Archive | Objects and visual analyses

Material Connexion

Haidy Geismar, NYU
Material Connexion is a “material library” based in New York, Cologne, Bangkok, and Milan. The Library houses over 3,500 new and innovative materials representing eight categories: polymers, glass, ceramics, carbon-based materials, cement-based materials, metals, natural materials and natural material derivatives. It is a resource for designers, architects, and so on, to touch materials, assess their viability in new projects, learn about new technologies and techniques.
Click here to download an article about the library from Dwell Magazine: Download file (.pdf)
However, these materials are oddly decontextualised in this setting, with its overt focus on technology. For instance, one of the success stories cited on the website highlights the capability of materials to be redefined through the process of product design.…

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Vik Muniz

Haidy Geismar, NYU
Whilst of course, all art is material culture, Vik Muniz, a Brazilian artist, who I saw in September at Sikkema Jenkins Gallery in Chelsea, New York is one of the few contemporary artists whose work resonates profoundly with material culture studies in its own right, without needing the meditation of critical discourse.
Muniz himself outlines the importance of materiality in his own artist’s manifesto:
“Basically, we artists make art so we can evidence the materialization of an idea, to test it in the material world, only in the end to transform it back into actual visual stimuli, making a connection between ourselves and the world we live in” (Vik Muniz, Reflex: a Vik Muniz Primer, 2005, Aperture Foundation, page 22)

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Material Religion

Barbara Kirschenblatt Gimblett, NYU
Mitzvah Kinder figurines, right to left: Malkeleh, Moishy, Totty (Father), Mommy, and Baby Chaim. “The ‘Mitzvah Kinder’ has been designed to represent a Yiddishe family in the world of children’s play and imagination. Our charming characters made of soft lightweight rubber, makes them safe, durable and irresistible. So make the ‘Mitzvah Kinder’ part of your family.”
The Working Group on Jews, Media, and Religion at NYU’s Center for Religion and Media is contributing to a special issue of Material Religion dedicated to Jews edited by Jeffrey Shandler and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. The articles in this issue examine the role that material culture plays in the intersection of Jews, media, and religion. Our goal in this endeavor is to explore the range of material culture–the designing, production, dissemination, collecting, inventorying, and use of things–as media in Jewish religious life, past and present, broadly defined.…

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Oval Wall Hanging Commemorating the Coronation of King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV and Queen Halavalu Mata’aho

Dr Jenny Newell, Curator, Oceania (Polynesia), Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at the British Museum
Tongan wall hanging.jpgTonga, 1967, 39 x 29 cm. Donated by Noelle Sandwith Oc,1994,01.64
This wall hanging was made in Tonga to commemorate the royal coronation on 4 July 1967. I selected this object partly as a commemoration of my own; King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV died on 10 September 2006. I also chose it because I like its quirky, fundamentally Tongan conjunction of materials: a plaited pandanus leaf backing, decorated barkcloth surface, finished with a postcard pasted in the centre. The object’s home-made quality and use of everyday materials lends an intimate aspect and conveys, more effectively than mass-produced royal merchandise of the sort we see in souvenir shops in Britain, a fond, individualised attachment to the royal couple.…

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Two Drinking Cups, Egypt 1550 BC

Politics of Viewing
Stephen Quirke; Reader, Curator of the Petrie Museum, University College London


What gives a viewer the right to look at a picture? Or an object? Or these
two drinking cups, of fired Nile mud, made three and a half millennia ago in
the lower Nile Valley, and buried at a site an archaeologist chose to dig in
1914 and chose to call Harageh, the pair now sits on a low glass shelf in a
university museum in London. What gives us the right to learn, might be the
recognition of political realities, that London had troops occupying Egypt in
1914, that London museum-goers and university students have higher living standards,
better health service, higher literacy rate, that politics, society and the
economy, after all, exist.…

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Materialising Democracy

Mukulika Banerjee, Anthropology, UCL
This week, reportage of the mid term US elections seems to devote almost equal coverage to the Democrat re-capture of the Congress and the close race to finish in the Senate as it did to malfunctioning electronic voting machines. Indiana and Ohio were singled out for the most unreliable machines and Florida was reported to have reverted to paper ballots. Thus, who people voted for seems to be hinge crucially on how, literally, they cast their vote. The materiality of the voting process, namely ballot boxes, counting procedures, polling stations do not usually feature in election analysis, but when they do, we can assume that something is either wrong or novel. In the case of the US elections, it was both.…

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On the Circulation of Ethnographic Knowledge:

Aaron Glass, University of British Columbia
Contemporary intercultural representation is facilitated in large part by a number of objectifying media that were relatively novel just a century ago. Barring direct social contact, we tend to experience other cultural groups via mediating technologies of representation—illustrated texts, photographs and films, museum exhibitions, staged performances, now websites—whose formats often occlude their various producers and blur their contexts of production (be they academic or touristic, educational or commercial). Such media encourage a global purview on cultural diversity, but they also function to limit knowledge reproduction through their unique materialities and the particular social dynamics of their circulation. For instance, like citational practices within academia, dramatic images tend to be propagated through processes of visual reiteration and recursive (mis)representation.…

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Three objects exemplify for me the capacity of things to trigger or make thinkable otherwise elusive ideas.

They are, first, a small figurative sculpture of a mother and child from late 19th or early 20th century Borneo; second, a rubber-stamp mounted on a small block of laminated wood, bearing a barcode and a label stating it to have been handcrafted in Emeryville, California, ©2003 Hero Arts Rubber Stamps, Inc.; and third, a gold-coloured metal invitation, also laminated, to the opening of the Crypt of Civilization at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Bornean figure is part of the Charles Hose collection in the British Museum. It is not a celebrated piece and is not even on display. The mother clasps her baby so that its head appears to replace one of her breasts, not simply to squash it as an avid little sucker might do.…

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