Material Culture lectures and seminars

Probably the most interesting set of lectures I have attended at ECA, the only thing I was slightly disappointed with was that the ‘Ruin’ lecture happened after our seminars finished. I felt a bit outside my comfort zone in relation to some of the other topics but these lectures were great at making you really examine even the smallest details of our own culture and how we respond to it. The idea of the washing machine is a prime example of this, as Angela stated in the lecture the placement of the washing machine inside the kitchen can be perceived as being odd and different since in American culture the washing machine is placed outside the kitchen, separating the two forms of waste or dirt. Simple things like this never struck me as being cultural but obviously they are. The seminar readings were particularly interesting, the notion of commodities and how something goes through the processes of commoditization, decommoditization and recommoditization is fascinating. There isn’t much or anything that does not have the potential to have an exchange value. The part I struggled with the most in these seminars is how to relate the anthropological aspects to art in general. Eventually I began separating it out, and relating it directly not to my art but to the subject matters I use.

The commodity aspect made me look at the Genocide Museum differently. This structure houses the painfully memories of the nation but it is also a tourist attraction, a commodity for locals and global tourists alike. I understand the need for tourism in Cambodia since it is a huge part of the national income. This directed me to the ideas of dark tourism which is visible in Europe as well, locations like Auschwitz   and Dacau are both examples of this phenomenon.

Another huge influence on my reading of my subject matter was the amount we discussed power and power relations. This was evident in the anthropology documentary about the tribe in Papua New Guinea preparing the gift for another tribe leader. The task of preparing the gift was given to one man, he was in charge. However it was the rest of the tribe and his wife’s who had to prepare the gift and he oversaw the whole affair. However he said himself that he had to persuade the people of the tribe to do their duties. He did not have a totalitarian authority so then comes into question the ideas of power. Does he have the power or does the power lie with the tribe, since without the tribe he has nothing so can we say that he really has power in this situation?

This really got me thinking about the ideas of power that lie within architecture, the Panopticon is a prime example of architecture constructed with control in mind. A prison structure built in a cylindrical fashion with a tower in the centre. The tower in the centre works as a watch tower with all the cells facing it. The guards are hidden for view so the inmates never know if they are being watched so they must behave as though they are always being watched. This control over the inmate can only be made present with the belief of continuous surveillance.


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