Accepted paper:

Measuring symmetry in gesture and rhythm: geometry and the coppersmiths of Santa Clara del Cobre, Michoacán, México


Michele Feder-Nadoff (El Colegio de Michoacán)

Paper short abstract:

For the coppersmith artisans of Santa Clara del Cobre, geometry is an essential tool in creating their symmetrical forms and designs. How is abstract geometry materialized through bodily gesture, tool-use and copper? This paper examines material geometry enacted in the symmetry of forging vessels.

Paper long abstract:

The coppersmith artisans of Santa Clara del Cobre incorporate geometry as an essential component of their skilled bodily practice. This geometry is carried out in gestures, movements and rhythms, whose patterns, impulses and symmetries are involved in forging the appropriate tools as well as the copper vessels. To design a vessel is to imagine all its surface paths; its inner and outer surfaces and spaces, a knit fusion of skin and bones. Copper is both armature and membrane, stretched and shaped by hammers from inside and outside over stakes and anvils. To realize the repeating symmetrical shapes and designs of their copper vessels, it is necessary for the smiths to create very specific tools. How is geometry employed in making and using these chisels, hammers, compasses and stakes? How might this fuse mathematical abstraction into material geometry? How is the body's own symmetry engaged? How might Franz Boas's ideas of rhythm and symmetry help us explore geometry as embodied knowing, calculation, assessment and resolution? How might bodily movement in skilled practices and techniques be shaped by the body's own geometry and symmetries? How might copper-things embody artisans bodily symmetries? This paper grows out of long-term apprenticeship-based ethnography with the traditional coppersmiths of Santa Clara del Cobre, in the Mexican State of Michoacán, initiated in 1997.

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Geometry and anthropology: description, projection, and measurement