My New, Image-Centered, Website, and Other Events

Yielding to the ever-increasing pressure of taking care of the self-representation online, I have opened a website. The difference of this website from my other web-incarnations is that finally the photograph, the image, moves at the center of attention pushing the previously-reigning text to the margin. And although this shift is deceptive (since the text is still a leading figure in every image / word struggle), it, nonetheless, has happened there.

Here is the link: https://vasilinaorlova.weebly.com/ Please include it into your bookmarks; I am going to enrich the website, this blog, and the plenitude of my other projects, including articles and essays, with new and new images and episodes. I am writing my way towards telling a big story of the place and time.

I am particularly excited at finding a way to reflect on motherhood and how it affects one’s perception of the field: https://vasilinaorlova.weebly.com/research-assistant.html, but I also for the first time publish the portions of my CV and make public more details on my current project that I insofar did.

The Spring semester of 2018 I am a TA for the course Photographic Image. Professor Craig Campbell teaches it. All things visual anthropology happen to happen to me lately, and I greet them all.

Commisioned by a Russian publisher, I spent the winter break on putting together a book of my Siberian travelogues in Russian. The book is titled Antropologia povsednevnosti (Anthropology of the Everydayness), and it is a literary pursuit more than a “scientific” one. As I had an opportunity to argue already (here and here) the ethnography and the travelogue are literary genres, and, as such, a good execution of any of these forms is also a good literature.

In the photo: a fragment of the interior in Valentin Rasputin’s house in Atalanka. I visited the house in 2013, and was endlessly impressed with its supreme austerity

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116th American Anthropological Association Meeting in Washington, D.C.

This year’s anthropological meeting was productive; I like big gatherings; usually, I receive there notes and feedbacks that I am able to incorporate in my work because they are dense, to the point, and affirmative. Anthropology and science in general, particularly social science, but also its humanitarian incarnation, the socio-cultural anthropology, tend to come to any fruition (if they do) as collaborative processes, despite their continual stressing of the role of the author. We’re still privileging the singular, sole author, as opposed to some other branches of anthropology that are more explicit in doing things collaboratively–the socio-cultural anthropology is no exception; it is also a 100% collaborative process.

I participated in the 116th AAA with two projects that are linked in ways more numerous that I will be able to articulate in this quick blog post. It will suffice to say for the time being that they should end up as parts of my dissertation. Both these projects emerge out of my Siberian explorations; my interests in the phenomenological side of the materialities of the world; my suspicion that such materialities are mutable and multiple; and also from my interest in people and from me asking and re-asking the questions: How do I tell stories? How do I convey things I saw? How do I transport this audience, this group of people, this listener, this reader, into my own world, which incidentally, at least in part, is an unequivocally Siberian world?

My first presentation came out of the episode which I had been hoping to run in a group of anthropologists for a while. I wrote it down almost entirely right after these episodes had transpired. Yet it took me two years to work through some theory pertaining to that day, to two episodes / two encounters. The theory is there to make it all make sense, as it were.

The piece is about a never-completed architectural project, the Palace of Pioneers in Bratsk, and fantasies and ideas unfolding around it and in proximity to it. Two years is not the end of thinking about one day; this piece continues to be a work in process.

The piece is titled In Proximity of Ruins: Haunted Space and the Mutant Fantasy.

Here is the link to an MP3 recording of the presentation.

(The first one minute and a half of the recording is a lovely murmur of papers and a little bit of commotion; I considered cutting this part but then decided to leave it as is for the sake of a sensorial affect of presence).

The panel where I gave this presentation, is the result of a much-cherished friendship of mine–of an intellectual partnership, a connection between my colleague, the anthropologist Rick Smith and me. The panel was titled Summoning the Past: Contestations of Matter, Space, and Time in the Reproduction of State Power. The concentration on summoning, bringing together matter, space, and time, all in a focus of how the state uses these parameters of the “reality” in view of the reproduction of state power, had allowed us to bring together scholars from different, sometimes perceived as far-flung, wings of the discipline. I find such get-togethers particularly generative in terms of ideas and in terms of acquiring the new angles on the same matters.

