Fieldwork in Art Practise

Notes from second seminar session on Fieldwork in Art Practise:

The whole point of participation observation is that the anthropologist is to remain inside the discussion. Susan Hillar is an artist who used to be an anthropologist and in her book, ‘Thinking about art”, she argues that art is by definition an anthropological practise. Hillar asks: What is it that artist do? What’s their job/function/role is to explore hidden codes in culture, artists have a task of disclosure. They need to manifest a share unarticulated believe. Voltanski says similar statements that art should be about revealing things which aren’t revealed in other domains.

All artists are using cultural artefacts in their work. Alfred Gell says that the art object is an extension of the self. Societies preserve their social continuity by circulating gifts. In the Cooler system we would pass on beads and shells etc. and these were circulated as a status symbol – to maintain the balance in society. The ‘gift’ can be without ties but this is very rare.

  • Is art just about giving joy/pleasure?

Rituals– Mary Douglas’ book ‘Purity and danger’ looks at purity and dirt (the most archaic system of division of separating seen in the cast system in India). HOW are these two separated. What is the faming of what’s ‘pure’ or ‘dirty’. Purtiy = sacred. Dirty = profane. Rituals are fundamental of human life as they’re symbolic. Hilliard says it ‘seems impossible to have social relations without symbolic acts’. Life is divided to ritual in a way which is so regular we forget about them e.g. The days of the week have a meaning in part of a pattern (aside from their practical function). Whilst these are banal, ritual replaces religion in anthropological readings as the ritual enters secular not just religious life.

Douglas thinks the handling of money is one of the most interesting rituals. Money provides fixed recognisable sign and mediates transactions just as the ritual mediates experience. Money can ONLY perform its role when society has faith in it. When we loose faith then the financial rates go wild, the currency becomes useless. The same with rituals – they’re dependant on our value and belief in it. Symbols have power within social life.

Hilliard talks about  the notion of Danger. Disorder in culture is a symbol of danger but also of power and the Ritual recognises the potency of disorder. Stuart Morgan’s theory was that everyone’s life is made up of life crisis. These crisis are made up if ceremonies and move through 3 phases. Separation, transition and incorporation. In transitional phase the individual  is neither in or outside of society- they are in a liminal state. The argument is that artist are in this liminal state – this state of ‘not being fixed’ is the cause of imagination. Stuart Morgan’s proposition is that artists are in this state, they can then act as a person to help someone over a threshold.‘The Artist in the margin’ or ‘passer’. We live in a time of crisis and fragmentation. The question of art now is should we be concerned with beauty? Inevitably there is a move of being anti-aesthetic at the end of 80’s and 90’s. She comments on the 1995 ‘The rights of passage” exhibition of artists interested in ethnographic practises, saying that the work is pointing in the right direction by coming close to the crisis by making work.

Do artists accompany the crisis or society? Jarr follows this by pointing out the bad in society. There needs to be a balance between informing people and poetry. When discussing politics and poetry we need to consider if this should be done at an intimate or critical distance? Jeff Koons discusses that whole of life is about simulation. Auctions are places where people need to know the ritual, values are considered- how are they made or transmitted? the Ritual is being played out in a capitalist way, in a similar way to money being based on an illusion of faith.

  • Does ART only function if its believed in and accepted? In the same way money or rituals do?
  • Does art function as a form of therapy?

Martha Roslar uses photography form different angles to show how photography can change what’s going on. When you take a photograph, you make a presentation of the artists notion of the world. This can either be propagandistic or closer to the truth. If even such a traditionally reliable method of ‘recording’ can alter our perception of hold an agenda then can art be used in understanding other cultures then?

There is a timelessness which is challenged by artists today. There is a risk in appropriation and appreciation of another culture is to preserve it because there is no such thing as a fixed time of tradition. We are always in transition, therefore the idea of timelessness is not real. Turner plays on timelessness in his work but he still studied in places which were fixed location which he stayed in. This idea of timelessness is more about cultural tourism. We can be sucked in by imagery that we no longer see the reality. We can ‘take in’ pictures of war with seemingly no emotion impact because of the assault of the media which causes a tendency to escape from reality.

Nomadism – lyrical nomadism – Clemente and Orozco plays on aesthetic, poetic etc which play on ‘going wherever’. Richard Wentworth looks at everyday signs of the street, making these into a cultural artefact which has subtle significance. Hard nomadism – Hans Haake, decides to concentrate on a specific space and time. He builds instillations to provoke public debate. He carries out diversion (situationalist, framing and disrupting). Haake produces symbolic actions e.g. in 1993 Hakke realised  that at Venice biennale that the pavilion had been build by the NAZI’s. Haake smashed the floor. He is framing set ups to explain to the audience what is going on behind.

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