Sympathetic Magic and Contemporary Art: Stanley J. Tambiah’s Persuasive Analogy in Ritual Performance

By Christopher Braddock.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The paper explores performance and part-sculptural objects that result from performance via the histories and practices of sympathetic magic. Revealing the manners in which various rituals act to animate objects, I focus on notions of mimesis, similitude and contagion. British anthropologist Stanley J. Tambiah’s thinking on persuasive analogy in ritual performance draws a crucial link between J. L. Austin’s performative utterance and James George Frazer’s notion of sympathetic magic. Applied to contemporary debates on performance and ‘objects out of action’, these part objects act as partial ‘subjects’ that are unlocatable as trace (substitution) and contagious contact (liveness). What is lacking in the operations of sympathetic mimesis is precisely what ‘draws out’ the body/s of the audience. Put another way, redundancy is viewed as necessary to an efficacious or ethical practice. This paper will include my own recent performative/video and sound installations as well as exploring some Euro-American genealogies of performance/body art in relationship to contemporary art practices in New Zealand.

Keywords: Performance Art, Performance Documents, Sympathetic Magic, Action at a Distance, Persuasive Analogy, Linguistics

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 4, Issue 12, pp.113-130. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.086MB).

Dr. Christopher Braddock

Associate Professor, School of Art & Design, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand

Chris Braddock is an artist and academic. He is Associate Professor of Visual Arts in the School of Art and Design at Auckland University of Technology and Chair of the University’s St Paul St Gallery. His research interests span the disciplines of art history, anthropology and performance studies. He specialises in different aspects of modern and contemporary art including the part object in sculpture, performance, body art and art and spirituality. In 2007 he was the International Artist-in-Residence at Melbourne’s RMIT University and in 2004 he was the Arts Council of New Zealand toi Aotearoa Visual Arts Resident in New York City on the International Studio & Curatorial Program.


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