Christian Heath- Anthropology of the Object

Notes made during Christian Heaths’ lecture:

  • the use of objects and how people use relatively simple objects everyday
  • lift up the object (not physically) to see the complexity behind the object and its use
  • treat the mundane as highly complex- use it to discover new things about humanity
  • get a feel for the intelligence required to use certain objects (seems a bit racist/ableist to me)
  • using anthropology and sociology to inform the design of certain objects and interfaces
  • ethnography used to analyse people
  • Field methods:
    – detailed and systematic observation of use- situations, activities and interaction
    – drawings, photos, videos, diagrams, notes
    – discussions and interviews- not necessarily the best way to find out how people use things
    – materials documents, manuals
  • Principles:
    – immerse yourself in how the participants use and view the objects, disregard your own ideas
    – analysing situations and activities
  • tacit knowledge- things you know how to do, but can’t explain- i.e. talking
  • invisible skills
  • familiarity conceals the complexities of use
  • render the familiar world strange- investigate these familiar things as if they are new to you
  • field studies and systematic observation of use of objects to accomplish a task
  • how use is shaped with regard to the activity and situation
  • discovering the differences in use between different people
  • anticipation of the use of an object
  • how long do people interact with the object (s)? What is their experience of using the object (s)?
  • he mentioned a gender project at a museum that seemed really iffy – it didn’t take into account trans and non binary people
  • how can you take the information you collect, then organise it and use it?
  • consider the structure of the activity and space and how this will affect the interaction, and as such your observations
  • if your research is detailed and systematic it should focus on a few or one small thing- this allows for stronger, more powerful research
  • how can simple objects provide the most impact?
  • interplay between elements of the physical environment
  • interaction and collaboration- natural v.s. forced
  • hands as primary tools
  • economy of action, adjustments to make objects faster/easier to use
  •  we devalue human action and try to replace it with robotic/computerised tech, when actually if humans do it better we should probably leave it be

I tried to ask Heath about implicit bias and the racist roots of anthropology, and if he was aware of/ tackling implicit biases within himself and his research teams and he brushed me off, which was highly disappointing and frankly, annoying. If these scientists and researchers are allowed to study people and their behaviours as they interact with the world around them I feel they should properly tackle implicit biases within themselves regularly to make sure that they do not unfairly stereotype or make false assumptions. What do I mean by implicit bias? 
“Implicit bias… comprises those views and opinions that we may not be aware of. They are evaluations that are automatically triggered when we encounter different people or situations, and commonly function without a person’s full awareness or control”
Taken from this site
Having researchers making judgements on people’s behaviours is highly unethical if they aren’t challenging their unconscious views, because their research could be influenced by them and contain unfair biases towards certain people.

However in terms of my project this talk was very interesting- as I want to explore the object (in this case my bones and the casts of them) and how materials and colours affect the viewers perceptions of them. Of course the key problems I face are:

  • how do I get the audience to actually pick up and interact with the objects? Due to the gallery/museum space culture of not being able to touch the art, at the interim show most people wouldn’t pick up my objects until I went over and encouraged them to
  • How do I record how people interacting with my objects without it changing the way they naturally interact with my work? In the lecture he talked about how asking people how they interact with objects isn’t the most accurate way to find out how they actually interact with them, so I need to come up with a way to observe the space and track how the audience interacts in a way that doesn’t infringe their privacy or affect their interactions

I need to consider both of these further, and it would be a good idea if I can do some practical tests- i.e. smaller pop up exhibitions at uni- I could try and book a small room out to set up my work and invite other courses or staff to come see my work, and find a way to record what happens. This will obviously still have some biases though- people at art school are more likely to act the way I want them to (.i.e interacting with the objects more readily) than people who aren’t at art school, but I still think it could be a good start for my research.

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