EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P147)
Encountering materialities
Location U7-11
Date and Start Time 21 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Stuart McLean (University of Minnesota) email
  • Marc Higgin (University of Aberdeen) email
  • Jennifer Clarke (Robert Gordon University ) email

Mail All Convenors

Discussant Jennifer Clarke

Short Abstract

This panel explores theoretical arguments from new materialisms and the ontological turn from the point of view of anthropology. Encountering diverse materials and materialities, from the human heart, to light, and soil, these can also be considered as experiments in anthropology.

Long Abstract

This panel, like it's sister panel 44, is concerned with exploring and problematising the theoretical arguments and debates opened by new materialisms and the ontological turn, and the consequences of these from the point of view of anthropology.

The papers (and film) in this panel each in a unique way is thinking or 'creating with and alongside' (McLean, 2016) the art works, events and objects that they consider; as such, these engagements with material and making can also be considered as experiments in anthropology.

Drawing from diverse but related fields, such as feminist theory, phenomenology, vital materialism and object -oriented ontology, the authors consider affective engagements with diverse 'materials', from the human heart, to light, and soil. Their papers examine a range of techno-scientific and aesthetic interventions across a variety of encounters with materials and material processes. These include more 'traditional' examples of material 'objects' such as works of art, architectural monuments, and rocks, as well as open-heart surgery, symbolic borders, and ontological miracles.

By bringing to bear new materialist theories in relation to particular encounters and diverse material creations, places, events and processes, this panel opens up wider issues and debates about 'nature' and the non-human, as well as definitions and debates about art and aesthetics, questioning how such theoretical moves might contribute to anthropological discussions on objects and (or) things, their qualities and modes of existence, from the perspective of Anthropology.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

The vibrant matter of rock 'art' imagery

Author: Juliane Breitfeld (Heidelberg University )  email

Short Abstract

The paper discusses implications of vital materialism (Bennett 2010) for analysing Australian Wandjina rock art leading us to the question of when is art (Goodman 1977) as the imagery is transferred from immobile rock surface to contemporary art works, becoming mobile objects of desire (Butler 1987).

Long Abstract

The rock paintings 'art' label has been contested as Aboriginal traditional owners consider them to be powerful images - manifestations of ancestor beings themselves. They explore the imagery's transmission onto canvas as a way to strengthen indigenous culture. Labelling the images on rock as 'art' and the subsequent contemporary art production created contestations which I seek to discuss in the light of the question proposed by Goodman of when is art (1977). Therefore I look at its relation to Bennett's concept of vibrant matter which denotes efficacy and the condition of possibility which distinguishes things from objects. I argue that Goodman's approach contributed important implications which have been strengthened in debates of new materialism.

In the case of the Australian rock art, research partners talked about the 'universal resonance of art with the modern human' in contrast to humanities lack of attentiveness towards the environment. I state that the viewer's attentiveness can be better understood through analysing its contested art discourse in terms of vital materiality. Artistic translations from immobile rock art to mobile objects of desire (Butler 1987), which circulate not only through the hands of tourists as souvenirs but through the international fine art market, illustrate the artistic tradition's different competences in accordance to its spatiotemporal performance. Furthermore the approach offers a counter-narrative to value judgements of aesthetics and sophistication of skill which have been used as colonising elements in the art discourse about rock art imagery in light of 'fantasies of conquest and consumption' (Bennett 2010:ix).

The predicament of material agency: can we still think through things?

Author: Valentina Gamberi (University of Chester, U.K.)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores the concept of material agency within the debate opened by 'New Materialisms' and the 'ontological turn'. By analysing fieldwork where Indian artefacts escape from the museum curators' control, the possibility of a non-ethnocentric description of the material is investigated.

