The art of ethnography: the aesthetics or ethics of participation?

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This article was downloaded by: [Monash University Library]On: 07 October 2014, At: 12:44Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: MortimerHouse, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UKVisual StudiesPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rvst20The art of ethnography: the aesthetics or ethics ofparticipation?Larissa Hjorth & Kristen SharpPublished online: 07 Apr 2014.To cite this article: Larissa Hjorth & Kristen Sharp (2014) The art of ethnography: the aesthetics or ethics ofparticipation?, Visual Studies, 29:2, 128-135, DOI: 10.1080/1472586X.2014.887261To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1472586X.2014.887261PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the Content) containedin the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis, our agents, and our licensors make norepresentations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose ofthe Content. Any opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors,and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Content should not be reliedupon and should be independently verified with primary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shallnot be liable for any losses, actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and otherliabilities whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to orarising out of the use of the Content.This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematicreproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in anyform to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rvst20http://www.tandfonline.com/action/showCitFormats?doi=10.1080/1472586X.2014.887261http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1472586X.2014.887261http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionsThe art of ethnography: the aesthetics or ethics ofparticipation?LARISSA HJORTH and KRISTEN SHARPWhen Hal Foster noted an ethnographic turn in the artworld in the 1990s, he was eluding to broader impulsesthat had haunted avant-garde movements throughoutmost of modernism, such as surrealism. However, theethnographic turn did not just have an impact in thevisual arts areas such as cultural studies felt a shift fromthe textual towards the ethnographic. Two and halfdecades on, the pervasive nature of ethnography can befelt across the disciplines as ethnographic approachesevolve, migrate and transform, especially through thegrowing ubiquity of the digital. In this context, variousentanglements need to be defined especially the drawingupon ethnographic aesthetics and ethics in art practice.But is this ethnographic compulsion just a stylistic trendor does it speak of deeper concerns in the arts aboutengaging with social and cultural practices and reflexiveparticipation? Drawing on case studies in contemporaryart, this article focuses upon the haunting of theethnographic turn in art through numerous guises fromrelational aesthetics onwards.INTRODUCTIONEthnography, as the writing up of cultural practice, has,much like culture itself, taken on various manifestations.Once a method used by sociologists and anthropologists,ethnography is now a widely deployed approach andconceptual framework in contemporary media cultures.Throughout this evolution, some concepts haveremained central to ethnographic practice the reflexivenegotiation of self, power, labour and participation.Given these key concerns, it is not surprising thatethnography as a way in which to frame culturalpractice has been embraced within the visual arts. Inparticular, the significant increase of socially engagedpractices in late twentieth-century art identified in the1990s by Hal Foster in The Artist as Ethnographer(1996) and Nicolas Bourriauds Relational Aesthetics([1998] 2002) foregrounds art as a social/culturalencounter.For more than a decade the legacy of relationalaesthetics has continued to take various guises in whatBourriaud defined as artists impulse to take human andsocial relations as the context and content for artproduction and consumption. According to Bourriaud,contemporary art needed to stop hiding behind 1960sphilosophies and strategies and instead engage withemergent Internet cultures and the focus on user co-creation, participation, collaboration and DIY (do-it-yourself). In relational aesthetics the audience is acommunity to be collaborated with to createintersubjective encounters.However for critics such as Clare Bishop (2004),relational aesthetics was more of a curatorial modusoperandi whereby the laboratory experience of thegallery encounter does not openly address theimbalances of power relations that in turn lead tovarious uneven forms of participation. For all its legacyand systemic problems relational aesthetic has identifieda key ongoing tendency in contemporary art thedeployment of the ethnographic. With reflexivity