I am an anthropologist working on contemporary art, curatorial practices, and political theatre in Germany, particularly the postindustrial Ruhr Valley and Berlin. My ethnographic research explores the ways in which contemporary artists, curators, and art institutions (galleries, project spaces, museums, theatres) develop alternative strategies and concepts to deal with otherness and alterity. Since beginning at CARMAH in June 2016, I have been conducting comparative and collaborative research with the gallery of the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (ifa) in Berlin-Mitte, the artistic project space SAVVY Contemporary, and the municipal gallery of Berlin-Wedding.
As part of CARMAH’s “Transforming the Ethnographic” research area within its major Alexander von Humboldt-Foundation funded project Making Differences in Berlin: Transforming Museums and Heritage in the 21st century, my research follows the exhibition making and curatorial planning in these spaces to explore the boundaries and productive intersections of ethnographic, artistic, and curatorial work and the relations between art and anthropology more generally. This entails investigating how contemporary artists and curators generate and can contribute to new ways of addressing some of the contentious issues facing heritage projects like the Humboldt-Forum today, and how curatorial practices and artistic spaces mobilise critical theories and position themselves within Berlin to address the contested future of German and European identity and heritage in the face of rising nationalisms and migration movements. These issues include, but are not limited to, artistic research methods and alternative forms of knowledge production, the relation of the ‘West’ to the ‘non-West’, participatory and relational visitor engagement, institutional critique, postcolonial perspectives on shared heritage and cosmopolitanism.
My approach is collaborative and recursive, since I consider artistic practices and institutions to be sites for kinds of reflexive theorising that are pertinent to core anthropological debates about subjectivity, political agency, alterity, and ethics. Among the central aims of my research are therefore, first, a rethinking of institutions as reflexive sites and public theorisers of difference and diversity in Berlin and Germany. Second, I seek to reposition contemporary art practices and communities as fields of expertise for the negotiation of Germany’s relation to European and non-European art and cultural heritage. In the process of working through these relations ethnographically, it may evidently turn out to be fruitful, and indeed necessary, to interrogate and find alternative concepts to the very categories of analysis that underlie the project, such as ‘contemporary’, ‘expertise’, or ‘anthropological/ethnological/ethnographic’.
Prior to joining the Berlin team, I completed long-term ethnographic research on German public theatre institutions, freelance theatre collectives, and critical refugee theatre initiatives as part of my PhD at the Division of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge, UK (awarded July 2016). I continue to work collaboratively with these institutions and initiatives in Berlin and the Ruhr Valley on issues such as post-Fordist labour conditions in the arts, ethical self-cultivation, and artistic representations of otherness in contemporary theatre. I am currently preparing a book manuscript based on this research, entitled State of the Arts: Anthropology, German Theatre, and Political Self-Cultivation.
‘The privilege of life itself: sovereignty, power, and the figure of the refugee’, in: Bare Lives. [Exhibition catalogue, edited by Mario Rizzi, based on an exhibition curated by Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung and Solvej Helweg Ovesen.] Berlin: Archive books, pp. 68–75. [LINK]
‘Anthropologische Beobachtungen zu künstlerischer Subjektivierung und institutioneller Reflexivität: Das Theaterprojekt Ruhrorter mit Geflüchteten am Theater an der Ruhr’, in: Matthias Warstat, Florian Evers, Kristin Flade et al. Applied Theatre – Frames and Positions. Berlin: Theater der Zeit, S. 205-235. [LINK]
‘Authenticity and otherness: reflecting statelessness in German postmigrant theatre’. Critical Stages/Scènes Critiques. 14 (2016). Open-access. [LINK]
‘Rehearsing detachment: refugee theatre and dialectical fiction’. Journal of Art and Anthropology/Cadernos de Arte e Antropologia. 5(1): 21-38. [LINK]
‘Retheorising the Avant-Garde Today: Interdisciplinary Perspectives‘ (conference report with Georgina Born and Christopher Haworth). Music, Digitisation, Mediation: Towards Interdisciplinary Music Studies (ERC-funded research project 2012-2015). 21 February 2016. [LINK]
Book Review: Art, Anthropology and the Gift (Bloomsbury, 2015) by Roger Sansi. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 22 (1): 215-216. [LINK]
‘Between professional precariousness and creative self-organisation: the free performing arts scene in Germany’, in: Mobile Autonomy. Organizing ourselves as artists today, edited by Pascal Gielen and Nico Dockx. Amsterdam: Valiz, pp. 159-181. [LINK]
‘Colonial copies and ethnographic conceptualism: artistic experiments at the intersection of anthropology, history, and science’, in: Allegory of the Cave Painting. A Reader, edited by Mihnea Mircan and Vincent van Gerven Oei. Milan: Mousse Publishing, pp. 257-275. [LINK]
‘Back to the Future Heritage: On Palatial Space and Anthropological Collaboration’, Anthropology Department, University of Manchester, Manchester/UK. 13 November 2017.
