Archive | Objects and visual analyses

The Anti-Camera

Christopher Pinney, UCL Anthropology

I recently came across M.N. Srinivas’ observation that his enthusiastic engagement with photography, during his fieldwork in Mysore in the late 1940s, earned him the nickname “chamara man”. He notes that in Kannada chamara denotes whisks made of the long hair from a yak’s tails used by servants to keep flies away from Rajas and by priests to preserve the purity of icons.

In the Madhya Pradesh village where I have worked intermittently since 1982 you will hear echoes of the metaphor that informs the South Indian description of Srinivas as “chamara man”. For instance, Jagdish Sharma, the pujari of the Krishna temple once joked that my video camera embodied “yantra, mantra, [and] tantra”, yantra being the design (“made in Japan”), mantra being the information it stored, and tantra being the magic of technology (its “mashinari”).…

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New Open Access Series: Anthropology and Photography and open access initiatives from the Global Social Media Impact Study

Haidy Geismar, UCL

The movement towards open access has continued to gain momentum in the social sciences, and in anthropology, with important new journals such as Hau; and new movements to develop alternative publishing collectives afoot. I have just stepped down as editor of the Journal of Material Culture where we are moving a little slower. We have committed to ensuring that there is at least one open access article per issue, and Sage has a very generous Green archiving policy which allows the accepted version of an article to be made available immediately. However, Sage owns both the title and the back issues of the journal which makes a transition to fully open access more of a decision to form a completely new title.…

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Some thoughts about the 9/11 Memorial and Museum

Haidy Geismar, UCL

I recently spent an afternoon at the site of the former twin towers, where now there lies, imprinted on the foundations, one of the largest memorials I have visited, and underneath that a cavernous museum, both dedicated to memorializing the events of September 11, 2001. This review has emerged out that experience and from a conversation with Harvey Molotch who recently wrote a review of the 911 museum at Public Books. Called “How the 9/11 Museum Gets Us” Molotch reflects on the affective qualities of the museum, pulling together a powerfully christian iconography, personalizing the experience by exploring the victims in material detail through their possessions, and whitewashing historical context.

Photography was not allowed inside the main exhibit so the images I present show the memorial, and the outer areas  of the museum which allow the visitor to traverse the spectral foundations in the former basement of the building, punctuated by large remnants of the day, such as the Vesey street stairs, one of the few pieces of architecture left in one piece which has been relocated here through to fire trucks and steel girders.…

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Unleashing the Chaîne Opératoire: Students’ experimentation with an old methodology.

Ludovic Coupaye, UCL Anthropology

Over the last five years, undergraduate and postgraduate students enrolled in the course emphatically called “Transforming and Creating Worlds: Anthropological Perspectives on Techniques and Technology” have been given as a short assignment the recording of a short task of their choice and present it in the form of a Chaîne Opératoire.

Originally developed by French anthropologist André Leroi-Gourhan, in the tradition of Marcel Mauss, and further developed by ethnographers such as Pierre Lemonnier, the Chaîne Opératoire is, ironically enough, more used by archaeologists (who, by definition, cannot see people doing things) than by anthropologists, who, per definition see people doing and making things and are supposed to participate themselves. In this assignment, students have re-appropriated this methodology as form of ethnographic and interpretative experiment.…

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Occasional Paper 5: Mr Coperthwaite – a life in the Maine Woods

Anna Grimshaw, Emory University

Bill with magnifying glass

In 1960, Bill Coperthwaite bought 300 acres of wilderness in Machiasport, Maine.

Influenced by the poetry of Emily Dickinson and by the back to the land movement of Scott and Helen Nearing, Bill Coperthwaite was committed to what he called“a handmade life.”   For over fifty years until his death in 2013, he lived and worked in the forest. He was a builder of yurts, and a maker of spoons, bowls and chairs.

