: : crazybrave has moved to <a href="http://crazybrave.net">http://crazybrave.net/</a>: Rug (and blog) nerds ahoy

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Rug (and blog) nerds ahoy

An article about how the project I'm working is making innovative use of blogging as a research tool has been published in today's Higher Education Supplement in The Australian. I've posted the full text over the fold if you're keen.

Mum will be pleased!

Carpet wars go online

ACADEMIC blogs can do more for research than merely disseminate it. They can help us carry out traditional tasks of scholarship in innovative ways.

With Tim Bonyhady of the Australian National University Centre for Environmental Law, I am conducting an Australian Research Council Discovery Project on the war rugs of Afghanistan.

An important tool for our preliminary research has been the blog The Rugs of War, hosted by ANU at http://sts-dev.anu.edu.au/rugsofwar.

The blog bears the university's badge and declares it is subject to the university's policies on attribution, plagiarism and ethical behaviour.

Our use of the open-source technology (the WordPress blogging platform) has evolved into a collaborative model that fits with the participatory ethos of blogging a lot more comfortably than the top-down approach of using blogs as just another form of one-to-many communication.

In our case, it became necessary because there are no institutional collections of war rugs, almost no serious art historical or anthropological scholarship, and thus very little is known about the circumstances of the rugs' production and distribution.

The war rug tradition originated almost immediately after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, when rugmakers began incorporating complex imagery of tanks, helicopters and Kalashnikovs into their otherwise traditionally structured and coloured designs.

These practices continued throughout the decade of Soviet occupation and have persisted through subsequent military, political and social conflicts.

War-related imagery continues to be incorporated in rug making today, including motifs such as the hijacked planes crashing into the World Trade Centre twin towers in New York and images apparently copied from US propaganda leaflets.

We don't have a large readership or receive many comments; our readers are more likely to communicate by email than by commenting on a blog post.

Yet Rugs of War has given us access to collectors and dealers who operate outside existing institutional contexts.

This is particularly significant in an emerging field of scholarship, where institutional support for the field of study is yet to emerge.

We also wonder sometimes if other academics with an interest in this emerging field may be lurking with intent, that is, reading but not commenting or participating because they plan to publish independently.

Many colleagues have raised this issue, anticipating the worst outcome. In our experience, however, collaborators have more than outweighed predators.

We have received amazing help, and generous contributions of images and expertise. The blog has enabled us to seek advice, interpretations and translations in ways that orthodox research would not have made possible.

In the process we have found - in fact, were found by - such pioneers as the Turin architect Luca Brancati, whose exhibition of war rugs in contemporary art galleries in Italy in 1988 signalled the beginning of Western art analysis engaging with the rugs.

Some weeks ago we were contacted by Tatiana Divens, the US-based defence analyst, who published the first scholarly article on the genre in Oriental Rug Review in 1989.

Existing outside institutional frameworks, such crucial early researchers were otherwise invisible to orthodox modes of scholarly research.

Of course, there are parts of our project for which blogging provides little assistance. Obviously, the rugs do not speak for themselves, and the poverty and isolation of the makers means direct communication is exceedingly difficult.

At the beginning of a project such as this it's impossible to know much about a given rug's origins, where it was made, or the identity or even sex of its maker.

Rugs traditionally are made by women and children, but we know that men, for example, have been making rugs in the refugee camps of Pakistan.

However, the participation in the rugsofwar blog by a dozen collectors worldwide has begun to indicate ways of solving some of these dilemmas.

We also don't know to what extent the rugs are made as commercial or domestic products, who the intended purchasers might be or the extent to which dealers may influence production.

But by exploring the images in collaboration with our readers, we can trace the evolution of various motifs, such as the increasingly abstracted appearance of helicopters or cruise missiles, and the integration of text in various languages.

The rugs produced in response to these tumultuous events may well constitute the world's richest tradition of war art of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and yet there has been no significant engagement with the genre by contemporary art history and theory.

Blogging is never going to be a complete research tool in itself, but it has proven to be an invaluable resource in this new field of academic inquiry.