Annotation: Schneider, Arnd. 2008. Three Modes of Experimentation with Art and Ethnography

Schneider, Arnd. 2008. Three Modes of Experimentation with Art and Ethnography. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 14(1): 171–194.

The article discusses three film projects which combine art and ethnographic methods: Michael Oppitz’s work in the Himalayas called Shamans of the Blind Country (1978-81), which uses French structuralist forms of commentary and subtitles; Juan Downey’s work with the Yanomamö titled The Laughing Alligator (1979), which borrows from the video art and kineasthetic art styles of the 1960s and 1970s; and Sharon Lockhart’s Teatro Amazonas (1999), which employs the material qualities of film and film equipment as devices that structure the content of the project. These works all push the boundaries of art and anthropology, while also being profoundly engaged with the lives of others, like in ethnographic research. By “art,” the author refers to the “visual arts in the widest sense,” and by “ethnography”–to fieldwork and participant observation, which are canonical methods in anthropology. Experimentation is not new in visual anthropology, as seen in the works of Rouch, Bateseon, Leiris, MacDougall, and others, but the author calls for a “new engagement with visual forms of research” outside the discipline. By using these three examples, Schneider hopes for anthropologists to consider new possibilities for their visual research, as they have only rarely and in passing mention (like Pink 2004) suggested the possibilities of using art in ethnographic representation. It is by learning from art-anthropology collaboration examples, such as these three projects, Schneider suggests, that anthropologists will start to address the “unfulfilled potential of visual experimentation” (188) advanced since the publication of Writing Culture (1986). The inter-crossing of art and anthropology will also challenge the dominant narrative paradigm in visual anthropology, and will be useful in developing strategies that: 1) address the proximity between filmmaker and the ethnographic subject; 2) discuss multiple positionalities of the researcher in relation to the Other; 3) find new possibilities in visual representation, and; 4) reflect on the relationship of the research process to the final work (188).

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