Ethnographic Terminalia

The Ethnographic Terminalia Collective is grounded in a commitment to exploring the boundaries of anthropology and art through exhibitions, experimental installations, events and publications.

Since 2009 we’ve  curated group exhibitions in North American cities (Philadelphia, New Orleans, Montréal, San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Washington). These projects demonstrate how contemporary artists, anthropologists, and institutions are engaging with ethnographic methodologies and art. The majority of the exhibitions have been mounted as ‘para-sites’ or ‘off-site installations’ to the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association.

We have facilitated and championed works that explore new media, new locations, and new methods in anthropology and cultural studies. The collective has worked with more than 150 artists and anthropologists to date, generating ongoing creative collaboration between anthropological researchers and practicing artists. Our exhibitions and the works in them have been widely reviewed and publicized in both discipline-specific journals and the popular press.

The curatorial collective are Stephanie Takagarawa, Kate Hennessy, Fiona P McDonald,  Craig Campbell and myself.

See for more details!

The Ethnographic Terminalia Archive

Photo by Kate Hennessy

We are currently designing and creating a digital archive that will document the work of the collective and the projects we have curated since 2009. This will be a dynamic open access web-based archive and pedagogical tool for teaching about anthropology and art. We will launch it in 2019.

This project is supported by a SSHRC Insight Grant, “Between the Physical and the Virtual: Anthropology, Art, and Emergent Digital Hybrid Spaces”. We are doing this work in partnership with Simon Fraser University’s Digital Humanities Innovation Lab and the Simon Fraser University Library.

Experimental Rapid Prototype Publication

Ethnographic Terminalia's rapid prototype publication, with cover designed by Sam Gould of Beyond Repair Books.
The photo-essay is dead, long live the photo-essay! 2016 experimental rapid prototype publication. Cover design by Sam Gould of Beyond Repair

“THE PHOTO-ESSAY IS DEAD, LONG LIVE THE PHOTO-ESSAY!” was our 2016 post-disciplinary experiment: a workshop and rapid-prototype publication organized by Ethnographic Terminalia. The publication was printed and launched within 36 hours of the conclusion of its partner workshop held at the American Anthropology Association Meetings in Minneapolis in November 2016. Produced in collaboration with the workshop participants, this ‘zine like document presents the photo-essays curated for presentation in the workshop, and also constitutes a photo-essay of our own making, which shows a group so artists, anthropologists and photographers coming together to critically engage what the photo-essay might mean for anthropology today and in the future. We worked with Sam Gould of Beyond Repair in Minneapolis, MN. He designed the publication cover and organized printing on the ground.

Image of Grayson Cooke's work Agx
Installation view of Grayson Cooke’s work Agx. Photo by Trudi Lynn Smith

Featured Image: Grayson Cooke’s AgX

The featured image is a detail from the installation at Hierarchy Gallery in DC in December 2014, The Bureau of Memories: Archives and Ephemera, showing a still from Grayson Cooke’s video installation AgX. The collective also wrote a piece for Mnemoscape Magazine reflecting on the exhibition.

Here is an excerpt:

“Grayson Cooke’s AgX is a video installation with an ambient soundtrack. Two films (shown sequentially) reveal time-lapse macro-photography of photographic negatives being chemically destroyed. The negatives were mined from Cooke’s personal archive, a binder found at his parents house that documented early forays into photography, years before. Explicitly mixing art and science, Cooke’s project explores the effect of chemistry on negatives: AgX is the chemical shorthand for silver halides, the light sensitive compounds that constitute celluloid images. Photography, by definition is the chemical fixing of an electromagnetic radiation or light onto a substrate (like celluloid film or glass plates) through the activation of silver halides crystals (or more recently image sensors). Cooke’s immersive installation is an unfixing of photography and archives.

Installed in the front gallery of Hierarchy, this work is what Ann Cvetkovich might call an impossible archive, an archive that acknowledges vulnerability and ruptures (Cvetkovich 2012:153). Standing in front of the large projection, the viewer is immersed in the filming of chemical decomposition: Shrinking fluttering people, places, and events decompose and peel off of the emulsion to disappear, only to be reborn the next time the image loops. Abstract images newly appear through the macro effect of the lens filming redox reaction, ion exchange, and electron transfer. Cooke mixes these views with the edited work of sound artist Rafael Anton Irisarri and conjures up the delicate, ephemeral moment between memory and forgetting. Paul Bowles addresses this form of vulnerability in his 1949 novel The Sheltering Sky, asking, “How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, five times more, perhaps not even that” (Bowles 1977:238).

But the work is not only evocative of the emotion of memory and forgetting, it is an impressive response to ongoing debates around obsolete and emerging technologies, and to a widening set of practices around photography. As artists and anthropologists ride the currents of a materiality wave, AgX shows us that the boundaries of photography are actually much more open than we might have previously thought. The work is a serious play with photography as electromagnetic radiation, as silver halides, and as chemical reactions. The stability and truth associated with photographic and archival practice slowly peels away to expose the vulnerability of memory and preservation of the personal archive.”

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