Chair and discussant of opening keynote speech and panel discussions with Dr Christina Johansson (Malmö University, Sweden), Léontine Meijer-van Mensch (Jewish Museum Berlin), and Belinda Kazeem-Kamiński (Vienna Academy of Fine Arts). Future Memories. Remembrance Culture(s) of Migration Society, three-day workshop in cooperation with the Centre for Metropolitan Studies (Technical University Berlin), W.M. Blumenthal Academy, Jewish Museum Berlin, Berlin/Germany. 26-28 September 2017.
Chair and discussant of closing panel discussion of exhibition Cabinet of the Unknown / Cabinet d’Ignorance with curators Dr. Michael Korey (Dresden) and Ece Pazarbasi (International Fellow Curator, Kulturstiftung des Bundes, Istanbul/Berlin), Museum der Dinge/Museum of Things, Berlin-Kreuzberg, Germany. 25 September 2017.
Keynote (invited): Ethnography of the Arts: Perspectives on Theatre and Beyond’. Ethnographie der Künste, Künste der Ethnographie. Summer School at Villa Arson, jointly organised by FU Berlin and Université Paris Ouest Nanterre, 17-24 September 2017, Nice/France.
‘Kunst und Alterität: Perspektiven auf und aus der Anthropologie’, Sektion VIII: Kunst-Medien-Politik, geleitet von Prof Christian Grüny, ‘Die Phänomenologie und das Politische’, Jahrestagung der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Phänomenologischen Forschung, Institut für Philosophie, FernUniversität in Hagen/Deutschland. 13-16. September 2017.
‘Anthropologie in/und/mit künstlerischer Praxis: Zur Ethnografie als Methode’. Eingeladener Beitrag im Workshop Aufführungsanalyse vs. Ethnographie? Zur Transdisziplinarität von Analysemethoden in der Theaterwissenschaft, Institut für Film-, Theater- und empirischer Kulturwissenschaft (IFTeK), Johannes-Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Mainz/Germany. 13 September 2017.
‘Parrhesia and Autopoiesis: Speaking (about) oneself as alternative political becoming’. Invited lecture at the Porphyra Club as part of the interdisciplinary exhibition project Born in the Purple by Berlin-Istanbul-based artist Viron Erol Vert, funded by Hauptstadtkulturfonds and Kommunale Galerien Berlin, Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien, Berlin/Germany. 17 August 2017.
‘Anthropology and/as the Study of Everything? A Personal Story’, The School of Everything, part of the documenta14 public programme, convened at the Parliament of Bodies, Athens/Greece. 6-7 July 2017.
‘From Art to Anthropology and back: Encounters, Exchanges, and Frictions’. 2017 Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park Company of Ideas Forum, Hornby Island, British Columbia/Canada. 26-28 June 2017.
‘Bare Lives’ (with Solvej Ovesen, Mario Rizzi, Charlotte Bank, Ramy Al Asheq), Chaired moderation, artist talk, and book presentation for Mario Rizzi’s Bare Lives exhibition as part of the annual programme Unsustainable Privileges at the Galerie Wedding, Müllerstraße, Berlin/Germany. 1 June 2017.
