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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Freud’s Therapeutic Boxsprings

The Couch: Thinking in Repose, Sigmund Freud Museum, Vienna, Austria, Exhibition Review 5 May – 5 November 2006
Martina Grunewald, PhD candidate in Design History and Material Culture, University of Applied Arts, Vienna
On Sunday, 5 November 2006, the Sigmund Freud Museum in Vienna closed the doors to “The Couch: Thinking in Repose,” a special exhibition commemorating Freud’s 150th anniversary this year. Using a cross-disciplinary approach, curator Lydia Marinelli focused on literature, art, science, and design from the mid-nineteenth century until today in an illuminating exploration of the most intimate and complex relationship between neurology and—well—a divan conspicuous by its own absence. The exhibition encompassed paintings, sculpture, photographs, books, furniture, china, and tableware as well as interviews and music. The original psychoanalytic couch, however, was missing.…

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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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Traumwerk Website

Victor Buchli, Reader in Material Culture, University College London
The Traumwerk website is a brilliant project started by Mike Shanks and his students at Stanford University that experiments with the boundaries of archaeological work and interpretation and wider questions in material culture. In particular there a number of projects hosted on the site that are of interest to students of material culture in general: These are the archaeology of the contemporary past project, the china garbology initiative with Bill Rathje, and the three rooms project by Mike Shanks. In addition there are numerous experimental projects based on soundscapes and virtual environments which involve archaeoloigsts, artists and other scholars.
The cultures of contact and the Mercedes Benz Daimler initiative are also well worth exploring especially the Mercedes project which brings together, material culture studies, anthropology, archaeology and design together.…

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Clifford Geertz (1926-2006)

Daniel Miller, Anthropology UCL
My impression is that students coming into anthropology today, at least in Britain, are not necessarily expecting to read very much of the writings of Clifford Geertz, compared to my time as a student. But his death on Monday should remind us of just how much a loss that is. I have spent my academic life enamoured of fieldwork and ethnography and I suspect the single biggest influence on this was the sheer pleasure of reading Geertz. As far as I know he never would have described himself as particularly associated with material culture per se, (please comment if you know otherwise) but he was the quintessential cultural anthropologist, and his work shows how much that American tradition of cultural anthropology, (to some degree as opposed to European social anthropology) provided in its heyday an almost seamless acceptance of the materiality of peoples lives and the need to give due credit to the form of cultural order and life.…

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Where Stuff Comes From

Review: Harvey Molotch (2003), Where stuff comes from – how toasters, toilets, cars, computers and many other things come to be as they are. London: Taylor and Francis
Elizabeth Shove and Matt Waton teach at the Department of Sociology, University of Lancaster
‘Where Stuff Comes From’ does an excellent job of opening up debate about product design and of asking new questions about the hardware with which we live our lives. What is it that gives shape and form to the ‘stuff’ that surrounds us? In dipping into the world of design, Harvey Molotch deals with questions of fun, functionality and fashion, also taking note of the structuring of supply chains and the organisation of production. In focusing on design in this way, his book sits squarely between typically generic arguments about consumers’ pursuit of novelty and more technologically oriented theories of innovation.…

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Review: Prelude to Totems to Turquoise – Native North American Jewelry Arts of the Northwest and Southwest

Nicky Levell, PhD student, UCL Anthropology
On Saturday 30 2004, the Totems to Turquoise exhibition debuted at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The opening ceremony, from 12.00 – 5.00 pm in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, began with a special welcome by representatives of New York’s local Native American community, including Sidney Hill, the spiritual representative of the Iroquois Confederacy. Ceremonial leaders of the Haida and Navajo nations then gave their blessings for the exhibit and the afternoon concluded with dance performances by communities from the northwest and southwest.
Having spent the past two years touring the States (New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles), the exhibition is being brought to the Pacific Northwest. As a prelude to the opening of the exhibit, the Vancouver Museum and its sponsor, the Bill Reid Foundation, organized a ceremonial announcement of the exhibition that took place in Vanier Park on Wednesday August 23, 2006.…

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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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