Category Archives: Podcasts

Sounding Stones

Molly Johannson and Sarah McFalls, UCL Anthropology

This posting is one part of a wider project called Properties and Social Imagination – a collaboration between UCL Anthropology and Artists working at the School for Material and Visual Culture at Massey University, New Zealand. The project took several objects from the UCL Ethnography Collections and MA students and faculty conducted a series of experimental research projects, which explored the material properties, qualities and affordances of the collection.

This posting focuses on a Green Stone adze, from Papua New Guinea, and forms part of a wider essay which will shortly be published as a Material World Occasional Paper Series.


Over the course of the project we realised our interactions with the adze brought life to all types of stone, and subsequently also animated our surroundings. Sound and the lack thereof had been a reoccurring theme, and the properties by which we came to know the adze as more than an object. Sound defied our expectations and by doing so defined what the project meant for us.In order to further our research on the aural properties of the adze’s material, we began collecting noises from various stone interactions. We used them to show the transformation a material and object can go through. As urban areas are to a large degree stone based, we engaged with the stones and became aware of the noises of the city in a much more acute way. Listen to a city street you no doubt will hear a plethora of stone interactions, which has influenced our way of experiencing, and interacting with stone. Our collection process was simple in that we tried to isolate the noises that go unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of city life. As we listened to them one by one, we came to an unexpected realisation. Although what we heard did not reveal the actual material interaction, it did enable us to sense movement. For instance, in “stone interacting with bare fingers” (link below) we were able to hear the tonal shift produced while touching the adze. We challenged the assumptions and expectations about what sounds stones can make through our collection’s varied soundscape of the human-stone relation. This process exposed the complicated human-object relationship and the fact that some properties, such as sounds, are the result of an interplay that would otherwise be silent.

As an application of the research, we challenged curatorial practice in displaying “voiceless” objects. We focused on the sound of a material, in this case stone as the focus of a museum exhibition and we presented our ideas to the Massey University and British Museum. The project aim was to display our thought and work process, as well as functioning as a thought experiment for the museum professionals. We wished to see the practice when engaging with “voiceless” object in collections, or even in everyday life to be more open to experimentation and interpretation. In the case of the museum display much of the focus was on the question of how one can display something non-ocular in a setting predominantly favouring an ocular interaction. We also sought to present or display a relation.

This is sound is from the making of our miniature adze. The stone is rubbed against the grindstone. First out of water and then they are both submerged. We focused to a large part of sound because of the experience of making an adze. The constant noise of the grinding and the shaping of stone is soothing, almost like the stone is taking over our body through its noise.

A suitcase being drawn back and forth over cobblestones. The suitcase is empty and the zipper is jingling. Stone is a large part of our modern landscape. However, it is easily forgotten. When was the last time you contemplated the stones in the city, the stone symphony of the urban landscape.

Bare fingers lightly touching the stone. We are all tuning forks, both people and stones and it is in interaction that we are made aware of each others sounds and what we sound like together. Be curious and explore what sounds you can make.

Living in the city we hear this noise a lot. It is a jackhammer working away at stone at a construction site in London. The noise of the rock is overshadowed by the fast mechanical rhythm.

This is a pavement stone against a brick wall. The texture of the stone is audible, scraggly and dry. You can hear the circles being drawn.

This is the sound of the uneven pavement stone being tipped over and over again by a foot.



The Wesleyan Center for Humanities Podcast Series

Contains a good number of conversations and talks about Material culture, including a talk by Wendy Bellion entitled “What statues remember: sculpture and affect in nineteenth century New York”, by Elizabeth Povinelli called “The Dwelling Science: embodiment, obligation, knowledge.” and by Fath Ruffins, “Do Objects have Ethnicities: Race and Material Culture.”

The link to the full collection is here

Augmented Retail

Lane DeNicola, Anthropology Department, University College London
The meme of the Internet’s radical transformation of commerce, and specifically the consumer-level experience of e-commerce, recognizes an amalgam of shifts. Perusal of commodities via keyboard and display, for example, engender a quite different posture than traditional “brick-and-mortar” venues. Shoppers are less “on display” themselves in the former case, and so the cosmetic preparations that attend shopping in physical spaces are typically eliminated. Further, groups of more than perhaps two or at most three who attempt to shop online “together” (i.e. using a single display or interface) will likely find it a less-than-satisfying experience, in contrast to traditional shopping, a highly social activity. Most significantly, some have levelled a critique of e-commerce (or “online shopping” more specifically) as an unfortunate abstraction, an excision of consumption from its traditional context of social interaction and the experience of local spaces. By sedentarizing and individualizing such practice, online shopping nudged us even further in the direction of homogeneous, alienated consumers.
It is worth considering, however, some recent examples of digital culture in the vein of retailing. The cases mentioned here demonstrate that online shopping has heretofore been an activity shaped by paradigmatic understandings of the Internet as a medium, more specifically as a derivative of television. Yet a combination of factors—the routinised embedding of webcams in computers, innovations in image processing, and the promulgation of automatic identification standards and advertising-subsidized Web services—have destabilized such understandings. The challenges implied (e.g. to traditional publishing) by the possibility of users uploading their own text or images to the Web has expanded now into the domain of objects. Certainly 2D visual displays have so far remained the pivotal feature of most people’s experience with the Internet, and others have shown that this delicate membrane never really did segregate in any objective way people and objects on the one side from texts and representations on the other (cite Turkle). Yet the proliferation of sensing devices—especially cameras, microphones, accelerometers, and location finders—via desktop computers and mobile devices has dramatically intensified the entanglement of physical and virtual objects and spaces. The particularities of some recent examples in augmented reality and the Internet of Things yield important insights for digital anthropology.

