the distribution of qualities

Proposal for the Fellowship program on "Thingness" 2011-2013 - Vera List Center for Arts and Politics/The New School NY

Everything has become contemporary.

Objects have become things, that is, when matters of fact give way to their complicated entanglements and become matters of concern.

Bruno Latour

This investigation will concentrate on the production (or transformation) of things, bodies and people, within two specific communities/contexts in Brazil – the Amazonian indigenous peoples and the Afro–descendent culture–religion Candomblé. It intends to be open to the relationships between humans and non-humans, the power of agency present in things, the distribution of their qualities, while advocating for the co-existence of different worlds. These specific trajectories and short-circuits will be carefully and closely followed up, as well as articulated with contemporary western culture, as guidelines to address the material conditions of “our” lives and the urgent need to produce new imaginaries.

As recently suggested by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Brazil can maybe contribute for a notion of an “ecological body”. Within the Brazilian context, Viveiros de Castro was part of a group of anthropologists that, already in 1979, called attention to the fact that in indigenous societies body and person are not conceived as biological entities, but as artifacts, fashioned according to the community’s style and mode. Amongst Amazonian Amerindians, artifacts are bodies and bodies are artifacts. And if for them it is objects which condense actions, relations, emotions and senses, it is because it is through the artifacts that people act, relate, produce and exist in the world. The concept of transformation is central to the Amerindian world vision and praxis: things and people can be transformed, domesticated, incorporated…

Another similar but different experience will be to research the creative group Usina da Alegria Planetária, which is part of the afro-descendent traditional culture of Candomblé community's Korrente da Alegria de Aruanda (in the metropolitan region of São Paulo). Usina explores circularity and restoration by employing traditional techniques such as woodcraft, garment assemblage, object production and environments that privilege the use of pre or post-consumed materials. One of the main characteristics of the community is the transformation of people - individual and collective - as well as the constant re-creation of objects, clothes, elements and sites where the rituals and celebrations take place.

Given its historical process of colonization, the Amazon Forest, the co-habitation of multiple worlds and temporalities including more than two hundred of indigenous peoples, quilombolas, traditional communities, together with the current economic boom and development of the country as it leads to a deep transformation of its territories, Brazil seems to be a rich experimental field for contemporary debates related to the theme of “thingness”. This research will operate by exchanging the different repertoire of both experiences and ontologies of Amerindians and Candomblé using stories, interviews, fieldwork, drawings, diagrams, photographs, texts, videos, while both "mapping the controversies" (Latour) and setting up conversations with special guests (Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Els Lagrou, Laymert Garcia dos Santos etc) in collaboration with The New School scholars, students, and a broader audience. One of the aims is to produce a publication which works as a dispositif.

Amongst the Kaxinawa people (Acre), when a woman is giving birth, she receives major support from a restricted group of relatives. They believe that the hands, sweat and words used during the ritual transmit character, power, enchantment and health to the person who receives it. Not only the body but the first thoughts are simultaneously modeled. The body’s shape and condition are the result of a collective modeling and making, a distribution of qualities.

Some Bibliograhy/References: Gell, Alfred. Art and Agency. An Anthropoligcal Theory. Oxford:Clarendon Press, 1998; Lagrou, Els. A Fluidez da Forma: arte, alteridade e agência em uma sociedade amazônica (Acre). Rio de Janeiro: Topbooks, 2007; Van Velthem, Lucia Hassak. O belo é a fera. A estética da produção e da predação entre os wayana. Tese (Douturado em Antropolgia)- USP São Paulo 1995; Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. Araweté, os deuses canibais. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar & Anpocs, 1986; Deren, Maya. Divine horsemen, The living gods of Haiti, documentext NY, Latour, Bruno & Weibel, Peter (ed) Making Things Public, ZKM 2005; amongst others.