Long Abstract

After Gell's Art and Agency (1998), the concept of agency has become the core of further reflections within the scholarly debate. Particularly, the idea of treating the non-human in terms of human features such as rationality has been identified as a critical aspect in the epistemological justification of the material culture studies. As scholars belonging to 'New Materialisms' and the 'ontological turn' (cfr. Coole, 2005; Holbraad, 2011; Santos-Granero, 2009) have stressed, the theorisations on materiality have been flawed by a substantial ethnocentric approach or a 'residual individualism' (Coole, 2005, 126), according to which the material is considered as a passive, inert matter upon which intellect imposes itself (cfr. Viveiros de Castro, 2012, 57 and Ingold, 2000, 339-340). However, dismissing the concept of agency because of its intrinsic ethnocentricity can run the risk of impoverishing the analysis on the social impact of the non-human or, to quote Coole, 'it becomes impossible to sustain any but the most conservative aleatory sense of political life' (Coole, 2005, 125).

The paper reflects on the notion of material agency by analysing a case study where artefacts escape from human control. Indian religious objects which establish darśan, namely the relationship between the seer and the Hindu deity's embodiment, once exhibited in museum galleries, engage with visitors independently from the curators' plans. By adopting phenomenology as methodology, the study reveals the 'chiaroscuro of agentic capacities' (Coole, 2005, 126) and propose possible ways of problematising the concept of material.

Encountering the matter: metis in ceramics

Author: Ewa Klekot (University of Warsaw)  email

Short Abstract

Grounded in my research with ceramic designers, rural potters, in a porcelain factory, and my pottery practice, the paper focuses on metis as knowledge opening up for an engagement with materiality that can contribute to anthropological discussion on objects, their qualities and modes of existence.

Long Abstract

The potter, while shaping a pot is rather negotiating with clay than imposing its form on the flexible, dynamic matter: human has to be able but the clay has to be willing. The process of fixing the pot's form in a kiln means forcing matter to slow down its constant changing for the humans to perceive it as arrested into something stable and unchangeable. Both processes of shaping and firing require very local and embodied forms of knowledge: practical intelligence, or ingenuity acquired only through a direct involvement, very difficult to generalize and render in words. Grounded in my research with both ceramic designers, and rural potters in the South East of Poland, as well as in a porcelain factory in Ćmielów (Poland), complemented with insights originating in my own pottery practice, my paper will focus on metis as a kind of knowledge opening up for an engagement with materiality that can be illuminating for anthropological discussion on objects, their qualities and modes of existence.

Materialities of displacement: borders, architecture and Skopje 2014

Author: Rozita Dimova (Ghent University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the recent embellishment of Skopje through the prism of borders by identifying the architectural and aesthetic intervention as a bordering device between Greece and Macedonia.

Long Abstract

This paper examines the recent embellishment of Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, through the prism of borders and architecture. The recently-built grand buildings and monuments make direct reference to the classical past and antiquity. While the actual borders between Greece and R. of Macedonia display no references to the conflict over the name Macedonia, the centre of the capital Skopje has become the primary battleground of the symbolic and aesthetic borders built not only between the R. of Macedonia and Greece, but also between different ethnicities, religions, visible traces of socialism, as well as between Macedonia, Europe and the rest of the world. The "displaced borders" between the two countries reveal the radical political dimension of the aesthetics of the project Skopje 2014, a project in which size and grandeur are central in shaping people's perceptions and reactions to material appearances. Conspicuously-decorated and striking in size, these venues and monuments have become main carriers of the political struggle with Greece over the right to use the name Macedonia.

The object-oriented ontology of miracle in a forgotten pilgrimage place

Author: Tomáš Kobes (University of West Bohemia)  email

Short Abstract

The paper examines the object-oriented ontology of miracle and how the miracle contributes to the remembering of the forgotten place associated with the image of the Virgin Mary, the local public water supply system and the architecture of the baroque pilgrimage church in an abandoned village .

