Institutt for sosialantropologi
Årskonferanse Norsk Antropologisk Forening

Abstracts arbeidsgruppe 6


Contemporary Issues in the Art - Anthropology Encounter: Speaking terms, Hermeneutics, and the ‘Archive’

Arnd Schneider, SAI, UiO

Taking inspiration from James Clifford’s notion of ‘speaking terms’ with which he characterized the relations between French anthropology and the surrealist avantgarde in the 1920s and 30s, this lecture explores the current and future possibilities of dialogue between art and anthropology, addressing also notions of historicity and the archive. Informed broadly by hermeneutics (Gadamer, Ricoeur) and art historian Grant Kester’s notion of ‘dialogical aesthetics’ it is argued that any dialogues, and potentially, collaborative projects across disciplinary boundaries of art and anthropology, can only be achieved through a careful negotiation of ‘speaking terms’, and the recognition of difference.


REMOTE SENSING- remote sensing. Om kunst og antropolog og metodologiske tilnærminger til å inkludere materialiter og kropper i arktisforskning.

Gro Ween, Kulturhistorisk Museum, Universitetet i Oslo.
Sabine Popp, Kunst og Designhøgskolen i Bergen.

«Remote Sensing»- tittelen på denne presentasjonen – er ikke oversatt fordi den har mange meninger. «Remote Sensing» er navnet på en rekke vitenskapelige teknologier som skal innhente informasjon om et sted uten å måtte være der. I denne betydningen er «Remote Sensing» navnet på en rekke observasjonsteknologier som brukes i Arktis, for å holde øye med is, vegetasjon, nordlys, skyformasjoner, temperaturer, eller utslipp i atmosfæren. «Remote Sensing» er som navnet tilsier også en faktisk illustrasjon på Donna Haraways «God Trick». Arktiske former for «Remote Sensing» viser at vitenskapelige observasjoner alltid innebærer kroppslig tilstedeværelse, også i Arktis. «Remote Sensing» er også tittelen på en installasjonsutstilling av kunstneren Sabine Popp om vitenskapelige praksiser i Ny Ålesund. Begrepet «Remote Sensing» har derfor i denne teksten fått mange meninger, som alle taler til de kroppslige praksiser som arktisk forskning innebærer, og hva de vitenskapelige kroppene sanser i sine daglige Arktiske praksis.

I denne teksten tilnærmer en antropolog og en kunstner seg disse, svært eksotiske kroppslige praksiser, som i høyeste grad er essensielle, ikke bare lokalt, for konstituering av Svalbard som sted, men som også griper inn i vår verdens anskuelse av størrelser som «naturen», «klimaet» og «vår felles fremtid». Vår metodologiske tilnærming tar i bruk våre individuelle feltopphold på arktiske forsyningssteder og utforsker hva som metodologisk sett kan oppnås gjennom samarbeid mellom kunst og antropologi, hvordan som gir ulike tilganger til slike særegne arktiske, svært fysiske, former for kunnskapservervelse. Vi er interessert i hvordan vitenskapelige former for «Remote Sensing» domestiserer Arktis. Kunst innebærer ikke bare liknende former for domestisering, den kan også åpne våre blikk for de sosio-materielle relasjoner som vitenskap involverer.

English version:

The title of this presentation - “Remote Sensing” – is the name of a number of scientific technologies made use of to obtain knowledge from places without having to be there. Such surveillance technologies are often employed in the Arctic to keep an eye on ice, vegetation, Northern light, cloud formations, temperature and atmospheric conditions. “Remote Sensing” as a term is also a literal illustration of Donna Haraway’s “God Trick: While the term allude a panoptic gaze abstracted from a physical body, this is by no means the case. Forms of “Remote Sensing” affirm that scientific observations always involve bodily presence, also in the Arctic. “Remote Sensing” is also the title of an installation exhibit by the artist Sabine Popp, inspired by scientific practices in Ny Ålesund. The term “Remote Sensing” therefor has many meanings in this text, all however speak to the embodied aspects of Arctic research and what scientific bodies sense in their daily activities in such remote areas.

In this text, an anthropologist and an artist homes in on these very exotic, embodied practices. These practices are not only essential, to the constitution of Svalbard as a locality, they also intervene in our world’s ongoing engagement with entities such as “nature”, “climate” and “our common future”. Our methodological approach makes use of our individual field visits to Arctic and Sub-Arctic research sites and explores what methodologically speaking can be achieved through the cooperation between art and anthropology, provides different insight to such peculiar, and very physical forms of knowledge-making. We are interested in how scientific forms of “Remote Sensing” domesticate the Arctic. Art involves similar forms of domestication; however, it may also open our eyes to the socio-material relations that science involves.


