Hidden Practices: Demolished Houses and Anthropologists’ Tools
A house being dismantled bears fascination as both a still moment and as a continuous process of revealed layers of the building’s history. The still yet ephemeral moment of static, frozen histories are destined to disappear in the dust of a demolished house. Elegant motions of an excavator tearing down these layers concurrently visualize the human mind operating it. The finalized product, eventually a new house, appears as a cohesive, static masterpiece that the architect is congratulated and recompensed for. At the same time, the technical practices, uses of tools, and team work that lead to such cohesion are disguised by the new building. A constant play between stasis and process, between a captured moment and flow, is reflected in this short film in the use of timely framed photos that are transformed into a moving picture.
The immaculate new house stands as a metaphor for the anthropologist’s finished text, article, book, photograph, film. As for the house, idiosyncratic tools and techniques of the anthropologist are often hidden practices in the relatively private sphere in libraries or at home. They are not to be confused with methods easily available in text books, and thus often remain unidentifiable in the final product, obscured by the dust of (de-)construction. Curiously, the public practice of demolition is commonly perceived as a nuisance in our everyday routines. In order to lessen noisy, loud and dusty processes of transformation, demolition sites are often hidden behind walls painted with the imagined new house complex that is about to replace the old one. These walls cover, even pretend to curtail the liminal stage of neither an old nor a new building. However, in Vienna demolition management rarely bothers to put up such disguising walls. The lack of concern about their image as clean, neatly operating company counteracting the abnormality of dust and visual demolition reveals such transforming, liminal stages as normality. As Victor Turner describes this stage in rites of passage from the perspective of initiates, a transformed landscape of a city is likewise a moment where “basic building blocks of culture” are exposed in this simultaneous entrance and exit stage (1967, 110).
Celebrating the architect’s work furthermore displays the expectation of academic institutions to present consistent, marketable products that scholars are appreciated for. In this way, the scholar is acknowledged for the prestigious architectural white-collar facets of his or her work. The technical blue collar facets that are associated with construction workers remain a mystified matter. The film raises questions concerning the ways anthropology students learn to obscure idiosyncratic uses of tools in the dust of their work in progress. Anthropology, as many other social sciences, still has a strong self-perception as epistemological knowledge production, rather than provoking a more technical perception that crafts toolkits (Boellstorff 2008, 59).
The deconstructed house was photographed in Vienna, Austria in 2009 over a period of about five months. The film was finalized in 2011 with the help of the Ethnographic Film Unit at the University of British Columbia.
Mascha Gugganig received her Master's in social and cultural anthropology from Vienna University in 2009, and is currently a PhD student of anthropology at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. "hidden practices" is her first film and reflects her transitioning interest from still to moving picture.
Theme Issue, “Renovation and Restoration,” Anthropology News 52(7) [with cover page!] anthropology-news.org/index.php/toc/an-table-of-contents-october-2011-527/
October 2011 – Regard Bleu #7. Festival for Ethnographic Student and Film Media, University of Zurich/Switzerland
Mar 2012 – Ljubljana International Short Film Festival 2012
June 2012 – Contro-Sguardi International Anthropological Film Festival, Culture-Work-Multimedia, Perugia/Italy