Anthropological Traps

captura-de-pantalla-2016-01-07-a-las-12-25-26“The trap is the first and the ultimate anthropology of itself.”

Alberto Corsin Jimenez

Alberto Corsin Jimenez + Rane Willerslev are heading up a panel on ‘Anthropological Traps’ at the EASA conference in Milan this July. I’ll be joining the tangle to talk about a Mongolian lasso and non-Euclidean drawing tools, and to preview a new collaboration with Rebecca Empson, a sort of cross-species stereoscope that holds the split perspective of a pole-lasso at work as it negotiates between the worlds of herder and horse.

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The panel

“The ethnographic record is replete with accounts of trapping as a technology of hunting. Yet they failed to engage the attention of scholars as objects of theory in their own right. This panel aims to correct this omission by centering attention on ‘traps’ as spaces of ethnographic and theoretical productivity. We believe that traps offer new ground with which to rethink the comparative project of anthropology. On the one hand, traps work as interfaces between human and nonhuman forms and agencies. They blur classical distinctions between prey and predator, subject and object, nature and culture, epistemology and ontology. Secondly, traps work as ecological infrastructures. They artefactualize the density of human and nonhuman entanglements. Third, traps are space-time technologies in their own right. They are framing devices where acceleration, anticipation or waiting take hold over bodies and environments in various capacities.

A focus on traps may offer new insights into (say) the deep history of archaeology and anthropology, where a focus on traps may help rethink the environmental relations between domestication and hunting. Traps have also played a prominent role in the history of experimental science, e.g. in quantum physics, where the effects of entanglements are rendered visible through the use of ion traps. And as Gell famously noted, traps are a common ploy in the art world, where they are employed as technologies of enchantment.”

with Alberto Corsin Jimenez, Rane Willerslev, Robert Wishart, Heather Swanson, Morten Nielsen, Martin Holbraad, Stefan Helmreich, Hermione Spriggs, Patrick Laviolette, Christina Leeson, Nicholas Seaver, Anthony Pickles


‘Uurga-shig’—What is it like to be a lasso? Drawing figure-ground reversals between art and anthropology 

How might a single object, a herdsman’s lasso known as the ‘uurga’, facilitate a fresh understanding of cosmology and human-animal relationships in nomadic Mongolia?

‘Uurga-shig’ re-evaluates the performance of an object as a social participant and the role of drawing as an anthropologically relevant method, outlining the need for fresh approaches to interdisciplinary exchange between the fields of participatory art and anthropology. In light of Alfred Gell’s thesis of ‘traps as artworks and artworks as traps’ (Journal of Material culture 1(1) 1996), the lasso presents an alternative point of view to the Western ‘Zoological framing’ criticized by Massumi (‘What Animals Teach Us about Politics’ 2014). Instead the uurga functions as a non-Euclidean drawing tool, a frame through which to better understand the fluid relationships underpinning human-animal codependency on the Mongolian steppe.

From the line on a page to the ‘drawing through’ of a thread in a needle and the ‘drawing in’ of a wild horse in nomadic Mongolia, we explore the application of drawing as an inherently mimetic and intimate method for analyzing moving relationships. With a focus on the drawn line as a connecting device that lends itself to figure-ground reversal, we will extend the application of drawing as a lasso-like prosthetic technology, one that might be used to catalyze a perspectival shift into the worlds of other animals.

Hermione Spriggs



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