andparticipation being central tenors in relational aesthetics,it is no surprise that the haunting of the ethnographicand arts perpetual appropriation and misappropriationshould come to the forefront. Yet over a decade latersince relational aesthetics has the art world moved ontomore sophisticated understandings of ethnography? Insum, has ethnography moved beyond an aestheticgesture towards an ethical practice in art?Ethnographic probing specifically reflexivity andredefining participation has featured in the movementof the visual arts towards increasingly localised, socialLarissa Hjorth is an artist, digital ethnographer and Professor in the Games Programs, School of Media and Communication, RMIT University. She is co-directorof RMITs Digital Ethnography Research Centre (DERC) with Heather Horst. Since 2000, Hjorth has been researching the gendered and socioculturaldimensions of mobile, social, locative and gaming cultures in the Asia-Pacific. Her books include Mobile Media in the Asia-Pacific (2009), Games andGaming (2010), Online@AsiaPacific: Mobile, Social and Locative in the AsiaPacific region (with Michael Arnold, 2013) and Understanding Digital Media inthe Age of Social Networking (with Sam Hinton, 2013).Kristen Sharp is Coordinator of Art History and Theory in the School of Art, RMIT University. Since 2002, Sharp has been researching and publishing oncontemporary art practices and their relationship to the cultural, political and economic dimensions of globalisation. Following completion of her doctoral thesisin 2007 Superflat Worlds: A Topography of Takashi Murakami and the Cultures of Superflat Art she has co-edited Outer Site: The Intercultural Projects ofRMIT Art in Public Space (2010) and Reimagining the City: Art, Globalization and Urban Space (2013). She has also published in ACCESS journal and has achapter in Cultures and/of Globalization (2011).Visual Studies, 2014Vol. 29, No. 2, 128135, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1472586X.2014.887261 2014 International Visual Sociology AssociationDownloaded by [Monash University Library] at 12:44 07 October 2014 and political encounters. With more artists travellingand participating in residencies elsewhere, art and theethnographic have increasingly become bedfellows. Herethe ethnographic in art should not be mistaken fordocumenting but rather it is a type of method andcriticality. It is about repositioning participation and itsrelationship between maker and the audience, arelationship that has increasingly been challenged withthe rise of the professional amateur (pro-am) and theproducing user (produser). If contemporary mediaculture is characterised by participation andcollaboration, then this challenges art to move beyond amere adoption of Internet terminology (as in the case ofrelational aesthetics). This shifting media scape hasgiven way to the need, if not compulsion, for art toevoke the ethnographic; this is particularly significantgiven the ways in which ethnography has become animportant approach in understanding digital and onlinespaces (Boellstorff et al. 2012). The ethnographic canhelp the artist/curator probe the cultural context,providing a nuanced space for the audience and artist toreflect. But is arts adaptation of the ethnographic abouta criticality and reflexivity or is it a mere aestheticisationof ethnographic? Is it a style or a politics?In this article we map the rise of ethnographicapproaches in contemporary art and the types ofchallenges it presents. The role of a critical reflexivity inart/ethnography as well as the changing practices of art/ethnography in relation to digital mediation isexamined, particularly the changing topography ofunderstanding place in the light of online/offlinerelationships which emphasise symbolic as well asgeographic ideas of place. The analysis of thisintersection is especially valuable in the light of theparticipatory assumptions often made around socialmedia (and earlier, the Internet itself).In order to do so we first explore the entanglementsbetween identity, ethnography and place. In this sectionwe reflect upon how ethnography has shaped, and beenshaped by, phenomenon such as digital media. We thenconsider the specific role ethnography occupies incontemporary art practice. We then move onto two casestudies of art projects that demonstrate different guisesof the ethnographic. We then conclude with furtherquestions.GEO-ETHNOGRAPHIES: THE PLACE OFETHNOGRAPHY TODAYMuch of the debate around whether the deployment ofethnography by the art world is a mere aestheticisationor a tactic can be traced more recently to the identitypolitics so prevalent in the art world in the 1990s. ForLee Weng Choy the 1990s identity politics has taken aslightly different guise in what he calls the ethno-geographic an aesthetic that graces manycontemporary art galleries around the world (2011). Farfrom the rise of globalisation rendering the world into aMcLuhan global village, identity politics has becomeentrenched in the entanglement between geography andethnicity. As Lee notes,identity continues to underpin so much ofhow art is being presented. In terms of biennalecurating, its as if its part of the very grammarand logic of these productions. Geography andethnicity are privileged in biennales, to theextent that one could describe their mode ofknowledge as ethno-geographic. Look at theAsia Pacific Triennial, for instance. In the first,in 1993, Japan was the star, then came China.In the last, North Korea, Cambodia, these werethe new attractions. The last thing I want to dois criticise the APT along these lines. What Iwant is to better understand the ethno-geographic logic of biennale curating, so thatwe might think globalisation more clearly.