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

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.…

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Mundane Objects: Materiality and non-Verbal Communication by Pierre Lemonnier

Haidy Geismar, UCL

The latest issue of Hau has a symposium on Pierre Lemmonier’s latest book, Mundane Objects, with commentary by Bruno Latour, Chris Ballard, Tim Ingold, Paul Graves-Brown, Susanne Küchler and a response by Pierre Lemmonier. The series of comments essentially sum up a “state of the art” comment on material culture theory, which Tim Ingold pithily sums up to date:

Perhaps there is something to be said for going back to the anthropological debates of the 1960s and 1970s on such themes as symbolic condensation, the distinction (or lack of it) between ritual and practical-technical actions, and how to do things with and without words. Arguably, our understandings have not been much advanced by subsequent approaches to material culture, for example by treating it as a system of signs whose meanings could be read off from the objects themselves, by entering them as candidates for social life but only as tokens of exchange among human beings, or by focusing on their consumption at the expense of their production.Nor—and here I agree wholeheartedly with Lemonnier—is there anything to be gained from leaving the heavy lifting to such philosophical juggernauts as “agency” and “materiality.” Most agency-speak is as tautologous as the functionalism it replaced: where before, if the presence of a thing has effects (and it would not be present if it did not), these effects were attributed to its functioning, nowadays they are attributed to its agency.

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Material culture in Hungary and everywhere else

Daniel Miller, UCL

Krisztina Fehérváry 2013 Politics in Color and Concrete: socialist materialities and the middle class in Hungary. Indiana University Press

Léna Pellandini-Simányi  2014 Consumption Norms and Everyday Ethics. Palgrave Macmillan

Hungary is a good place to take stock of the current state of material culture studies. Because Hungary is simply a good emblem of `anywhere,’ in that it represents neither a vanguard nor a backwater, but works as simply another ordinary place. That is significant to me because the material culture studies that I guess I have always wanted to promote are precisely about this same ordinary whether as blue jeans, or domestic interiors.

Fehérváry’s exemplary scholarship, both historical and ethnographic, takes us through both socialist modernism and post-socialist consumer modernism in the development of contemporary Hungary.…

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Best of Material World Blog: On Making, Craft, and Unmaking

In this post, I link to the very best posts in our archive focused on making, doing and craft.

In Fixing, Things, Fixing Ourselves, Lydia Nicholas writes about Suguru, an open source material for extending the life of mass produced (or any other) artifacts.

In Plan B for a Nuclear Reactor, Paul Williams describes the transformation of a nuclear power plant into a heritage site.

Gabriella Coleman outlines her  theory of hackers, liberalism, and pleasure, which became an important part of her book, Coding Freedom.

Ian Ewart was an Anthropologist Looks at Engineering. 

Adam Drazin presents the Mechanical Postcard, an intervention into UCL Ethnography Collections by Mattijs Siljee, of Massey University, New Zealand.

And on the opposite side of making, unmaking, Helen Polson writes about how Death Bear Wants Your Unhappy Things.…

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Authoring King’s Cross

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Who will author the future of King’s Cross? You are invited to join us for an in-person and on-location collaborative update to Wikipedia’s entry for King’s Cross Central on 21st June at The Crossing, Central Saint Martins, 1 Granary Square, London N1C 4AA.We will consider the contents of the existing article and identify what is missing and why. Throughout the afternoon, we will update the Wikipedia entry to more fully reflect the history and contemporary dynamics of King’s Cross from a variety of perspectives. Anyone with an interest is welcome to drop by between 2.30 and 5.30pm.This event is part of the Contested Spaces forum at Central Saint Martins and will be immediately followed by a panel discussion on the theme of Gentrification and Regeneration.
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Best of Material World Blog: Art

Haidy Geismar, UCL

In this new series of summer posts, we, the editors look back at the past 8 or so years that Material world Blog has been going and curate a series of “best of” themed post. Here, I link to what I consider to be some of the very best postings about art on the site.

In his post Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations on the Dhaka-Chittagong Highway Christopher Pinney presents a series of his own technicolour photographs, inspired by Ed Rucha’s 1963 series.

Jonathan Patkowski and Nicole Reiner unpack Alfred Barr’s infamous artist network diagram and unpack the neoliberal logics of the avant-garde as presented in the exhibition “Inventing Abstraction“.

