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Granny's Bones

Jun 23, 2019

Performance, Installation, Photographs and VR Film

Received the Mansfield-Ruddock Prize

In the private collection of Mansfield College, Oxford

"Anya Gleizer’s piece, Granny’s Bones, combines monumental sculpture, virtual reality and doctored photography, referencing a trip to Siberia, and her costumed performances at the Ruskin School of Art and Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. The jury felt the many elements to Gleizer’s work – performance, sculpture, VR, photography, and costume – were tied together by a strong narrative, exploring cultural identity, both personal and historical." - ArtDaily

Granny’s Bones, comprises an installation, a diptych-film in VR, a series of altered photographs and an accompanying performance.

The piece is inspired by the peculiar story of Maria Czaplicka, a female Oxford anthropologist who embarked on an expedition up the Yenisei River of central Siberia to study the Evenki people in 1914. Czaplicka returned with much of the museum’s current collections of material culture from native Siberia and with one of the earliest comprehensive accounts of Siberian shamanism. Her visits incurred a disturbance in the places she passed. She desecrated the graves of her hosts’ grandparents in order to retrieve artifacts and human bones for the museum. Upon her return to England, Maria Czaplicka took her own life.

In 2019, I followed Maria Czaplicka’s tracks up the Yenisei River of central Siberia to a contemporary Evenkia. I found an unfinished conversation of two cultures facing each other: daguerreotypes, letters, lantern slides, grant proposals, maps, post cards, travel cheques, lecture notes, receipts. Although Czaplicka was registered as buried in three different English cities, all the cemeteries denied having her on account of her suicide. Combing through the graves I found her ruined tomb and began to conceive of a fictive universe in which a little wolf haunted the disturbed graves of two grandmothers who could not find their peace.

My investigations of Czaplicka’s altered daguerrotypes, the two VR films (each 15min, which reflect two views of the same meeting point, shot from two perspectives), the “pods” which the viewer has to enter to see them and the performance of the little wolf, all use fiction to underscore the absurdist methods of early-20th-century anthropology and the reality of its contemporary consequences. Sometimes humorous, sometimes sinister, the methods employed by Czaplicka in the name of “Science” expose the inherent creativity of the anthropologist. In positioning anthropology as a subjective practice in world-making, we begin to see the true nature of the interaction that took place between native Evenki and western scholar — not as an objective observation of object by subject, but as a dance leaping from conflict to reconciliation.


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