Technologies of Enchantment

Charlotte Laubard

there is no old word in most of the thousand
or so languages still spoken in Africa
that adequately translates the word 'art’

Kwame Anthony Appiah, 2019

The need for greater inclusivity in the art world compels us to look for an alternative to the aesthetic assumptions and criteria of judgement that favored the exclusion of artistic practices designated as “other” by the canonical Western art history (modern and contemporary art versus popular art, folk art, primitive art, Weltkunst, amateur art, art brut, outsider art, junk art, ethnic art, grassroots art, street art, digital folklore, and so on...).

To achieve this change of focus, this Think.Zone proposes a perspective inspired by recent advances in visual studies and visual anthropology, in particular those connected to the notions of performativity and agency of artifacts or image-objects (to use more inclusive terms than an artwork). Within the context of Western art, from the 18th century onwards, those artifacts, or image-objects, have been credited with subverting our perceptions, heightening the sensitivity, broadening the field of consciousness, and shaping subjectivity... Artifacts act on us. And in return, we act on them: we lend them intentions, enrich them with our interpretations, so that their power of fascination increases, and so does their effectiveness. Genuine “technologies of enchantment” (A. Gell), they are not passive vehicles of symbolic communication waiting to be deciphered, but “agents” that articulate and exercise relationships to the world within a certain network. In the past and in other cultures - or in a peripheral and/or repressed way in the West - this relational role is even more obvious: artifacts have served and still serve as a means to access invisible entities, to protect, to heal, to influence the course of existence, to transmit knowledge, to affirm common values, to commemorate, to resolve situations, to gather together, to celebrate, and to establish the power of those who have favored their existence...

In this Think.Zone, we’ll be looking beyond the aesthetic approach to the uses, practices and relationships that artifacts generate and structure. We will connect this theoretical approach to related historical concepts such as animism, analogism, vitalism, mana, fetishism, Stendhal syndrome, Gestalt, the uncanny, the aura, the transitional object, the transfiguration of the banal, agency, the actor-network, relational aesthetics, the device, embodiment, objectophilia, technological neo-animism...

Part of Decolonising Identities
This Think.Zone is held in French. Course credit is given based on attendance and participation.