Take Delicious Library, for example, a desktop application from the software company Delicious Monster (no relation to the Delicious of social bookmarking fame). Originally designed (as its name might suggest) for the management of physical books, the software’s principal innovation was two-fold: first, it turned the average webcam into an EAN-13 bar code reader, allowing the user to simply scan each book in his or her library rather than entering its ISBN in manually, a capability long-enjoyed by many professional librarians but rarely worth the expense for home use. Second, once a volume was identified the software would automatically search for corresponding information (bibliographic particulars, cover illustration, reviews, retail price), downloading it into the users local library database. Now in its second major version, Delicious Library will also catalogue many movies, music, software, toys, tools, electronics, video games, “gadgets” and even some apparel. The scanning mechanism has been made to resemble that of the typical grocery store checkout, both visually and audibly, an ironic naturalization of the object-to-information binding. The aesthetics of the interface itself echoes the suturing of physical to informational: as each item is scanned, it’s cover or identifying icon appears on a wood-grained “bookshelf” in a smoothly animated materialization, its retrieved specifications filling a drawer on the right.

Continue reading


This account is taken from a site hosted by Joy Garnett:
NY artist Joy Garnett makes paintings based on found photographs gathered from the mass media [more info]. In January 2004 she had a solo exhibition of a series of paintings called “Riot,” which featured the figure in extreme emotional states. One of the paintings, Molotov, was based on an uncredited image found on the web that turned out to be a fragment of a 1979 photograph by Susan Meiselas.
When Meiselas and her lawyer learned of the painting, they sent a cease-and-desist letter to Garnett accusing her of “pirating” the photo. They demanded she remove the image of Molotov from her website, and that she sign a retroactive licensing agreement that would sign over all rights to the painting to Meiselas, and to credit Meiselas on all subsequent reproductions of Molotov. Garnett offered a compromise: she agreed to give Meiselas a credit line on her website, but refused to sign a “derivative work” agreement, claiming that her painting was a transformative fair use of the Meiselas photo. Meiselas’ attorney, Barbara Hoffman, turned down the offer and instead threatened Garnett with an injunction, demanding that Garnett comply with all of the demands as well as pay $2,000 in retroactive licensing fees.
Garnett pulled the image of Molotov from her website, lest it result in the entire site being pulled down (cf: a “Take-Down order”). She never signed over the rights to her work, but she was not pursued once the image of Molotov was removed from her site.
Before Garnett removed the image from her site, fellow artists who were following her story on, (a not-for-profit organization with a website and list serve dedicated to new media art), grabbed the jpeg in solidarity. First they copied the html and created mirror pages on their own websites; then they started making anti-copyright, or “copyfight” agitprop based on the painting, resulting in many derivative works including collages, animations, etc. Several media and copyright reform blogs ran the story, and soon it spread globally, along with the images. The story was translated into Italian, Czech, Chinese, Spanish, French, and Catalan.
Two years later, (April 2006), Garnett and Meiselas were invited to speak together at the COMEDIES OF FAIR U$E symposium at the New York Institute for the Humanities, organized by Lawrence Weschler and hosted by New York University (click here for the podcasts). They had the opportunity to meet the day before over a cup of tea and clear up some misunderstandings. They went on the next day to present their stories in tandem at the conference. Their panel presentations were then re-edited and published in Harper’s, February ‘07 (see here).
See also this video Painting Mass Media and the Art of Fair Use – about the entire controversy.
The series of websites, artistic interventions and debates is a fascinating commentary on the politics of fair use, the appropriate use of images, the power of reproduction, the weight of context, the ethics of display, and the importance of history.

Visual Culture, Digitalization, and Cultural Heritage in Oceania

Haidy Geismar, NYU
This is our first effort at podcasting and we’ve had some trouble integrating audio into our blog template so please excuse us if this is somewhat clunky. The audio quality isn’t bad at all for the speakers (recorded on an ipod with a belkin mike) but the questions at the end aren’t too clear, so apologies for that. Many of the images referred to can be accessed at the links below.

Subscribe Free  Add to my Page
This is the audio for a panel entitled Visual Culture, Digitalization, and Cultural Heritage in Oceania which took place at the conference Pacific Alternatives: Cultural Heritage and Political Innovation in Oceania, March 23 – 27 2009, at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. The panel was an exciting discussion of a number of different digital projects, from 3-D scanning with a view to digital repatriation, to archiving, online exhibitions and using digital technologies as a tool to reconnect communities to discourses of cultural heritage. The regional focus on Oceania provided an interesting frame for the conversation that ensued.
Anyone with further comments or links, please add to the comments below…
Conference partipcants were (with links to the projects discussed):
Chair: Graeme Were, University Museum Collections, UCL (
Nicholas Thieberger, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (Digitization for Preservation, Repatriation, and Academic Responsibility—Examples from the PARADISEC and Kaipuleohone Digital Archives)
Guido Pigliasco, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (From Immemorial Heritage to Digital Memory: Owning History in Fiji)
Karen Nero, Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies, University of Canterbury (Digitized Images in Support of the Establishment of Virtual Museums in Oceania)
Stuart Dawrs, Special collections, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (Cultural Heritage Meets Cyber Commons: (Re)creating Island Communities through Digital Collections)