CEE | Center for Experimental Ethnography
For our first Third Thursday of Spring Semester 2021, CEE opened with introductions to both Reggie Wilson and Jenny Chio, the Spring Semester Faculty Fellows with CEE. Jenny offered preliminary reflections on what it has been like to return to teaching remotely, and the way that priorities in teaching have shifted during COVID-19 and quarantine.
Reggie Wilson opened with comments about what being a "lay anthropologist" means to him in his artistic practices, connecting his anthropological approach to reading Zora Neale Hurston. While reading Hurston as a student, Reggie began asking questions about what it means to examine cultures and communities that one is also a part of. He reflected on his virtual travel back and forth between home sites, like Milwaukee, and the place of his work in New York, given the exigencies of COVID. He completed his comments with a reflection on the ways that places where you have been shape who you are and what you are.
Deb followed Reggie's comments with a provocation: what is the relation between people and place, and what holds that kind of relationship together? Jenny responded by turning to locality as an important source of relation, in contrast to nation or country. She spoke of the need for space to define such relationships ina way that is both critical and empathetic, critical and supportive.
Reggie responded by pointing to the fact that personhood and place are concepts that are both "infinite".. They come to play out in "who we are" and "what we are trained to do". The influence of locality, of place, is not small in who we are. Finally, he pointed out that if we can consider people to be the body, or the bodies that we are and we inhabit, then place, or specifically choreographic space, is that "where the body does its things". Also, Reggie drew attention to the fact that place is not merely a physical site outside the body, but can be sites within the body---place can be within one's head, or a specific spot on a wrist.
Jenny then turned to the question of portraiture asking, "what is the place that gets created in the contact between person and place?" and "how do people and objects come to make a place within the realm of portraiture?"
In the question and answer session, Ore asked more about Reggie's approach to negotiating field research and positionality. How can field workers navigate the pressures to make non-linear explorations more logical and linear for the sake of grant writing, funding, and arts support? Reggie shared more of his process in response, explaining how he begins with a research period, intensive site visits and site "feels", and then gathering in the space with his company in order to begin exploring movement.
Jenny Chio reflected on what it has been like to see differences develop in her relationships between towns and between times. She spoke of how she was introduced to a particular site for her PhD, only to watch her relationship "unravel" and change over the years as priorities shifted, and as the same level of "in-touchness" with the field was lost. As a result of this, she has recently been thinking about the way that we can preserve and nurture relationships across difference and distance, and the kind of work that this takes as the length of time spent in research changes so dramatically over the course of one's career.
Jasmine Blanks-Jones posed a question about personhood to the speakers, asking for comments about how and where personhood is located at a collective level---if it doesn't just reside in a body but also between bodies, what does this mean? And finally, at the end of the meetup, Va Bene Elikem Fiatsi posed a question to Reggie about what mutations and relationships are implied by the term "Africans in the Americas". Reggie responded by turning attention tot the importance of local specifities and places in the lives of artists and people, and the critical process of "local" sites in shaping who people are.
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