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)
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. 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.