Scientific and artistic knowledge production and data gathering on art in global contexts.

Annemarie Bucher & Dominique Lämmli

Dominique Lämmli (Artist FH, lic. phil. I, Prof. FH) studied fine arts at Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK), lithography at the School of Visual Arts in New York, philosophy at the University of Zurich, and educational theory and psychological didactics at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW). She is a practising artist and has obtained several art grants and studio residencies in the last twenty years, including a fellowship from the Akademie Schloss Solitude. www.dominiquelaemmli.ch. She is currently working as a professor of drawing/painting at Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK) and as a researcher. 

Annemarie Bucher (Dr. sc. ETH, lic. phil. I) studied art history, ethnology, and philosophy at Zurich University and Landscape Architecture at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. She has also been a research fellow at Harvard University. She is currently working as a senior lecturer at Zurich University of the Arts and as a researcher and curator. She is the author of several books and articles on art, cultural theory, landscape, and theory and  has curated several exhibitions.

This paper relates to the ongoing transdisziplinary and transcultural research project on the functions of art in global contexts conducted by FOA-FLUX. This specific interest was developed in view of the seism of globalisation scrutinizing the western canon to approach art production and reception.  While the western approach to art mostly can bee seen as an exclusive one, FOA–FLUX aims at a meta-perspective including a multitude of art notions and cultural contexts, different disciplinary approaches and a variety of practical experiences. All FOA-FLUX projects encompass a complex methodological framework and participatory project design and refer to a translocal network for cooperation.

This paper presents two exemplary scopes of the FOA-FLUX research activities:  

I. Malawi and Bhutan: Looking back at joint learning-projects. (Annemarie Bucher)

To implement the research design in the field FOA-FLUX has conducted workshops with partners in Malawi and Bhutan. Together with local artists and agents from the art context we have debated and made visible different forms, functions, and notions of art.

Visual art and ways of showing: In 2010 FOA FLUX organized together with Malawian artists and artist’s associations a workshop, which revealed different social contexts of art productions and difficulties of displaying visual art. The workshop brought artist’s from urban and rural regions together and led to an exhibition and a symposium at Blantyre Arts Festival (BAF), one of the crucial national art events at that time. The workshop turned out to be an ideal reflecting pool for detecting locally relevant notions and functions of art. 

Traditions on the way to contemporaneity: In 2013 FOA-FLUX conducted an educational exchange with Choki Traditional Art School (CTAS) and National Institute for Zorig Chusum in Thimpu/Bhutan.  Bhutan proves to be an exemplary contact zone between traditional and contemporary art. As a visual outcome of the exchange on traditions and contemporaneity a mutually designed wall painting was realized. This wall painting is the result of a rolling wave planning and reveals amazing novel formal and discoursive qualities. 

Both projects have specified art concepts and art practices on all sides.  

II. Developing joint learning-projects (Dominique Lämmli)

This year FOA-FLUX conducts a series of projects on visualization strategies and public spheres. Most of these projects got started by stakeholders inquiring whether FOA-FLUX would be interested in coproducing a project connected to our research topic. These projects take place in Bangalore/India, Blantyre Malawi, Hong Kong/China and Zürich/Switzerland. These projects will provide the FOA-FLUX research on the functions of art in global contexts with invaluable data. I will show in detail how scientific and artistic research, joint learning and experience contribute and gain through this transdisciplinary approach. All project layouts are co-designed with the partners involved. This guarantees that everyone involved will be able to reach ones own goals. As such, the negotiation phase is already a substantial part of our research. Another characteristic of our joint learning project is its orientation to potential perspectives. The data we gather for our research on art in global contexts is not merely focusing on as-is-conditions, but on the target status of stakeholders within specific contexts, and in view of the current paradigmatic shifts and coexistence of art notions.

FOA-FLUX is an independent research venture in the field of the arts. It was founded by Dominique Lämmli and Annemarie Bucher in 2009 in Zürich. www.foa-flux.net


Felt (stationen) som scene: etnografisk ‘re-enactment’, hukommelse og affekt i Afrikansk vitenskap

Paul Wenzel Geissler (University of Oslo ) & Ann Kelly (University of Exeter)

I dette prosjektet bruker vi etnografisk materiale fra Amani Hill Research Station, Tanzania, for å diskutere metodiske og teoretiske muligheter som ligger i etnografisk ‘re-enactment’ for å undersøke relasjonene mellom vitenskap og sted, materielle spor og hukommelse, estetikk og affekt.

