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Conference fee: £75 (full), £40 (students) - includes lunches, tea/coffee and drinks receptions.
Deadline for registration: Monday 15 June.
Download the conference poster .
Twitter Hashtag: #objects2015
Alexi Baker (CRASSH)
Objects in Motion brings together scholars, curators and artists from around the world to dialogue about material objects in transition - cultural, temporal and geographical.
All material objects are produced within specific contexts – whether they are ancient Roman tombstones, century-old Inuit clothing, or modern video games. How are differences in use and meaning negotiated when these objects transition into other contexts? What continuities remain, and what is reinterpreted and refashioned? How does this affect the meanings and knowledge embodied in, or found with, such objects?
The subjects discussed will range in time from antiquity to the present day, and in geography across different continents. The individual disciplines encompassed include history, history of science and medicine, anthropology, social anthropology, archaeology, ethnology, art and performance, history of art, geography, digital humanities, museums, and cultural heritage.
This breadth of speakers and topics will facilitate a fruitful exploration of material culture dynamics which are central to the human experience even in an era of multinational corporations, global communication, and increasing standardisation. It will also foster discussion of the different disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches to studying and communicating about these themes.
Twenty-six speakers are joined by three keynotes:
- Simon Schaffer, Professor of History of Science at the University of Cambridge
- Nicholas Thomas, Director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology [MAA]
- Tim Knox, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum
There will also be a short documentary film shown, visual art by Jane Watt and ceramic arts by Chris McHugh displayed, and Ms Watt’s mobile art studio onsite for the first two days. There will be a reception at the MAA on the first evening, a reception and viewing of the superb exhibition Treasured Possessions at the Fitzwilliam on the second evening, and optional visits to other local museums on the final afternoon.
Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CRASSH).
Administrative assistance: firstname.lastname@example.org
DAY 1 - Thursday 18 June
Registration and coffee
WELCOME AND INTRODUCTION
Alexi Baker (CRASSH)
Lunch & introduction to displayed ceramic arts by Chris McHugh (University of Sunderland)
Drinks reception at Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
DAY 2 - Friday 19 June
Lunch includes a short film Wish You Were Here by Jade Gibson (University of the Witwatersrand)
La Nuvola e Issìone (Produced by the University of Foggia, directed by Pino Casolaro, and written by Casolaro and Corinna Guerra)
KEYNOTE 2 AT THE FITZWILLIAM MUSEUM
Drinks reception and visit to the exhibition Treasured Possessions.
DAY 3 - Saturday 20 June
Optional visits to local museums
Exhibitions and Films
The Cabinet of Curiosities by Jane Watt
The Cabinet of Curiosities is a new visual and audio collection of wondrous things. It has been made by artist Jane Watt with the help of over 500 people who live and work around the new Darwin Green area in North West Cambridge. Those who visited Jane’s bright blue touring studio in autumn 2014 talked about their objects and were able to watch as their curiosities were recorded as a cyanotype, one of the oldest forms of photography.
Cyanotypes from the project will be on display in the seminar rooms during the conference. Visitors to the project’s mobile studio on 18 and 19 June will be able to see an exhibition of further cyanotypes, to interact with a digital and sound archive, and to view a short documentary film about the project.
George Brown Series by Chris McHugh
The George Brown Series is a group of ceramic vessels made in response to the George Brown Collection, after an AHRC international placement at the National Museum of Ethnology (NME) in Japan. Brown accumulated over 3000 ethnographic specimens while serving as a missionary in Oceania between 1860 and 1907. Described as ‘one of the most mobile collections in the world’, it has had a number of homes over the years, exercising the endeavours of a variety of people.
The George Brown Series was inspired by McHugh’s research at the NME which focused on ‘transitional’ artefacts, in which influences from both the originating community and the European colonisers were manifest. A series of bamboo tubes from the Solomon Islands scrimshawed with scenes of European and indigenous encounters were of particular interest as they reminded him of some of the maritime imagery he was familiar with from work on nineteenth-century Sunderland pottery. These items spoke of the ‘creolization and hybridity’ characteristic of the colonial experience.
McHugh’s porcelain vessels collage a range of visual and contextual information in order to communicate something of the collection’s complex history. Dutch traders took Sunderland pottery to Japan and it is not inconceivable that some pieces might have made it to Oceania. The George Brown Series exploits this conceit, imagining what a fusion of Solomon Island lime containers and Sunderland pottery might look like filtered through twenty-first-century Japan.
