W D – you like something that you’re hearing. S P E A K E R – a very important one C R O W D – a very important one S P E A K E R – but one that should be used sparingly and only when C R O W D - but one that should be used sparingly and only when S P E A K E R – you feel very strongly C R O W D – you feel very strongly
C R O W D – that you feel could hurt the group’s interest S P E A K E R – and you feel so strongly about it C R O W D – and you feel so strongly about it S P E A K E R – that you perhaps would have to leave the group C R O W D – that you perhaps would have to leave the group S P E A K E R – you use the block. C R O W D – you use the block.
Call and Response is no longer dependent on embassy locked bag service, now utilizing the sophisticated custom-built platform of Lepton sentations of a video database and each participant’s drawing can be saved and shared as a representation of how they are understanding/visualizing the dialogue. Regardless of the platform, however, our aims in the project have remained constant, seeking to create dialogues that: 1) simultaneously represent a multiplicity of perspectives and require new modes of viewership, 2) are complete in and of themselves, capable of advanced practices such as commentary and analysis without the use of written language and 3) explore the fullness of dialogue from a non-prejudicial perspective; allowing for such maligned practices as miscomprehension,
Since the fall of 2005, we’ve used RISD.tv and the Call and Response mod-
fullness of dialogue from a non-prejudicial perspective; allowing for such maligned practices as miscomprehension, radical reinterpretation, loss, distrust and impossible desire”] as perhaps most critical to our projects contribution to understandings of dialogue. Lepton allows us to visualize a network of cross-cultural associations generated by the makers of associ-
his public projects and media installations, Peltz explores social systems, attempting to provoke ruptures in the socio/cultural fabric
messy, in life and in our representation of it. It is not easy to untangle and nearly impossible to understand completely. In this respect, it is a non-linear editor that challenges the logic presented by the majority of digital video editors, clips are not arranged on a line and visual dominance is given not to the clips themselves but to the associaneeds to be extracted by the viewer through their act of viewership, it is a demanding charge that many viewers accustomed to the pleasures of passive media consumption may reject.
K9 BPD unit follows us and I pause for a moment to move with them
ask me what the marchers were protesting. I start with a line about economic inequality that quickly begins to ring empty. I try various approaches, settling on “I don’t know but I think this is happening everywhere, something about wanting a dialogue?”
of existing social systems (instant messaging protocols, karaoke bars, political campaigns, parking regulations, etc.) to directly enHis recent works have been supported by a practice-based research grant from the Fulbright Association and residencies at Yaddo, the Helsinki International Artist Program and the International Artists Studio Program recent public projects in a series of residency settings (ArtSpace Sydney, Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing and Cemeti Art House, Indonesia) animation/video at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Figure 1 (above). Screen shot from a Call and Response video dialog in Lepton
Call and Response dialogues can be viewed at www.risd.tv.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
Published on Oct 17, 2011
We believe artists, as well as anthropologists, engage in the practice of constantly challenging their own medium of expression. This public...