Thursday, 19 November 2015

Planning your Experimental Visual Anthropology assignment for 25.11.

To get you started, Marika gave a quick exercise, which was done in pairs and discussed after her lecture. But those of you who were not present, please try the exercise by yourselves, in a modified form:

You have 15mins to think and prepare a presentation of your "thing" visually:
- write very shortly about it, even one word
- find/ make one image
- make a sound
- make an activity/ even one gesture.
You then have 5mins to do the presentation and have a discussion on it.

For the original exercise people did not choose by themselves, but were given an option by somebody else. Here then options for those who were not present/left early/came late:
Marja: sound and writing (hope I remember correctly?)
Riikka-Theresa: sound
Laura: sound and gesture
Hiromu: word/ writing
Sophie: activity/ gesture
Beatrijs: an image

25.11. we can start with these, then go on to discuss your fuller plans for your experimental visual anthropology project concerning your thing.

Fuller plans should address the issues of:
- how do you intend to study your chosen thing?
- how do you intend to gather data? to document?
- how do you intend to analyze what you find?
- how do you intend present your findings?
Note: these questions might be resolved in one activity (filming/ drawing/mapping/ etc). But think on each!
- and: how will your project be anthropology? how will it be visual (anthropology)? how will it be experimental?

And some resume of themes and concepts and ideas you can use when planning your project:

- anthropology makes visible everyday things we take for granted, it looks at the small and insignificant, pays attention to detail
- anthropology looks for the perspective of the other (and here: you could think of your 'thing' as the other whose perspective you want to study)
- the importance of rituals
- the liminality, liminal space: traditionally liminality is a space simultaneously inside and outside a culture, a community (btw: this is also how Foucault defines "heterotopy"). Rites concerning liminality take people first outside, but then to bring them back inside. Important in the process are rituals, a guide, and the 'sacra', the objects that pertain to the process and the rites.
- anthropology and art are both things that require your concrete presence

Visual anthropology:
- issue of the role and presence of the anthropologist
- issue of subjectivity/ objectivity, how is objectivity achieved
- a visual presentation is always a unique and individual case (text can present generalizations)
- "intellectual act of seeing"
- " translation"

Things and Archaeology:
Every object is a marvelous archaeological record of everything that ever happened to it.
- "experimental archaeology": trying to use or produce the things, to discover their "real" usage
- garbology and modern archaeology
- things as language  - and then to things as "solid metaphors"
- object biography
- speculative realism: looking at objects as objects, not in relation to people and culture (cf aforementioned anthropological perspective of looking for the perspective and meanings of "the other" and understanding thing as this other)
- OOO: object oriented ontology: what ultimately exists is objects

Experimental visual, artistic research
- anthropology and art are both things that require your concrete presence and experience
- being in a gap (between something) one still is somewhere, not between…
- trying to see, make visible, make tangible the gaps between seeing and recording, recording and reviewing, artistic work and research, writing and artistic work/ research etc.
- gap is part of the meaning
- the camera-subject: not a human subject but human-body-tool/technology combined subject: multiple subject
- multiverse (not uni verse)

19.11. Gaps and Simultaneous Spaces - Marika Orenius and artistic research

How do gaps and spaces become meaningful and valuable in my artistic research? Research and artistic work are a merged process in my doctoral studies. I elaborate these two different approaches as a method of producing information out of spatial experiences and a state of not-knowing. This presentation will underline that theoretical meanings emerge and observations are made in the process of writing and making artworks. Also, the liaison between artistic research and 'otherness' or 'alienation' in our culture, will be demonstrated.

In my artistic research, I reflect on a process – while being in the process. To finish or to close a process seems to be a need for all of us, otherwise we stay in a gap between an idea and a finished work. I make experiments in writing and in video works in order to see a 'subject' or myself and my work from outside or from distance. This presentation gives a short example of my work-in- progress, a multi-channel video installation Parousia. It is based on filming in different spaces, in various parts of the world. The moment of filming is intuitive and responsive to the space where the camera is moving. In the final editing process, everything is put together through new reflections and returns to the traces of the filming moment. The storyboard and even the manuscript are developed simultaneously with finishing the work. The working process consists of contradictions between originality and representability, alienation and responsivity. These concepts are examined through (responsive) phenomenology and contemporary French philosophy.

