Monday, May 10, 2010

A Jungle of Signs, at Feature (Sunday, May 9, 2010)

From Feature Gallery's website (linked above):

A talk by Professor Michael Taussig (Dept. of Anthropology, Columbia University) who is one of the most innovative, distinguished and socially engaged voices in cultural anthropology. An interdisciplinary thinker and engaging writer, Taussig's work combines aspects of ethnography, story-telling, and social theory. An area of long standing interest, Taussig will be discussing aspects of Latin American ayahuasca-based shamanism and its historical interface with Western magic.

In 2007, visual artists Jesse Bransford and Karsten Krejcarek spent time in the city of Iquitos, Peru and the surrounding jungle. In a public conversation they hope to further elaborate on the experiences in relation to their art and art making in general. Topics will include globalization, adventure narratives, monkeys and telepathy.


Bransford and Krecjarek went first, describing their embodied experience of the jungle through the filter of ayahuasca, with a vibrant slide show behind them illuminating their trip and resulting exhibition of Bransford's work in the gallery. After them, Taussig, whose book What Color is the Sacred constitutes, for me, one of the first written accounts of pure visual experience, did not disappoint. He lectured for one hour straight, responding to the two artists' points with barely a reference to notes. He also played recordings of Amazonian rituals, amplifying and vivifying their accounts with his own. The experience as a whole embraced multi-valent, experiential intelligence that broadens rather than contracts horizons. My people!

Bransford mentioned Latin American modernism as possessing qualities that relate to his experiences in Peru, but did not link its purely visual language with unfiltered, drug-induced experience. When I mentioned this to his friend in the audience, he noted the colonial aspect of modernism under discussion problematized such notions. Taussig offered a way out, stating that images diagnose a situation and by visualizing it, change it.

When I think of multiple identities, experienced in the above travels as well as daily life, I do not see how pictorial logic can remain coherent and remain visually relevant to experience. Yesterday's talk confirmed this. "The magic of otherness" might lure, initially, but once dispelled in a direct encounter, complicates and expands comprehension, perceptually and conceptually. It may become part of us, and us a part of it, but what this actually looks like cannot already have been imagined.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting your thoughts on the lecture publicly. The lecture was very important to me and I always wonder how people I don't know react to these kinds of things. One of the secrets of art, that what you do influences beyond you and your intentions.

Looking back at what Karsten and I ended up saying, I now see how narrative driven this format really is unless you master it (a la Taussig). I was really glad he was there to put things into another perspective.

A friend who spent a year in Peru doing research on Chinese culture there commented on how trapped most of the first part of the lecture felt to her, 'knowing' where Karsten and I were coming from. I think my Latin American Modernism comment and your observation of it demonstrated the problem perfectly. Looking for a context to 'explain' these experiences is really the problem, but even mythopoetic narrative falls into the same traps.

I knew to a certain degree the first part would be about clearing the air so what Taussig was saying could have a more complicated context, but it seems like so much of the initial conversations in this area start on the defensive. Food for thought.

Still, I thought some good points got made here and there, I was really surprised at how successful the images in our half were. I wasn't expecting that. I sometimes forget that as an artist that is where my real strength lies :)

Taussig was amazing, no? I've seen him speak on several occasions now and I realize what a total master of performance he really is. His insights into my thinking can't be underestimated.

Anyway, thanks for commenting on the evening, my thinking on the matter will be ongoing!

ec said...


Hi there,

In fact the panel discussion successfully did establish a context for Taussig's discussion. First, your and Karsten's orientations are very individual, so the back and forth between you with the images behind you offered three approaches to the subject, which created a broader space to enter. The discussion also served in some ways as a continuation of Taussig's 1970s forays into yaheh--and that time travel was a treat.

Something I did not mention was Danny Hillas' narrative structure, which you introduced with Karsten, and that I found extremely helpful for all sorts of reasons, related to the talk and my own interests. It seemed too that this structure was a filter for the travel, which you both were still mining. All of this was really useful and interesting.

When you mentioned Latin American modernism, I became very excited, because its visual nature escapes the word nets and ideologies so often imposed on visual experience to justify shared values. (This is what I value so much in Taussig---we follow him billowing out from structure and float back transformed). When the discussion turned toward colonialism it became tautological; the broadness of the discussion funneled into perplexity and guilt rather than pleasure and open exploration. That wasn't coming from the panel! I think your modernism point was in fact a way to rebut it. It is more a general discomfort with pleasure, which again Taussig resists.

Thank you for allowing me to think this through further. I really enjoyed it.