(2011, 254)What becomes evident in this argument is the need torethink place as not just geographic but its relationshipto multiple forms of presence. Given the emphasis onparticipation and collaboration in both contemporaryart and media practices, ethnography has taken on newimportance as a way in which to grapple with changingnotions of place. In the face of the mobile andintimate turns over a decade ago that are epitomised bythe ubiquity of mobile media, how place is experienced,recorded and articulated has changed dramatically.From the shift of printed maps to online, mobile GlobalPositioning System (GPS) maps, the overlays ofinformation and place as stories so far (Massey 2005)have changed. This has led theorists such as AnneBeaulieu to note that ethnography is no longerconcerned with co-location but rather co-presence(2010).This movement from understanding place as a locationto a space for various forms of presence (co, net, tele,absent, ambient) is essential to both contemporary artand ethnographic practices. Here we need toacknowledge that intimacy and presence have alwaysinvolved forms of mediation if not by memory, thenlanguage and gestures. And it is at the site ofinterrogating multiple modes of presence and theoverlays of place that art ethnographies are mostsuccessful: moving beyond a mere aestheticisation andbecoming an embodied part of creative, social practice.The art of ethnography 129Downloaded by [Monash University Library] at 12:44 07 October 2014 With the rise of technologies in an increasingly mobileworld, place has become progressively more contested.As Rowan Wilken and Gerard Goggin note in MobileTechnologies and Place, place is one of the mostcontested, ambiguous and complex terms today (2012,5). Viewing it as unbounded and relational, Wilken andGoggin observe, place can be understood as all-pervasive in the way that it informs and shapes everydaylived experience including how it is filtered andexperienced via the use of mobile technologies (2012, 6).As social geographer Doreen Massey notes, mapsprovide little understanding into the complexelusiveness of place as a collection of stories-so-far:One way of seeing places is as on the surfaceof maps. . . But to escape from an imaginationof space as surface is to abandon also that viewof place. If space is rather a simultaneity ofstories-so-far, then places are collections ofthose stories, articulations within the widerpower-geometries of space. Their character willbe a product of these intersections within thatwider setting, and of what is made of them. . .And, too, of the non-meetings-up, thedisconnections and the relations notestablished, the exclusions. All this contributesto the specificity of place. (Massey 2005, 130)In this section we suggest that geo-ethnographyprovides a productive way to think about how artshapes, and is shaped by, localities and regions acrossthe world. The ethno locates people at the centre ofgeographic practice, much like Benedict Andersonsimagined communities (1983). Moreover, it evokes thespirit of ethnography as being an important part in theconstruction of place. With the geo added toethnography a new way to think about, and narrate,place is provided. Here we are thinking about place as aconcept that is lived and imagined, geographic as muchas conceptual. Social geographers like Massey oranthropologists/phenomenologists like Tim Ingold(2008) are really useful in sketching the complexnarratives constructing place. As Massey observes, asense of place is more than a physical, geographicexperience (2005). That is, place as a space that not onlyis geographic and physical but also evokes cartographiesof the imaginary, emotional, mnemonic andpsychological. For Ingold, place is a type ofentanglement which is shaped by movement or whatIngold calls a meshwork of moving things (2008).Visual and sensory ethnographer, Sarah Pink, takes thisdevelopment of theories of place a step further inarguing that we are moving from a period of networkedvisual events to emplaced images (2009). In her theoryof multisensoriality, Pink invites us to understandmovement and place-as-event. If we apply this model tothe art world and its role in constructing, and beingconstructed by, place-as-event (a.k.a. post-relationalaesthetics) we can begin to define new ethno-geographies. The oscillation between viewing socialcartographies in art practice as ethno-geographies andgeo-ethnographies reflects the need to centralise thequestion of place in this discussion.By focusing upon geo-ethnographies we can rethinkethnography and art practice now almost three decadeson from Hal Fosters famous essay The Artist asEthnographer (1996) in which he overtly toyed withWalter Benjamins The Author as Producer ([1934]2005). In Fosters essay, his use of ethnography isrelatively fixed to the discipline of anthropology,especially classic anthropology which has been guilty ofreinforcing notions of otherness always at the surface ofart discourses (Clifford and Marcus 1986). In his savagecritique of what he sees as quasi-anthropology in artmovements such as surrealism, he questions therelationship between art and ethnography.Drawing from one example, Foster discusses how aninternational site-specific artist is flown into a context inwhich they must quickly collaborate and engage withthe local community to make the work. In an obviousinstance of what Nikos Papastergiadis calls reflexivehospitality (2012) whereby the artist, despite his or herbest intentions, makes the work often without engagingin what Foster identifies as basic,ethnographic participant-observersrelationships, let alone offering any critique. . .Almost naturally the focus wanders fromcollaborative investigation to ethnographicself-fashioning in which the artist is notdecentred so much as the other is fashioned inartistic guise. (1995, 306)Here Foster calls on ethnography as a way in which theartist can be reflexive to their own assumptions in orderto delve into the muddy waters of collaboration in whichpower, labour and subjectivity come under question.One of the key ongoing factors, of which ethnographersneed to be continuously reflexive, is their role inparticipation. After all, cultures . . . [do] not hold still fortheir portraits (Clifford and Marcus 1986). In theAnnual Review of Anthropology (2010), GabriellaColeman reviewed ethnographic approaches to digitalmedia, dividing this work into three broad andoverlapping categories: (1) research on the relationshipbetween digital media and the cultural politics of media;(2) the vernacular cultures of digital media; and (3) the130 L. Hjorth and K. SharpDownloaded by [Monash University Library] at 12:44 07 October 2014 prosaics of digital media; it is the last point, theemphasis on the commonplace, the unromantic and thequotidian that is probably the most notable aspect ofethnography. In the 1990s relational aesthetics tried toevoke these aspects by emphasising the socioculturaldimensions of art practice but often became little morethan the aforementioned reflexive hospitality. Hence,by re-examining ethnography, and particularlyethnographic approaches, the place of art might be ableto negotiate the politics of everyday as dynamic and yetprosaic.In a recent special issue of Media International Australia,the editors map the history, interdisciplinary formationsand changes of ethnography (Horst, Hjorth, and Tacchi2012). Unlike art, which had its ethnographic turn in the1990s, ethnographic studies of media and consumptionemerged in the late 1980s in the United Kingdom(Morley 1992; Silverstone 1990; Silverstone and Hirsch1992). Ien Angs research into the ethnographic turn inmedia and cultural studies was key in addressing the roleof active, heterogeneous audiences (Ang 1991). In mediasociology, Roger Silverstone (1990) called for a movetowards an anthropology of the television audience, witha methodological approach that views the individual inthe context of everyday life and takes account of thehome, technologies and neighbourhoods as well as publicand private mythologies and rituals (1990, 174). Thisfocus upon the contexts of use signalled a shift away froma previous focus upon typologies of individual users thatoften ignored the situated complexities of everyday life(Morley 1986).For Virginia Nightingale (2012) the development ofmedia ethnography with the cultural or reflexive turnin anthropology led to improved ethnographic practicein media and cultural studies and the expansion ofmedia anthropology. This is also the moment whenanthropology began to focus upon carrying out researchat home in Western and middle-class contexts wheremedia of various forms had become pervasive.Coinciding with the rise of digital and mobile media inwhich the home became increasingly unbounded(Berker et al. 2009), the rise of digital and mediaethnography sought to address this phenomenon(Boellstorff et al. 2012; Horst and Miller 2012). Whilethis digital/online turn marks a shift from co-location toco-presence, the role of participant observation remainscentral to rigorous ethnographic practice.In the light of this shift towards co-presence, how mightethnographic approaches, given the focus on analysingparticipation and reflexivity, help