In the filmed clips camera moves through different botanical gardens (some of them in winter time) in the Nordic countries and cemeteries (some of them abandoned) in Italy and Greece. It follows a man, a woman as well as a boy on the crowded streets of India and Turkey. The camera is led by a small child in a forest in northern Finland. Views of mirrors at hotels, ateliers and homes are shown. The camera pans over the halls of institutions such as a refugee centre and even the Finnish Parliament house in Helsinki. A constantly moving camera moves on different corridors or follows a moving body. Some of these takes are without a visible character still they are highly subjective takes.

In the final video installation, the filmed spaces will be presented simultaneously as a multi-channel video installation with sounds and voiceovers. A viewer can follow people when they are on their way somewhere also when the camera passes empty spaces. Due to the constantly moving camera,
normative perspective – filming is done along the body. The filming emphasises the fact that one's perspective is in connection with perception and sensorial processes. The relation between movements and perceiving, from a corporeal activity as a blink of an eye for bigger scale movement as international migration, is underlined.

Meanwhile, I have filmed in different spaces, I read about spatiality and especially 'heterotopical'
memories of life, the texts became corporeal for me. To read about non-spacial environments were not any longer only one theory for me – the readings touched me, my body. I felt I was reminded of me, my bodily being, in earlier situations. While sensing spaces through writings, the surroundings (in which I was with my camera) started reciprocally to appear less personal. At this point of the process, I realised that I am not any more sure about the images I want to capture, to record and to  the filming is similar to 'subjective camera'. Because there is not only one protagonist in the scenes,  I came up with a name 'camera-subject' …

One is in a gap when trying to formulate affections coming from one's body into words. A gap can appear when the visual work stops and ideas are getting a form of words. Gaps are in writing moments. Gaps are happening when building the meanings of a whole text. Gaps are in reading moments. Gaps are inevitable for processes. Gaps are the distinctions in explaining and understanding. Gaps are between each frame in video and film. Gaps make the difference between the past, the present and the coming moment. Gaps are highways to oblivion. One has to forget. One has to get lost to find the way again.

A gap or in-between is a vague state of possibilities, but it also reveals vulnerability, incapability, insufficiency and incapacity. The gap is a space of contemplation or a destructive element in one's artistic practice. The deconstruction of one's artistic methods is something that one has to face when starting artistic research. In earlier stages of my dissertation work, my goal was to explore even the difference between art and science. Now, there is no clear difference in my approach when I make art and write the research. According to Waldenfels, explanations are lacking and gaps become components of the meaning. The explanation is not either exhausted in the meaning. 

(Full text will be sent by mail. Referenced texts in the full text, and in the lists on the right hand side.)

Monday, 16 November 2015

Things Assignment for Wed 18.11.

For Wednesday 18.11 bring some thing. Bring the thing that interests you, that you want to study. Bring the Thing Itself, bring a photo, a video, a story.

What is the thing? Who defines it?
What is it used for? What has it been used for... who uses it?
If it was left behind, how? Why? Who left it?
Why does it interest you? What do you want to find out about it?

And you can also think how you want to study the thing - we'll discuss that more in detail next week, but what are your initial ideas?

Things Left Behind: Archaeology and Things by Marko Marila

‘"If there is one history running all the way down from Olduwai Gorge to Post-Modernia, it must be one of increasing materiality - that more and more tasks are delegated to non-human actors; more and more actions mediated by things." (Olsen 2003, 88)

"Every object is a marvellous archaeological record of everything that ever happened to it." (Morton 2013, 112)

"Archaeology is the discipline of things." (Olsen et al. 2012)

The oldest thing on earth is a stone ax - and this thing was in use for 1,5 million years.