Long Abstract

In West Bohemian abandoned village known as a famous pilgrimage place in past, two unusual events (survive of the fall from the church's roof and new spring of water in strange place) happened at the beginning of the 21st century which were described as miracles. The miracle has the paradoxical position in social sciences. It is conceptualized as a real social fact of unreal events evaluated as a projection of the social categories to the objects of the naive belief of believers. One way how to avoid the paradox is to focus on the materiality, how it facilitates the existing relations and contributes to the creation of frames of reference wherein the miracle is detectable. The paper is based on my fieldwork at the abandoned village and deals with the interrelatedness of the image of the Virgin Mary (a copy of the famous miraculous image of the Virgin Mary from Passau painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder), the local public water supply system and the architecture of the baroque pilgrimage church and how they contributed to the negotiation process about what is real and unreal in the context of two unusual events. Drawing on Latour's notion of factish (Latour 1999), paper explores the object - oriented ontology of miracle and how it contributes to the remembering of the forgotten pilgrimage place associated with the material objects.

Papay Gyro Nights: reflections on islands, art and inhuman materialities

Author: Stuart McLean (University of Minnesota)  email

Short Abstract

How do human acts of artistic creation and the form-engendering and form-dissolving propensities of ecological processes reciprocally illuminate and transform one another? I explore this question via experimental works shown at Papay Gyro Nights Art Festival, held annually in the Orkney Islands.

Long Abstract

How are the impersonal forces of "nature" felt and manifested through the humanly wrought artifacts of "culture"? Conversely, what affective engagements, insights and understandings do, for example, art works yield into the material processes that such works simultaneously appropriate, transform and carry forward? Papay Gyro Nights is a week-long art festival held annually on the island of Papa Westray (or "Papay") in Orkney, off the north coast of Scotland. It takes its name and inspiration from a mythic giantess commemorated in folklore and masked and costumed performances across the North Atlantic region and associated both with the interface between land and sea (combining marine and terrestrial attributes) and with powers and presences existing beyond the human realm. The festival brings together artists and works in a variety of media from around the world to respond both to the figure of Gyro and to the physical environment of the island. This presentation is less an ethnography of the festival than an attempt to think and create with and alongside the featured art works. It explores through a combination of text and visual imagery the ways in which human acts of artistic creation and the form-engendering and form dissolving propensities of ecological processes reciprocally illuminate and transform one another. In doing so, it suggests that art's inescapable engagement with the material substance of its media is revealing both of its own complicity with and of its inevitable displacement from within by the other-than-human materialities from which it is fashioned.

Art restored with light: Mark Rothko and physics at the Harvard Art Museums

Author: Grace Kim (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)  email

Short Abstract

Analyzing a high-tech restoration of Mark Rothko paintings at the Harvard Art Museums, I argue that a physics understanding of light and color reconfigured the kinds of materials that matter in art’s display.

Long Abstract

How are present-day techniques and interpretations used to recover the historical and aesthetic integrity of deteriorated artworks? Conservation scientists and art restorers grapple with art's materials as well as with art history's understandings of aesthetics. Reporting on the recent restoration of faded paintings by postwar American artist Mark Rothko at the Harvard Art Museums, I show how the latest technoscientific interventions are transforming what art looks like and from which kinds of matter art can derive its significance. In this case, I analyze how physics was enrolled to develop a restoration technique the museum calls "inpainting with light," adopting the conventional restoration practice of filling in missing areas of an artifact. Instead of using pigment to reverse color loss, however, scientists calculated, pixel-by-pixel, compensation images that were cast from digital projectors onto the paintings' surfaces. They claimed that sunlight's effects, which caused the color fading in the first place, could be counteracted by computer-generated, technoscientific light made safe for art. The exhibition itself called into question the boundary between art and its restoration. This paper demonstrates how these scientists' contributions to restoration practice were seen by the museum to have redistributed art's authenticity, not only among the "original" materials of the canvases and pigments but also within the light they "added back." I draw upon New Materialisms to think through what the materiality of art and light becomes, as Rothko's Harvard Murals (re)emerge as an enduring legacy of the past and as a high-tech innovation.

