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Towards an Ethnographic Turn in Contemporary Art Scholarship

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  • Anthropology
  • Design
  • Philosophy


Normal 0 21 false false false DE-CH X-NONE X-NONE While an ethnographic turn has indeed taken place in contemporary art practice, this is not necessarily the case with scholarly research in contemporary art. This is especially surprising considering the conditions under which research on contemporary art production takes place. The particular processuality of the artworks does not allow for an exclusive use of established methods in art history, but requires additional approaches. This article calls for an ethnographic turn in art scholarship that complements established approaches with methods and research questions derived from social anthropology and sociology, such as participation, observation and qualitative studies in social and aesthetic production, reception and perception. Artists working in the ethnographic modality normally seek social interaction, but scholarly analysis hardly considers the actual exchange taking place during the art project, and both its social and aesthetic implications. In order to keep up with new artistic practices, art scholars need to adopt empirical approaches that go beyond the exhibition space and other sites of art mediation, and instead take into consideration the factual social and aesthetic processes and impacts in the ‘field’. These processes occur during both the project period and its aftermath in both the artist’s life as well as the lives of the people/groups involved. Drawing attention to these social interactions and interpretations is necessary not only in the analysis of projects by ‘northern’ artists in ‘southern’ contexts, but in any art practice that involves and aims at social exchange.

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