Destabilizing Meaning in Anthropomorphic Forms from Northwest Argentina

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Journal of Iberian Archaeology


Northwest Argentina, anthropomorphic vessels, perspectivism

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A recent advert for modern furniture by Cassina asks, “Why do we fall in love with objects if they cannot requite our feelings”? Archaeological objects do requite our feelings - through the work we do to them and the manner of our engagement with them. The nature of this cathexis, mixed up as it is in a specific visual aesthetic, can be understood as decidedly modern. The careful separation of pots from people, and then the isolation of meaning and form, ceremonial practice from mundane function, and then their final display in print, the digital world, or museums are all complicit in this process. The pots I address here – a series of anthropomorphic forms from the Candelaria and San Francisco cultures of Northwest Argentina – have suffered from this anatomizing disassociation of their parts. I attempt to reassemble these parts into contingent forms, arguing that notions of transformation are constitutive of their materiality. These assemblages worked materially to stabilize such notions, but do not necessarily represent stable categories themselves. Ultimately, these objects must still requite our feelings, but can they do so in motion, disturbing ontologies of nature/culture?