Soil fiction: the experience of a neglected urban thing

Author: Germain Meulemans (University of Aberdeen / FNRS-ULg)  email

Short Abstract

This paper builds on the example of a transdisciplinary residence on urban soils and examines fiction and imagination as leaps forward, adding to reality, rather than as a turn away from it.

Long Abstract

This paper starts with the story of the Soil Fiction project - a residence in which artists, anthropologists and a soil-scientist worked together on developing an exhibition on urban soils - in order to address what speculative realism might bring to anthropological modes of inquiry. For more than 150 years, urban soils were left unnoticed by modern science because of their messiness and boundedness with human activities. Yet, they are a prevalent aspect of urban conditions of life. Through six months of collective work, Soil Fiction explored some of the neglected paths that attach us to urban soils. Departing from attempts to adapt modern-day science to urban soils, it imagined the practices of a minor science developed through a journey along them. These practices were given consistence through the creation of installations and films. Drawing on Stengers's approach to speculative thinking, I discuss the importance of inventing propositions that work as 'lures for feelings'. In this, rather than being a figment of the imagination, the craft of speculative imagining can attract experience. Fiction and exhibition making become ways to inquire into the world, to intensify hypothesis, and to forge other relationships with the world. I conclude that imaginative experiments such as Soil Fiction are not only knowledge practices in themselves, but also add more reality to the world. Responding to Ingold's call for an anthropology that re-unites imagination and reality together, they conjure up research modes that do not discriminate between soils and our knowledge of them.

Hand on heart: performing tender surgery

Author: Christina Lammer (Academy of Fine Arts Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

In Hand on Heart I focus on a 16 mm short movie of an operation on the open heart. I produced the film in the frame of the arts-based research project Performing Surgery that compares gestures of surgeons in various clinical fields.

Long Abstract

Entering the heart: I will introduce an approach that goes beyond the boundaries of the human body. Inspired by the work of feminist theorists, I attend open-heart surgery as a filmmaker, exploring hand gestures and modes of expression. I am particularly interested in the silent orchestration of hands. This intimate interplay of surgeons and scrub nurses is difficult to put into words. Nevertheless the sensory and empathetic capacities of surgeons - intra-operatively - are central issues in the frame of my research. Methodologically I use digital and analogue cameras to study surgical operations. Whereas the digital footage is conceptually closer to documentary, the analogue short movies already include an artistic transformation. Grainy black and white close-up images of operating hands and bodies in sterile gloves and garments are in strong contradiction to clean and colorful high-resolution video recordings of surgeries. A specific tactility unfolds. A haptic quality touches spectators beyond the skin. With Hand on Heart I attempt to put my finger on a variety of meanings of how the heart - as emotional organ and as a pump - is perceived. Experiences and stories of heart patients are interwoven with the ones of surgeons. Approaching tales of love and grief in a machine-centered clinical environment where operators perform tender surgery. Keeping the heart away. Opening the spreader only far enough so that the hand can tenderly reach inside the body's cavity.

Art and anthropology without relations

Author: Roger Sansi (Universitat de Barcelona)  email

Short Abstract

“Relationality” has been a dominant paradigm in Anthropology and the Arts in the last decades. But in the last few years, there are rising questionings of relationality in both fields. In this paper I will assess these recent criticisms from the perspective of Anthropology.

Long Abstract

"Relationality" has been a dominant paradigm in Anthropology and the Arts in the last decades. But in the last few years, there are rising questionings of relationality in both fields. In Contemporary Art one can notice a return to objects, beyond participatory art practices. This may not be simply a criticism of participatory art as such, a "return to order". On the opposite, this return to objects has been shaped by the ontological questions that relational approaches had formulated, opening the path to "new materialisms" in Philosophy, Anthropology, and Art. For example the philosopher Graham Harman advocates that the primacy of relations over things is no longer a liberating idea, since it reduces things to their pragmatic impact on humans and on each other (Harman 2:2014). In these terms, he has proposed a non-relational esthetics, an art without relations, concerned with objects deeper than their relation to humans. In this paper, I will investigate the consequences of this argument from the point of view of Anhtropology.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.