The beginnings of modern archaeology can be dated earlier back to the 1820s when Danish archaeologist C. J. Thomsen came up with his three-age system. His work paved way for THE archaeological method, namely typology. Before this the fascination with old things mainly took forms of purely aesthetic collecting, as old things were showcased in curiosity cabinets.

A particular type of artefact was seen as a manifestation of a particular culture. A thing was always seen as a cultural trait reflecting a geological area or temporal identity. Any similarities between artefacts from different areas but of similar age were taken as evidence of some sort of cultural connection between past people, or cultures. … Things became cultural markers.

The focus shifted from Europe to American archaeology that, unlike European archaeology, was dealing with a very different kind of source material. Whereas the roots of European written history reach far back to the Roman times, the history of America is short in comparison. Although there is a rich material culture from the historical times starting from the fifteenth century, the corpus of American archaeology consists of the study of living prehistoric cultures. Therefore American archaeology, partly as the study of the roots of living cultures, has been characterised as anthropological archaeology. There is a famous quote from the fifties stating that “American archaeology is anthropology or it is nothing” (Wiley and Phillips 1958)

Ethnography became the method of reaching the living culture behind the dead artifactual material culture. In addition to ethnography, archaeologists also started to experiment with the very same materials they found in ancient contexts in an attempt to test, using the same materials that would have been available in the past, which production methods could have been used when the artefact was made in the past. Today we refer to this branch of archaeology as experimental archaeology.

Bill Rathje came up with the idea of taking a look at modern garbage from an archaeological point of view by digging landfills and conducting surveys of people’s consumption and recycling habits. The result was a totally new understanding of consumption and the relationship between what people tell they consume and leave behind and what they actually consume and leave behind.

One important development that happened in the eighties and nineties was the idea
that material culture could be interpreted in the same way as text. Material culture meanings were therefore thought of as inherently lingual in nature. This reflects the broader development in social sciences after the so-called linguistic turn during the 20th century.

In addition to the concept of reading the past, another strongly linguistically inspired aspect of interpretation is to connect the material and the meaning through metaphor which is originally thought of as a lingual trope that connects two ideas through an often weird type of similitude, such as sunshine and happiness. Christopher Tilley (1999) proposes the use of a type of material metaphor he calls ‘solid metaphor.’ The solid metaphor is based on similarities between materials.

The idea that things have an equally social role in the actor-network as living actants sparked the idea that things could be studied from a social standpoint. This artefact biography approach is based on the idea that just like people have different type of agency throughout their lives, so do things. In fact this is applicable to things in the sense that different kinds of things, just like art in Gell’s case, are expected to have a certain type of effect on their surroundings. But the idea that things could be studied as biographical has been especially popular in archaeology as a tool to connect the things’ meanings in the past with those in the present. Therefore archaeologists such as Cornelius Holtorf have relied on object biography as a viable method in the study of the meaning of an archaeological object when it is found and, as he writes elsewhere, made old. It should be noted that Holtorf’s article is not how archaeologists traditionally write about things.

During the recent 15 years or so, many archaeologists have come to question such views and are now asking when were things forgotten in the first place. This recent development has been dubbed the turn to things. Things are thought of not as cultures, processes or interpretations, but as things. Things are referred to things themselves.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Anthropology articles assignment: updated

We formed small groups/ pairs of 2 - 3 people.
Each group chose an article to read.
The group reads the article and discusses it: you can either each read the article and meet to talk about it/chat about it; or you can meet to read the article together and talk about it.

11.11.10 - 13 and 12.11 12 - 13 (note!) we meet and each group tells of the article they read. Not giving presentations abut it or based on it, but bringing to discussion what they found in it, thoughts they had. If your thoughts take visual form, bring those!

