Present Visuality and Thingness of Trans-Ethnography in the Context of Unrealised Future in the Past

 courtesy of Liva Dudareva (METASITU)  

courtesy of Liva Dudareva (METASITU)  

In 1922, the Soviet Union was established on the basis of the principle of national self-identi cation for nationalities within its borders. The borders that were drawn by Bolsheviks for the new Soviet socialist republics created new geopolitical entities, that required symbols and ethnographic history for legitimization. Museum of Oriental Art in Moscow was founded in 1918, right after the October revolution, and was gradually expanding collections of the artefacts of the cultures of the Eurasian region since its inception. The excavation expeditions of the Soviet archeologists and ethnographers were working in the context of gradually transforming Soviet ideology, where the initial decision of national self-identi cation of new republics of the Soviet Union was dictated by the strategic intention of the group of Bolsheviks, led by Joseph Stalin with support of Vladimir Lenin, to  ght ‘Russian chauvinism’. The decision implied necessity to accelerate transition of bureaucratic documentation, school education, etc. into national languages of ethoses in the areas, which in many cases had no writing culture appropriate for Bolshevik methods of possible conversion. The objects and things of ethnographic signi cance were appropriated as symbols of national self-identi cation.

Between 1918 and 1922, in anticipation of the World revolution, the Bolsheviks were divided on the issue of how administrative borders within the future Soviet Union (as a part of new Socialist and later Communist world) would look like. One of the strongest positions implied lining out the map of the country in sectors disregarding historical, ethnographic, geopolitical, etc. cartography. If that scenario have been implemented in reality, organisation of Moscow Museum of Oriental Art collection and its appropriation would reveal a different set of narratives behind the things that matter.

 

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Today we are living at a time when notions of disparate nations, cultural identities and borders have become even more problematic and ambiguous as a result of a greater economic, cultural, political and technological interconnectedness across the globe. As a result of a process of globalization that denies time, space and place, today there is a “disturbance of our notions of the past” which also results in a “crisis in our imagination of alternative futures” (Andreas Huyssen, 2003, p.2) Yet, while the original dream of a united Communist world has not been realised, it is even more necessary to acknowledge the interrelations across the world and rethink the existing narratives reinforced by old-fashioned museological approaches to be able to imagine the future ethnography of our material world.

The current display of the Oriental Art Museum which is based on the distinctiveness of separate places is in fact a product of the modernist project and observes cultural speci city only in spatial isolation while neglecting interactions with the beyond. As the cultural geographer Doreen Massey explains: "‘Cultures’, ‘societies’ and ‘nations’ were all imagined as having an integral relation to bounded spaces, internally coherent and differentiated from each other by separation. ‘Places’ came to be seen as bounded, with their own internally generated authenticities, and de ned by their difference from other places which lay outside, beyond their borders." (Massey, 2005, p.64)

Massey’s proposition of a ‘relational geography’, on the other hand, necessitates seeing cultural identities as interrelated, as well as sharing the same time and space. Her claim that “identities/entities, the relations ‘between’ them, and the spatiality which is part of them, are all co-constitutive”, challenges the modern conceptualisation of difference that was based on distinctiveness of places as re ected in culture. (Massey, 2005, p.10)

Here, we would also like to refer to Peter Osborne, who discusses the contemporary “as the time of the globally transnational”. Accordingly, the concept of the contemporary refers to the present as a world-historical moment, not only de ned by one place and time but shaped within a relational geography of co-existing places and times. Osborne speci cally highlights ‘con-temporaneity’ as what best expresses the temporal quality of the historical present, meaning

“a coming together not simply ‘in’ time, but of times: we do not only just live or exist together ‘in time’ with our contemporaries – as if time itself is indifferent to this existing together – but rather the present is increasingly characterized by a coming together of different but equally ‘present’ temporalities or ‘times’.” (Osborne, 2013a, p.17)

Based on these ideas around the spatial and temporal recon guration of the present, we would like to propose a trans-ethnographic approach to the existing objects in the museum, which interweaves temporalities and expands into other times that include not only our present but also the future.