Category Archives: Conference and Event Reports

Best of Material World Blog: Museums, Exhibitions, Archives, Memorials

– Compiled by Aaron Glass (Bard Graduate Center) 

Since its inception, Material World has treated museums and archives not only as repositories of material culture, but as material culture–that is, material products as well as producers of culture and social memory. As institutions, they are sites of collection and exhibition, acts that have their own material and materializing dimensions.

Here are some of our favorite posts about museums, exhibitions, archives, and memorials:

Graeme Were reviews the Musée du Quai Branly a year after it opened.

Anna Weinrich examines two permanent museum exhibitions in Australia featuring Aboriginal culture and collections by a foundational anthropologist, testing out the new museology against the politics of Aboriginal voice.

Diana Young discusses her curatorial efforts to enliven museum collections in dialogue with Aboriginal artists.

Bethany Edmunds reviews two British exhibitions of Pacific material, reflecting on the role of language in framing both historic and contemporary art and material culture.

Gabriela Nicolescu writes about the aesthetics and ideologies behind changing representation of peasant culture in the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant.

The History Rising project brings together artist and curator to explore the architecture and design of exhibition space, technology, and furniture.

Paul Williams investigates the global trend for museums memorializing atrocities.

In one of the innovative formats on Material World, a conference report details the papers given in a conference called “Disturbing Pasts: Memories, Controversies, and Creativity.”

Matt Voigts discusses London’s vernacular “Ghost bikes” in the context of other urban memorials.

Anna Haverinen explores virtual memorials as means of mourning online.

Christopher Pinney writes about the salvaging of an individual’s photographic archive after monsoon flooding.

Corinne Kratz shares a link to an online archive of publications by Ivan Karp, one of our most prolific and insightful anthropologists of museums and exhibition practice.

And finally, I include one of my own book reviews to call further attention to Museum Pieces, the important 2011 publication by Ruth Phillips that brings togethers essays from her entire career working in and thinking critically about museums.

 

Gabriella Coleman on Anonymous

ColemanFlier v2

In March, Gabriella Coleman gave a talk at the UCL Centre for Digital Anthropology drawing on her research with the activist (non)collective Anonymous. Her talk, entitled Anonymous and the Craftiness of Craft and the Trickiness of Trickery, linked Anonymous activists to the anthropological archetype of the trickster, and developed the trope of craft – as an engaged, wholly material practice – as a way to enact trickery.

The talk can be watched by clicking on the following link, or the one above (I’m trying to figure out how to embed it into wordpress)

Gabriella Coleman, March 11, 2014

Yuri Vella’s celebrated at Tartu World Film Festival

The University of Tartu has recently hosted its XI annual Maailma World Festival of Documentary Film (March 15-22). The event opened with a session to honour the career of the Siberian filmmaker, reindeer herder and environmentalist Yuri Vella [1948-2013] In memoriam: Filming and Being Filmed.

 

The festival session dedicated to Vella’s memory included documentary tributes from his closest filmmaker friends — those who have been on his camps numerous times and whom he called whenever he needed a camera. Olga Kornienko lived not very far from Yuri’s place and specialises in filming the native people of the Khanty-Mansi area. Vella often asked her to be present at some of the significant moments in his life in order to record it. Liivo Niglas, while living in Estonia, has always been receptive to his calls. These filmmaker friends of Yuri Vella and their materials kicked off the festival with a discussion focusing on Yuri and on the relationship between his oeuvre and their own documentary styles.

Stephan Dudeck, anthropologist at the Arctic Centre of the Univ. of Lapland in Rovaniemi, Finland has written an obituary to mark the passing of his friend, teacher and mentor.

Y Vella

 

 

 

Absence, Presence, Distance

At the end of January ’14, the Estonian Graduate School of Culture Studies and Arts hosted its fourth international Winter School at Tallinn University. The event, entitled Absence, Presence, Distance: Ways of Seeing the Past, featured such prominent speakers as Zymunt Bauman (Leeds), Mieke Bal (Amsterdam), Victor Buchli (UCL), Francois Hartog (EHESS, Paris), and Miri Rubin (QM London) amongst others.

In addition to public lectures, film screenings and multi-media exhibitions, this winter school included student seminars and workshops, guided visits throughout the city’s medieval and post-industrial landmarks as well as some fine dinning and plenty of drink.

