Thoughts following the interview by the University of Chile (Santiago, December 2016)

by Francisca Moenne

We all know what an interview is. It is a narrative built on questions that is more or less guided and controlled by the interviewer.

Originally a journalistic form, today the interview is becoming a device for fictional narrative, an anthropological instrument, a way of portraying reality through a disguised conversation that, to my belief, is close to the way colonies historically recorded and mapped the Southern lands. Yes, I admit that as per today, I still associate anthropology to colonialism and maybe this is why as an artist and as a curator, I try to stay as far as I can possibly can from it.

But how do interviews, anthropology and art relate? Their link may be found in geology.

In 2008, the term Anthropocene was introduced to describe the current geological era. What we had known as the Holocene formally came to an end in 2011 when ‘the new’ was accepted by the Geological Society of the United States. It was then that science and art found a middle ground to converse and that middle ground was in reality a new media: the human being. The interesting thing is that this point of conversion between art and science came, once again, from looking  into the linearity of the timeline: so while science was looking forwards into a new geological era, art was suddenly looking backwards and considering Aboriginal art into its contemporary discourse. I leave that there, for reflection.

In the meantime, and in between discussions about whether or not to accept the Anthropocene as a new geological era, Finnish PhD student Arnd Schneider and British Visual Anthropologist Christopher Wright – were quick to publish on the subject - see “Between Art and Anthropology: Contemporary Ethnographic Practice”, 2010 and “Anthropology and Art Practice”, 2013. These two works were published by Blumsbury Academic, a British worldwide publishing house.  

Going further back, and much before the declaration of the Anthropocene, French philosopher Bruno Latour was longtime setting the base for a dialogue between science and the human. Always travelling on the margins of science, sociology and ethnography, Latour inevitably encountered the Anthropocene and his work extended to reflections around ecology, biodiversity and climate change. After publishing “Politics of Nature: how to bring sciences into Democracy” in 2004, his work increased its collaborative character, and finally also found a link to contemporary art. On this last connection, all I know comes from I a lecture he gave at the Tasmanian College for the Arts in Hobart in 2016. I was looking forward to the event but unfortunately all I sensed was a void, an imposition of anthropology over art, an over celebration of the celebrity and ultimately, a lack of comprehension of the consequences of this new-born marriage. It was just a sensation, but one that left me thinking.

So, in relation to contemporary art my questions today are: have artists, curators and art critics become anthropologists? Are residency programs a disguised form of colonialism? Is it legitimate for artists to depict, film and interview members of other cultures for the sake of an investigation that will then be interpreted and inscribed in the contemporary art discourse by others? Is it legitimate for art critics to base their writing on the friendship that inevitably develops between them and the artists? Where do we place the starting point so that we can address these issues?

I don’t have an answer to these questions. All I know is that if we don't identify the line that separates art from anthropology– better, if we are not conscious that there is one – we will never be able to escape the anthropological eye. 

Black Matter © 2017