Accepted paper:

Ethnographic conceptualism: gift/knowledge relations at the exhibition of gifts to Soviet leaders


Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov (Higher School of Economics, St Petersburg)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses methodological and aesthetic implications of using conceptual art projects as tools of research into this art’s multiple audiences. What kind of interventions and ethnographic experiments are such projects? What kind of exchanges they perform, and what kind of exchanges they describe?

Paper long abstract:

"Ethnographic conceptualism" refers not merely to the use of ethnographic methods in contemporary art but also, conversely, to ethnography conducted as art. It takes its cue from "conceptualism" that creates art objects out of concepts as well as out of audiences and their reaction to these objects, and it adds an important research dimension to this relationship. This paper's case in point is the exhibition of gifts to Soviet leaders (Kremlin Museum, Moscow, 2006). It focuses on audience's reactions to this exhibition that ranged from comments in the viewers' response book to a decision of the Kremlin Museum to gift a copy of the exhibition catalogue to President Vladimir Putin. The goal of this paper is to reflect on the "territory of the common" that this exhibition chartered as well as produced — on the complex space of museum politics in post-Soviet Moscow. In contrast with currently prevailing linguistic and object-centred analyses of these "territories of the common", this paper approaches this space through the lens of exchange theory, linking the gift as the exhibition topic to the exchanges that it generated. Its goal is to demonstrate how relations of knowledge, which configure this complex post-Soviet audience in the form of social memory, perform the gift; and vice versa how gift-giving performs these relations of knowledge and power. In doing so, this article contributes from a new angle to the gift theory and also to the anthropological understanding of performativity.

panel P52
Art, politics, ethnography