Over 120 postgraduate students were involved in a week’s worth of discussion intended on revisiting the traditional distinction between absence and presence. They discussed and debated how far from an object or event we need to be to see it clearly. And they considered what it actually means for something or someone to be situated in historicity — located, either singularly or simultaneously, in the past, the present and the future.

bauman

 

 

 

Installation – Urban Infrastructure: Obsolescence and Futurity Walking Tour

New Projects

American Anthropological Association Meetings 2013

Chicago, Illinois USA

Sunday, November 24th, 10 am – 1 pm

Crucial infrastructures in North America have begun to reach the ends of their lifespan, with malfunctions and their effects increasingly commanding public and political attention. Our installation draws on a burgeoning conversation in anthropology on infrastructure, while emphasizing its aesthetic and material dimensions alongside its practical and functional ones.

This two-part “installation” consists of a tour of infrastructure on Chicago’s mid South Side (sites tbd), followed by lunch and informal discussion at New Projects space (www.new-projects.org). All sites are accessible by CTA transit. Reservations kindly requested by November 1st for details and 2 short discussion texts. Participants are welcome to join after this date, but must contact organizers for location details. Marina Peterson: petersom@ohio.edu

Sponsored by SUNTA/ SANA

 

Linguistic and Material Intimacies of Mobile Phones – Report on a Wenner-Gren Funded Workshop

by Joshua A. Bell, Joel Kuipers, Jacqueline Hazen, Amanda Kemble, and Briel Kobak

In June 2013, our collaborative George Washington University/Smithsonian Institution team–Joshua A. Bell (NMNH Anthropology), Joel Kuipers (GWU Anthropology), Briel Kobak, Amanda Kemble, and Jacqueline Hazen–hosted a Wenner-Gren funded workshop, Linguistic and Material Intimacies of Mobile Phones, at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. The workshop grew out of our anthropological project “Fixing Connections: The Art & Science of Repair,” which is funded by support a grant from the Smithsonian’s Consortium for World Cultures and Understanding the American Experience (www.si.edu/consortia). Since May 2012 we have been conducting ethnographic research in cell phone repair shops across the Washington, DC area to investigate the cultural intimacies associated with cell phones as well as their materiality. Repair shops are dynamic sites in which the social and linguistic components of technology – anxieties about damage and loss of information, connection and availability– articulate with the material realities of cell phones– the parts, supply chains, and labor that are required for repair (See Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1: Cell phone repair technician takes apart an iPhone 4S in the shop’s backroom. (Photo Credit: Joshua A. Bell)

Figure 1: Cell phone repair technician takes apart an iPhone 4S in the shop’s backroom. (Photo Credit: Joshua A. Bell)

Figure 2: Cell phone repair technician replaces iPhone 4 cracked screen on countertop in front of customers. (Photo Credit: Briel Kobak)

Figure 2: Cell phone repair technician replaces iPhone 4 cracked screen on countertop in front of customers. (Photo Credit: Briel Kobak)

To further explore the ways in which the social, linguistic, cultural, and material facets of cell phone use overlap and intersect, we convened a diverse group of 14 international scholars to explore the social and material implications of cell phones, from the mineral extraction necessary for their manufacturing, through their various cultural uses and adaptations, to their breakdown and repair. Ten papers were presented with Anna Tsing (UCSC) and Webb Keane (Michigan) acting as discussants. A number of themes and motifs emerged over the course of the workshop, including not only the profound ambivalence that users feel towards the technology’s affordances and drawbacks, but also the uncertainty we felt as a group of anthropologists attempting to document the use of such a ubiquitous yet highly personal device. Because of this uncertainty, we talked about cell phones through a number of seemingly opposing binaries: connections and disconnections, intimacy and anxiety, rupture and repair.

To organize the contents of the workshop, we categorized the articles into three synthetic, cross-cutting themes: fetishization, inscription, and intimacy. This first dimension allowed us to examine agency, value and meaning-making along the various points of the commodity chain of a mobile phone (Appadurai 1986; Spyer 1998; Tsing 2009). Papers on this theme included explorations of the political economy of coltan in the DRC (Jeffrey Mantz, GMU), attributions of value in processes of material repair (GWU/SI Repair Collective), and anxieties over ownership and privacy in Brazil (Alexander Dent, GWU). The second analytic of inscription interrogated the cultural variation by which mobile phones structure new forms of temporal and spatial practices of users in their respective media worlds (Orr 1996; Latour 1999; Keane 2003). Papers on inscription included examinations of the re-curation of museum artifacts via Instagram (Alexandra Weilenmann & Thomas Hillman, Gothenburg) and the worlding of worlds through video sharing amongst the Yolngu in Australia (Jennifer Deger, ANU). The third thematic, intimacy, centered on the ability for these devices to construct subjective emotional experience along specific cultural dimensions (Ito et al. 2005; Horst & Miller 2006; Katsuno and Yano 2007). Participants in this grouping wrote on varying topics, such as experiences of disruption across 15 cultures, including the blind, deaf, and elderly in the US (Elizabeth Keating, UT Austin), state and familial networks on a Caribbean border (Heather Horst, RMIT University), communicative patterns among Norwegians during times of crisis (Rich Ling, IT University of Copenhagen), the management and presentation of self through social media (Ilana Gershon, IU), and the cell phone’s role in romance and the intimate economy in Mozambique (Julie Archambault, Oxford).