La Nuvola e Issìone, produced by University of Foggia (Italy)
La Nuvola e Issìone is a short documentary film directed by Pino Casolaro and written by Casolaro and Corinna Guerra. In the second half of the eighteenth century in Pompeii, the ancient town destroyed by a huge volcanic eruption in 79 A.D., the outline of a young woman’s breast was discovered preserved in the ash. In the successive century, it became a famous cast all over Europe, but then the fascinating archaeological find disappeared. The breast was not a mere material object of archaeological investigation, but on the contrary changed its nature and meaning according to era or context. From antiquity to the present day people including novelists, scientists and archaeologists wrote about it in very different ways. The short movie tries to put together all of these instances, merging a solid documentary approach with the tools of fiction. The outcome is a hybrid video product, written by an historian of science and an actor with the supervision of researchers in Latin literature. Actors worked on Mount Vesuvius and at the Pompeii excavations, and particular attention was given to the soundtrack.
Wish You Were Here by Jade Gibson
Wish You Were Here is a short silent film created and acted by artist Jade Gibson with the assistance of cinematographer Gareth Jones. The film is a deliberate intertextual play and investigation into some of the ethnic stereotypes that people have projected onto Gibson over the years, based on her half-British and half-Filipino ancestral identity. The artist plays upon assumptions by recreating herself in reference to early ethnographic and tourist images both moving and still - drawing for example upon Nanook of the North stylistic and textual references, and the 19th-century children’s book A Peep at the World, as well as on stories of her own encounters across the world.
Wish You Were Here was created in the grainy visual style of Nanook, a 1922 silent ethnographic film by Robert J. Flaherty which is considered the first feature-length documentary. Gibson’s film makes her an ‘ethnographic art object’ by superimposing upon her ethnicised and racialised images from different histories and locations. The film deliberately aims to undo ethnic and cultural stereotyping and to confront others with their misperceptions.
Nazneen Ahmed (University College London): Religious Objects in Motion: Two Ealing Case Studies
When considering the phenomenon of material culture in transition, the most common scenario discussed is that of the cultural artefact and the museum. However the material culture we find within religious spaces is often made up of objects of diverse origins, some made by amateur designers, some products of professional commissions, and others, leant, donated or purchased.
In this paper I wish to examine two religious buildings in West London, the Church of St Thomas the Apostle, and the Shri Kanaga Thurkkai Amman Hindu Temple. In both of these buildings exist objects of religious material culture that are from elsewhere, and that are in different ways incongruous in the context of the built environment surrounding them. St Thomas’, a 1930s church by the respected architect Sir Edward Maufe, famous for its use of Arts and Crafts artisans and its clean, modern-Gothic style, incorporates an organ and high Victorian altar from St Thomas’ Portland Square, the central London church that was sold to raise funds for the Hanwell church. The Hindu temple, once a thriving Baptist church, remains unchanged in terms of its exterior but within incorporates a multitude of shrines, objects and architectural features imported from India and Sri Lanka.
Drawing on interviews, planning documents and archival research I will delineate how these “borrowed” objects change and are changed by the character, history and structure of these two religious buildings, resulting in religious spaces that are more productively considered as “assemblages” rather than fixed, monolithic entities.
Danny Braverman (Goldsmiths University): The Making of Wot? No Fish!! - Translating Outsider Art into Theatrical Storytelling
This paper is a reflection on an artistic process, and therefore is written in the first person. In 2012, I started the process of sifting through the artwork of my great-uncle Ab Solomons. Every week of his married life, he created a picture for his wife Celie on the back of his wage packet; three thousand of these artworks have survived. He depicted scenes from his family life with great wit, blistering honesty and great skill. With my collaborator theatre director Nick Philippou, the award-winning and critically acclaimed theatre piece “Wot? No Fish!!” was created. In this paper, the performance-making processes that were undertaken to create “Wot? No Fish!!” are investigated, focusing on how Ab’s picture chronicle was translated into a series of time-bound theatre events.
From Ab’s whole oeuvre, I chose seventy pictures to weave into a narrative. The performance style places interactive storytelling within a contemporary aesthetic, with recognition of debts owed to popular and political theatre pioneers such as Brecht, Littlewood and McGrath, as well as the work of Dorothy Heathcote and the Theatre-in-Education movement. The dramaturgy of the piece is continuous, as meanings shift with each performance, constantly informed through dialogue with diverse audiences.
Ultimately, “Wot? No Fish!!” is a multi-layered contemplation on the value of art. Ab, by some definitions, was an outsider artist, untrained and making his work primarily for an audience of one. What are the implications now of his work being translated into another medium and of these highly personal works being put to new purposes?
Stephanie Bunn (University of St. Andrews): The Pattern of the Past in the Present: Felt Textiles in Transition in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia
Domestic felt textiles from Central Asia provide significant insights to the dynamics of ‘continuity and change’ among a people where much appears to be in movement. Felt has been associated with nomadic pastoralism in this region since the Pazyryk period, 450BCE. The techniques, imagery and aesthetics appear to be quite consistent on felt textiles made by herding women from this period until the early-20th century. Yet herders are mobile, groups have formed diverse allegiances and then reformed them through more than two millennia, and textiles are made by women who bring their knowledge with them as they move to new homes on marriage.
