EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Anthropology, the arts, and new materialisms
Location U7-11
Date and Start Time 20 July, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2


  • Jennifer Clarke (Robert Gordon University ) email
  • Fernando Domínguez Rubio (UC San Diego) email

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Discussant Roger Sansi

Short Abstract

This panel aims to bring together the research of anthropologists doing research in the Arts, Design and Architecture. The final objective of the panel is to discuss if and how New Materialisms in the domain of the Arts can contribute to anthropological discussions on objects.

Long Abstract

In the last decades, there have been many interdisciplinary collaborations between Anthropology, the Arts, Design and Architecture. Many of these collaborations have been based on the exchange of methodologies: ethnographic methods in exchange of visual methods for example. In this panel we want to move forward from these interdisciplinary collaborations based on methodology, to come back to the fundamental concerns of Anthropology, as the conference theme is proposing. One of the central theoretical concerns of Anthropology is the very question of what a "object" is, from discussions on materiality, exchange and the gift through theories of the distributed person, agency, relationality, and ontology. This question has also been central to Art theory and practice all along, but it has taken a new turn recently through the multiple "New Materialisms" that have emerged in that field: from the influence of Science and Technology Studies approaches to Object-oriented ontology and Speculative Realism. This panel is interested in the research of anthropologists working in the domain in the Arts, Design and Architecture, and who have encountered these questions in their fieldwork. The final objective of the panel is to interrogate if and how these New Materialisms in the domain of the Arts can contribute to anthropological discussions on objects.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Disobedient archives: liberating the architecture of an urban genre

Author: Adolfo Estalella (Spanish Research Council (CSIC))  email

Short Abstract

Moving between the digital domain and the urban public space, disobedient archives constitute an urban genre that infrastructures the liberating impulse of free culture

Long Abstract

Archives constructed by civic projects and activist initiatives have proliferated in the political climate of urban uprising that have spread over Spain in the last years: Urban allotments have been occupied to build community gardens and vacant plots of land have been furnished with new public infrastructures. Citizens and urban dwellers profusely document on the Internet these material interventions expanding the city in the form of archives that narrate the disobedient reinvention of the urban fabric. This archiving impulse takes a distinctive shape among a series of architectural collectives that have been relevant players in the urban scene in Madrid. Inspired by the liberating culture of Free Software and impinged by their professional sensibility, these collectives have been experimenting in the last years with the material architecture of archives.

Drawing on an STS sensibility, I pay attention to one of these architectural collectives called Zuloark, an urban guerrilla whose professional activity is articulated around the construction of pieces of furniture for the public space and the documentation of these practices. Zuloark has experimented in their urban/artistic projects with the architecture of their archives by moving between the digital domain and the urban public space, translating into material infrastructures the digital repositories that account for their grassroots urbanism. In this paper I suggest the opportunity to think of these archives as an urban genre that infrastructures the liberating impulse of free culture.

Museification as memory's form of life: architecture, museum design and memory in the aftermath of violence in Chile

Author: Paulina Faba (Universidad Alberto Hurtado/Institute for Advanced Study)  email

Short Abstract

Through the study of the architecture and design of a memorial museum in Santiago (Chile), I argue that the museum could be understood as a particular form of 'mattering', a physical arrangement and entanglement that intends to constitute memory in itself, memory’s own form of life.

Long Abstract

What kind of practices, images and narratives are reproduced in contemporary museums in Chile? What forms of intelligibility of space and time they reproduce? What kind of agency does architecture and museology have in the arena of contemporary ways of relating to a traumatic past? These are some of the questions that this paper explores by the analysis of the Museum of Memory and Human Rights (MMDDHH) of Santiago (2010). Through the examination of architecture, museology, and ethnography, I seek to understand the nature of this place which is intended to be a "museum of memory", that exhibit the experience of the Military Coup (1973) and the years of Dictatorship in the country (1973-1990). I examine the historical context of emergence of the museum and analyze the 'negociations', cultural imaginaries and micropolitics that delineate the architecture and permanent exhibition designs. Finally, paying particular attention to the performativity of the museum's entangled materialities as well as to the trajectories, practices and affects reproduced by the visitors, I propose that the museum could be considered a particular form of "mattering", a physical arrangement that intends to constitute memory in itself, memory's own form of life.

Materialising the digital object: knowledge and form in digital architecture

Author: Kåre Poulsgaard (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

Digital practices and objects challenge anthropological tools and knowledge. Exploring this challenge via case studies of design, tools and practices in digital architecture, I develop an analytic framework that situates digital objects within a field of shifting material and immaterial registers.

Long Abstract

Anthropology has shown a productive interest in the nature of embodied engagement with objects, materials and design, stretching as far back as Mauss' Techniques Of The Body. As tools and practices are digitising this legacy face serious epistemic challenges. Anthropologists increasingly have to deal with phenomena that are irreducible to the social and material realities they are embedded within, yet lack clear frameworks for how to approach these in a holistic way.

Proceeding through case studies from the field of digital architecture, I ask how these anthropological legacies might be reactivated through creative engagement with digital design practices - and what insights this engagement might hold for anthropological research into materiality and objects in a digitising world.

A key question becomes how to contain and interrogate tools, objects and techniques that are at once material and informational. Drawing on the new materialism of Ian Bogost and Luciana Parisi as well as recent work in cognitive archaeology and the philosophy of information, I propose a relational ontology of digital practice. This non-anthropocentric approach situates design research and form generation within a field of shifting material and immaterial registers where digital tools and objects are inextricably tied up with techniques and cognition. These are classic concerns for anthropology and material culture studies and positing them within our current digital landscape, will reveal productive lines of inquiry that can re-invigorate our intellectual legacy for the present moment.

