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An Ethnographic Inventory

Learning to get together. An ethnographic account of the CLEENIK

The CLEENIK is the outcome of collaborations with a Spanish cultural collective called Colaborabora. We invited them to help us organize a workshop dedicated to our sustained reflection about forms of ethnographic experimentation in the field in 2015. Under the name of ‘Investigations to the limit: A curatorship of experimental collaborations’ we gathered half a dozen young scholars from different disciplines (singularly, none of them was anthropologist) attended the event. They were working beyond the boundaries of their own disciplines and methods: an architect doing a ethnography of The Barley Field (the urban void we have mentioned before), an art historian doing an ethnographic inspired research of visual representations in Equatorial Guinea… Bringing ethnographic methods and diverse theoretical traditions to their own disciplines, they acknowledged their methodological anxieties and disciplinary troubles during a series of presentations that certainly echoed the title of the meeting.

We were making an explicit invocation in the title to the fertile exchanges between art and social sciences since the venue for our meeting was indeed the cultural institution Intermediae, an art centre (connected to Medialab-Prado) devote to experiment with visual aesthetics and participatory art[1]. Our curatorial gesture (and the reference to the cures a curator may provide) had nevertheless a second reading key for our goal: we were pointing to those forms of investigations that are in precarious conditions for crossing conventional disciplinary boundaries, peripheral investigations located beyond the orthodoxy and were in need of care.

Colaborabora followed the line of the argument and proposed a format that took seriously the care invoked in the workshop: They organized a clinic for those needed researchers. Klinika, as they called it, was “an accompaniment service for the diagnosis and shared care aimed at developing healthy collaborative research projects. It is especially appropriate for experimental projects that leaving the orthodoxy and transgressing the canons provoke in researchers tensions, anxieties, dizziness, and great doses of vulnerability and uncertainty”. As in previous occasions, they offer us a rigid methodological proposal organized around a file card that imitated a medical report. The file invited participants to provide a diagnosis of symptoms and propose an appropriate treatment for the needed investigations.

The careful gesture of the workshop was extended to the documentation practice produced by an artist and researcher (and common friend) that we invited, Carla Boserman. She had been exploring in previous years forms of graphic documentation called relatogramas: “non-linear narratives that invoke a granulated and more peripheral gaze, a kind of graphic report, a device for listening, affection, and action”. She embodied with her work another instantiation of the diverse experiments with languages, aesthetics and formats for documentation that we have found during our fieldwork.