The past century has provided unprecedented new contexts for production of such textiles, as transitions have taken place from migratory herding to settlement, from khanates to Russian conquest, and from Sovietization to globalization. Drawing particularly on ethnographic research from Kyrgyzstan and archival research in the Hermitage Museum, along with broader study across the region, this paper explores how old practices and meanings have transitioned these dynamic situations, drawing on archival imagery (including wall friezes and Zoroastrian paintings), examples from museum collections (both archaeological and ethnographic), fieldwork data and contemporary examples (from tourist art to the fashion industry). I argue that the ongoing coherence of this form of material culture lies in the specific pastoralist relationship with the environment in this region, along with the domestic context of felt textile production.
Dana E Byrd (Bowdoin College, Maine): Ebony and Ivory: Pianos, People, Property and Freedom on the Plantation, 1861-1870
By examining moments in the Civil War history of the piano, one can shed light on the vital socio-economic changes wrought on the plantation during the Civil War, and early Reconstruction period. In addition to inspiring the creation of new objects [a subject familiar to most object historians], the events of the Civil War, looting, occupation and emancipation, and the Reconstruction period, remapping of plantations and the rapid withdrawal of Northern forces, set existing objects in motion and saw the destruction of others. An examination of these changing roles of objects and the means by which they were used to narrate historical accounts reveals not only their movements across time and space, but also their relationship to meaning, memory and identity. These objects accrued historical value over time, and are important sites of cultural intersection.
Whether subject to actual theft, or simply a measure of metaphorical loss, the piano functions as a prism for tracking changes on the plantation resulting from the movement of Northerners to the South; the freedom of former slaves; and, finally Southerners of the lower sort who were worn down by class resentment. Whether Northern missionaries commented on the existence of “well-tuned pianos” on South Carolina Sea Island plantations, or illustrators visually referenced pianos in Harper’s Weekly as they imagined the ways that former slaves made liberal use of their former master’s possessions. Federal soldiers, despite military codes regulating their behavior, regularly took “piano rations” from plantations abandoned by their owners. Bound together in an investigation of place, the recurring trope of the piano and other material artefacts present a powerful narrative of American history through the making and unmaking of the plantation space is a part.
Gabriella Cirucci (Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa): Ancient Roman Tomb Raiders: Greek Gravestones in Transition
This paper focuses on significant examples of Greek tombstones, dating from the sixth to the fourth centuries B.C.E., removed from ancient cemeteries of the Hellenic world and transferred to Rome. These looted antiquities were rarely accorded attention by ancient authors, although the plunder of Greek artworks by the Romans represented a hot topic for almost three centuries, starting from the second century B.C.E. Nor have they acquired a place in the founding, and still ongoing, debate on the role of Greek Art in Roman visual culture. The specific issues they raise are largely underrated.
In their original contexts, these monuments commemorated a deceased by embodying values, rituals, and beliefs that expressed the identities of the represented person, of his family, and of the Greek polis community. Their highly standardized features, however, resulted inappropriate for Roman funerary monuments, which were expected to praise the dead by portraiture and by his individual and social merits. Indeed, evidence suggests that wealthy Romans acquired old Greek tombstones as appropriate decoration for their luxury gardens. In this vein, Greek funerary iconographies were reproduced in Roman reliefs representing mythological or divine images.
Which values were assessed through the reuse of Greek tombstones in Roman context? Did they retain any relation to their original uses and meanings? Did their uses and meanings at the time of the first removal to Rome transform through time and space?
This paper intends to shed a new light on the topic by focusing on the mutual interaction between reused objects, original contexts, and contexts of reuse.
Barbara Garrie & Rosie Ibbotson (University of Canterbury, NZ): Things Change: Objects and Transition in Post-Earthquake Christchurch
This paper considers the role of objects in the altered – and altering – urban environment of post-quake Ōtautahi Christchurch. Located in New Zealand’s South Island, the city was the site of a series of devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 that left it severely damaged. As both a disaster and a juncture for opportunity, Christchurch’s sudden transformation has required both processes of commemoration, and the need to identify the future direction of the city. Furthermore, the contingent and provisional nature of life around the rebuild has engendered the convergence of spheres sometimes treated as distinct – art; landscape; social relations; logistics – and has necessitated new ways of reading the city.
Material culture continues to play a key role in this context, offering a barometer of the changing city. With buildings and infrastructure in constant transition, the meanings of everyday objects are continually reinscribed and opened to new modes of interpretation. Recent scholarship has understandably tended to focus on the experiences of communities, people, and animals within the post-quake environment, with objects playing an omnipresent but only supporting role in this discourse.
