Objects in the Contact Zone
The Cross-Cultural Lives of Things
One of the major challenges facing art history today is the issue of globalization with its cultural implications - both regarding retrospective historical narratives and contemporary methods.
As scholarship and museum audiences alike are becoming more and more internationalized, a (self-) critical analysis of disciplinary standpoints seems more important than ever and is at the center of ongoing discussions within and beyond academia.
The research group seeks to adapt the notion of the "contact zone" as a key term, connecting it to the object: non-European objects which are shown and stored in Western museums or collections, reproduced in Western media or are regarded, described, analyzed and categorized through a Western lens - such objects are situated in a contact zone. This follows approaches of cultural anthropology, while maintaining genuinely art historical solutions as the investigative aim. As such, these contact zones create particular conditions of perception and reception, resulting both from the object's own aura, provenance, or biography and from the recipient's predisposition and intentions. Asymmetrical relations of power can undoubtedly often be observed in such contexts. However, this project rejects simple models of "stimulus-response", "influences" or essentialist theories of "exotism" or "Orientalism". Following a potentially asymmetric, but basically reciprocal or polycentric working hypothesis of transculturation, we are looking at case studies which can shed significant light on the production of knowledge in such contact zones.
Our examples deal with the interrelation between particular objects or groups of objects and their cross-cultural reception as mediated through museums, collections, publications or other visual or performative cultural practices in the colonial and postcolonial age. We are mainly focusing on exchange processes within the larger modern Mediterranean and its global connections.
Together, our case studies can bridge the theoretical space between cross-cultural studies and visual culture phenomena and may also induce critical reassessments of established narratives, categories and key terms such as the very idea of "transculturation" itself. As our work is embedded into questions of institutional history as well as into the history of science, knowledge and representation, our overarching research queries have developed significantly towards fields such as:
- museum theory and exhibitions in cross-cultural context
- agency theories for polycentric and transcultural art histories
- political and social functions of aesthetic differences and convergences
- critical approaches to canon and chronology in art history