Groups and articles:

Jaakko and Jonne: David MacDougall: The visual in anthropology
Marja, Sanna and Sophie: Eliot Weinberger: The Camera People
Laura and Riikka Theresa: Victor Turner: Betwixt and Between
Lita: Marko Marila: Things in Action

Saara and Suvi: Anthroanna: The Legacy of the Other
Ali, Beatrijs, Niko: Hal Foster: The Artist as Ethnographer

12.11. In-between art and anthropology by Annu Wilenius

What do anthropology and art have in common? (Annu):

1. Experience: Both are something you have to really go through, be there - an idea or reading about it is not the same.
2. Presentation: again, you have to think how to present the experience, how the doing presents what you are wanting to present.

Thus an exercise of "writing an image".

Of the House I Grew Up in...Helsinki-Ulaanbaatar
digital photographs, voice-over, Mongolian translation, photograph, 2007-2011

I grew up in a house built by a carpenter out of scrap building materials just after the Second World War ended. The house grew through the years from the first centre part to have a second centre part, higher than the first with a balcony over-looking the sea. Then there was the East wing and some years later the West wing. There were ‘front’ doors on every side of the house as well as terraces and smaller balconies. The materials used were sometimes appropriate, sometimes not so and definitely more innovative than conventional. My all time favourite is the stair elevations built out of rubber door fasteners. And of course half the electricity switches and water taps were connected the wrong way around.

When I first came to Mongolia I was fascinated by the ger districts with their amazing combination of settlement and nomadism: gers and gardens. To learn more I asked several artists who had grown up in the Ulaanbaatar ger districts to show me around in their childhood environments. What happened to me as I walked through the fences and self-built villas with their balconies and newly started flowerbeds was that I suddenly recognised my own childhood environment in Helsinki, Finland in the 1970s. Then the roads were still unpaved and the gardens more like patches of forest than anything else. Also people themselves mostly built the houses – at least partly. All this was rapidly changing already then and now most of the area is very neatly asphalted and the villas come from construction companies’ brochures.

Besides the ‘childhood walks’ into ger districts I also visited current ger district dwellers, especially ones with elaborate gardens, and people who invited me to parties. From all this photographic material I then put together a slideshow that I paired with a voice-over describing my childhood home and its environment changing in my experience from the 70’s to the 2000’s.

I have presented this work in different contexts (and versions) in Finland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Austria and now finally in Mongolia. In Europe the most remarkable reaction was that of being shown something people would have imagined as slum and misery as something lively and positive. In a Viennese conference several architectural historians marvelled at the inherent, wonderful aesthetic of these areas and were clearly invigorated by the idea of seeing ger districts with a positive slant and not just as problems to solve. Besides this the structure of the work was much commented for its eerie connections and a sense of ‘creating memories’.

Showing the work in Ulaanbaatar I could see that the images, that held such exotic fascination for European audiences, aroused almost no interest at all; it’s all too familiar. As to the voice-over story, I received only one direct comment: A Chinese visitor enquired if there was something wrong with the work as the images and the story seemed to be mismatched 

(I'll try juggling with the googledocs to add a link to the pdf of her book about the Bare House exhibition in Ulaaanbaatar which Annu sent me)

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

What is Visual Anthropology?

Some general notes on anthropology and the visual in anthropology (Taina):

By definition, anthropology is simply the study of humans. By practice it is not so simple. Anthropology was born and developed in the colonial context. Its mission was to record and document "the other" - "primitive" or "original" cultures in danger of vanishing, unfamiliar to Western civilization.

"[Ethnography has a] goal, of which an Ethnographer should never lose sight. This goal is, briefly, to grasp the native's point of view, his relation to life, to realise his vision of his world. We have to study man, and we must study what concerns him most intimately, that is, the hold life has on him."
Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922) by Bronislaw Malinowski.

Anthropology looks at human culture, studies the cultural in humans. It looks at meaningful phenomena.

Anthropology is founded on ethnographic study: first-hand observation and recording by the researcher. Thus it also entails practices of travel, issues of objectivity and colonial relations of power, ethical dilemmas. And all these dilemmas and issues are carried over and take new forms in visual anthropology.

