Art 610, Artist Reasearch

As an anthropologist and an artist the areas of culture have been of interest to me, including the places where culture has been adopted and reappropriated from one culture into another. The current area of interest is the appropriation of aspects of Polynesian culture in the 1940’s and 1950’s by the United States. specifically the adaptation and the idealisation of the idea of the natives as being primitive and the landscape as being a paradise to escape the realities of daily life. Some of the questions that I have been asking are along the line of white culture and how, in the United States, it has become a sponge absorbing aspects of other cultures with a richer history. Could this be because the United States is so young in comparison to the other First world countries. Or could this be due to the inherent nature of the United States being a melting pot where the population is a mix of a multitude of ethnicities and family lines branching from various nations. Another aspect of interest is the creation of myth and the ways it is used to pass traditions and convey narratives.  My work is a way of being able to understand and further investigate some of these questions, in a similar way that other artists have used their crafts to deliver critiques on culture and society.

Anthropology has a long history of observing and reporting, beginning with the armchair anthropologist who mused on the finding s of explorers, to the revolutionary fieldworking anthropologists who wrote on first hand experience. it also has a longstanding tradition of carrying the ideas of Western Supremacy in its findings, and the concept of the primitive and primitivism. Those biases remained with anthropologie up until the 20th century, when the west began to look at the east, and the east began to look back, allowing for the western anthropologists to reflect on their methods and biases in their studies. The theories about the development of culture and the way people exist and operate in anthropologie can become an influential lense through which one looks and interprets activity and even provides a context for art; it also becomes a lens of looking at history and  everyday life.

Anthropology has adapted multiple forms of technology as a way of presenting their findings and information, from printed text, to photography, to audio and video, and now to animation and graphic novels. Anthropologists have taken to the web as a way of reaching a broader audience through web comics and infographics. these new tools have the added bonus of being a visual form of presentation with the addition of text as opposed to the standard and often wordy typed reports and essays. These info graphics and comics are a great way to demonstrate and aid in defining some of the more abstract concepts and ideas that are key to the development and holistic views that anthropology uses. So it is by no means a stretch in using animation as another way of making those ideas and concepts easier to grasp or even making them more palatable to the average viewer. The website Up Teaching Culture is a blog dedicated to the idea of building a community that expands the ways that anthropology is taught through new media. Infact, in early 2015, there was a short seven post blog series that was dedicated to the idea of using graphic novels as a  way of producing ethnographies. The method of using art as a way of informing anthropology, rather than anthropology,  is inline with the trend of infographics; Info graphics have been great tools for presenting a large amount of information in a simple and visually appealing manner.

While the media used may vary based on the artists backgrounds and specific intentions, there are three artists whose work is similar in context and its critique of modern culture; Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Coco Fusco, and Merav Tzur. These two artists used scientific and anthropological methods to create a discussion about culture, gaze, and Western Supremacy through various types of performance.

The work known as Undiscovered Amerindians Visit… ,1992-94 , in which the two artists –Gomez and Fusco– were locked in a cage for public viewing under the guise of a newly discovered tribe of Indians found in the Amazon. They would watch television, tell stories in a nonsensical language, be lead off to the restrooms on leashes by the two “translators” who were stationed outside the cage, and expose their genitals exchange for a donation.  This show toured internationally and globally and was often staged in museums and places of legitimate scientific findings, which would provide the viewer the safe context of being able to observe these human specimens. This work is largely about the idea of western supremacy and the history behind early colonialism, which is what rooted it in the manner allowed it to be viewed and in some ways acceptable in society. In Diana Taylor’s essay A Savage Performance:Guillermo Gomez-pena and Coco Fusco “Couple In A Cage”, she talks about the performers ideal viewer would have opened the cage, however the history of museum acquisition and curation provided a setting of separation and preservation.

Merav Tzur’s work The First Sighting of the Ego Monster,, was a source of inspiration for my own work. The work involves the  documentation of a created myth; the ego monster. In this piece the artists proved the existence of a creature  by providing samples of the smell, soil, and pieces of its torture machine. The creature, which was documented via video and audio recordings, spewes egotistical statements such as “I used to live in LA”, and “I’m a famous photographer” while prowling in what was referred to as the lower bottom.  Her work is largely inspired and based on Dante’s Inferno and the ideas of hell. The idea of the evidence and documentation being the primary portion of the work, was the primary influence in my own work. the creation of mythology in her work and the creation of science – through the Sara Grey Research Institute a faux scientific community that uses performance a as a   – is a trend she follows  through other works such as  Grafted Arboreous Sabius, Or A Failed Attempt To Propagate The Tree Of Knowledge, 2012, and the Spring Open House, 2012.

These works both tap into histories and sciences to root themselves and create a  ground for their presentation. and go further into topics that deal with social and cultural ideas and concepts. There are lessons and methods of application that can be drawn as sources of inspiration from the mentioned works. The delving into history as a root and method of solidifying the existence into the history of  humanity. The ability of root a work can be crucial in placing the viewer in the proper headspace to accept a work as being truthful when it is infact fictitious. Having the documentation, in the manner of dramatic reenactments, being the work  provides the artist with a flexibility and agian another way of showing truth.  My aim is to use some of the same tactics and methods of thought to explore my line of cultural research. Using mythology in place of history not only allows for the rooting but also elements of creation. These artists are the sources  of inspiration for my work and lines of questioning.

Works Cited

“Coco Fusco – Alexander Gray Associates.” Coco Fusco – Alexander Gray Associates. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

“First Sightings of the Ego Monster (2009).” Merav Tzur. N.p., 26 Nov. 2014. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

“Tag Archives: Graphic Adventures in Anthropology.” Teaching Culture. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

Taylor, Diana. “A Savage Performance.” JPLL InvestiGator Catalog. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.


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