‘Beobachtung und Methode: Ethnografische Perspektiven aus der Kunst und (Natur)Wissenschaft’ (mit Prof Jens Roselt und Prof Jörg Niewöhner), Faculty Seminar Series (Institutskolloquium), Institute of European Ethnology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin/Germany. 16 May 2017.
‘Urban Decolonisation and Diasporic Formations’ (with Dr Noa Ha and Trang Tran Thu), Opening session of ‘Gallery Reflections’ series for the annual programme ‘Untie to Tie: On Colonial Legacies and Contemporary Societies’ at the gallery of the Institute für Auslandsbeziehungen (ifa) 2017-2018, ifa-gallery, Linienstraße Berlin/Germany. 4 May 2017.
‘Modes of Relating: An Introduction’ (with Sharon Macdonald, Jörg Niewöwner, Martina Klausner), Institutskolloquium, Institute of European Ethnology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin/Germany. 18 April 2017.
‘Flucht und Traum: Überlegungen zur politischen Rolle der Fiktion’ (mit Alexander Weinstock, Institut für Neuere Deutsche Literatur, Universität zu Köln). Eröffnung der RUHRORTER Salon Reihe, Dezentrale, Ringlokschuppen, Mülheim an der Ruhr/Germany. 15 April 2017.
‘An Anthropology of (German) Theatre: Artistic Institutions as Ethical Traditions’. Department of Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews/Scotland. 13 April 2017.
‘Back to the Future Heritage: Palatial Spaces and Collaborative Anthropology’. Design & Anthropology: Landscapes and Cities Workshop, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Studies & Harvard Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, Cambridge/USA. 3-4 April 2017.
‘Puzzling Homes: Narrating European crisis and future heritage’ (Poster with Tal Adler and Anna Szöke). 13th Congress of the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF), Congress. Ways of Dwelling, Crisis – Craft – Creativity. Göttingen/Germany. 26-30 March 2016.
‘Momentary Dwellers: Experimental art-ethnography collaborations and sensory research’, 13th Congress of the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF), Congress. Ways of Dwelling, Crisis – Craft – Creativity. Göttingen/Germany. 26-30 March 2016.
‘Future Perfect: A dialogue on mobility, precarity, and temporality’ (with performing artist Wanja van Suntum). Work with/out borders. Precarity and the performing arts conference, organized by Prof Katharina Pewny et al., Performing Arts & Media, Department of Art Studies, Ghent University/Belgium. 18-19 March 2017.
Benefiz-Vortrag: ‘Die Figur des Geflüchteten: Perspektiven zum nicht-dokumentarischen Theater’. VHS-Forum, Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, Köln. 21. Februar 2017.
‘Ethnographic methods in theatre studies’. Methoden der Theaterwissenschaft, Konferenz organisiert von Prof Christopher Balme, Institut für Theaterwissenschaft, LMU Munich/Germany. 3-4 February 2017.
‘Design, failure, and the globalization of risk’. Moderated discussion with Prof Arjun Appadurai (NYU) and Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin/Germany. 10 January 2017. [LINK]
‘Ethnographies of Curating/the Curatorial’ (with Margareta von Oswald, Christine Gerbich, Franka Schneider, Anna Schäffler). Faculty Seminar/Institutskolloquium, Department of European Ethnology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin/Germany. 13 December 2016.
‘Reviewer meets reviewed’ (with Dr Roger Sansi). Seminar at the British Museum, organised by the Royal Anthropological Institute, London/UK. 17 November 2016.
‘Migration und Theater. Einige Beobachtungen zu reflexiven, künstlerischen Institutionen’ (Migration and theatre. Some observations about reflexive artistic institutions). Seminar Series (Institutskolloquium), Department of European Ethnology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany. 15 November 2016. [LINK]
‘Zwischen Sozialarbeit und Kunst: Das Theaterprojekt RUHRORTER mit Geflüchteten.’ 30. Bundestagung des Bundesverbands Theaterpädagogik e.V. Eberswalde/Germany, 28.-30.10.2016.