Gjennom sin 120-årige historie har Amani vært et ledende sted for bio-vitenskapelig forskning, som skapte ekspertise for imperial ekspansjon, koloniale velferdstiltak, nasjonal fremskritt, og internasjonal utvikling. Forskningsstasjonens betydning og aktivitet var størst mellom 1950 og 1970tallet – en tid preget av legevitenskapelige oppdagelser og globale sunnhetskampanjer, så vel som dekolonisering. Vitenskapsproduksjon var den gang knyttet tett opp mot større visjoner om globale forbindelser, forbedringer i menneskers liv og i samfunnet. Ny viten var dermed også knyttet til nye sosiale relasjoner på tvers av forskjellige dimensjoner: klasse, kjønn, og rase.

Disse forandringer – og drømmerne om forandring – fikk sitt nedslag i forskningsstasjonens hverdagsliv og rutiner, både i laboratoriet og feltet, og i hjemmene til vitenskapsfolk, teknikerne og forsøksdeltagerne. Det var her, at nye former for samarbeid og samliv ble utprøvd i tiden omkring dekoloniseringen, og holdt, i en kort periode, i en anspent balanse.

I dag ligger stasjonen i en dvaletilstand – et stille sted av sedimenterte rutiner og materielle spor. Bygninger og planter blir noenlunde vedlikeholdt, noen ansatte kommer hver dag til deres laboratorier og kontorer, men ingen forskning blir utført. Vårt etnografiske prosjekt tar dette stedet ’utenfor tid og rom’ som utgangspunkt for å utforske Afrikas vitenskapelige forhistorie, fortidens fremtider, og fremtidige muligheter.

For at få tilgang til de affektive og estetiske dimensjoner av fortidens vitenskapelige (sam)arbeide, og for å eksperimentere med våre egne ideer og projeksjoner om fortidens politiske betydning, gjennomførte vi en rekke forsøk med etnografisk ’re-enactment’. Metoden er velkjent i andre sammenhenger - litteraturvitenskap, historie, vitenskapshistorie, billedkunst, teater og film (se f.eks. den meget rosete etnografiske filmen ’The Act of Killing’) – men vi lærte først om (og av) dette etter vi snublet inn i metoden.

Vi reiste med en gammel Britisk vitenskapsmann, som hadde arbeidet i Amani mellom 1950 og 70-tallet, søkte og fant hans gamle kollegaer, og bad dem om å gjenta felteksperimenter, plante - og dyr innsamlings-ekspedisjoner, og laboratoriearbeid som de hadde gjort 50 år tidligere, og som var dokumentert i deres vitenskapelige publikasjoner. Gjennom å observere og delta i slike ’performances’ fikk vi innsikt i vaner og rytmer, overveielser, følelser, nytelser, anstrengelser, relasjoner og separasjoner, som ellers ikke ville kunne uttrykkes i språk. Dermed fikk vi en, om enn begrenset og filtrert, tilgang til den vitenskapelige fortid.

Men mer viktig enn dette, fra et teoretisk og metodologisk perspektiv, var det som skjedde mellom oss og aktørene, og mellom nåtid og fortid. Som en kollaborativ performance, blandet denne re-enactment aktørenes minner og følelser med våre egne lengsler, forventninger og sekundære minner, og fikk oss til å problematisere interaksjoner mellom vårt eget historiesyn og syn på nåtiden, og våre ’informanters’ minner og refleksjoner om historiske forandringer, skuffelser, og muligheter. I siste instans førte dette til et nytt syn på etnografisk feltarbeid, så vel som til en bedre forståelse av Afrikansk vitenskap.


The field station as stage: ethnographic re-enactment, memory and affect in African Science

Paul Wenzel Geissler (University of Oslo) & Ann Kelly (University of Exeter)

Drawing on ethnography from Amani Research Station, Tanzania, we develop methodological and theoretical potentials of reenactment to probe relationships between science and place, material traces and memories, aesthetics and affect.

Through its 120-year history, Amani has been a site of bioscientific endeavours, providing expertise for imperial expansion, colonial welfare, national progress and international development. The station's heyday was between 1950s and 70s - a period of global visions of disease eradication, and of decolonisation. Science-making, then, was inseparable from civic applications and global extensions, enhancing lives and improving welfare, and unsettling relations of race, class and gender. Changes and aspirations for change registered in the station's mundane routines and collective scientific labours, where shifting mores and codes of conduct were worked out and held, albeit briefly, in tension.

