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|A Tree Grafted into Another, 2008|
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Leung Chi Wo
Raul Ortega Ayala
WITH (with you.co.uk)
Raul Ortega Ayala's art focuses on varied habitual themes which he explores through a detailed and absorptive process. Once this process of direct exploration is over, he uses the materials and experiences that he encounters to produce a group of works which the artist calls souvenirs.
The artist's methodology mirrors to a large extent, the work of an ethnographer and the participant observation model of enquiry that is the fundamental research method of social and cultural anthropology. Ethnography as a method seeks to answer central anthropological questions concerning the ways of life of living human beings, the links between society, culture and behavior and how these processes develop over time.
Much like an ethnographer Ortega Ayala produced and assembled large amounts of material including field notes, photographs and artifacts. Spending time reflecting upon and interpreting the material the artist ultimately produced what he calls a reaction to this world. Much like an ethnographer he deals with the issue of the fair representation of his subjects. Similarly he contextualizes the world he examines by stressing what matters to ordinary people in the everyday and the mundane over the extraordinary and the fabulous.
In relation to the difference between the two disciplines of art and anthropology, Susan Hiller has written: By definition art is an anthropological practice and anthropology is by definition an art and the role of the artist is to unveil codes not yet articulated within a culture to manifest a collective belief not yet revealed to look for new forms known but not yet understood (1996: 214). Indeed the work of Ortega Ayala can be read within the context of the so‐called ethnographic turn in contemporary art. The boundaries between art and anthropology have always been blurred; artists, like anthropologists have throughout arts history been interested with cultural representation of otherness. However, these associations have become stronger in recent years since a number of contemporary artists have adopted an anthropological gaze, and sometimes methodologies, such as fieldwork methods in their appropriation of other cultures.
While many artists have experimented with anthropological notions and methodologies, the work of Ortega Ayala strikes one as being unique in its commitment to rigorous and lengthy fieldwork. Within his practice he celebrates representing the other in a strict anthropological sense: being part of a particular world and living that particular life, with the ability to detach and interpret its complexity.
His contribution to anthropology is the ability to transmit a certain kind of knowledge that can only be perceived by visual means. Throughout his practice he establishes a visual and physical link between the concepts raised and the audience thereby achieving a result that would not be possible using written language.
Adapted from a text by Valentina Buonumori: Department of Visual Anthropology, Goldsmithís College, University of London, UK, 2009
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