Crossing Disciplines: Art and Anthropology Carrie Ida Edinger
“Is this ‘new’ anthropology but ‘old’ art. Or new art woven of the threads of anthropology?” Anthropologist and artist, Susan Ossman posed this question during the installation process of her February 2013 solo art exhibition, On the Line. To date, it is commonly known that artist and anthropologist research can consist of borrowed methods from each others’ disciplines and adoption of various media forms to present projects. Examining the evolution of the On the Line project will provide examples of how the traditional working roles from a gallery were expanded from the integration of ethnography and arts-based research.
Detail of Susan Ossman’s 2013 mix media on canvas entitled My Mother/ Your Mother/ What Color? Photo Courtesy Yvonne Polk Ocasio
The On the Line project began with Ossman’s observation of clotheslines from the time period of her living in Europe and Africa to moving to the US State of California. Clotheslines are not permitted or are viewed as unsightly in some community associations in California. Predominately the medium of painting in an Expressionist style manner is used in the investigation of the loss of clotheslines in the California landscape. From this body of artwork Ossman integrated varied concepts of lines, such as the exchange of gossip from across backyard fences during the act of hanging out clothes to dry. A visual example of this integration is with the cursive style handwriting seen in the accompanying detail image of Ossman’s mix media on canvas artwork entitled My Mother/ Your Mother/ What Color?
Ossman acknowledged her roles as an artist/ anthropologist in organizing her solo exhibition in the La Sierra University Brandstater Gallery in Riverside, California. She was aware that the aspect of community
did not apply to the solo exhibit, because she had the lead role of managing the design and production of the exhibition. The exhibition brings together the gray areas, conceptually, from the theories and practices that Ossman has drawn from. Such as the activity of making art, which Ossman views as “a way of ‘thinking’ about spaces and connections.” The paintings representing the California landscape with clotheslines relate to her investigations with environmental issues after moving to southern California. The other correlation between the two disciplines is with observation. Ossman’s practice of art making explores notions of location that further develops the field of research.
The On the Line project has evolved into two sections: Second Look and Hanging Out. These investigations were presented in the form of graduate seminars at the University of California, Riverside. For Second Look, Ossman’s solo exhibition was the opportunity for the first graduate seminar to manipulate her original exhibition with a creative or ethnographic reaction. The seminars final presentation of either artwork or a fieldwork project was developed through assignments of weekly reaction papers or reaction works.
Erin Gould a third year graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Riverside was skeptical at first if she could produce something of value with these reaction methods. As she progressed with the Second Look seminar assignments she realized that the accumulation from her writing and creative works pulled together the course’s context, along with the expansion of her final project ideas. For Gould and the other participants, the curation and installation process for their final projects was a collaborative initiative with the Director of the La Sierra University Brandstater Gallery, Beatriz Mejia-Krumbein. The collaboration element for Second Look was primarily secluded to Ossman’s artworks and the participants of the seminar. This smaller focus on a preexisting exhibition offered the opportunity for the seminar participants to physically include their concepts within the gallery space beyond the traditional research of passive observation of an art object as research.
Detail of a printed handkerchief from Beatriz Mejia-Krumbein’s dress from the March 2013 performance, Of The Same Fabric Photo Courtesy
Yvonne Polk Ocasio
Mejia-Krumbein who is also an artist created a performance piece entitled Of The Same Fabric, which was presented at the closing reception of Second Look. Mejia-Krumbein wore her own dress design made from a white bed sheet that had 80 small handkerchiefs hanging from the dress. These handkerchiefs had the phrase, Of The Same Fabric, printed on them. During the performance, the audience was encouraged to remove a handkerchief from Mejia-Krumbein’s dress as she told stories from her memories of the practice of drying laundry on a clothesline in the specific countries of Columbia, Germany, Mexico, and the United States. These memories from the universal practice of hanging out laundry were told in three languages Mejia-Krumbein uses in her daily life. At the end of the performance the audience held hands and said in harmony “Of the Same Fabric.” The performance with its multilingual storytelling and audience engagement presented the importance of the social and ecological bindings of clotheslines to the future of global ecology.
Beatriz Mejia-Krumbein performing Of The Same Fabric at the March 2013 closing reception of Second Look at the La Sierra University‘s Brandstater Gallery in Riverside, CA. Photo Courtesy Yvonne Polk Ocasio
For 2015, the Hanging Out section of the On the Line project has expanded from the original concept of using a preexisting exhibition and is investigating how public spaces are integrated in the dialog of arts- based research and ethnography. Gould is participating in the 2015 seminar. While the 2013 Second Look seminar gave Gould the skills to incorporate anthropology into artistic expression, she expressed how the 2015 seminar is totally collaborative. Ossman is scheduling speakers and various collaborators for the participants to engage with throughout the seminar. The other inclusion of the 2015 seminar is the addition of collaborative roles for participants to aid in designing an exhibition space and fieldwork location. Gould continues with the current collaboration element by stating, “The concept of roles in this project is a great addition, as this has helped our project shift and change in positive ways throughout our seminar.”
From both of these seminar experiences, Gould will continue to develop her own anthropological research by bringing together art and anthropology that inquires how art festivals can be considered as lenses to gain insight about specific cultures, societies, and even traditions. Returning to Ossman’s original question from her solo exhibition experience, the evolution of the On the Line project is especially depicted with the 2015 Hanging Out seminar that implements a range of interdisciplinary practice to participatory projects, which are not intended to define or oppose the arts and anthropology.
The Hanging Out opening reception and performances began on February 26 at the AfterImage Gallery. On March 12 from 1-4 pm anthropologists, curators, critics and artists from around the country will gather in the gallery to talk about the exhibition and the On the Line project. For information about the full program, consult AfterImage Gallery and UCR Anthropology Department
Carrie Ida Edinger’s interest with interdisciplinary practice is in expanding the current dialog of contemporary projects. Some of her focus is based on research methods and the presentation of content within a physical space and the use of media. Carrie maintains a blog www.carrieidaedinger.blogspot.com documenting her investigations with art-based research.