‘Vom Informanten zum Zeitgenossen: Expertise im Kontext der künstlerischen Arbeit mit Transkulturalität und Migration am Beispiel der Feldforschung mit Theater’. Das transkulturelle Klassenzimmer: Dinge umordnen, Erfahrungen übersetzen, Bedeutungen verändern. Konferenz des Verbundprojektes “Mobile Welten. Zur Migration von Dingen in transkulturellen Gesellschaften” (BMBF), organised by Dr Sophia Prinz and Roger M. Buergel in the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg/Germany. 6–7 October 2016.
‘Ethnografisches Forschen in der Kunst’. Workshop at cobratheater.cobra performing arts festival, Uferstudios, Berlin-Wedding/Berlin. 23-24 September 2016.
‘Cultivating character: detachment in theatre and German society’. Anthropology of Character conference organised by Dr Adam Reed. Department of Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews/Scotland. 1-2 September 2016.
‘The Art of Slowing Down’ (Discussant), EASA 2016 (Conference of the European Association of Social Anthropologists), Milan, 20-23 July 2016.
‘Appropriating Universal Centrality: Containing the World in Berlin’s new Humboldt Forum’ (with Dr Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll). ‘The Centre Cannot Hold’? New Monumentality, Neo-Modernism and Other Zombie Urban Utopias conference and exhibition hosted by the UCL SSEES FRINGE Centre, The Calvert 22 Gallery, and University College London/ UK, organised by Dr Michal Murawski (UCL) and Dr Jonathan Bach (New School, NYU), 10-11 June 2016.
‘On Detachment and Relations’. Chaired discussion with Prof Hallvard Lillehammer (Philosophy, Birkbeck) and Dr Matei Candea (Anthropology, Cambridge) at the Centre for Research of the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities (CRASSH), Cambridge/UK. 25 April 2016.
‘Rehearsing conduct and gesture: notes on art as ethical practice’. The Ethics of Gesture conference organised by Dr Lucia Ruprecht at Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge/UK. 16 April 2016. Keynote: Prof Rebecca Schneider (Brown/USA).
‘Engaging art: urban diversity, public institutions, and the ‘refugee crisis’’. Experiencing Difference and Diversity in Contemporary Germany conference organised by Prof Sharon Macdonald and Dr Jan-Jonathan Bock. Institute for European Ethnology, Humboldt University of Berlin/Germany. 14-16 April 2016.
Since 2017, Roger Sansi and I convene the Anthropology and the Arts Network (ANTART) within the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA). The objective of the ANTART Network is to advance the scholarship, discussion, and presence of anthropological approaches to the arts. It also seeks to build on its existing network of scholars, artists, and institutions to continue its exchanges with alternative cultural production venues in future EASA locations, thus building links between the university and other public or civil society initiatives.
In October 2014, I launched the independent Anthropologies of Art Network [A/A] with Dr Alex Flynn (Anthropology, Durham), which seeks to bridge the gap between artistic practice and ethnographic investigation, focusing on theory-building in contemporary art. Our inaugural conference took place at the University of Durham (‘Contemporary Anthropologies of Art’) in September 2015 with keynote speaker Prof Arnd Schneider (Anthropology, Oslo).
Since 2013, I have been accompanying the refugee theatre and arts collective Ruhrorter and document their projects and rehearsals. I am currently preparing a book chapter for Theater der Zeit on the aesthetics of the project, and have written about it in this special issue. The project has been based at the Theater an der Ruhr and has been funded by the Federal Government of North Rhine-Westphalia, the Fonds Soziokultur, and Interkultur Ruhr.
Between 2013 and 2016, I was founding co-convenor of the Mellon/Newton-funded Cambridge Interdisciplinary Performance Network based at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities (CRASSH). Through bi-weekly seminars and through three major conferences, we explored the concept of ‘performance’ as a way to stimulate interdisciplinary conversations between scholars and artists on topics like visuality and archives, the digital future, city life and the public sphere. The seminar series 2015/2016 focused the theme InterActivity: Performing Relations with an opening talk by Prof Martin Puchner (Harvard). An interesting example for one of our sessions has been published recently: “Art and anthropology after relations”. A Conversation between Roger Sansi and Marilyn Strathern. HAU – The Journal of Ethnographic Theory. Vol. 6, No. 2 (2016).