Current Research Projects
At the intersection of object biography and the history of political collecting and colonizing my new book analyses claims for postcolonial justice through the repatriation case of Montezuma’s Crown / Penacho, the oldest surviving feather headdress, today among the most contested museum claims between Europe and the Americas. The book uses fictocritical perspectives, conservation science and political history, arguing that the Penacho deflected Austrian guilt for having served the Nazis. Ultimately the voices gathered through literary, historical, and anthropological research reflect the global relationships between parties with conflicting desires for Austria’s colonial past in Mexico.
I have support from the Humboldt Foundation to do my research on Visual and Verbal Taxonomy from Colonial Object Collections, which I am using for this, my second monograph, related conferences and exhibitions. With my expertise I’m able to demonstrate the political importance of material culture by using objects to revisit the much-contested colonial period, in which the colonial nations as a cultural and legal-political system were brought into being. I have grappled with anachronism in different contexts to show how each act of naming an object is not neutral but subsumes the thing within a schema that itself is only decipherable if historical paradigms of understanding are first applied. Eugenia Fratzeskou wrote in Leonardo (MIT, Vol. 42, No.1) that my essay Curating Curiosity: Wonder’s Colonial Phenomenology is the one in the collection she reviews that “offers particularly revealing in-depth investigations of the strategies of the display and experience of art as part of the post-modern construction of discontinuous historical realities”.
The Importance of Being Anachronistic
I am editing a special issue of the art history journal Discipline, in conjunction with an exhibition I curated by Tasmanian Aboriginal artist Julie Gough, the most recent in a series of exhibitions, workshops and large-scale screenings I have made on Downing Street and in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Cambridge (MAA) UK. How does Aboriginal art negotiate its relegation to ethnographic museums in order to shape its own contemporaneity? Each of the papers unfold around different disciplinary approaches to Australian art history and theories of contemporaneity in Indigenous art practise. This is a review of the significance of the terms set out by recent theoretical discourses about anachronism (Thomas, Didi-Hubermann, Nagel and Wood). I argue what is most radical for about artists’ interventions in museums and archives is the anachronic strategy of taking the old and rendering it in contemporary terms. Anachronism is then no longer the failure of the historian to transport themselves into the terms of the past and ventriloquize from there. Gough’s work shows instead how effective a strategy for decolonization it is to represent colonial artifacts in terms that unsettle the settler discourses about Australian history.
The miniature world of Economic Botany in Kew Gardens, its elaborate greenhouses and follies, is the site and material of this botanical drift. It is an exhibition in a book that addresses recent advances in plant molecular biology, cellular biology, electrophysiology and ecology that have unmasked plants as sensory and communicative organisms, characterized by active, problem-solving behaviour. To better grasp how plants interact with their environment and to understand these organisms from different perspectives, a group including Petra Lange-Berndt, Bergit Ahrens, Emma Howes, Wietske Maas, Mark Nesbitt, Caroline Cornish, Kath Castillo, Melanie Jackson, Connie Butler, and Matteo Pasquinelli will carry out interventions into the Kew Garden systems. This series of responses is enacted directly in the living archives at Kew, including the Marianne North, Economic Botany, and colonial plant collections.
Botanical gardens, documented collections of living plants for the purposes of scientific research, conservation, display, and education, are well-tended areas infamous for their connection to European imperialism and its expansionist projects. The group’s art-research will theorize the gendering of the botanical garden, the ephemeral and chaotic in ’nature‘, and the much-debated amateur scientist model for contemporary artists. Understanding ourselves as within the Anthropocene’s age of transgenic modification we interrogate how Kew distracts from climate change with its illusion of stability. Economic histories of globalization will be unfurled through plant protagonists such as ferns, trees, sea coconuts, other rebel species, and their vegetable philosophies.
Art in the Time of Colony
The monograph based on my Harvard University PhD has been published with a highly regarded international publisher of art historical scholarship, Ashgate Press. It is included in the prestigious series Empires and the Making of the Modern World, 1650-2000, which is edited by leaders in the field Philippa Levine of the University of Southern California, USA and John Marriott of the University of East London. Endorsed by Homi Bhabha, who writes, ‚This accomplished and inventive book puts the cultural practices of Aboriginal peoples in conversation with some of the most challenging forms of contemporary critical theory. Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll initiates a rhetoric of reading that transforms traditional accounts of the relationship of the arts of perception to strategies of power. Her „anachronic method“ creates a scholarly world in which temporal distances and differences collaborate in the making of contemporary art. Her achievement is both substantial and remarkably subtle.‘
Richard Drayton, the leading World History professor at Kings College London will launch the book at the Menzies Center for Australian studies on June 11, 2014.