Today, the station lies in a state of suspended motion, a quiet site of sedimented routines and material traces. Buildings and vegetation are minimally maintained, some staff report for duty, but no research is done. To recuperate the aesthetic and affective vitality of past collaborative explorations, and to experiment with our own projections of their political significance - we assembled retired African and European scientific workers around the station.

Re-enactments - of naturalist collection, control experiments and laboratory procedures - rendered available habitual movements and rhythms, unspoken pleasures and exhaustions, longings and disappointments of scientific work. As collaborative performance, these stagings also entangled their memories with our own desires, rethinking the present by disrupting straightforward narratives about the promises and shortfalls of scientific and societal progress.


Making the Future in the Flux of Art and Science.

Amy S Robbins, Graduate Student, Anthropology Department, Binghamton University

The fields of art and science have typically been purified into bounded domains of subjectivity and objectivity, respectively. Scholars in various pursuits of STS, notably Bruno Latour (1993), have problematized this purification, demonstrating that scientific knowledge production is always unstable and situated within a particular social, cultural, and historical context. However, discourse on the relationship between artistic and scientific practices largely remains focused on how art acts as a vehicle for communicating scientific knowledge, or on how technoscientific innovations facilitate new artistic practices. In these accounts, art and science remain divergent practices, with science continuing to be the privileged form of knowledge production. James Leach’s (2012) recent study of collaborative efforts between scientists and artists in the UK serves as confirmation, pointing to how disciplinary boundaries between art and science were reaffirmed in the process of collaboration, despite the fact that these very boundaries were being questioned. Instead of exploring what art can do for science or vice versa, this paper first suggests we re-tool our thinking of art and science from oppositions to be reconciled to practices which share techniques and goals, with disciplinary borders always in the making. To address this proposition, I trace historical and contemporary glassmaking to illuminate art and science’s shared creative and experimental techniques, and common project of making the future. The alchemical history of glassmaking and contemporary collaborations between two artistic-techno-scientific institutions in Upstate New York will foreground the shifting practices, identities, and definitions that temporarily fix into what counts as art and science. Through this engagement with art and science, I suggest that aligning anthropological investigation with interlocutors in scientific and artistic communities – “epistemic communities” in the terminology of Douglas Holmes and George Marcus (2008) – can assist in refiguring ethnography as a future oriented practice. Ethnography’s backward facing orientation has been pointed to as a problem by many scholars, including Jamer Hunt (2011) and Tim Ingold (2013). By collaborating with those engaged as scientists or artists and learning from their intersecting techniques, I suggest ethnography can join these practices in the pursuit of making the future.


Specialists in Mimesis. Performing art as a means of exploring a travelling concept

Dr. Cassis Kilian, Institut für Ethnologie und Afrikastudien, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität

The paper questions how actors can contribute to a more holistic understanding of mimesis, a concept that is used in visual art, science and anthropology.

Mimesis is one of the best examples of a travelling concept that has made a career in many fields of arts, humanities and sciences. Biologists, for example, have distinguished mimesis from mimicry to describe protective or aggressive mimetic phenomena in flora and fauna. In 1984, Homi Bhabha borrowed the term “mimicry” from biology to shed light on subversive aspects of mimetic behaviour in colonial and postcolonial contexts, which had often been considered an act of subjugation before. The interpretation of the ubiquitous phenomenon is still controversial: The term ‘mimesis’ falls again and again when anthropologists and sociologists discuss metamorphoses due to the dynamics of globalization. The discovery of the mirror neuron in 1992 has started debates on mimetic phenomena among researchers in cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology. As scholars and scientists regard mimetic phenomena from a distance, they may reveal fascinating aspects of these phenomena, but they risk neglecting their existential dimension. Actors could illuminate this blind spot because they use their own body to explore mimesis as a human faculty. This approach could be described - in Paul Stoller’s words - as a ‘sensuous scholarship’. The performing arts provide methods to free artists’ bodies of habitual imprints: She or he can become disposable for mimetic experiences, which include transformations of cognition, categorization and emotion.

My aim is to draw attention to bodily and emotional dimensions of the travelling concept “mimesis” that have to date proven difficult to access for university scholarship. In reference to writings of Konstantin Stanislavsky, Mikhail Chekhov and Lee Strasberg and my own experience as an actress and anthropologist, I want to point out the heuristic potential of acting methods.


Evidence of Forces Unseen: The meeting of cintamitc art and human science in Benjamin Christensens Häxan.

Richard Backstrom, University of Edinburgh. Richard.Baxstromd.ac.uk.

