Adrian Van Allen
Anthropology design art about contact



Objects tell stories through their social lives, their materials, their paths of exchange, and the different meanings they acquire as they shift between contexts. As an artist and anthropologist who studies the cultures and collections of science and technology, I have come to see how materials are made to matter. I have worked in science museums for more than two decades as an exhibit designer, researcher and cultural anthropologist. I have interviewed scientists, prototyped exhibits and made my own art inspired by my interactions with collections of objects, collections of scientists and collections of (scientific) cultures. My work across these fields has been about translation synthesizing complex scientific concepts and behaviors and interpreting them in words, images, objects or interactions. In effect, as an artist I am making/curating my own museum of interpretive replicas, a collection of objects that purposefully skew the perspective between original and copy to unfold some of the biographies layered in each object.

Focused on objects and their significance in networks of social and cultural significance, material culture studies have attended to the relationships of objects to each other and to the history and geography of the object. My own practices in art and anthropology take up the material culture of replicating scientific objects – moving objects from the back rooms of the museum or the lab to the more visible spaces of the art studio or the gallery, a form of replication which shifts understandings of the relationships between originals and copies, art and artifacts, collectors and collected. I collect stories of how science is made, I replicate the instruments that help shape our world, and I trace the paths these narrative objects take as they move across borders or boundaries of time, place and cultural significance.

Collections are not simply accumulated objects, but instead can be seen as a continual reassemblage of people, places, and things — in other words , they are a shifting composition of the people who have made, used, and collected the objects, and the cultural imaginaries they represent and reproduce.

In my own art and anthropology practices I examine how different technologies are redefining human and non-human life — using craft, or learning-thourgh-making, as a method to gain a hands-on understanding of how we understand ourselves through the tools of science as they are made and remade in the back rooms of museums and laboratories. Using insights from scholars who have explored what it means to unravel the multiple biographical trajectories of objects and their roles in the production of knowledge, I seek to understand how scientific instruments and their digital representations shape how we think about nature, objectivity and the power of place. My art and anthropology work articulate my encounters with the visions and imagined futures of both art and science.

Adrian Van Allen, January 2022