us reimagine artpractice in the twenty-first century? Specifically, howmight the art world utilise ethnographic approaches toreimagine the identity and place as something contested,dynamic and contingent beyond just invoking Fostersquasi-anthropology? For example, how are notions likeparticipation and community revised? In the nextsection we outline how ethnography is beingconceptualised in art today and then move onto a casestudy of two different art projects deployingethnographic methods.BEHIND THE SCENES: AN ETHNOGRAPHICAPPROACH TO ARTIn this article so far we have focused upon ethnographywithin other disciplines such as media, online andcultural studies. As we have noted, the migration ofethnography across disciplines such as anthropology,sociology and digital culture has seen the definition ofethnography as both a method and a theoretical probe,transform. In art, the same can be seen with some of thespecific debates around ethics versus aesthetics notreplicated in other disciplines. Grant Kesters recent workon art collaboration The One and the Many (2011)provides a useful framework for understanding thestructure and reciprocal relations of this type ofcollaborative production. Collaborative methods establishdifferent forms of intersubjective effect, identification andagency (Kester 2011, 68). This subsequently requires newforms of documentation and critique of artwork beyondan analysis of the finished work or the singularparticipatory event in order to capture the social andethical relationships between artists and participants, thestructures of operations and relations of power incollaborative practices. These methods borrow heavilyfrom ethnography and have opened up debates regardingthe weight given to ethical concerns over aestheticjudgements in the evaluation of art (Downey 2009).Kesters exploration of the ethical dimensions ofethnographys role in art has been criticised, most notablyby Claire Bishop (2006a, 2006b; see also Kester 2006), foroveremphasising ethical dimensions of participatorypractices and good intentions over aestheticconsiderations. Whereas Bishop is interested in thepolitical outcomes of participatory practices and the abilityto disrupt and provoke, following from early and latetwentieth-century art practices, in this article our focus isnot to rehash well-known debates but rather to use Kesterscritique as a way to look at how recent socially engaged artpractice has the capacity to offer methods for re-imagingart practice and the borrowing of ethnography beyondbeing an aesthetic playfield (Kester 2004).Moreover, different models of presentation and writingabout collaborative projects to make these processesThe art of ethnography 131Downloaded by [Monash University Library] at 12:44 07 October 2014 explicit and to include them as part of the outcomes ofprojects, including exhibitions, are required (Ashfordet al. 2006). Such methods would utilise a combinationof participatory modes of observation anddocumentation, such as multi-modal forms ofdocumentation including, video, stills and onlinecritically reflective writing during the process. Suchembedded processes need to be cognisant of theimportance of critical reflection around subjectobjectpositions and try to delineate insider/outsiderperspectives. Online social media is a useful format forthis as it enables a range of easily accessible modes ofpresentation and access, and it is very much focussed onbeing present rather than only providing archives orhistoric repositories of information.This requires the adoption of a reflective practice-ledresearch method, which involves the researcher as anactive partner in the collaborative project observing,documenting, reflecting upon and then presenting thesocial nature of creative knowledge production. Thisacknowledges the imaginative and creative elementsinvolved in this form of research. This method,acknowledging a collaborative dynamic betweenresearchers and the subjects of study, has been animportant method in ethnographic research since the1960s (Foley and Valenzuela 2005; Lassiter 2005). In anart context it creates an approach whereby the researcheris embedded with the artists in developing techniques fordocumenting and presenting the process of collaboration.Through the prism of online and mobile media,documentation of the project in process can provideartists and publics with the ability to reflect andparticipate in different ways. But the key issue here is notto render the online as a caricature of the offline. Rather,while it mirrors and amplifies some of the offlinesubjectivities, it is also a co-present place with its ownlocalised geographies and socialities that need to beattended to. There is significant potential here to harnessthe influence of social media in constructing intimateengagements with art and the performativity of thepolitical and engaging with audiences beyond physicallylocative practices of such face to face structures. As wediscuss in the next section through