Venture through Porter College, trek up a set of stairs to the second floor of the Porter Faculty Gallery and wander into the Sesnon Gallery, where the door sits open. There, you might lay your eyes on a 1,900-year-old cow bone resting in a glass case or an old Michael Jordan jersey adorning the wall.
Both these pieces make up part of the Emerging Worlds exhibition, put on by UC Santa Cruz’s anthropology department from April 3 to May 5.
The exhibition features a single item from each participating faculty member’s research, along with a 200-word explanation of how it documents and illustrates the way societies and cultures come into existence — the anthropology department’s theme.
“ We see the objects as creating cultural, political and material ways of being around them,” said Anna Tsing, a UCSC anthropology professor. “ So we see [the objects] as helping to co-construct these social environments that we’re a part of.”
Tsing proposed the idea for the exhibition after attending a conference last September in Copenhagen hosted by Waterworld, a group of anthropologists studying climate change through human relationships with water around the world. The conference’s experimental presentation of objects to help people understand the group’s work inspired Tsing to do the same for the anthropology department back at UCSC.
With concrete objects and simple explanations, the exhibition is intended to make the field comprehensible to a wider audience.
“ The public at large finds anthropology very hard to understand. The results of our work are rarely made accessible,” Tsing said. “ One of the things we’re hoping this exhibit does is show off the kinds of work anthropologists do that might be relevant to people’s lives. We’re hoping it brings life to the new kind of anthropology that’s animating UCSC.”
Tsing communicated her work through a discarded cigarette pack from Cambodia that she found during her research on Cambodian refugees’ Matsutake mushroom hunting in the Pacific Northwest. In the exhibition, the pack lies on a bed of twigs and dirt as she first found it in an Oregon forest. It is a snapshot of Cambodian refugee mushroom hunting and captures the “ extensive transnational networks of politics, travel and trade, made by the refugees,” according to the plaque on the exhibit.
It is this type of documentation that department chair and professor Danilyn Rutherford said provides a better grasp of what anthropologists at the university are doing.
“ This was a great moment for us to think about ‘who are we’ and ‘what are we doing right now,’” Rutherford said, “ and ‘can we actually get to know each other’s work and pull together on something?’”
A central aspect of the exhibition was its collaborative element. With current budgetary restrictions in mind, Rutherford and Tsing shied away from expensive conferences and outside scholars to put on the exhibition and instead relied solely upon faculty members within the university, as well as graduate and undergraduate students.
Grace Kistler-Fair, a fourth-year anthropology and history of visual arts and cultures double major, was one of the undergraduate students heavily involved in the process of installing the exhibition.
“ We met every week at least in several-hour meetings and talked about everything from small details to the overall general theme and mission,” Kistler-Fair said. “ It was great getting to know these professors on a personal level because we were meeting with them all the time and working closely with them.”
Students worked closely with faculty members during the installation of the exhibition.
“ These sorts of collaborations, where people from all different kinds of backgrounds are working together,” Rutherford said, “ is something to cherish.