Digital artists and the maker movement. embodied interaction in digital fabrication

Author: Norma Deseke (University of Cambridge)  email

Short Abstract

I situate embodied knowledge practices of artistic-material research in the context of classic anthropological themes of political-economic transformation exploring how the relationship between sociality and materiality alters due to affordances of technologies generated by the digital revolution.

Long Abstract

The impact of the digital revolution in generating the field of computational or digital art and architecture, its affordances for form and content production and the conditions of work in this relatively new profession have been little discussed within anthropology. Currently on Ph.D. field research in Barcelona, I explore forms of artistic and material research with a particular emphasis on agency and knowledge practices in the mediation of global cultural flows under the conditions of contemporary capitalism in a shifting regime of artistic production.

In this paper, I propose to discuss how artists and "makers" turn an idea into a physical object. Which technologies and techniques are valued in the process? Which debates are drawn upon and which methods are developed and applied in the process? How are alternative forms of knowledge generated through these artistic and material research practices? I collaborate with international artists and "makers" who are socially embedded in Barcelona´s networked and increasingly globalised digital art and fabrication community and who actively aim to change the world for the better, in resistance to or in negotiation with the hegemonic discourse of neoliberal global governance.

When (digital) art came back to be material

Authors: Debora Lanzeni (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya)  email
Vanina Yael Hofman (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya)  email

Short Abstract

New Materialism become a theoretical ‘belief’ in the interrelated field of art, design and technology from which to reveal elements that have neglected by art theory since the Digital Revolution. However, its analytical implications seem to be signed by the need to develop adequate methodologies.

Long Abstract

Material-centered approaches appeared to be a new welcomed perspective in Art History and Theory in that they allow the visibilization of elements that have been overlooked or neglected in previous historical narratives and aesthetics studies. New materialism together with STS and perspectives like the object-oriented-ontology configure sources of inspiration and pillars on which to build other stories by re-introducing a place for "objects" and "materials" that were lost after the nighties "digital revolution".

Digital art inherit from previous artistic movements and embodied in their discourses ideas on dematerialization. But after the burst of obsolescence, ones and zeros ceased to be immaterial arithmetic and 'objects', 'materials' and very quality of 'materiality' were put on the table for discussion among artists, curators, archivists, theorists and art historians. The above-mentioned theoretical sources were exceptionally helpful in the process of "re-materialization" of digital arts and the following discussions it brought to light. Nonetheless, there is a gap between the theoretical use of the ontological turn in digital arts studies and the development of methodologies and methods capable of provide tools to approach the fieldwork accordingly. New Materialism approaches in arts field depart from a 'need', but become -generally- new kind of theoretical belief. In our paper we want to discuss some cases that show this multiple tensions in the interrelated field of art, design and technology. Doing so we'll also explore -the other way around- how classical anthropological understandings of 'objects' could help to enhance the articulation of new materialistic approaches with research on foreknown field.

Technologies of friendship? Open design objects and their figurations of relatedness

Author: Tomás Criado (TU Munich)  email

Short Abstract

An exploration on the open design objects designed by the activist collective En torno a la silla as ‘technologies of friendship:’ objects that because of their forms of making and documenting open up not a static figuration of friendship but an experimentally collaborative mode of relatedness

Long Abstract

Open design objects are commonly associated with a multifarious transformation of knowledge-production practices in and around design, usually entailing: the dissemination of objects to allow for their collective reuse, documenting and freely licensing them with a wide gamut of options; or the articulation of possibilities around a more collaborative economy. In this paper, I would like to attempt another plausible conceptualization of those objects, drawing on my ethnographic engagement in the Barcelona-based activist design collective En torno a la silla (ETS). ETS explores alternative infrastructural conditions to allow for different relations between wheelchair users and their sociomaterial surroundings. Borrowing the term from the Argentinian artist Roberto Jacoby they usually refer to their objects as 'technologies of friendship,' since they allow the crucial material conditions for them to do things together. However, despite this concept might bring to the fore a distinctive and static ontology of relatedness, I would like to attempt another ethnographic characterization grounding on (1) the ever-present mixture of roles between designers and users; (2) the expansions and contractions of the design ensemble; and (3) the effects of the blurring of design and ethnographic documentation (i.e. field-notes) in the making of those objects. What if ETS open design objects were technologies opening up the very production of friendship? That is, what if their open design objects brought with them an experimentally collaborative mode of relatedness where, in analogy to Strathern's arguments over the expansion of kinship through new reproductive technologies, collaborators are always a surprise?

Marxist morphologies: a critique of new materialisms

Author: Michał Murawski (SSEES )  email

Short Abstract

This paper critiques some assumptions often made by urban anthropologists and other scholars of cities, with a focus on the New Materialisms.

Long Abstract

This paper critiques some assumptions often made by urban anthropologists and other scholars of cities, with a focus on the New Materialisms. It problematizes some of the ways in which scholarship informed by ANT, assemblage theory and other varieties of 'object-oriented' thinking inclines towards morphological optics to represent both mental and material words (and everything in between) as 'flat', complex', 'emergent' or 'partial'. As a corrective, this article posits a 'vertical' Marxist notion of infrastructure - founded on a dynamic understanding of the relationship between determining economic base and determined superstructure - as a way of providing a glimpse into another material world. A world in which heretic shapes and scales - vertical planes, totalities, reductions of complexity - continue to thrive.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.