two case studies, thedeployment of ethnographic methods can not only leadto interesting types of collaboration but also easily leadto a mere aestheticisation of the ethnographic.CARTOGRAPHIES OF ART: SPATIAL DIALOGUESAND THE FIFTH AUCKLAND TRIENNIALContemporary global cultures are characterised by a newcartography of human movement transnational travel,migration and evolving networks of community andcommunication. This is particularly the case in the artworld, where artists are increasingly mobile, circulatingand engaging in transnational and transculturalexperiences as a form of global cosmopolitanism(Meskimmon 2010). One of the challenges for art, as aresult of these processes, is how to respond and adapt tothe reconfiguring of identities and practices.As an increasingly visible area of contemporary artpractice (Bishop 2006a; Storer 2009), collaborationprovides an important method for engaging thischanging landscape. It creates opportunities forexperiencing and understanding the key relations andtensions arising in globalisation, particularly those ofindividual identity, knowledge production and culturaldifference. What is significant here is that unlike Fostersconcern with arts potential adoption of the Eurocentricdesire for engaging and representing the other, thecontemporary art environment is one in which artistsengage in transnational projects which allow for aconstant traversing of cultures and identities indicativeof the mobile contemporary and part of an increasinglydigital world. This is something that Miwon Kwonidentified when highlighting the contemporary sense ofbeing out of place and not at home (Kwon 2000, citedin King and Hanru 2013). Or, it can be viewed as whataforementioned Lee called geo-ethnographies.One example of this type of de-essentialised approach toplace and identity emerged in the recent transnationalproject Spatial Dialogues: Public Art and ClimateChange.1 The project explored how contemporary publicand mobile screen-based art can combine to contributeto an international dialogue on the environmental andcultural significance of water ecology in the context ofclimate change. While it physically manifests acrossthree cities in the Asia-Pacific region Melbourne,Shanghai and Tokyo its approach emphasises a de-centred discourse on the environment.For example, rather than just focusing on artists in onelocation, the project works across sites in Melbourne,Shanghai and Tokyo, and through the co-presence ofonline social media, it created audiences who are alsomobile, albeit virtually, across these spaces as well as newaudiences who are interested in art from the region.Rather than considering social and mobile media as justanother site to replicate content from the offlinecomponents, Spatial Dialogues made mobile mediaexperiences built around the experiences of everydayusers.2 The importance here was to utilise existing socialmobile media networks and to view it as a parallelco-present place for creativity and exploration. That is,132 L. Hjorth and K. SharpDownloaded by [Monash University Library] at 12:44 07 October 2014 media as a space for reflexive participation rather thanjust another co-present platform for the same content.In Underground Streams: Shibuya, a Spatial Dialoguesand Boat People Association (BPA) collaborative eventin Tokyo, artists were invited to engage the public indialogue and reflection on the changing urbanscape ofTokyo, specifically the burial of the Shibuya Riverunderground.3 The river has been redirected andchannelled beneath the concrete roadways of Tokyo(Milner 2013). One of the last sections was buried in thelate 1960s. This urban erasure of what was once asignificant conduit for local identity and productivity haschanged the meaning of place and identity. One of theaims of Underground Streams was to generate dialogue,with some aim of sociopolitical transformation, torecognise and acknowledge the way that urbantransformation impacts on human/natureinterrelationships and local ecologies and the changingrole and identity of urban rivers.While artists in Underground Streams produced anumber of different works for the project ranging fromperformance and mobile gaming, to socially collectiveactivities (walks alongside the covered river), communityactivities such as lantern making, and video and sounddocumentation they collectively produced a symbolicdialogue on the meaning of water and river ecologies inurban space which stretched across art and into urbanplanning and social activism. The works were largelyseen as conversations in process, unfolding discussions,opening portals for public discourse online and offline.The public here is not some generalised amorphousmass but rather local residents and passing consumers(the project was based in a park [Jingu-dori Koen] inShibuya one of Tokyos highest density shoppingregions). As with many socially engaged, participatory orrelational artworks the emphasis is not on art as acentralised fixed object but rather