Focusing on how material culture in this context has upheld and critiqued the perceived boundaries between the public and the private, the political and the personal, and the natural and the made, this paper seeks to illuminate the ways in which ordinary objects have become central to attempts to articulate earthquake experiences.
Paul Gooding & Stephen Bennett (University of East Anglia): “A Link to the Past”: Remastered Videogames and the Material Archive
In the past ten years, the academic and archival communities have written extensively about the need to formally preserve video games as cultural records (Gooding and Terras, 2008; Monnens et al., 2009; Newman, 2012). Yet the idea of a video game as a defined material object has been challenged by digital delivery, and the trend for “remastered” versions of classic games. Similarly to remastered music albums and movies, this process can drastically change the material experience of playing certain games, from the material interface of consoles, controllers and display devices, to improved graphics and menus, and even changes in the fundamental gameplay experience. This paper will argue that the combined phenomena of remastering and digital delivery move games away from their material roots to become objects of flux, constantly subjected to a dynamic process of reinterpretation.
We will provide a theoretical approach to the remastering of classic video games, by comparing videogame remastering to the music industry, drawing on archival theory and exploring recently remastered series such as Final Fantasy, the Legend of Zelda, and Resident Evil. The paper will trace the way in which these widely recognised classics of the medium have been recreated, repurposed and reimagined through the changing technology of contemporary games hardware. By contrasting the shifting ludic, technological and social experiences of these classic games with the literature on technological solutions to video game preservation, we will interrogate the concept of archival stability as it relates to a medium defined by technological innovation.
Anita Guerrini (Oregon State University): The Skeleton Trade: Life, Death, and Commerce in Early Modern Europe
The human skeleton, ubiquitous and yet invisible, became revealed to view as never before in early modern Europe. A crafted object as well as a natural one, its making and use occupied both artists and anatomists, while skeletal relics, new and old, retained their potency. Although skeletons frequently appeared in anatomical illustrations, cabinets reveal little evidence of skeletons or even individual bones before the mid-seventeenth century. From then onward, a vigorous skeleton trade flourished across Europe, and they often appear in auction catalogues alongside books, works of art, and scientific instruments. Unlike books or instruments, however, skeletons originated with human bodies.
Crafting a skeleton involved several levels of violation of the body, from obtaining a corpse to removing flesh and reassembling the bones. Beginning with Vesalius, detailed instructions for making a skeleton appeared in many anatomical texts and manuals. While such a process would seem to confer anonymity to the finished skeleton, provenance and even identity often clung to the bones along with religious resonances. Most skeletons were of executed criminals, some of them widely known. Widespread demand and changing scientific contexts expanded the market for skeletons (as well as skulls) beyond Europe to encompass much of the known world by the mid-eighteenth century. Catalogues, account books, advertisements, and illustrations reveal this worldwide commerce in skeletons, alongside a continued active trade in skeletal relics. Traveling across time and place, skeletons embodied beauty and deformity, crime and punishment, sin and sanctity, science and colonial power, often simultaneously.
Rachel Hand (Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology)*: Polity in Motion: 18th-century Musical Instruments and the Regalia of Tonga’s Sacred Chief
* Co-authors Billie Lythberg, Wonu Veys, Hūfanga ‘Okusitino Māhina and Semisi Fetokai Potauaine
Late eighteenth-century European voyagers were intrigued by Tongan musical instruments, and the vocal and physical performances they accompanied. While large slit gong drums are still used today, ‘stamping tubes’, nose flutes and panpipes are materialisations of now archaic Tongan music. These instruments became obsolete when the Tu‘i Tonga, the paramount chief of Tonga in the eighteenth century, was overthrown, affecting a change in Tongan polity and chiefly material culture.
Though several examples of nose flutes and panpipes can be found in museum collections, until recently, no examples of stamping tubes—hollow bamboo tubes, blocked at one end, and held in the hand and beaten on the ground to ‘mark the measure’—were known, and they appeared to exist only in voyage descriptions and illustrations. Through a combination of archival and Europe-wide collections research, two have now been identified, one in the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin, and the other in Bergen University’s Museum (Norway). Both were misattributed as quivers, suggesting little understanding of their origins and highlighting the role of documentation in creating or limiting knowledge.
The rediscovery of the Tongan stamping tubes corresponds with the rediscovery of the only extant version of the Tu‘i Tonga’s elaborate feathered headdress (in Museo de América, Madrid, misattributed as a ‘skirt’) and a revitalization of interest from the academy and Tongans alike in Tongan history-making and divine chieftainship, and their material instantiations and transitions. This paper considers musical instruments and chiefly regalia extirpated for political reasons from Tonga and misattributed in European institutions, and the ramifications of their recent repatriation by contemporary Tongan artists.
