Octave Debary | Forscher FellowFormer Member
Octave Debary is an anthropologist, professor at the University of Paris (Paris Descartes, France), member of the CANTHEL laboratory (University of Paris Descartes). He is also associated professor at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland (anthropology of museum and art). His research and publications concern the following fields: the anthropology of objects and museography as well as the anthropology of heritage and memory. His main field of research is a project of comparative anthropology focusing on memory. It consists in the analysis of the operations surrounding the circulation of objects in cultural spaces (museums, memorials), trading spaces (second-hand shops, yard sales) and public spaces (malls, parks). He has published several books on these subjects: Vide-greniers with Howard S. Becker (Créaphis, 2011). Montrer les violences extrêmes. Expositions, musées, with Annette Becker (eds), (Créaphis, 2012). Voyage au Musée du quai Branly, with Mélanie Roustan, prefaced by James Clifford (La Documentation française, 2012). Que faire des restes? Le réemploi dans les sociétés d’accumulation(collectif), Presses Universitaires de Sciences Politiques (2017) and Resemblance in the Work of Jochen Gerz, (2017).
My research seeks to question, from an anthropological perspective, those memorials and artistic practices revolving around audience participation. Many contemporary memorials are founded upon visitors’ engagement with a given space or work. Breaking with the conventional concept of the memorial or commemorative exhibition — whereby people are taught how to make sense of the past — these set-ups allow visitors to experience the past in the present through their engagement with the work.
My research seeks to question, from an anthropological perspective, those memorials and artistic practices revolving around audience participation. Many contemporary memorials are founded upon visitors’ engagement with a given space or work. Breaking with the conventional concept of the memorial or commemorative exhibition — whereby people are taught how to make sense of the past — these set-ups allow visitors to experience the past in the present through their engagement with the work. Deriving my analyses from fieldwork, I will consider several contemporary memorials of this type, in particular Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe(Peter Eisenman, 2005) and the Monument Against Fascismin Harburg (Jochen Gerz, 1986-1993)…
Eisenman’s Memorialprovides us with a journey, in the very heart of Berlin, through a field of concrete slabs. Navigating one’s way through them is easy enough, at first. Some people even choose to take a break and lie down on them; others use these concrete blocks as picnic tables. The space between two slabs can only accomodate one person at a time, however, and the field begins to slope down, as you progress through it, until the horizon is obscured by the slabs which, by this stage, have grown into fully-fledged pillars. The city disappears from view. You can hear people calling out, having lost sight of those they came with. Visitors get lost and start looking for the exit. Some end up back in the city; others find the entrance to Dagmar Von Wilcken’s underground exhibition on the extermination of Jews in Europe.
Such monuments go to the heart of debates over the respective positions of the artist (as well as his/her work) and spectator. The “audience” participation requirement is as much an acknowledgement of the deficit of the author-artist or museum/memorial as an appeal to spectators, called upon to go beyond the passive, minor role that culture usually allows them to play. It also aims to reverse history’s traditional hierarchy, in which memory is subservient to the past. In all the examples I deal with, the work of memory takes place here (through the experience of a given space) and now (the duration of that experience). The goal, here — in opposition to a form of memory resolutely oriented towards a painful, unreachable past — is to turn our approach to time on its head, taking the present as the starting point for the spectator’s engagement with the patrimonial experience and history. Participation becomes the very condition of the work’s realisation, introducing the spectator as author — and no longer simply witness — of his/her story.
This research project is a continuation of the studies I have undertaken for several years into the policies of remembrance and forgetting. Through fieldwork, I attempt to analyse what is at stake in the processes of memorialisation of history — its transformation into heritage — in museums (Debary, 2012), memorials (Becker & Debary, 2012) or art (Debary, 2017).
Hidden by the surface. Works about marine debris,Swaantje Güntzel (Œuvres et éd.), Octave Debary (Text in English, Dutch, French), Druck, Bonn, Germany, 2017, 98 p.
Anthropologia dos restos. Da lixeira ao museu,Prefaced by Philippe Descola, introduction et translation by LeticiaMazzucchi Ferreira, Pelotas, Brazil, Um2 editions, 2017, 136p.
La ressemblance dans l’œuvre de Jochen Gerz/Resemblance in the Work of Jochen Gerz,(ouvrage français-anglais), Paris, Créaphis, 2017, 224p.
Que faire des restes ? Le réemploi dans les sociétés d’accumulation,with Natalie Benelli and al., Paris, Presses universitaires de Sciences Politiques, (Forthcoming, March 2017), 60p.
Voyage au Musée du quai Branly, with Mélanie Roustan, Prefaced by James Clifford, Paris, La Documentation Française, 2012, 80p.
Montrer les violences extrêmes. Théoriser, créer, historiciser, muséographier,with Annette Becker (eds.), Paris, 2012, Créaphis, 350p.
Vide-greniers,with Howard S. Becker and Philippe Gabel, Paris, Créaphis, 2011, 104p.
Objets & Mémoires, with Laurier Turgeon (eds), Paris, Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (Paris) & Presses de l’Université Laval (Québec), 2007, 250p.
La fin du Creusot, Paris, Editions du Comité des Travaux Historiques et Scientifiques, French Ministry of Research, 2002, 189p.
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