Contemporary Art + Anthropology //// About this Course

This experimental course explores and develops the convergence of the anthropological turn in contemporary art practices with the visual, material and practice turns in social anthropology with the aim of fostering a new art+anthropology interdiscipline.

The course will engage you with the anthropological and ethnographic turns in artistic practice and the practice-turn in social and visual anthropology, foregrounding 20th and 21st century case studies wherein art+anthropology have become enmeshed.

You will participate in collaborative practices and approaches that combine artistic and anthropological research methods.

You will learn how to work on an innovative research project that is informed by anthropological research and contemporary artistic practice.

This course is a learning experiment, of sorts.

Some of the approaches we will take are partly based on research conducted by the course organiser Professor Neil Mulholland and by Professor Richard Baxstrom, Professor of Social Anthropology, Deputy Head of the School of Social and Political Science. The research comes under the banner of the Atelier network. Many of the research themes and methods that you will follow on this course emerge from those that have been play-tested within Atelier or that are part of Atelier ‘s research activities for 2022. So, while this particular course is new, and the present blended approach is also relatively new, the way that the course is organised has been carefully tested, reviewed and calibrated over a long period of time.

This year, Frances Davis brings her considerable expertise as a curator and arts programmer to bear upon the course design and content. Frances’ doctoral research on the contemporary art and anthropology is pivotal to the learning style and research ambitions of this course.

Anthropology of Art, Anthropology-as-Art, Art-as-Anthropology

What the course is concerned with primarily is how we might combine the distinct disciplines of contemporary art and anthropology to create a hybrid of both – an interdiscipline.

The course will begin by encouraging you to raise questions about each discipline by focusing on ‘exchange’ and ‘aquisition’.


Disciplinary Exchange:

What might anthropologists learn from art?

What might contemporary art learn from anthropology?

Art-as-Anthropology: How might art be considered to be a form of ‘anthropology’?

Anthropology-as-Art: How might anthropology be considered to be a form of ‘artistic practice’?


Disciplinary Acquisition:

How do people learn to become artists?

How do people learn to become anthropologists?

How, when and where do these two forms of disciplinary acquisition overlap?


The course does not seek to answer these questions definitively; rather, it asks you to work alongside your peers to engage with and develop new ways of working that you think are important. This is what we will call ‘experimental learning’; learning about and testing different ways of learning. You will do this in an artistic context (of you own making). As such, what you do will form a continuum that moves back and forth between two closely related domains.

How? Not What?

What you might learn, in a sense, will be up to you (especially in relation to your individual research proposal) and your Breakout Group. Remember that this course is concerned with practice-as-research. What you learn is, ultimately, of less importance than how you approach learning and how you reflect upon how you have learned.

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