TAHITI Dossier – Selected papers of the Tahiti 4 -conference: Empiria in Art History

On 14th and 15th October 2011, the Society for Art History in Finland, in association with the Ateneum Art Museum, the Department of Art History at the University of Helsinki and Eidos, the student organisation of art history at the University of Helsinki, arranged TAHITI 4, the fourth conference of art historians in Finland. The theme of the conference was “Empiria in Art History”.

In the call for papers was asked e.g. How empiria in the form of architecture, visual art, design, applied art, or archive material, is shaped through research into results and interpretations?; Do bodies of material as such contain ‘truths’, and if so, what is their ontological status, or does our understanding of the nature and essence of materials depend solely on the choice of research problems, approaches, theories and methods?;

How do we perceive, conceptualize and define time in relation to materials, their readings and re-readings, trends, methods, the researcher’s role, or source criticism?;

Are existing classifications neutral – theory-free ways of perceiving reality and do the scholarly and scientific classifications of museums, archives and libraries basically represent empiria? Is empiria the same as a conventional way of arranging objects and if so, its purpose being to increase order, would its opposite be entropy – chaos?

Two keynotespeakers were invited to the conference. Professor David Gaimster, Director of the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery at the University of Glasgow, spoke about the subject: Visualising the domestic interior in the European late Middle Ages: cross-referencing archaeological and iconographic sources. The title of Docent Jari Pakkanen, Senior Lecturer in Classical Archaeology at Royal Holloway, University of London was Quantum models and detecting design patterns in architecture. In addition, there were nine papers throwing light on the empirical questions in art history from many different points of view dealing e. g. different kind of archives, gardening history, art historical writings and discourses as also the importance of paintings as a source of knowledge. The papers were chosen on the basis of submitted abstracts by Docent, Senior Lecturer Markus Hiekkanen (Art History/University of Helsinki), Chief Curator Riitta Ojanperä (National Gallery of Finland), Museum Director, Dr Susanna Pettersson (Alvar Aalto Foundation) and Docent Johanna Vakkari (Society for Art History in Finland / Finnish Academy of Fine Arts). Other members of the organizing group were MA Julia Donner, MA Virve Heininen and MA Pinja Metsäranta from the Society for Art History in Finland.

At the conference there was also a panel discussion in Finnish about Art-historical research and future competency needs, chaired by Susanna Pettersson and participated by Elina Heikka (Finnish Museum of Photography), Heikki Hanka (University of Jyväskylä), Juhani Kostet (National Board of Antiquities) and Johanna Vakkari.

In this very first dossier of Tahiti-journal, we are publishing four articles based on the papers presented at the conference.

In his article, Visualising the domestic interior in the European late medieval to early modern transition: cross-referencing archaeological and iconographic sources, professor David Gaimster is pointing out the importance of combining archaeological material with pictorial records in order to explore the economic, social, material and ideological changes in modern European culture. His study concerns mainly the paintings produced in Low Countries and in Germany from 15th to 17th century and the ways these works of art can be interpreted as sources. Although a painting never is a mimetic study of the social reality, its purposes being metaphorical (religious or socially motivated) it locates the archaeological objects in relation to spaces, people and other objects. Pictorial sources, when considered together with archaeological discoveries and written records, can tell us, not only about domestic life in general, but also on the history of taste, economy, global trade and the role of gender.

PhD candidate Anne-Maria Pennonen’s article is entitled: In Pursuit of Geological Motifs – Landscape painting in Dresden and Düsseldorf 1780–1860. Pennonen discusses the relationship between geology and landscape painting. She uses the 19th century scientific approaches and the new attitude towards the nature and especially towards mountains, present both in contemporary literature and in painting, as an empirical source in her study. The most important protagonists among the writers are Alexander von Humboldt, Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, Carl Custav Carus and Johan Wilhelm Schirmer. Pennonen describes the links between art and science and the ways in which the 19th century painters and writers experienced nature and argued it with such qualities like sublime, beautiful and picturesque. As a concrete example she presents the valley of Neanderthal near Düsseldorf, the destination of many artistic expeditions.

PhD candidate Marja-Terttu Kivirinta’s empirical materials are the discourses on the Finnish painter Juho Rissanen. In her article, Biographical Narratives of Artist as Empirical material: Juho Rissanen. A Representation of Recycled Art and Life Story, she concentrates on two narratives comparing their structure with the canon of Art History since Vasari’s Giotto, and reinterpreting them in the context of contemporary gender studies dealing also with the problematics of “national”.

PhD Leena Svinhufvud is specialized in textile art. In her article, From sketches and samples to ledgers and advertisements On the material of art historical research of modern textile art, she takes into consideration the impact of the surviving archives on research. She discusses the art historical research of the 20th century textile art, focusing mainly on ryijy-textiles and hand woven serial production in the collections of Design Museum Helsinki. Svinhufvud shows how the fragmentariness of the archives causes a lack of statistical validity and may result in some changes in classifying and interpreting the objects. Also the documents concerning designers, weaveries, design officers and studios are limited. According to Svinhufvud, this is due to the selection processes that precede the formation of a collection. Both the donator and the museum have to decide what kind of material is worth preserving and since the interests, attitudes and points of view of the research, as also the art historical paradigms, are continually changing, a lot of material that today is considered relevant, has been wasted. In consequence, the truthfulness of an archive is always to be questioned.

I would like to express my gratitude both to the contributors and to referees.

In Helsinki, December 10th 2012

Johanna Vakkari,
Chair, Society for Art History in Finland


Dossier has been edited by Johanna Vakkari

Articles have been peer-reviewed

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