Figure 3: Participants conversing at the workshop held in the National Museum of Natural History. Photo Credit: Rob Leopold.

Figure 3: Participants conversing at the workshop held in the National Museum of Natural History. Photo Credit: Rob Leopold.

Read together as a special collection or edited volume, the articles presented at this workshop will bring together actor-oriented, fine-grained ethnographic data with broader anthropological theory on materiality, technology studies, linguistics, and anthropology of the self. The workshop will also provide the theoretical foundation for a planned exhibit on mobile phones tentatively titled, Unseen Connections: Natural Histories of the Mobile Phone to be held at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC

Read together as a special collection or edited volume, the articles presented at this workshop will bring together actor-oriented, fine-grained ethnographic data with broader anthropological theory on materiality, technology studies, linguistics, and anthropology of the self. The workshop will also provide the theoretical foundation for a planned exhibit on mobile phones tentatively titled, Unseen Connections: Natural Histories of the Mobile Phone to be held at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

References:

Appadurai, A. (Ed.) (1986). The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Horst, H. A. and D. Miller. (2006). The Cell Phone: An Anthropology of Communication. New York, NY. Berg Publishers.

Ito, M., D. Okabe, M. Matsuda (Eds). (2005). Personal, Portable, Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life. Cambridge, MA. The MIT Press.

Katsuno, H. and C. Yano. (2007). “Kaomoji and Expressivity in Japanese Chat Rooms.” In B. Danet and S.Herring (Eds.), The Multilingual Internet (278-300). New York: Oxford University Press.

Keane, W. (2003). Semiotics and the social analysis of material things. Language and Communication 23 (3-4), 409-425.

Latour, B. (1999). Pandora’s hope: essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Orr, J. (1996). Talking About Machines. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Spyer, P. (Ed.) (1998). Border Fetishisms: Material Objects in Unstable Places. London: Routledge.

Tsing, A.(2009). Supply Chains and the Human Condition. Rethinking Marxism 21(2), 148-176.

Conference Report–”Disturbing Pasts: Memories, Controversies and Creativity”

This summer saw the conclusion of ‘Disturbing Pasts: Memories, Controversies and Creativity’, an international research project led by Leon Wainwright (Department of Art History, The Open University, UK) which began in December 2011. (For an overview of the project, visit: www.open.ac.uk/Arts/disturbing-pasts/ )

The main focus of Disturbing Pasts was a major conference that took place over three days at the Museum of Ethnology, Vienna (recently renamed Weltmuseum Vienna) on 20-22 November 2012. The majority of speakers were from outside academia, the event was free to attend and widely publicised, while ample time was allowed for discussion and interaction with the audience and for networking among participants. It consisted of panels of highly-illustrated presentations on five distinct yet complementary themes. Each panel combined speakers from the three selected groupings of stakeholders (artists, curators and academics) and saw a productive exchange between them.

The sessions were filmed by technicians from The Open University and an audio-visual record of speakers’ presentations is now available at the Open Arts Archive (www.openartsarchive.org) Click on the links below for each presentation, available by ‘open access’.

Panel 1, ‘Cultural Loss and Fragmented Heritage’, began with two presentations from the artists Peju Layiwola (Lagos, Nigeria) and T. Shanaathanan (Jaffna, Sri Lanka), who showed how historical episodes of violence and the removal of cultural property – a British punitive expedition of 1897, and conflict in Sri Lanka – have been explored in each artist’s creative practice, as well as those of their peers. The curator Shan McAnena (Naughton Gallery, Queen’s University Belfast) evaluated recent curatorial attempts to reconnect the city of Belfast to the troubled memory of the Titanic. The visual anthropologist Elizabeth Edwards (De Montfort Leicester) and art historian Simon Faulkner (Manchester Metropolitan University) responded with a related critical debate on museum practice and colonial archives across the UK, and issues of public memory that are raised by paintings of Gerhard Richter recalling the history of Left-wing extremism in 1970s Germany.

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Becoming Exotic

Notes on the Workshop  “Objects from Abroad: The Life of Exotic Goods in France and the United States”

by  Noémie Étienne  (Wissenschaftliche Assistentin, Univ. of Zurich)

Fig. 1. Eugène Boban’s importation and exchanges network, between 1870 and 1890. © Manuel Charpy.

Fig. 1. Eugène Boban’s importation and exchanges network, between 1870 and 1890. © Manuel Charpy.

