Art + Anth (a multidisciplinary conversation) Pt. 1

A dialogue between Rob and Anatol on multiple lives and multiple disciplines.

singled-channel excerpt from The Sokhumi Elegies, Robert McDougall, 2017

R: Both of us have backgrounds in Fine Art, which includes academic study of art history and theory, and anthropology. How and why did you decide each of these?

A: Well I grew up in a family in which art very important. My mum, brother and sister are artists. I actually got into art history through reading John Berger, who’s still one of my heroes (which reminds me that I haven’t read him in a while). Berger is also quite anthropological too, now that I think about it. Anthropology, as I mention in my bio, was kind of accidental. I had no plans to study anth originally but my girlfriend at the time was studying a 1st year anth unit on the history of capitalism and globalisation (this was at UWA in Perth) that I ended up transferring into.

You went to art school first right? Do you see your art practice and your studies/research as separate or that they dovetail one another?

R: Yes, I did an undergrad in Fine Art and then an Honours year, took a couple years doing residencies and exhibitions and then started with anthropology – my work was becoming increasingly anthropological in nature. The Sokhumi Elegies (2017) was a large-scale work I made in Georgia and the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia, about the War in 1992-1993. It was made up of collaborations with my friends, and my partner at the time also – all refugees from the War. I did what amounted to a year of solid fieldwork, in the Caucasus and beyond. I started to think about anthropology as a personal discipline I could commit to around that time – although there’d been a buildup to it for many years.

Actually I would consider myself foremost an artist, and artist-as-researcher, and anthropology is an aspect of that. Then again I plan on an academic career in anthropology, incorporating insights from art, culture and aesthetics. Then again, I consider myself foremost a philosopher (but in the medieval Alchemical sense, not in terms of the academic discipline), and as such my artistic and musical work, and the anthropological work I am now doing, is all an aspect of that. Hopefully that pretentious idea is applicable to academic tenure…

Sergei Paradjanov, the Armenian-Georgian Tbiliseli filmmaker, once said in an interview his greatest inspiration as an artist was ‘love, God and ethnography’, I would say at some point I started feeling the same. But interestingly now with this anthropological study the involvement of aesthetics is limited, such that I feel in unfamiliar terrain.

What about you? Why do you think they assist each other, and do you think anthropologists should know about art theory, do you think artists should know about anthropology? Berger was and is a great place to start!

A: That’s actually a difficult question. Firstly everything I do is informed by studying anthropology, it really has changed my orientation to the world. But on a literal level I think my artworks are informed so many of my interests (my current works I’m making are very ‘archaeological’), and more often than not trying to connect a wide variety of material/data I’ve come across, as well as my previous studies.

For example I did a series a few years ago that created stark landscapes by close-up photographing drawings I made on Japanese paper, using paint and white charcoal (see image below). They are about the relationship between drawing and photography but the technologies of vision of landscape documentary photography and how you can construct images through the process of documentation. Yet the title of the series (and accompanying video) is Enfoldment, which came from my interest in David Bohm’s theories of quantum physics in the 1970s, in which he theorised space-time as inherently deeply connected holographically to itself.  

TanDEM-X, inkjet print, Anatol Pitt, 2016

As far as if anthropologists should know art theory, I don’t know, but I definitely think that everyone should be more practiced in relating to artworks? I think art, at its best, can open you up to such a wide range of sensory experiences as well as many different ways of thinking about such a wide range of ideas. That’s a very clunky phrasing… I suppose I’m saying that the degree of freedom in art is good?

I love art because, on some level, it always exceeds language and interpretation. But maybe that’s just my excuse for not liking to talk about my own artwork ha.

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