Doing Home Works: Extended Exhibitions, Ethnographic Tools, and the Role of the Researcher

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Since Hal Foster introduced ‘the ethnographic turn of contemporary art’ in the mid-1990s, the exchange between contemporary art and ethnography has continued to expand. Much of the debate considers the artistic incorporations of ethnography, but little has been discussed about the ethnographic practices of art researchers. The latter’s relevance derives from current changes in the art world. Art objects and exhibition formats take new shapes and circulate internationally, creating situations of translocality in contemporary art. This inevitably raises a crucial ethnographic question: How can one engage thoroughly with artworks and exhibitions from different cultural contexts, without losing the complexity of the
local discourses inherent in them? This article answers that question by drawing on three ethnographic tools: 1) the multi-sited ethnographic approach (George Marcus); 2) the pairing of aesthetic analysis of artworks and ethnographic fieldwork (Georgina Born); and 3) the use of generative ethnographic stories as a writing tool (Helen Verran). The latter two, especially, are then employed in analysing the Beirut-based extended exhibition, ‘Home Works: A Forum
on Cultural Practices’. The analysis shows that adding ethnographic tools to the aesthetic analysis of international exhibitions allows for the complexity of local discourses, enhances attentive art writing, and urges engaged art research.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCritical Arts
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)753-767
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013
Externally publishedYes

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