The interdisciplinary conference “Objects from Abroad: The Life of Exotic Goods in France and the United States”, held at the Centre for International Research in the Humanities, New York University, in April 2013, addressed the question of the lives of exotic objects in the United States and France between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. Within this context, the focus was on Western use, display and function of objects coming from “abroad”: in other words, on the consumption of material culture according to the expression used by Ann Bermingham.[1] This conference’s emphasis on travelling objects prompted us to broaden Bermingham’s notion to “cross-cultural” consumption. With this expression we had in mind the way certain objects made in a specific cultural context, generally non-Western, did indeed take a new turn in their lives by stepping into another location in Paris or New York (fig. 1). This, in turn, raised questions such as: what are the specific implications of a cross-cultural perspective? What kind of impact does the movement from one culture to another have on artefacts, and vice versa? The conference demonstrated that consumption of culture in a cross-cultural context is not only an economic transaction but also a process of translation and appropriation. Here consumption is understood as part of a creative process, which transforms the objects as well as their new contexts.

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From the Image to the Lecture Slide: Exercises in Anthropological Ventriloquy

Eleanor Williams  &  Theophile Desarmeaux,  UCL  Anthropology

magic lantern

The lanternslides exhibited in ‘From the Image to the Lecture Slide: Exercises in Anthropological Ventriloquy’ emerge from the depths of the UCL Anthropology Department’s Material Culture Room, part of UCL Museums and Collections.  From this cave of curiosities, the exhibition excavates a medley of largely anonymous ethnographic lanternslides, which were used for teaching anthropology during 1940 and 1950.  Today, a variety of slides are re-cast into three mock lectures that both explore the breadth of the collection and interrogate the use of images for teaching.

Lecture 1: We, The Tikopia: A Sociological Study of Kinship in Primitive Polynesia

The first lecture reveals the collection’s cornucopia of slides and questions the images’ instrumentality within a teaching context.  Employing a random number generator enabled the curators to have minimal input in the lecture’s creation.  To select the images, random numbers were applied to the list of slides.  An arbitrary narrative to accompany the images was obtained from Raymond Firth’s 1936 ethnographic monograph We, The Tikopia: A Sociological Study of Kinship in Primitive Polynesia.  Pages of the book were selected according to random numbers and text was extracted from the pages’ first indented paragraph.  The curators explore how the encasement of these multi-vocal images within the un-related narrative may manipulate one’s interpretation of the image.  However, the images simultaneously emancipate themselves from and subvert the narrative by visually bringing new meanings to the text.

Lecture 2: Duplicates

The second lecture concentrates on the collection’s duplicated images.  By exploring ‘the duplicates’ the lecture brings to the fore the slides’ materiality and resultant polysemy.  The material disparity of the duplicated images, in terms of their framing, inversion, enlargement and magnification, are examined in the lecture.  The varying material qualities cleave the same slide into two highly different images.  By contrasting pairs of duplicates, the curators explore how their varying materiality offers an avenue through which the images’ polysemy may be unleashed.  The curators question what the implications of using slides with different material properties might be when used for teaching purposes.

Lecture 3: The Image Speaks

The third lecture provides a space in which the most unruly and restive of the lanternslides may be revealed.  The lecture investigates the spectrum of the images’ semantic contents and aesthetic qualities that exists within the collection.  The selection exposes the images that confounded the curators during their exploration, due to their qualities such as blurriness and either under or over exposure.  The images’ incomprehensible nature and their ability to seemingly evade anthropological categorisation, led the curators to question how these slides might have been used for teaching.

[Editor's note: during their tenure in the teaching collection these slides have largely been separated from any contextual information and provenance. They are thus presented here as they emerge and are experienced within this particular archive, which is of course an archive that rests on the problematic histories of anthropology, photography, and colonialism. If anyone has any commentary or context to add to specific photographs, please either contact us directly or add to the public comments in this posting.]

Call for Papers International Workshop on: ECONOMY, MORALITY AND MATERIALITY

Date: 26 – 27 September 2013

Venue: University of Pardubice, Czech Republic

Long-held convictions about the immoral or amoral nature of capitalism have recently lost some of their force in light of illustrations of how moral conflicts unfold in the economic realm and examples of how religious and non-religious morality works its ways in the capitalist economy. Subsequently, the articulation of economy and morality has returned as a topic of interest in the academia. Depictions of how moral meanings are implicated in economic choices have been added to descriptions of the individualistic, economistic, immoral and amoral behaviours fostered by capitalism in societies all over the world. In addition, the mutual entanglement of capital, Islam and the market has become an active sub-field of enquiry in response to recent transformations. While capitalism and Islam have long intersected in Muslim societies across time and space, in the last decades their articulation has intensified under the impact of the concomitant spread of Islamic revivalist movements and neoliberal capitalism.

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