In this paper I am taking up an argument originally offered by Jonathan Strauss regarding the notion of the irrational as a privileged space in medical discourses in France in the nineteenth century. Strauss argues that the role of irrationality and “nonsense” was that of a “legitimizing force” for medicine in that “the very incomprehensibility of the mad created a mysterious and extra-social language that the rising medical profession could adapt to its own purposes.” Building upon Strauss’s argument that the mastery of the irrational in the medical sciences was an essential ground legitimizing the expertise they purported to offer, I will demonstrate that a similarly privileged space was claimed by the human sciences in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through a purported ability to understand the seeming “nonsense” of “the native” or “the Other”. Provocatively, the contours of this privileged, shared space is in retrospect more apparent in creative works straddling the line between art and science rather than in works presented as either purely “scientific” or wholly “fictional”. I will therefore demonstrate the larger argument of the paper through an engagement with the notorious cinematic account of the witch craze in 16th century Europe, Häxan. Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan (1922) stands as a singular film within the history of cinema. Christensen’s “visual thesis” is relatively straightforward: in light of innovations in psychoanalysis and the human and biological sciences, the appearance of witchcraft in Europe during the late Medieval and early modern periods was actually due to undiagnosed manifestations of clinical hysteria and nervous illness. Lacking the scientific knowledge of the present age (ideas that were only just becoming realized during Christensen’s time), the spectacular symptoms of hysteria (often identified in women) were attributed at the time to the power of Satan and the dangers of being in league with him. Deftly weaving contemporary scientific analysis and evidence and powerfully staged historical scenes of satanic initiation, possession, and persecution, Häxan creatively blends spectacle and argument to express a coherently humanist call to re-evaluate both the understanding of witchcraft in European history and the contemporary treatment of “hysterics” and the mentally ill. Despite its spectacular, extreme character as a creative work, Häxan directly addresses the empirical mastery of domains consigned to the illogical realm of human social life, a concern that resonates with characteristic anthropological concerns regarding non-Western ritual and belief and the foundation of an empirical method based on experience that would allow field-workers to “see” unknown or irrational forces. I will demonstrate this central point by starting with an analysis of how figures of the invisible and irrational drove Bronislaw Malinowski’s foundational ethnographic work in the Trobriand Islands, linking his concerns to those of Benjamin Christensen in Häxan. Using the film as my primary example, I will then og back in time to outline the precursors of these figures as seen in the problem of evidence and the modes of investigation deemed proper to the investigation of witchcraft in the context of the “witch craze” in sixteenth-century Europe. Arguing that the problem of establishing proof in reference to invisible forces has durably shaped our modes of investigating human social and cultural life ever since, I then bring this epistemological thread forward in time via an analysis of the irrational in Jean-Martin Charcot’s nineteenth-century research on hysteria. In short, I argue that from the 19th century forward, human scientists (particularly anthropologists) have privileged the mastery of invisible and irrational forces as a methodological pillar, all the while disavowing the explicitly nonsensical characteristics of the forces under study. While my focus here is a historical one, I am outlining the human sciences and the emergence of creative cinematic expression at the moments of their intertwined self-institution. While I do not treat the present in any great detail here, it is evident that the human, and later social, sciences have inherited the fantasies and priorities of our forbearers as far back as the sixteenth century; interestingly, it is through an engagement with a feature film, controversially presented by its creator as simultaneously a monumental artistic achievement and as an example of a nonfiction, scientific film, the long conceptual thread regarding evidence and the investigation of the real that is the real focus of my paper comes clearly into view. Material for this paper is drawn from the manuscript, co-authored with Todd Meyers, Evidence of Forces Unseen: Realizing the Witch in Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan.


The issue of imagination in knowledge production

Thera Mjaaland

The point of departure for the discussion in this paper is my contention that, despite the realisation of what Elizabeth Edwards has called the ‘ambiguities of the realist paradigm’ of photography, visual anthropology is still informed by a positivistic understanding of knowledge production relying on a neutral observer and authentic representation of events. While art has thrived on this ambiguity of a photographic medium that, according to Mary Warner Marien, simultaneously confirms and denies truth, it seems that taking the consequence of this realisation in visual anthropology threatens to undermine the disciplinary tradition – as science. To argue for a different position of the visual in anthropological knowledge production, I will therefore, and based on my art project Houses/Homes, ask if what can be known from a photograph must rely exclusively on observable content? Since positivistic principles of objectivity do not secure correspondence between the visual recording of an event and the viewer’s perception of the visual representation of that event, I will draw attention to the imaginative leap assumed within the arts. I will also, based on the ontological turn in anthropology, address the issue of emergence in my attempt to carve out a space for imagination in knowledge production itself.