The Ethnographic Terminalia Collective formed in 2009 to create an alternative space for the exhibition of ethnographic visual works at the intersection of anthropology and contemporary art. In the last seven years of curating annual exhibitions alongside the AAA meetings (including this year in Denver), we have recognized the structuring effects of boundaries but we have also seen in such boundaries great creative potential. Acknowledging that the terminus is both the beginning and the end, and we argue that we were no longer content to theorize the ends of the discipline through seemingly endless conversations about the possibilities of new media, new locations, new questions or even new methods of asking old questions. While all these mattered to us at the outset, we were keen to create flexible spaces where anthropologists could experiment more freely with form. Inspired by the vitality of contemporary art practices and discourses to anthropology, our collective has worked with over 150 artists and anthropologists in diverse settings to facilitate creative critiques of ethnographic research and representation through exhibition. Our exhibitions have created generative spaces in which to unpack the roles and responsibilities of anthropologists and artists who exhibit culture in multiple modalities including new media, sound, photography, drawing, painting, performance, installation, sculpture, and film.
In addition to providing a new venue for visual anthropologists to have their work seen and evaluated by others, we consider our exhibition practice both a site and a mode of research. Ethnographic Terminalia has represented a significant opportunity to explore the value of art and anthropology exhibitions in the production and dissemination of anthropological knowledge. This year’s theme, ‘Familiar Strange’ is particularly resonant with our experimental curatorial practice. In this roundtable we will ask: at this moment of the burgeoning of new media explorations in anthropology, and creative experiments with new forms of ethnographic expression, what can projects like Ethnographic Terminalia do, in mediating both the strange or the familiar? How are anthropologists considering alternative forms and forums for presenting their research to new publics provided by the gallery space or installation outside of the conference setting?
At the first exhibition in Philadelphia 2009, Ethnographic Terminalia was an off-site event parasitical to AAA audiences. Now in 2015, with the opening of new institutionalized spaces for a new category of Installations at the AAA meetings, off-site experimentation is becoming increasingly “the familiar”. While Ethnographic Terminalia and other initiatives such as Multi-Species salon have created new opportunities in the discipline to consider the way knowledge is produced and shared, we will ask how experimental curatorial conversations might still move the conversation further.
This roundtable will represent a focused reflection on the years of exhibition by Ethnographic Terminalia. Each member of the collective will reflect on a significant theme that emerged from our inquiry and experience, including the challenges of collaboration; the relevance of site-specificity; the significance of troubling of archives; and opportunities in new medias. An invited discussant will take the floor to suggest what strange remains to be explored.