We were extremely lucky to have Doctor Eben Kirksey, whose presence as a discussant on our panel was very welcome. Dr. Kirksey was extremely generous in providing the much-needed feedback.

It was an honor to present alongside with Rick Smith, Magdalena Stawkowski (whose work I use in my piece), Mary J Weismantel, and also to have Joanna Radin on our panel, who regretfully could not grace us with her physical presence, but whose amazing presentation Dr. Kirksey delivered himself. I am looking forward to seeing, reading, learning always more about, as well as celebrating the works, of all the participants on our panel.

picturebyCraigCampbell

Craig Campbell took this snapshot, a photographic evidence of the (already) past. In the picture: Dr. Rick Smith and I

My second presentation at AAA 2017 was titled Life and Death in a Siberian Village, and this is one of my favorite projects.

Here is a link to an MP3 recording of this presentation.

I will not upload the visual component of this presentation as I am going to convert it into a photo essay.

This is a project of handwriting that my scientific advisor, anthropologist Craig Campbell, prompted and encouraged me to do.

The curatorial collective Writing With Light put together a two-part roundtable. A diverse group of artists, photographers, visual and multimedia scholars, and anthropologists presented their projects where text and photography, sound and image, language and… language–come together to generate a bunch of different, often complex and ripe with tensions, relationships. It is with great interest that I observed the photo-essays in progress by participants of the roundtable.

I am grateful to Kate Schneider and Camilo Leon-Quijano for their insightful comments on my essay.

Susan Sontag

Sontag, Susan. On Photography. New York, 1999.

Susan Sontag foresees ruins as the result of actions and as the ultimate result of everything pictured by photography. “Many buildings, and not only Parthenon, probably look better as ruins.” Photographs themselves are mementos of what is passing, and thus the representation of debris of a disappeared moment.

In Proximity of Ruins Talk

In Proximity of Ruins: the Generative Potential of Deteriorating Space and Utopian Visions. Presentation at the New Directions in Anthropology,  April 8, 2017, UT Austin: audio

NDIA

Photograph by Craig Campbell

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Visual material of my presentation (Academia.edu)

Urbicide

Penski, Max. Three Kinds of Ruin: Heidegger, Benjamin, Sebald. Poligrafi, 2011.

Max Pensky analyzes “urbicide” of the European cities in the Second World War and the way urbicide was reflected in thinking of three key successive cultural figures: Heidegger, Benjamin, and Sebald. For Heidegger, it is a project of “re-pastoralization of Germany’s shattered cities,” Benjamin wrests “the power of the image of the ruin from the experience of the big city,” and Sebald seeks “to recuperate a discourse of the ruin as site of moral catechism.”

Austerlitz

Sebald, W.G. Austerlitz, London: Hamish Hamilton. 2001

In Sebald’s novel which verges on the border of fiction and nonfiction, the person named Austerlitz appears and reappears in connection to a desperate attempt to grasp the meaning of German concentration camps as perceived by relatives of victims. For Sebald, ruins are allegory of being. From fascination with abandonment and depopulated landscape to mental reconstruction of the stories based on their subtle traces, Sebald is engrossed with the idea of ruination in its historic and mnemonic dimensions.

Narcissus Taking a Selfie

I posted on academia.edu my short playful writing on selfies. it is currently under consideration in one new anthropological internet venue; I have not heard from them for a while. I first presented my selfie project at John Hartigan’s class last year as a talk, and here is finally a writing:

Selfie in the Interior: Narcissism and Its Cultural Critique

“Persistency of mirrors is known to everyone as a quality of re-demonstrating a looker, always, to the looker. Narcissism, “destined to oneself” (Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, 1968, 249, quoted by Derrida, Memoirs of the Blind, University of Chicago Press, 1993), is the plague of the modern times, critics fear. Self-portrait in the time of proliferation and ubiquity of technology emerges on a verge of narcissism and cultural critique of narcissism, as [that] what appears to be a result of the collaborative struggle between two discourses, disproving and supporting each other. The cultural critique of narcissism is a Narcissus itself: it is undetachable from the object at which it looks. Whenever Narcissus turns, it is always Narcissus that he sees. Whenever the conversation about selfies starts, inevitably someone points out or implies that it’s a morally questionable enterprise. (“Self portrait of NN knows it,” Derrida would have said.) Yet… What is there to be painted except for self-portrait? What is there to be taken if not selfie?”