I met Bill Coperthwaite not long after I bought a house in Machiasport.   He was, of course, well-known to local people, many of whom affectionately recalled childhood adventures of exploring and working in the woods with Bill.   But he was also something of an international figure, drawing visitors to Dickinson’s Reach from different parts of the world.…

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Cyclone Pam – Support Vanuatu

Haidy Geismar, UCL

As I’m sure you are all aware, last week Vanuatu was devastated by Cyclone Pam, battering the country with winds of over 270 mph. The storm knocked out the country’s telecommunications and transport infrastructure and now, just a few days later, it is estimated that more then 70% of the population are left homeless, without adequate drinking water, and without food. The long term prospects for food security are also bad as most of the garden crops that people live off have been destroyed. President Baldwin Lonsdale has announced that the storm had “wiped out” recent development and that “everything” would have to be rebuilt.

Vanuatu is the place that I have worked as an anthropologist since 2000. The places I have worked – Port Vila, Malakula, Ambrym – via the networks set in place by the Vanuatu Cultural Centre have all been either badly damaged or destroyed.…

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Sawdust and Threads

Laurie Ingram, Material And Visual Culture, UCL

 

Sawdust and Threads is a residency and exhibitions programms that takes de-accessioned museum objects as its material. Artist Caroline Wright has undertaken residencies at three different museum collections and selected objects that have been de-accessioned. For Sawdust and Threads, Caroline has made detailed drawings of each of these objects that are then carefully and painstakingly deconstructed. The drawings as well as the objects from the different collections accompany the artist in the space where the process of deconstruction unfolds. The project poses questions around the nature of museum collections. Who owns these objects and how is the value of an object defined? Is value being removed or re-ascribed during this process of deconstruction?

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Collecting Collections and digital ways of knowing

Haidy Geismar, UCL

Talpa sp, Mole, Adult, Z2754 UCL Grant Museum of Zoology, © 2014 UCL. CC BY-NC-SA license.

Talpa sp, Mole, Adult, Z2754
UCL Grant Museum of Zoology, © 2014 UCL. CC BY-NC-SA license.

 

Last term I taught parallel undergraduate and Masters seminars exploring the creation of knowledge systems in museums and the effects of shifts towards the digital on the organization of knowledge and museum epistemologies. All the students had to create a project that digitally presented a series of objects, drawn from across UCL Museums and Collections and created a new digital collection environment. The project aimed not to create an online exhibition but to think about the potentials, and limitations, of digital representation and modes of organization for creating knowledge about both specific objects and from the collecting together of different objects. The undergraduates had to digitally collect 5 objects using an open source platform supported and hosted by UCL (My Portfolio, built on Mahara).…

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Mimesis as Infection: Charlie Hebdo seen from the Indian Archive

Christopher Pinney, UCL Anthropology

 

The recent events in Paris have focused attention on the complex relationship between different varieties of Islam and the image. Historians will rightly point to a French tradition of anti-clerical satire that reaches back to Diderot’s Supplement to Bougainville’s Voyage of 1771, and which provides a frame through which Charlie Hebdo’s provocations make sense. I’ve taught Diderot’s brilliant critique of Christian missionary hypocrisy in an imaginary Tahiti over several years and remain fascinated how one needs to continually remind oneself that this is fiction, a mere “supplement”. Diderot’s central Tahitian character, Orou, is a powerful vindication of Diderot’s “foisting” technique in which he “takes over Bougainville’s Voyage shamelessly rewriting and falsifying it” inserting “speeches and arguments that for the ‘enlightened’ reader, seem to cry out so urgently to be spoken”.…

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Christmas Leftovers

Christmas Leftovers

Josh Burraway, Social Anthropology, UCL

 With the festive season chronologically behind us (and yet despairingly in front of us) we can breath a brief sigh of relief as we enter the new year. Or at least we think we can. Although the wrapping paper, discount champagne and dodgy fireworks have indeed been put away for another year, most of us are undoubtedly returning to our homes and into a decidedly uncanny space. If you are anything like me, the residual objects of the Christmas break will no doubt still be adorning the living room. The slowly withering tree in the corner, the wreath on the door that has overstayed its welcome, the flaccid bunting of Christmas tinsel hanging stubbornly to what will surely be its final resting place, and, most interestingly to me – the dense sea of Christmas cards that have colonised the mantelpiece since the fateful day that November mercilessly toppled into December.…

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