Katie Hickerson (University of Pennsylvania): Appliquéd Understandings: The Mutable Meanings of the Mahdist Jibba, 1881-2015
This paper explores the design, political significance and circulation of Mahdist jibba during the late nineteenth century and its collection, display and re-fashioning during the twentieth. The jibba is a garment popularized by Muhammad Ahmed al-Mahdi, know in English literature as the Mahdi of the Sudan. Beginning as a ragged cotton garment worn in the early 1880s, the jibba was later fashioned into highly stylized incarnations to demarcate status within the Mahdist state - using color and fabric as markers of piety, regional affiliation, and economic isolationism. Yet woven into the garment were the contradictions of this state: the pretense of piety transformed into the grandeur of the jibba, the state’s claim to level ethnic difference stood in marked contrast to its regional variations, and the presence of fabrics produced outside Sudan contradicted claims of commercial isolationism. This garment marked embodied belief in the Nile valley, served as an artifact of diplomatic exchange across the Sahel and the Red Sea, featured in British propaganda portraiture meant to popularize military intervention in Sudan (1896-1898), and became a prized artifact in museum collections, ranging from small regimental museums in rural Britain to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Presently, images of the jibba from British museums now circulate on Sudanese historical websites, where comments on the visual culture of this material object expound the interconnected legacies of Britain and the Sudan. My paper demonstrates how the Mahdist jibba has been a contested political symbol in every incarnation, from its origin to the present.
Simon Kaner (Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures) and Liliana Janik (University of Cambridge): Inspiring Creativity Through Artistic Re-engagement with Ancient Japanese Pots
How do objects from the ancient world inspire creativity in contemporary contexts, far from where such objects originated? Can we gauge the value of such contemporary re-envisioning of what is often considered ancient ‘art’?
Some of the oldest known dated ceramic containers and cooking pots in the world come from the Japanese archipelago, marking the start of an exceptional sequence of invention and innovation that produced one of the great traditions of prehistoric cultural creative expression, the Jomon, produced by people who lived in the Japanese archipelago from around 16,000 to 2,500 years ago.
An intriguing aspect of prehistoric Jomon (cord-marked) pottery is its striking lack of standardisation. This has not prevented archaeologists from classifying individual pots in terms of form and individual design motifs. But in this endeavour to create a pseudo-historical typology-based chronology for the production and use of these striking vessels, issues such as the aesthetic appreciation of such objects (often expressed in terms such as ‘virtuosity’) are overlooked. This presentation sets the contemporary (and burgeoning) engagement by artists with these pots in the context of post-modernity, to create a case study that is of trans-disciplinary significance within and beyond academe.
This paper explores, through a series of key examples, the interplay between ancient objects from the Japanese archipelago, and the increasingly globalised contemporary art scene in Japan: 1. A Jomon pot (c. 5000 years old) excavated in northern Japan in the 19th century, where it is re-used in the tea ceremony, before arriving at the British Museum where it is taken up as one of the History of the World in 100 Objects; 2. Installations based on Flame pots by the contemporary artist Mika Mori and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 2014; 3. An exhibit of ‘contemporary Jomon art’ at the Denver Airport in summer 2015, following a series of successful exhibitions in Japan (most recently at the Aoyama Art Spiral in Tokyo); 4. A series of Jomon –inspired installations as part of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale since 2000; 5. The bid to have the Olympic Cauldron in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics/Paralympics derived from the form of a Jomon ‘Flame’ pot.
This paper draws on ideas about the relationship between contemporary art and archaeology which are at the cutting edge of current archaeological thinking. Beginning with a critical assessment of publications such as Figuring it Out: the parallel visions of artists and archaeologists by Colin Renfrew (London, Thames and Hudson 2003) and Art and Archaeology: collaborations, conversations, criticisms edited by Ian Russell and Andrew Cochrane (New York, Springer 2014), and building on thinking which is being developed through the Kyoto Art and Archaeology Forum, we ask how such new engagements can add value to existing understanding and appreciation of ancient objects.
Tim Knox (Fitzwilliam Museum): The Country House Museum in Britain and Ireland: Asylums for Appropriated Curiosities
From the seventeenth-century wunderkammer, through Grand Tour collections, to Victorian assemblies of imperial plunder, the British country house has long been a lumber room of appropriated cultural artefacts. Tim Knox looks at the way British and Irish country house proprietors pressed Egyptian antiquities, Greek and Roman marbles, Assyrian reliefs, Indian and Pacific curios and objects of natural history into domestic service, and traces the rise and fall of the country house museum.
