Accepted Paper:

Improvisation in anthropology and art - habitus and movement  


Amanda Ravetz (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Paper short abstract:

Anthropology often allies improvisation with agency and change; musicians have challenged this. Cage found it too predictable, favouring chance instead. The paper takes an ethnographic approach to improvisation through a drawing experiment exploring the relationship between habitus and movement.

Paper long abstract:

Where anthropology has tended to view improvisation as a largely positive force, in music and visual arts the term has possibly involved more ambivalence, although in both cases, debate has focused on the relationship between the known and the unforeseen. In anthropology Holland et al (1998) stress prior knowledge in cultural improvisation arguing that it rests on someone's past sedimentations and the use of available cultural resources in response to current subject positions. Hallam and Ingold (2007), Cerwonka and Malkki (2008) and Ingold (2011) are more inclined to foreground change, presenting life as a continual process of movement that 'work[s] things out as it goes along" (ibid p10). In music and the visual arts John Cage considers improvisation to be mostly too predictable to be useful, favouring chance as the basis for musical experimentation (Feisst 1987). Musician and philosopher Coessens and artistic researcher and visual artist Douglas pay attention to improvisation as a means of being inside experience, trusting the unfolding moment and adapting to unforeseen circumstances (2011).

In 2011 Kathleen Coessens, Anne Douglas and Amanda Ravetz worked with improvisation in the context of an experimental drawing process. Following workshops with artists Marina Abramović and Bronwyn Platten - and influenced by Coessens' and Douglas' Calendar Variations and A Day in the Life - Ravetz wrote a score that involved sipping water slowly and drawing over an eight week period. The resulting drawings, log notes, and interviews are used here to mediate an (ethnographic) encounter with theories of improvisation in anthropology and art.

Panel P33
The art of improvisation