Mirjam Linschooten: "How to activate ethnography as a fictional science to transform existing models of representation?"

Mirjam's 20 minute presentation for Maelstrom Slow Dance - DAI's 3 day graduation lectures marathon, June 2017

Toward a Futurist Ethnography


Mirjam Linschooten presents her reflections on ethnography in a lecture performance accompanied by visual aides including a carefully planned shadowplay, video and light projection on cut-out images of objects and sculptural objects, all of which play with the idea of the “reversed side”. Using the entire stage as a platform, Mirjam keeps the audience paying close attention to her tightly woven text. Speaking directly to the audience, she takes the role of a teacher/educator and offers a personal perspective, weaving in accounts of personal family experiences and other observations. She speaks confidently and fluently about the transparency of institutions and the act of display, putting the focus on cultural values and norms. Her monologue arrives at the idea of return, and how so-called ethnographic objects travel and are housed. She asks, by whom are they transported and for which purposes? Her focus on the problematics of display and representation become clear in the very way she has chosen to ‘display and represent’ her own artistic research in this lecture performance. She concludes by asking, “What might it become now, as national heritage, outside of ethnography? A kind of ethnographic archetype that re-enacts the European cultural story? Or can it be a prototype that introduces new views?” and suggests that, “A futurist ethnography is a way to de-familiarize ourselves with how ethnography has been performed and take a different look at the story called ethnography.”

Ray Brassier found the question extremely interesting. For him, “the combination between the lecture/reading and the visual dimension seems to have a pedagogical function striving to inform the view in an illuminating way about the colonial inscription of ethnography.” He further commented that he “learned a lot and appreciated the sophisticated way the pedagogical and non-pedagogical way were articulated.” Complimenting Mirjam on the choice of techniques, he said “the cut-outs of vase on plinth were ingenious and elegant as an optical framing of the textual recitation.” Some questions and thoughts that came up for him included the idea that, “if one has recognized the way in which ethnography (the presentation and collection) is tied into colonial culture’s relationship to itself, these artefacts’ alienness as is domesticated allows us to reaffirm our cultural superiority [...] (the return of lost child to “bosom of national history”) the question remains, what is it that is being represented? Is this way of representing the other, is it also a way of representing ourselves? Once we have figured out/learned what we do, then what?” Taking great interest in the narratives we construct about ourselves, Brassier concluded with a final question, “What would it take to change this chronology, since by representing a culture you immediately position yourself ahead of it?”

Gabi Ngcobo reflected on the way this lecture performance brought up the idea of how to do something or undo something. Remarking that Mirjam seems to be looking for a form, she said, “It’s still towards, it still has many maybes but I enjoyed the drama of your presentation. I feel like one is under a spell, with the object going around and around, an eternal return, like a snake that comes to eat its own tail. These objects tend to be treated as orphans when the enter Europe. They are given a date as if they were orphaned.” Ngcobo pointed out that more urgent question might be “the urgency of people who may feel that these objects belong to them in one way or another. I don’t know if it is going towards an enabling future or if it is futuristic.” Getting slightly lost on this side of the performance, and “thinking of object as embodied thing that carries a story or a spirit” Ngcobo doubted the doubling [through projections], but overall found the lecture performance to be asking urgent and relevant questions.

Marina Vishmidt was interested in “the way of talking about the future as a colonial resource configured through a process of plunder - colonialism as a kind of time-travel resource expedition on another planet,” where artifacts are a “symbolic means of propulsion”. Furthermore, Vishmidt remarked that “the question of producing futures comes from the point of view of dismantling western futures as they have been produced by western ethnography.”

She remarked how the projection of shadows obliterated the object in Mirjam’s scenography. “Fiction can help us stage these political questions towards a decolonial practice.” She saw some similarities with Sergi Selvas’ lecture performance and concluded by saying that, “the question is inscribed in the material mechanism that poses it. It needs to exceed the chronological framing and locate its encounter with alterity in the process of its own dismantlement in which the object can no longer be framed.”

Bassam el Baroni first commented on the format Mirjam chose, saying that it represents the evolution of her ideas over the past two years. Agreeing with Brassier, el Baroni complimented Mirjam on her elegant and well thought-out performance lecture. Echoing Brassier’s comments, he said that, “the political needs to be connected to this kind of pedagogical aspect. This depends on how you define politics.” He encouraged Mirjam to delve into this further in her own research. “Are you thinking in the mode of political idealism? I think this is something that needs to be revived - thinking of political as a horizon that we don’t really understand that well but that we work towards - activating different modes of thought including the image.” With these reflections el Baroni emphasized the provocative idea of the future as a contested notion.