as a structure throughwhich dialogue is encouraged. The aim is to uncover andallow for the diverse identities of the river, current andhistorical, to emerge. While there are similarities toearlier practices in activist and community art,particularly that which rose to prominence in the 1970sand 1980s, the type of public engagement facilitatedthrough Spatial Dialogues appears less focused on aspecific political outcome such as a direct form ofurban transformation or community building andmore about allowing for aesthetic as well as socioculturalreflection about the changing environment of the city.Rather than aiming for some essentialised truth toemerge about the identity of the river, what emerged wasa plurality of perspectives from locals reflecting on theirencounters with the river in its past uncovered state, toothers discovering that a river existed in the area at all,to re-imaginings of the space through dance, food,mobile gaming and live performance.4 This type of openstructure encouraged participants artists and others to apply their own cultural lenses to identities of place.Many of the artworks (such as Shibuyagawa Ekimae byDominic Redfern [Hidden River]) were reliant oncommon forms of ethnographic practice videodocumentation, soundscapes, observation andopen-ended interviews to emphasise interpretativenarratives and subjective encounters to re-imagine aplace. A mobile game, keitai mizu, using Twitter andInstagram allowed players to become investigators infinding the underground streams through artwork clues.Through the intertwining of online and offline spacesthe park became a space for play, discovery andcreativity. In this way these projects reinforcePapastergiadiss emphasis on site as a conceptual andgeographic entity for artists: the artist does not simplydwell in a place but collaborates with place (2011, 88).In the case of the Underground Streams project thisinteraction can then exist as site-specific responses andimaginative encounters, online and offline, across spacesand cultures.The rise of biennales, collaborations and transnationalprojects in the region since the 1990s facilitatedthrough cheap travel and technologies ofcommunication are challenging and reformulating themethods and structures used to understand and analyseart. Echoing the counter-artefact and politicalphilosophies of many 1960s art movements (e.g. theSituationist International), contemporary art practicehas continued to focus upon the socially engagedinterventions, which privilege collaboration andparticipation, over conventions of object-based creativepractice. A recent example is The Lab curated by HouHanru as part of the Fifth Auckland Triennial 2013: Ifyou were to live here. . . The Lab was set up as a researchsite within the Triennial. While it existed in aconventional gallery exhibition context, the aim was tocreate a space inside this for an open curatorial structureand model of operation. The emphasis was oninteraction, transformation and being a living entity(King and Hanru 2013).This kind of emphasis on the social space of art is typicalof contemporary art practices that challengeconventional exhibition structures and conventions tobecome creative sites of production more open todiscursive transformations and interactive productions.Art in this context becomes a living process(aucklandtriennial.com) that seeks to tap into localnetworks and voices. However, at the same time,The art of ethnography 133Downloaded by [Monash University Library] at 12:44 07 October 2014 rendering the biennale space into a lab or incubatorcan also be viewed as just a stylistic trend in artproduction whereby the act of being discursive canbecome an aesthetic. Returning to Bishops criticisms ofrelational aesthetics and its deployment of the labwithout examining the uneven power relations involved,one wonders how curator Hanru can move the idea ofthe lab away from such a legacy.For example, while the Transforming Topographiesproject in The Lab was intended as a space ofconversation, which encouraged reflective and openconversations about changing urban topographies, itremained a one-way conversation. In that once again,while the public was invited to participate and theseactions were documented through photography,interviews and video, there was little advancementbeyond the borrowing of conventional anthropologicaldocumentations, nor was there evidence of a space thatfacilitated critical reflection on the process thus itbecame like a closed loop.5 Real urban transformationremained something that could only be documented andbrought back into the gallery to be presented, ratherthan something that was taken beyond the gallery andenacted. Despite the rhetoric expounding change andopenness there seemed a rigidity of process andpresentation borrowing from anthropology that offeredlittle in the way of a reflexive feedback into practice.Some artists did address this issue of openness throughsocial media and online sites which enable