Petra Tjitske Kalshoven

is a Lecturer in Social Anthropology, University of Manchester.

As a social anthropologist with a background in classics, I am interested in the social and cognitive dynamics of knowledge production and memory-making, and how these are mediated by, on the one hand, practical skills involving manipulation of things, and, on the other, rhetoric and other forms of ‘play’. My doctoral research (Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology, 2006, McGill University, Montréal) concerned the social and performative dynamics of a contemporary amateur practice called ‘Indianism’, which involves crafting ‘museum quality’ replicas of clothing and artefacts as well as re-enactment of slices of Native American eighteenth- and nineteenth-century life by Europeans dressed in home-made Plains or Woodland Indian outfits. Drawing on fieldwork among Indianist groups in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and the Czech Republic (2003 — 2004), I argued that Indianist mimesis may be understood as a heuristic process in which Indianists employ imagination, creativity, and skill to reach out to an elusive past. Almost in spite of themselves, Indianists create a specific European Indianist identity predicated on a fascination with an ‘otherness’ that has been part of European consciousness since the period of First Contact between Europeans and the indigenous peoples of North America. In my thesis, I conceived of Indianism as a point of intersection where different epistemological traditions meet, drawing in analogies with a European heritage of iconography and textual criticism going back to the Renaissance, but also with indigenous knowledge systems.  Since 2008, I have started expanding my fieldwork among Indianist amateurs in Britain.

During my postdoctoral research at the University of Aberdeen (2007-2009), I elaborated on my Ph.D. project by focussing on material and affective properties of replicas featuring in historical re-enactment, both among Indianists and in more formal museum and heritage settings. As artefacts situated between ‘real things’ and forgeries, replicas become powerful agents in creating social landscapes that are both virtual and real. My work on replicas and replica-making ties into a more general interest I have in the relations between humans, their ‘things’, and the landscapes they engage and identify with, as well as in practices of art, imitation, and display.  In 2008, I had the opportunity to combine my interests in play and display by curating a small exhibit in Aberdeen on contemporary fantasy and war gaming, against a backdrop of historical miniature dioramas, in collaboration with the Aberdeen Games Workshop and the Marischal Museum. I realized that possibly every theme embraced in historical re-enactment has its equivalent on a miniature scale, which calls for further investigation into the similarities and differences between life-size and miniature practices of imitation, in terms of cognition, embodied experience, and social dynamics. Fieldwork with miniature painters and collectors is on-going. The exhibit, Maximising Miniatures, also resulted in an exchange with a young Dutch artist, who, through the medium of photography, offers a new perspective on a heritage of portraiture and landscape painting in the Low Countries.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook

Contributed by Petra Tjitske Kalshoven

memento mori 2011: still life with waterfowl