The Power of Things in Cultural Processes
8 March 2011
Things like artworks or luxury objects play a central role across cultural boundaries. This “migration” alters their meaning and they sometimes become even more influential by evolving into concepts and beliefs. This is the conclusion arrived at by Heidelberg art historian Prof. Dr. Lieselotte E. Saurma in a new publication on the power of things in cultural processes edited by Prof. Saurma and Anja Eisenbeiß. The English-language publication “The Power of Things and the Flow of Cultural Transformations” assembles ten articles derived from an eponymous series of lectures given at Heidelberg University’s Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context”.
“Cultures are ‘colonised’ by originally foreign objects until they become so familiar that we no longer perceive them as foreign but as ingredients of our own culture,” Prof. Saurma explains. “In this way, material artefacts migrate from one culture to another, convey ideas, become integrated and change their meanings in new cultural contexts. The paradoxical thing is, the more de-materialised an object becomes, the greater is its power.” For example, Japanese gardens were laid out on the occasion of almost every world exhibition in the 19th and 20th centuries. At some point, the idea or sometimes even just the label triggered specific, stereotypic notions that had little in common with the original idea behind a Japanese garden. Prof. Toshio Watanabe (University of the Arts, London) points this out in his contribution.
How intensively technologies, manual skills and foreign images were studied is investigated by Prof. David J. Roxburgh of Harvard University with reference to the report of a Timurid envoy and artist on his journey to the Chinese court. The drawings of Chinese artefacts by Persian painters are of such outstandingly empathic quality, right down to details in the brushwork, that they were long regarded as Chinese. Other articles in the volume inquire how oriental silk influenced weaving in Italy and what notions the English gained of the expectations of their Asian trading partners from the freight lists of the English East India Company. One article also enlarges on the way in which print-graphic illustrations of India affected the image of this remote sub-continent in early modern-age Europe.
Lieselotte E. Saurma-Jeltsch, Anja Eisenbeiß (eds.): The Power of Things and the Flow of Cultural Transformations: Art and Culture between Europe and Asia. Deutscher Kunstverlag, Berlin / Munich 2010
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