According to David MacDougall "anthropology has had no lack of interest in the visual; its problem has always been what to do with it". Drawings, photographs, live examples and very early also films were used to gather data and present it. The problem stands as Eliot Weinberger states:

"There is a tribe, known as ethnographic filmmakers, who believe they are invisible. They enter a room where a feast is being celebrated, or the sick cured, or the dead mourned, and, though weighed down with odd machines entailed with wires, imagine they are unnoticed - ….
They worship a terrible deity known as Reality, whose eternal enemy is its evil twin, Art.

Ethnographic film is film which endeavors to interpret the behavior of people of one culture to persons of another culture by  using shots of people doing precisely what they would have been doing is the camera were not there. The ideal, then, is either a dream of invisibility, or, worse, the practice of the surveillance camera."

Weinberger and MacDougall both discuss the paradox of ostensibly objectively documenting reality yet failing to convey its reality. As Weinberger points out, old films of fiction offer rich documents of cultural habits and values of their times, whereas old documentary and educational films become outdated. Also, fiction or "artistic" films manage to convey a much richer image of cultures they present than strictly objective ethnographic films.

Weinberger makes some interesting points concerning details and translation. A film can never present a general image of say pottery-making - it will always be a unique exemplary instance. The strength of the visual - film, photograph, drawing, performance - is that it can include a richness of detail while still presenting a comprehensible whole. The "intellectual act of seeing" in a film that does not pretend to objectively record reality is also "an act of translation". "The Nuer, like any film, is a metaphor for the Nuer. Its difference is that it does not pretend to be a mirror."

Some important concepts and perspectives for anthropological study (Liisa):

Making things/ culture/ beliefs/ habits visible: anthropology looks at everyday culture to make visible things that we take for granted. This being an argument both for looking for research objects at a distance, and for looking at the small and seemingly insignificant and revealing the general and structural in those details and through them.

The other: anthropological research chooses as its subject an "other". This is however a controversial point as well - to what extent anthropology creates "otherness"? Liisa stressed the need to be humble, not to expect to be the one who immediately can see things people living in a culture and a community themselves have not seen.

Detail: looking at the small and insignificant, paying attention to details of cultural habits and beliefs.

Rituals: a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and performed according to set sequence. Anthropologists see rituals also in secularized cultures and communities. Rituals are a way of making sense of the world and life, giving and establishing meaning.

Liminal space, liminality: "early anthropological approaches refer to liminal space as a means of managing the dynamic relationship with the norm in a social structure. In more recent analyses, liminality is used to demonstrate the way in which situations of otherness develop, in a complex interplay of power, place, and social and spatial norms."

Kastom Twelve, Jari Kupiainen
Musiikin muisti, Mirja Metsola
My Urban Kalakukko Museum, Ilkka Ruohonen
Suomalainen päiväkirja, Heimo Lappalainen

Forest of Bliss, Robert Gardner
Man of Aran, Robert J. Flaherty
Mies ja elokuvakamera/ Man With The Moviecamera, Dziga Vertov
Nanook, pakkasen poika/ Nanook of The North, Robert J. Flaherty
N!ai: The Story of a !Kung Woman, John Marshall
Ranskalainen päiväkirja/ Chronique d´un été, Jean Rouch
Sons of Shiva, Robert Gardner

VisCult, Joensuu
Etnosoi!, Helsinki

Anderson, Benedict: Kuvitellut yhteisöt. Nationalismin leviäminen ja alkuperä/Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism
Campbell, Joseph: The Power of Myth

Douglas, Mary:  Puhtaus ja vaara/ Purity and danger
Durkheim, Émile: Uskontoelämän alkeismuodot/ The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life
Eriksen, Thomas Hylland: Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology
Lévi-Strauss, Claude: Tropiikin kasvot/ Tristes Tropiques
Lévi-Strauss, Claude: Myth and Meaning
Lévi-Strauss, Claude: The Savage Mind
Malinowski, Bronislaw: Argonauts of the Western Pacific
Mauss, Marcel: Lahja/ The Gift
Turner, Victor: The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure