Where is the line between ethnography and art? What's the difference between an artist who wanders off the tourist path and the ethnographer who represents people and places through artistic media?
I find myself asking these questions after spending quite a bit of time over the last two days in the seminars and exhibitions of Cornerhouse's Central Asia Project. For those of you interested in Central Asia, this is a must-see/do/experience. In short, Cornerhouse, amongst others, organised for 3 British artists to spend time in Kazakhstan--live with families, travel, hold seminars about art, etc.--and now they have a handful of Central Asian artists visiting England, exhibiting their work and creating new pieces for exhibition in Central Asia.
At a talk today, I found myself identifying so strongly with what the UK artists were saying about their experiences of going with still cameras, video cameras or sound recorders and trying to process the sights, sounds and emotions and mediate/interpret them into pieces for this exhibition. Shona Illingworth's video installation 'Karlag' is particularly moving. It has inspired me to re-cut some of my footage and explore the relationships of art, the senses, emotions, memories and ethnographic representation through visual media.
The Central Asian artists' pieces are fascinating and enchanting--an artistic version of 'indigenous media', perhaps? I especially connected with Natalya Dyu's philosophy and her work. She's the youngest of the artists and seems the most motivated to tell the world that 'Kazakhstan is not a wild country'--something I also try to do through film. Her video and interactive digital media pieces on computers make me think of possibilities for us as visual anthropologists to deal with fantasies and dreams or other issues for our subjects.
So that's my abbreviated review of the exhibition. I know I'll be going back several times until the exhibition closes (1 April), so let me know if you'd like to go and fancy some company!