Emma Martin (National Museums Liverpool / University of Manchester): The Transition of Tibetan Book-covers into Colonial Worlds
Wisdom protectors, art, loot, political opponents, ‘curios’, gifts of diplomacy, improvised artillery shields, chopping boards and even a mantelpiece - Tibetan book-covers have meant and become many things to many people. Tibet’s intricately carved wooden book-covers were made to protect the loose-leaved texts housed in the country’s monasteries and aristocratic estates. Yet in 1904, during the eponymously named Younghusband Mission to Lhasa, officers of the British India government’s punitive expedition would rip the covers from their intended roles and ideologically and materially make them into other things. The book-covers would become Tibetan art and material forms of colonial knowledge. They were separated from the texts they could no longer protect and would instead be bracketed to walls in imperial museums and colonial homes.
This paper will discuss the many transitions Tibetan book-covers have made in the hands of imperial powers (and also contemporary Tibetan artists). However, its main focus will fall on a group of book-covers that were transformed for a colonial officer’s study. Made into a mantelpiece to hold and display other Tibetan things, the book-covers collectively offered a domestic imagining of the aesthetic and cultural sensibilities of a Himalayan Other. I will argue that the book-covers became the axis mundi, the sanctum sanctorum in a colonial officer’s remaking of a powerful religious place in Tibet. This was a very different type of power place made in a Himalayan contact zone: one where the shrine for a Buddhist being was replaced by a colonial officer and his mantelpiece.
John P McCarthy (Delaware State Parks):* Extraordinary Uses of Ordinary Things: Negotiating African Identity at the Cemeteries of the First African Baptist Church, Philadelphia
* Presented by Chris Wingfield, Senior Curator of Archaeology at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge
Based in an enduring belief in a world of spirits and a continuing relationship with one’s ancestors, the cemetery became a special venue for the expression of identity in early nineteenth-century Philadelphia. African-influenced, Creolized, burial practices that made unusual use of ordinary Western material objects (coins, plates, and shoes) were documented archaeologically at two cemeteries in Philadelphia and at other burial grounds and religious sites used by both free and enslaved African-Americans as well. Of interest was the considerably greater occurrence of these practices at the later of the two cemeteries in Philadelphia. This paper will describe these findings and place them in socio-historical context to consider them as material expressions of the integration of African beliefs and practices in the spiritual life of Philadelphia African Americans. In addition, it will be argued that these Western objects were given new, African-influenced, socially-charged meanings reflecting a uniquely African-American socio-cultural identity. The increased occurrence of these practices at the later of the cemeteries will be considered as a reactive expression of the congregation’s identity in response to an increasing hostile socio-cultural environment.
Katharina Nordhofen (University of Vienna): More than a Frame: Strategies of Appropriation of Byzantine Ivories on Ottonian Book Covers
A consideration of German church-treasuries may give the impression, that there are more Byzantine artefacts preserved in Germany than in the former Byzantine territory itself. Research of the last decades has brought to light that the connection between the Ottonian and Byzantine Empires existed not only on an imperial level, but also that many Ottonian bishops travelled to Constantinople as diplomats. Their most popular souvenirs were carved ivory triptychs. But none of these artefacts remained in their original form. They were dismantled, sometimes even sawed up, and used in new contexts as covers of liturgical books. In the past, scholars have interpreted this treatment of the triptychs as an expression of mere interest in the ivory material and an indifference to the images.
But several case studies indicate that within the process of transformation, the Byzantine iconography was indeed taken into account in order to achieve the best possible coherence with the new function. The images or inscriptions on the framings add local and personal references to the donator. In their interaction the ivory and the framework achieve a new level of meaning.
The high esteem in which these Byzantine carvings were held is also revealed by the existence of several fakes, which are of special interest, because they expose western misunderstandings of Byzantine iconography.
In using these Byzantine ivories for their own donations, bishops not only cared for their personal salvation but also imitated imperial actions. Their new role in the administration of the Ottonian Empire, in which power and faith were intrinsically tied together, is expressed in an exemplary manner in these hybrid book-covers.
Claire Sabel (University of Cambridge): Cultures of Colorimetry
Joseph Lovibond introduced an instrument for standardizing the colour of beer in the late 1880s, drawing on decades of experience as a brewer. Within fifteen years, Lovibond had adapted his Tintometer to measure the colours of a huge range of manufactured products from coal tar to cosmetics and chewing gum. But industrialists were not the only ones interested in quantifying colours. Experimental physicists took up the Tintometer to study the colour-blindness of the British population, and anthropologists took the Tintometer to the Torres Straits to measure skin and eye colours. This paper will follow the Tintometer’s multiple itineraries to illuminate a shared interest in colorimetry across different professional communities in Britain at the turn of the century, and to explore the idea of a generic instrument.