Ryan Schram describes the tensions and identity around the speaker of the Parliament of Papua New Guinea trying to destroy the carvings evoking customary art and identity, made upon independence to decorate the new Parliament House.…

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Technology and knowing at the British Museum

Haidy Geismar, UCL

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I have been thinking a lot about the power of digital imaging and the kinds of subjectivities that are built into the construction of three dimensional images as particular kinds of visualizations of museum collections. The British Museum is currently host to the exhibition, Ancient Lives New Discoveries,  an exhibition of eight mummies from Egypt and the Sudan ranging from 3500 BC to 700AD. The exhibition presents these eight mummies as individuals and showcases a collaboration with digital imaging and technology partners. Instead of actually unwrapping the mummies, CT and other scanning technology was used to look inside both the sarcophagi and the textile wrappings of the bodies, to uncover the bones and flesh within and to create new three dimensional visualizations.…

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Circulation, Appropriation and Visual Consumption of Crafts in Chennai.

Circulation, Appropriation and Visual Consumption of Crafts in Chennai.

 Dr.Kala Shreen

Founder & Director,Cultural Dynamics & Emotions Network (CDEN), School of History and Anthropology,Queen’s University Belfast, U.K. www.qub.ac.uk/cden
Chairperson,Center for Creativity, Heritage and Development, Chennai, INDIA, www.cchd.in

 In 2012, a world crafts summit was convened by World Crafts Council in the metropolitan city of Chennai, South India.  World Crafts Council is a non-profit organization, affiliated to UNESCO, that works “to strengthen the status of crafts as a vital part of cultural and economic life” as recounted in their web portal.  In a press meet during the summit, the President of the World Crafts Council said, “One of the objectives of this summit is to reinforce the importance of crafts in our society and culture…  Why should crafts take a back seat to other forms of art such as paintings, sculptures, music, dance and films?  Crafts are also works of art in their own way…Therefore, I also feel that craftspeople should be given the same kind of respect and social status that fine artists are given.”

This summit, among other events and activities, comprised craft expositions organized at various renowned art galleries in the Chennai city.  The organizing team of the summit said that they wanted to create an interface between art and craft and had labelled this initiative as the “interdisciplinary art-craft exhibitions series”.  A range of crafts including textiles, puppets, baskets, furniture and home accessories moved into the art space in local art galleries that predominantly hosted art exhibitions comprising sculptures and paintings in the past.  The ensuing circulation and consumption of crafts shall be the focus of my following discussion with specific reference to two examples.…

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Rethinking the Technophobia of Old Believers

Kriistina Pilvet (EHI, Tallinn Univ.)

This posting deals with the Old Believer’s congregation of Piirissaare — a little island situated in lake Peipus which makes up part of the Russian-Estonian border. The main focus of this case study is the interaction of their identity and the modern technology they use in order to perform their culture in the peripheral region of one of Europe’s more avant-garde ICT countries.

Normative discourse on Old Believers, especially in Estonia, has often presumed some insularity, un-moderness and technophobic behaviour from the representatives of the given congregation. This narrative is so embedded in the representation of Old Believer’s that it has become a ‘norm’. Several different sources starting from academic publications in anthropology (Dolitsky & Kuzmina 1986; Vorontsova 2000; Filatova ; Ziolkowska 2011) and ending with different travel agency brochures and web sites (www.puhkaeestis.ee, www.estravel.ee) as well as ethnographic films (Brummend 2011) tend to associate Old Believers with traditionalism and a restrained way of life.…

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Fixing our things, fixing ourselves

Lydia Nicholas, UCL Digital Anthropology, @lydnicholas

In UCL’s digital anthropology department, students are never allowed to forget that digital practices are performed by physical bodies, and that informants are embodied and situated, carrying their own culture with them as they write code, comment anonymously, or direct avatars to move through virtual environments.

I was interested in the flow of habit and meaning in the opposite direction- how experiences in digital spaces -such as familiarity with the affordances of writing code- could feed into informants’ understanding of the non-digital. The political side of this process is explored in depth by Keltys and Coleman. Yet I wanted to investigate how experiences manipulating digital objects might affect one’s expectations of the affordances of the physical world on a more prosaic level.…

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