Contested Grounds: Fieldwork Collaborations with Artists in Corrientes, Argentina

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article represents an exercise in dialogical anthropology, based on a collaboration with contemporary visual artists in a specific fieldwork locale in Argentina. The deeper epistemic interest is in exploring contemporary 'speaking terms' (which James Clifford [1988] originally found characteristic of art-anthropology encounters in France in the 1920s and 1930s). The specific project under review involved a collaboration with contemporary visual artists from Corrientes, Northeast Argentina, and the making of a series of hybrid 'works' between art and anthropology. This included material participation in (rather than 'observation of') the performance of the procession of the patron saint of a nearby village, Santa Ana, i.e., making a new dress for the saint's statue, producing a video, and field notes. The appropriation of and material intervention into a setting of popular religiosity raise questions about the epistemological status of art and anthropology collaborations as hybrid knowledge productions, where participants contest each others' disciplinary assumptions. Extending on work by Nicolas Bourriaud, Grant Kester and Trinh T. Minh-Ha, this author concludes that it is precisely from such an uneven hermeneutic field and the recognition of dialogical difference that productive collaborations can develop.

Keywords: anthropology, Argentina, art, collaborations, dialogue, fieldwork, hermeneutics

Introduction

This article represents an exercise in dialogical anthropology, based on a collaboration with contemporary visual artists in a specific fieldwork locale in Argentina. My deeper, epistemic interest in this exercise is in exploring those 'speaking terms' which James Clifford (1988: 126) found characteristic of artanthropology encounters in France in the 1920s and 1930s, epitomised by the interdisciplinary, surrealist journal Documents. (2) Evidently, Clifford was writing about a historically contingent phenomenon, but I consider 'speaking terms' useful to think with and through art-anthropology encounters in the present. Since the early 1990s, a number of writers and initiatives (3) have tried to gauge and critically assess the potentials of contemporary (visual) art--anthropology collaborations. 'Dialogue', of course, has been a much-discussed term in anthropology's hermeneutic tradition (see Crapanzano 2004; Maranhao 1990; Maranhao and Streck 2003; Tedlock 1983; Tedlock and Mannheim 1995), and despite different emphases it is clear that it can never just mean a level positioning of partners, collaborators or actors, but has to account for difference. It is in this sense, then, that I use an expanded notion of 'uneven hermeneutics' or an 'uneven hermeneutic feld' throughout the article when exploring the critical implications and the potential of dialogical art--anthropology collaborations (4) which employ the seemingly 'open' ethnographic fieldwork situation as their locale. Moreover, the specific art--anthropology collaborations I engaged in are also set in what characterises many fieldwork situations outside so-called 'First World' countries, implying unequal relations of real differences in economic power, as well as differential access to educational and other symbolic capital (such as the hegemonic First-World education system, and the equally hierarchically structured international art world). Practised by somebody (myself) who was educated and is based at metropolitan First-World institutions, this kind of anthropology is, inevitably, an admittedly hegemonic practice. At the same time there is, of course, as in other Latin American countries, a specific Argentine anthropological research tradition which has to be accounted for (itself marked by the complex challenges of doing research and fieldwork throughout the country's troubled economic and political history) (Guber 2002).

Background and setting

The material for this article comes from my own fieldwork collaboration with contemporary artists in Corrientes, Northeast Argentina, over the course of two summers in 2005 and 2006. …

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