On embracing interdependence

The challenges of globalization cannot be solved by any ‘return’ to previous times. This is not possible. We cannot go back – nor should we wish to. Our lives are enriched and indeed inherently connected to the lives of unnamed others who share our nations and our planet with us.

Rather, acknowledging and with full cognizance of the global interdependence of our lives, we must think and work together to create new solutions for the perennial problems of dispossession and inequality, racism, and access to better futures facing our nations and our world. We need to rethink why we are in this situation and re-evaluate our priorities and if we are setting them or if we have been allowing others – the media, industry – to set them for us.

We need to replace individualism and ‘my best interests’ with compassion and empathy for collective interests. It is time to counter the narratives that divide us, making us weak through our separation, and to recognize that together we can change the agenda and the outcome. In this, we need to remember that previous agendas and their outcomes did not benefit everyone. We must reconsider and revise our baseline and our values and make sure that what we strive for has all people included and not just those that some have chosen as worthy. To do so, we must unlock ourselves from our prisons of isolation and fear, to meet, encourage and embrace all with whom we live, and whose existence is dependent on the same air that breathes life into us all.

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Curating Picasso at La Piscine

Curating an exhibition of Picasso’s work must be a daunting task. In “Picasso à l’Oeuvre. Dans l’Objectif de David Douglas Duncan” the incorporation of both Picasso’s artworks and representations of the artist at work in Duncan’s images, a connection between image and form effortlessly ensues. Although done with few words, the curation is nevertheless didactic, but in a good way. Clear conversations emerge between the artefacts and images juxtaposed, giving each an immediacy and a richer meaning than either would have alone. The photos reveal context, history, intimacy, nuance; the artefacts exude form, artistry, talent, vision.

Through Duncan’s photos, we see Picasso’s studio as a beautifully illuminated house, with high ceilings, art deco window frames, through which sunlight pours, casting panels of light and shadows of darkness across his working space. His images expose a light heartedness in the studio, with dancing, children playing, Picasso shirtless and in shorts, working, creating. Photos of Picasso in creational process offer in-sight into his methods, demystifying his working practice. With some of his abstract cubist drawings and paintings, for example, Duncan’s photographs reveal that these are not ideas compressed immediately onto paper, but arise from 3D models, which Picasso then translated into two dimensional versions. The objects similarly reveal Picasso’s quasi-childlike engagement with form, where he sees an object’s potential, over its prescriptive function. An oval ceramic bowl becomes the arena for a bull fight, where a shadowed audience on one rim overlooks the bullfight in the center, with a sun lit audience gazing back from the opposite edge of the bowl. Duncan’s images show Picasso producing several bowls at once, exposing an avidness for doing. Through both image and form, one can sense his inquisitiveness: “Here is an object, what can I do with this?” “What can I see in this?” “How can I make this object live?” “I have something to say, let’s say it now. If I change my mind, then I will say more or something else later!” Art is not separated from life here. It is life. It is a voraciousness, a hunger for production and action.

The playfulness evident in the photos is not quite repeated, as M E Palmer points out, in this gallery space. The painter’s palette, the first item in the exhibition, epitomizes this extreme seriousness. This object is under glass, with the label, “oil on wood”. A tool for creation – of art in life and life in art – is translated in the gallery into a venerable object, separated from any sense of use. Perhaps a nod to the absurdity of the recognition of art as art. Had some one saved the newspapers spread beneath Pollock’s floortop canvases, would these also become coveted objet d’art, complete with labels: “emulsion on paper”?

While veneration of the sacred works of Picasso and his artistic life captured on film predominate, there is also a glimmer of others’ interventions. In “Portrait of Jacqueline”, charcoal and collage on paper, the bow of her blouse is in a different shape than depicted in the 50 year old photo. A real ribbon, it has been retied in a jaunty fashion, with one loop too large and curling round twice on itself. How does someone else determine what Picasso might have intended or done himself? Is this perhaps a gentle attempt on the part of the conservator to  make play and, like Picasso, be bold in this recreation?

