24 April 2007, 6:00 PM; Refreshments 5.45 pm,
The Elliot Room, MINTO HOUSE & THE MALTINGS
20 CHAMBERS STREET. EDINBURGH EH1 1JZ
The University of Edinburgh, School of Arts, Culture, and Environment
In this paper I interrogate the connection between two black and white photographs from 1956 that show
Giuseppe Pinot Gallizio – an experimental painter, and mayor of Alba, Italy – posing with zingari, and the
Dutch architect Constant Nieuwenhuys’s visit to a zingari encampment (in Alba) the same year.1 From a
postcolonial point of critique, I treat these two photographs as problematic ethnographic encounters between a
Western architect (Constant) and a non-Western ‘other’ (zingari). I describe each photograph – and the
interaction each documents – as a scene of colonial, hegemonic and appropriative action.
By isolating the ‘primitivist’ (Torgovnick 1990) content present in the photographs, I contemplate evidence of
cultural seizure, domination and exploitation against current research that benignly scripts Constant in the
(academically) hermetic language of radicalism and avant-gardism – especially the legacy, tactics and vocabulary
of the Internationale Situationniste (van Schaik & Mácel 2005, McDonough 2002, Borden & McCreery 2001, DeZegher
& Wigley 2001, Eaton 2001, Heynen 1999, Wigley 1998).
I position Constant as an ethnographer, and strategically apply (displace) select anthropological terminology in my provocation of his work – questioning the ethics of his ‘fieldwork’ and ‘participant observation’, or the nature of his ‘insider/outsider’ status in relation to his ‘subjects’. Recent criticisms of the early anthropological canon frame my argument: does Constant, like Bronislaw Malinowski in the Trobriand Islands, believe he successfully reproduces “the native point of view” (1929: 237)? Or, as Margaret Mead in Samoa (1928), does Constant structure the zingari in terms of ‘non-Western simplicity’ and then deploy their ‘primitive authenticity’ vis-à-vis ‘the more complex West’? In transferring questions raised by academic anthropology to art history, I ask us to reconsider Constant’s architectural production with regard to cultural difference, and to think much more critically of mid-twentieth century avant-garde movements around terms like agency, ownership and repatriation.
1 Zingari – Italian, plural form of zingaro or (fem.) zingara, an Italian Gypsy [C16: ultimately from Greek Athinganoi name of an oriental people]. While problematic, the assignation zingari is useful for my argument, specifically with regard to notions of ‘otherness’. Compare to the etymology of the English term ‘Gypsy’ or ‘Gipsy’ [C16: from Egyptian, since they were thought to have come originally from Egypt], Collins English Dictionary (London & Glasgow: Collins, 1982).