Selfie is an ideal ruin. For tomorrow self is dead.

A Bit Lengthy Abstract for the New Directions in Anthropology (UT Conference) 2017

In Proximity of Ruins: The Generative Potential of the Deteriorating Space and Utopian Visions

In my work, I look at the history of ruins as a notion and in motion. The goal of such examination, the examination of the cultural etymology of “ruins,” is to ask, or rather to pose, two inter-related questions: “what is ruin?” and “what do ruins do?”

Since the shift of the conversation around ruins from the ruin as an object towards the ruin as a process (Stoler, 2008), the writing around ruins, which has been existing for as long as ruins exist, that is to say, from the beginning of humanity,[1] exploded in inquiries of all kinds: post-colonial past and its perseverance within the shifted selves of the same practices, imperial ambitions, “white man’s burden,” and other structures of thought and mindsets that possess a great potential of ruination. I think it might be useful to get back for a moment to the looking at the ruin as the object, albeit the-object-in-flux. For what is object?

Likewise, humanity has long been persistently, nostalgically, and pensively charmed with ruins as the material remnants of the past. The material remnants are important because it is by reconstruction of the past that we forge our identities and create contesting scenarios of the future. In recent decades, socio-cultural anthropology unpacks many different and perhaps conflicting interpretations of ruins, connecting “ruins” to the “adjacent territories”: theories of materiality, affect, infrastructure, power, memory, utopia/dystopia/heterotopia, precarity, history, progress, modernity, museumizing gaze, ruin porn, archeology, practices of belonging and political affiliation, and so forth.

On the ethnographic material that I collected during the summer 2016 travel to Siberia, in particular related to the Bratsk “house of pioneers” lying in ruins, I theorize how space differently produces ruins in connection to its changing political and social formations, and how ruins, in their turn, generate miscellaneous types of cross-species socialities while weirding pre-existing notions / divisions between “human” and “non-human,” “dead matter” and “living organisms,” “separate entity” and “assemblage/hybrid,” “animate” and “inanimate,” “acting” and “acted upon,” “subjected to” and “possessing agency.” In proximity of ruins, private and public, individual and collective, reclusive and social, misanthropic and sociable, melancholic and hopeful, always already abstract and questionable, acquire additional flickering, blinking distinctions, as well as glitching similarities.

I am conducting this project in hopes to achieve a better understanding as to why ruins are the metaphor actively deployed in the recent scholarship, particularly in connection to the imperial formations, and I am doing it full of suspicion that the figure of ruins in fact stands for a grander figure of absence of something.
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[1] In some sense, ruins foreshadowed their own emergence. Consider Susan Sontag’s maxim: “Many buildings, and not only Parthenon, probably look better as ruins.” On Photography.

Active Ruination (ISIS)

I uploaded my article on “active ruination” (namely ISIS’s affective ruining the space practices) on academia.edu. Years will pass before I get it published so it might as well just dwell there

ISIS: Active Ruination and Performativity of Public Execution

As atrocious actions, public executions and world-making endeavors of ISIS analyzed in terms of performativity open the space for questioning the dominant ideas of history and politics. ISIS released the video of the shooting of 25 Syrian soldiers at the Palmyra ruins in the beginning of June, 2014. On the video, the executioners, most of whom appear to be teenagers, parade the soldiers on the scene of the amphitheater, kneel them down and shoot. The Palmyra amphitheater is present as a visible two-fold reminder of spectacle: as arena of violence and the metaphor for the arena of violence. A crowd, children among them, watched the execution. I argue that the public executions serve several goals for ISIS: not only does ISIS compose propaganda messages, but the very lawlessness and atrociousness of the executions function as a powerful claim of the group’s legitimacy as a state in the ISIS imaginaries. Through the staged executions, ISIS seeks to create the world of power which is alternative to the Western world. In the process of creation of this world, ISIS generates landscapes of violence, and produces spaces haunted by killings. An attempt to redefine ancient ruins and to reenact medieval executions, is a claim to build a world of alternative historicism.