greaterreflection on the process of their engagements andpractices; for example, Ou Ning whose BishanCommune project was part of the Triennial. The projectitself exists beyond the space of the Triennial, and theonline blog outlines in far more detail and rigour theactions of the project (a rural reconstruction project inChina).6 These types of online spaces allow for the typeof living dialogue that the still largely static triennial/biennale format is seeking to replicate.In If you were to live here. . . the intention was to revisitthe idea of triennials (and similar types of exhibitionssuch as biennials) as a multidisciplinary and performativeevent to engage global creators with real life where it takesplace.7 An ambitious if somewhat overly broad aimraising questions as to the idea of place and where theact of art or encounters with art take place. The Triennialdid allow for a re-imagining of the place of art in theurban, both geographically and conceptually, and the roleof creativity within local contexts. It allowed art to beconsidered as a living changeable event rather than afixed and unchanging object, and the gallery to be seen assomething that is part of a networked rather than aclosed-off, rarefied space in which the other (in this casereal life) is represented. Here art became a lens throughand in which the city is re-imagined. However, becausethe place and context of art remained in conventional artinstitutions and galleries and thus did not push theencounters into uncomfortable terrain, it became anaestheticisation of ethnographic ethics. Thus, arts abilityto facilitate a deeper and more critical reflection on theethno-geographic and on its own methodologies ofpractices remains an exception rather than the rule whenit comes to current practice.CONCLUSION: PLACING ART IN ETHNOGRAPHYLike the ethical issues facing socially engaged practicesof art, one of the key challenges in using ethnographicresearch is understanding how place and presence canbe entangled and overlaid in different ways across theonline and offline, here and there, now and then.Returning to Boellstorff et al.s (2012) observation,whether online or offline negotiating co-location orco-presence, the role of participant observation iscentral to rigorous ethnographic practice. There is aneed for more rigorous understandings anddeployments of ethnography as a method in the arts mere procedural documentation (e.g. photographs) donot equate to ethnography. This situation is particularlyprevalent within the arts with the rise of socially engagedprojects that tend to be merely stylistic or aesthetic,rather than critically and reflexively engaged.In this article we have reflected upon some of the manychanges in the relationship between art and ethnography.We have traced how ethnography has become amultivalent set of methods and conceptual frameworksacross the disciplines. We have then turned toethnographies current formation in the arts throughdebates around Kesters work. We then moved to two casestudies that deployed various forms of the ethnographic asboth an aesthetic/style and an ethic to flesh out some of themany issues at stake. Hopefully we have shifted thediscussion away from Fosters damning critique andprovided a space in which the haunting manifestation ofthe ethnographic in contemporary art can be reflectedupon. Far from definitive, we have suggested thatethnography can provide contemporary transnational artcollaborations with greater insight and rigour.NOTES[1] Spatial Dialogues: Public Art and Climate Change is a 3-year (20102013) Australian Research Council LinkageProject based at RMIT University with industry partnersGrocon and Fairfax Media.134 L. Hjorth and K. SharpDownloaded by [Monash University Library] at 12:44 07 October 2014 [2] For example, see Tokyo mobile geocaching game, keitaimizu, using Twitter and Instagram to get players toexplore the invisible rivers running under Tokyo. Seehttp://spatialdialogues.net/tokyo/keitaimizu/[3] The BPA comprises architects, urban planners and artists(http://boatpeopleassociation.org). 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New York: Routledge.The art of ethnography 135Downloaded by [Monash University Library] at 12:44 07 October 2014 http://spatialdialogues.net/tokyo/keitaimizu/http://boatpeopleassociation.orghttp://spatialdialogues.net/tokyo/shibuya/http://www.facebook.com/TransformingTopographieshttp://www.alternativearchive.com/ouninghttp://www.aucklandtriennial.com/about/themehttp://www.aucklandtriennial.comhttp://www.greenmuseum.org/generic_content.php?ct_id=208http://www.greenmuseum.org/generic_content.php?ct_id=208http://pingmag.jp/2013/06/10/shibuya-underground-streams/http://pingmag.jp/2013/06/10/shibuya-underground-streams/AbstractINTRODUCTIONGEO-ETHNOGRAPHIES: THE PLACE OF ETHNOGRAPHY TODAYBEHIND THE SCENES: AN ETHNOGRAPHIC APPROACH TO ARTCARTOGRAPHIES OF ART: SPATIAL DIALOGUES AND THE FIFTH AUCKLAND TRIENNIALCONCLUSION: PLACING ART IN ETHNOGRAPHYNotesREFERENCES