Amal Sachedina (Brown University): More Coffee Anyone: The Coffeepot as an Object of Reform and Restoration in the Sultanate of Oman
Since its inception as a nation state from 1970, Oman’s expanding heritage industry for crafts and sites – exemplified by the boom in museums, cultural festivals and the restoration of more than a hundred forts, castles and citadels – fashions a distinctly national geography and a territorial imaginary. But these practices of history-making have also become the site for the production of new ethical metrics, political demands, social relations around public knowledge and forms of Islamic religiosity. Centred on the dalla, or the Omani coffee pot, this paper considers how the social practices and knowledges induced by its material form and function becomes the basis for examining the shift from the religio-ethical relationships that defined the shari’a society of the last Ibadi Islamic Imamate that ruled the interior of the region (1913-1958) of Oman to those that define ‘heritage’ as part of modern state-building today. Through an ethnographic and historical analysis of the causality induced by its form, the socio-ethical practices it spurs and their wider political implications, the coffee pot becomes a venue for exploring the tectonic encounter between the emergent system of nationally sanctioned history-making with the alternative and contending forms of memory, temporality, religiosity and agency that it paradoxically engenders. In the process, I complicate the modernist conception of time from one which assumes the inevitability of necessary change as a universal assumption towards its conceptualization as a densely embedded sociocultural form, the boundaries of which are dynamic and subject to conflict and contestation.
Simon Schaffer (University of Cambridge): Soft Matter and Mobile Objects
The mobility of objects considered within the history of the sciences has typically been studied through attention to the routes and pathways along which such entities travel and are subject to processes of exchange and reinterpretation. Under this approach, objects are understood as remarkably stable, their mutability almost entirely attributed to changes in the interpretation to which they are subject and the local interests institutionalised in the sites in which they are accumulated, studied and manipulated. It thus becomes important to combine approaches to mobility with studies of objects’ mutability. This seems especially appropriate in the case of soft matter, substances unusually subject to transformation under rather commonplace changes in temperature. Using examples from histories of studies of such substances as wax, clay and foam, and from more recent projects in public arts, the paper examines how models of objects’ structure and form can help illuminate some major concerns of science studies in the stability of matter and the role of transport and transmutation in the historiography of materials.
Nicholas Thomas (Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge): A Critique of the Natural Artefact: Rethinking Re-contextualisation
This presentation returns to issues central to my book Entangled Objects: Exchange, Material Culture, and Colonialism in the Pacific - the movement of things between European and Pacific societies via the encounters between Islanders and travellers. It, in particular, seeks to complicate the understanding, that haunts the ethnographic museum, that artefacts have suffered appropriation and de-contextualisation. It suggests that many museum objects are not ‘natural’ artefacts, extracted from organic lives in communities, in this sense; it explores not only the rich potentialities of recontextualisation, foregrounded in Entangled Objects, but also the limits of that process, and the significance of those limits for the efficacy of objects in motion.
Petra Tjitske Kalshoven (University of Manchester):* Animal Artefacts: Categorical Trespassing by the Curiously Lifelike
* Invited speaker
Taxidermic mounts have reappeared on the horizon of middle-class landscapes. They feature on the weekend pages of quality dailies. They have confidently crossed over from the natural history museum to the art gallery, where they pose in exhibitions entitled Curiosity or Wunderkammer. They bring comforting nature into the domestic sphere, they put trendy art on the coffee table, they are unnervingly real and titillatingly dead. Squeamish novices bring mounts into precarious being at dubious workshops, while professionals express their love of the outdoors and insist on the virtues of field research and anatomical knowledge in an effort to achieve lifelikeness.
In connection with a recent ‘return to curiosity’ that has been noted in studies of materiality, I explore the curious role of animal artefacts that move between categories, crossing classificatory boundaries. Drawing on my recent ethnography of taxidermy as a skilled practice, I will focus on mounts that move into and out of different categories, from the animate to the inanimate to the reanimated, from living animal to hunting trophy to kitsch to art object. Animal mounts are put to work (and do work) in a discursive and sensory meshwork of contradictory human objectives. I will argue that mounted animals may not only shed light on practices of classification and on entanglements of the symbolic and the material in human boundary-making and artefactual trespassing but that they may also trouble taken-for-granted distinctions between, for instance, kin and non-kin, nature and culture, life and non-life.
Elsje van Kessel (University of St. Andrews): Temporary Exhibitions as Object Movers in Early Modern Italy
Temporary exhibitions cause objects to move around, adding to their meaning and changing their function. My proposed paper focuses on the origins of the temporary exhibition in early modern Italy to examine the early development of a device that has the transitioning of things as its main purpose.
Exhibitions, mainly of paintings, became a recurring feature of civic-religious life in the larger Italian cities of the seventeenth century. Often coinciding with important saints’ days, these events would bring together modern and old works of art, the latter given on loan by the community’s wealthiest families. As temporary displays of highly moveable objects, these exhibitions were affiliated with a variety of other practices that involved the movement of objects, such as processions and ceremonial entries. What all these practices had in common is that they involved transporting objects – paintings, relics, liturgical silverware, miraculous images – temporarily into another context in which they would acquire new meaning.
