About Exogenesis

Exogenesis: boundary-objects in European art since 1500. 

At the crossroads of interconnected history, of cultural transfers and of material culture, the scheme Exogenesis proposes to establish the concept of “boundary objects” as objects born to exogenesis, that is to say, the contact with materials, techniques, shapes, skills, or items coming from the antipodes. Since the 16th century, from which era the cognizance of four separate continents has been entrenched, such objects have also been made to perpetuate the link binding Us to the Others (Todorov T., 1989). If the focus on the history of objects is commonplace in the historiography of art, the approach using the most recent anthropological methods relative to objects, conceived as concentrators of meaning, and applying those methods to the study of Europe understood as a meeting ground, is relatively novel. Indeed, using this approach, the focus on “boundary objects” will translate into the analysis of metabolic phenomena. More precisely, studying the usage of “boundary objects” permits to address the history of the construction of the European identity through dialogue with the Others. In such a way, the history of art will itself be driven towards its boundaries.

The object as a conveyor is still insufficiently studied as such in the interconnected history of economics, politics or sociology, although it is at times found as an ingredient of historical or artistic speech. A fortiori, the object engendered by a match with an extra-European item has rarely been a point of focus. The scheme proposes to bare remedy to this by pointing to the precise moment when the “exogenous” makes the “endogenous”. The making of the meaning of objects by the surrounding context as well as the intrinsic ambivalence of objects (Jeudy-Ballini M.-B. Derlon 2008) are key issues of the scheme. Whatever the surrounding context, nature or provenance, the various terms of production of “boundary objects” will be analysed.

“The boundary object” will be regarded as a hub of complex relations which will be analysed from a nexus of selected cases. A paradigmatic “boundary object”, the nautilus of the South Pacific Seas mounted by German silversmiths in the late sixteenth century, has been recently described as a “relic holder of a new type” (du Crest S., 2009). Around these particularly meaningful “boundary objects”, the status of objects can be addressed effectively so as to further lead the history of art into a more thorough understanding of all its objects.

These objects manufactured in Europe, born in the European consciousness, can be understood only in the European context. They do not amount to interbreeding since they have been founders of a European identity they still help build. Taste, imitation, stimulation, hybridisation are essential ingredients of the process of acculturation (Labrusse R., 2011). Based on the analysis of the contextualization, the project proposes to follow the reasons and issues of the production of the « boundary objects » in which the track of their originary exogenesis is still visible. Following this process in the design and making, “boundary objects” have become, and still are, objects of Europe. The relation to the Other, with an interplay of fascination and repulsion, is now made conspicuous by these objects. This process of acculturation generates such “boundary objects” with their shapes. Exogenesis proposes to elicit the related causes and consequences.

Text written by Sabine du Crest

-T. Todorov, Nous et les autres. La réflexion française sur la diversité humaine, coll. ” La couleur des idées “, Éditions du Seuil, Paris, 1989.

-B. Derlon-M. Jeudy-Ballini, La passion de l’art primitif. Enquête sur les collectionneurs, Gallimard, 2008.

-R. Labrusse, Islamophilies. L’Europe moderne et les arts de l’Islam, Paris, Somogy, Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 2011

-S. du Crest, ”Des reliquaires d’un genre nouveau”, Cannibalismes disciplinaires. Quand l’histoire de l’art et l’anthropologie se rencontrent, Th. Dufrêne et A. Ch. Taylor, éds., Musée du Quai Branly-INHA, 2009 pp. 325-334.

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