June 7th/8th 2019
Conference on Censers in Bern - organised by Beate Fricke with Ittai Weinryb
Bild: Meissen, Dom, Achteckbau, 1270
The burning of incense is one of the most pervasive religious practices today and throughout history. The fragrant smoke filling the air can be witnessed in any tradition, whether polytheistic or monotheistic, whether in the Ancient Near East, Modern US, or Medieval Europe. Censers are ubiquitous among religious paraphernalia, and on a truly global scale. Surprisingly, however, little scholarly attention has been given to censers and the rituals they facilitate. In this conference we propose to explore these commonly used yet seldom studied objects from a comparative perspective. This investigation entails consideration of the material fabrication of censers themselves and their subsequent significations, as well as the role of the incense itself as it vaporizes in the course of religious ceremonies. By comparing we aim to unveil resemblances and differences across various religions that at the same time can give evidence to the particularities of a specific tradition. Through these objects we also hope to interrogate dominant narratives in Art History defined by exclusive categories like “the era of art” or by retrospectively defined periods or artistic developments aligned with dynasties.
The study of censers is particularly timely in the fields of History of Religion, History of Art, Archaeology, material culture and Anthropology, and not only for filling gaps in the objects’ documentation. The combination of the solid censer and the ephemeral smoke produced by the burning of incense offers a fertile ground for examining questions central to these fields of study regarding the relation between the material and the immaterial, and between artifacts, biotic substances, and codified practices. Centering on the censer thus not only places the object in a constellation of other religious artefacts, but also relocates the importance of rituals that have long been placed at the margins of the study of religion, art, and ritual. Emerging from this, we hope, is a better grasp of the role of sensorial elements in the fostering of the devotional practices of world religions. Acknowledging the need for an interdisciplinary approach to the profound questions provoked by the censer as object and as site, the project aims to unite scholars from different fields of study in an exploration of the censer and its materiality, ontology, and presence.
May 23-24th 2019
Workshop on Drawing and Weaving. Lines, Indexicality, and Transferring Knowledge in the Premodern World, organised by Jess Bailey and Corinne Mühlemann
Drawing and weaving are dependent on lines: lines of thread, lines of ink, lines of visual and material thinking through which forms are conceived and imaged. Both are artistic practices which oscillate between being used as an end in and of themselves and as a means to or as a material base to another act of creativity. They can both be indexes of another material object. The form which gives anew. Yet the product always retains a relationship with its model or source. Paper and cloth are also highly portable mediums. They can transverse vast amounts of space and time with relative ease: carried, folded, bound in albums, tucked away. They do the material work of transferring visual knowledge. Yet, these essential models and diagrams are often lost within the material record itself, leaving scholars to speculate about the lines of connection across a pre-modern world. Through the warp and weft of cloth and ink on receptive surfaces, the world is gridded. Lines of thread are used to mark out the divisions in a fresco wall. Paper is sequentially punctured so coloured chalk can leave the ghost of an image for the embroiderer’s needle. The natural grid of linen cloth inherent to its very material structure is utilized to transfer patterns for the production of stained glass windows and possibly within the fabric arts themselves. Paper and cloth do visual and material labour. Yet these two mediums are rarely considered together as they are both highly specialized areas of study. This symposium brings together a variety of emerging and established scholars to discuss the potential for intellectual cross fertilization within our shared attention to lines.