Because of their fleeting and elusive nature, early modern temporary exhibitions have been little studied. My paper intends to make a beginning to fill in this gap and asks how their very transitoriness came to have a lasting impact on the meaning and function of paintings and other works of art. Indeed, as I will argue, the temporary transitioning of things contributed to the formation of artistic canons and an increasing aesthetic appreciation of Italian art.
Willemijn van Noord (University of Amsterdam): An Ancient Mirror in Motion: from China through Siberia to the Netherlands and Back (c. 100 BCE - 1700 CE)
Around the 1st century BCE – 1st century CE, Chinese craftsmen made inscribed bronze mirrors with a ‘forget-me-not’ motif. These objects were sold on the private market and probably exchanged among lovers, as a farewell token. They have been found in graves all over China as a burial gift, thought to dispel evil.
One particular mirror transitioned into surprisingly different geographical, cultural, and temporal contexts. It was probably traded along the Silk Routes to end up as one of many burial gifts in a large tomb in Siberia. The tomb was looted in the seventeenth century and the mirror sent to Amsterdam, to become part of what was perhaps the most sophisticated collection of Asian art in Northern Europe of its time. This was the collection of Nicolaes Witsen, burgomaster of Amsterdam, governor for the Dutch East India Trading Company (VOC), and a pioneer in Inner Eurasian studies.
Witsen and his contemporaries had been waiting anxiously for the arrival of an ancient Chinese artefact, due to ongoing discussions of the antiquity of Chinese civilisation, which purportedly predated the supposed date of the Biblical Flood by centuries. Scholars travelled to Amsterdam to hold the ‘monument’ with their own hands. Drawings were sent to Witsen’s international network of correspondents, eventually reaching China, so that the inscription could be translated and studied. The original meaning of the inscription was reinterpreted, now read in praise of God. The European scholars incorporated the object in a historical narrative, in which the mirror came to symbolise China’s antiquity.
Dora Vargha (University of London): Traveling Pathogens, Flying Vaccines: A Story of Failure in Global Polio Vaccination
When we think of vaccination on a global scale, we often consider vaccines as stable objects moving across countries and continents. However, they also move from clinical trials to the field, from national to transnational use and are translated from scientific debates to vaccination policy, and to parents and vaccinees. If we interrogate key moments of how objects, such as vaccines, produced through scientific research move on to public health intervention and across political dividing lines, cultures and societies, they reveal to be part of a larger conceptual framework and as medical technologies, cannot be divorced from the local expectations and interpretations created in the process.
Such was the case with the use of Salk vaccine in Hungary during the Cold War. This polio vaccine, often heralded as one of the most important medical technologies of the 20th century failed to put a stop to epidemics in this Eastern European country. After 90% of the target population had been immunized, a severe outbreak caught the country by surprise.
The controversy that followed the epidemic provides a glimpse at how a new vaccine, introduced worldwide in the course of a few years plays out locally, raising the question to what extent can a particular vaccine used in different locales be interpreted as the same. While the Hungarian story of the Salk vaccine’s failure contributes to a growing scholarship that questions the seeming universality of biomedical technologies, the discussions and debates brought to light by the epidemic crisis also reveal the very tangible consequences of international medical and political rivalries.
Christina Williamson (Carleton University Ottawa): Movement and Meaning in a Century-Old Inuit Parka
My project traces the history of a one-hundred-year-old caribou skin kapitaq (parka). I demonstrate the incredible mobility of an object and reveal the conflicting meanings activated by the many people who encountered and interacted with the garment. The story begins at the moment a caribou was killed in the early 1910s. I examine the vast changes in the meaning of this object as it travelled from the hands of the Inuinnait (Copper Inuit) woman who sewed the parka, to its collection by Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson during the Canadian Arctic Expedition (1913-1918). Through trade, this ceremonial dance garment became an ethnological object worthy of scientific study when it joined the collection of the Canadian Museum of History. A few years later, the anthropologist Diamond Jenness loaned the kapitaq to a failed opera singer Juliette Gaultier de la Verendrye who subsequently used it in her New York City stage performances. In doing so, Gaultier changed the meaning of the item from scientific to vaudevillian as she sang in her ‘authentic costume.’ When the kapitaq was returned to its ‘home’ in cold storage it became an object for study, but also an object with aura. The kapitaq offers a way to examine the history of a range of areas including Inuit clothing production, ethnological collecting practices, performativity, and the power imbued in museum artefacts. Insight into changing expectations and identities of the kapitaq and its role as an agent in its own right is possible through the use of the parka as the narrative thread.