Possible Worlds – Evoking Ethnographic Surrealism

Possible Worlds StillPossible Worlds StillNovember 5th I will perform Possible Worlds, a new audiovisual work, at The Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm. This will be the premiere of the work, which stems from a collaboration with the museum. Sound and images have been collected on trips to different parts of the world. These are combined with material from the archives and collections at The Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm. Possible Worlds Still 3Recordings from early ethnographic expeditions are enmeshed with contemporary material from entirely different contexts. The material is then mixed with computer generated electronic soundscapes, erasing the border between technologically generated expressions and material captured at concrete locations. Mundane everyday things collide with devotional objects, with undefined landscapes and actions as well as the non-place sounds from processors and tone generators. The material is mixed and performed during a 30 minute live-set based on surreal juxtapositions and layering of sound and images.

Possible Worlds Still 2Possible Worlds is an attempt to explore notions of ethnographic surrealism and the interplay between evocation of unknown worlds and situated performance. I use the notion of surrealism in an expanded sense, and draw on James Clifford’s (1981) statement about ethnographic surrealism as a utopian construct. According to Clifford:

“The boundaries of art and science (especially the human sciences) are ideological and shifting, and intellectual history is itself enmeshed in these shifts-its genres do not remain firmly anchored. Changing definitions of art or science must provoke new retrospective unities, new ideal types for historical description. In this sense, ‘ethnographic surrealism’ is a utopian construct, a statement at once about past and future possibilities for cultural analysis.”(Clifford, 1981:540).

Clifford used ethnographic surrealism in order to discuss what took place in Paris in the early 20th Century. I have been inspired by his  text in my attempts to evoke notions of possible worlds, be they future, past, fictional or parallel. The question is: what could ethnographic surrealism be today?

Here’s a short trailer:




Clifford, James. (1981). On Ethnographic Surrealism. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 23(4), 539-564.

By | 2017-05-19T15:02:40+00:00 October 2nd, 2014|stories|0 Comments

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