The exhibition should be lauded for its emphasis on process as well as product and on revealing the joy derived from making art in life. In effect, there are three modes in this exhibition – of artworks, artist at work and their presentation in the gallery space. These together offer insight into an artist’s world and the art world at the same time. It is definitely worth experiencing these views and entering into the discussion these elicit.

Picasso à l’Oeuvre. Dans l’Objectif de David Douglas Duncan is at La Piscine – Musée d’Art et d’Industrie, in Roubaix, France until 20th May 2012.

Negotiating Presence in Guatemala

My photographic agenda was to capture an essence of the various Guatemalans I encountered in my visit in January 2011. In fulfilling this, I wished to be a subject myself, with a presence, who negotiated photographs with those in my pictures. I was not always successful in this ideal and the question of whether a good photo must be an agreed photo remains uncertain. This set offers a sample of the people I encountered and the different modes of engagement I employed, from covertly taking pictures from afar to paying them for a portrait, in order to capture them in my images.

On notebooks

Michael Taussig presented his insights into notebooks on a recent visit to the UK. He did this with a particular reference to his own note keeping practices – a form of witnessing:  “I swear I saw this” – and to those of Walter Benjamin whose notebooks have somehow made him. For in the act of writing down fragments of perceptions, collectively these make a continuity in the author’s life; able to keep current self in touch with former selves. A notebook, Taussig argues, is an extension of oneself, and it is more than oneself, as it incorporates (and makes corporeal) other selves into oneself.

For those who fear such concrete materialization of themselves, however partial and interstitial, making such marks into notebooks  can bring about a crisis of identity. Who am I? What are my desires? What is my style, my image, my voice, my fashion, my way of doing, seeing, thinking and of course, writing? To exteriorize oneself into a notebook, does one first have to answer these questions, to know thyself and then present it? Or does the act of writing in the notebook make oneself, and by seeing these concretizations of one’s thoughts and styles, one’s fashion and ways of doing and expressing, does this  enable one to see oneself and who one is, as well as who one has been,  all the more clearly?

The notebook then can be used as a tool to find oneself, a mirror of previous reflections, in which somewhere between the divergent perspectives, one sees glimmering fragments of a person.

Outsourcing “Anthropology Today”

The first colour issue of Anthropology Today (AT) arrived almost two months late, for when I opened February 2008 issue upon its delivery on the first of April, I was perplexed to see that many of the advertised events had passed a month previously.

This I was not too riled about, as I have decent e-mail communication with my university and other academic networks and so did not miss out on other forms of notification. Also, since the privitisation of all levels of the post office, I have become used to its foundering service, in terms of delivery of goods on time and to the correct address.

I did note, however, that on the delivery label inserted with the periodical, AT is now being sent via air mail, after being printed in Singapore. This is a change from previous issues, which were printed in Dorchester and sent out to its reading public from the UK, and has significant global implications.  Apart from being a member of an anthropological society whose values I would have thought purport to lessening the negative human costs of globalisation, it would not, for the sake of economy, outsourced the publication of a national anthropological journal in order to deliver a more flashy colour magazine at the same cost as a black-and-white one printed in England.

Are the ethics of anthropologists limited to the words they write and go no further into their own practices in their daily lives? Is the journal which feeds the trade in theoretical writing exchange exempt from semantically embodying global citizenship values, objectified in the choice of printing in the UK with a standard overland postal tariff? Or can it simply be absolved of such trivialities and, while carrying articles about oil crises and food shortage, itself contribute to this pandemic through the employ of cheaper printers in Asia and thousands of air miles accumulated to deliver a national periodical to the nation it serves?

Furthermore, the choice to produce a outsourced AT has been introduced with no consultation from its supporting members. Perhaps there are more people out there who would prefer a less flashy publication if it meant that this was a result of a positive choice for keeping the enduring and significant costs to the world and to humanity that outsourcing and carbon foot-printing pose to a minimum.