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Animism, Ancestors and Adjusted Styles of Communication: Hidden Art in Irish Passage Tombs

This talk will focus particularly on ‘hidden art’ to demonstrate how a variety of animist ontologies may have operated at the Neolithic/Bronze Age transition.

Studies of prehistoric art tend to objectify this ‘material’ evidence in a process of disenchantment which has limited interpretative scope. This talk will draw on the theorising of ‘new animism’ in anthropology and religious studies which moves beyond the problematic attribution of spirit to matter and anthropomorphism in the work of Tylor and in other Victorian imaginations of religion, to consider animist ontologies as those which conceive of a world which is filled with persons, only some of whom are human. I argue that this relational approach enables new, re-enchanting insights into Neolithic art in the passage tombs of the Boyne Valley in Ireland, the study of which has tended towards an anthropocentric concept of ‘the social’ and neurotheological analysis of altered states of consciousness. Animist ontologies effectively disrupt the subject/object dichotomy of Western thought, challenge reductionist neurotheology, and offer an extended understanding of agency and personhood. I focus particularly on ‘hidden art’ to demonstrate how a variety of animist ontologies (from animist-totemist to totemist-animist) may have operated at the Neolithic/Bronze Age transition.

Dr Robert J. Wallis is Associate Professor of Visual Culture and Director of the MA in Art History at Richmond University, London, and a Research Fellow in Archaeology at the University of Southampton. His research interests consider indigenous and prehistoric art in shamanistic/animic communities, and the re-presentation of the past in the present by contemporary pagans and neo-shamans. He is author of Shamans / neo-Shamans: Ecstasy, Alternative Archaeologies and Contemporary Pagans, and co-author of the Historical Dictionary of Shamanism and co-editor of Permeability of Boundaries: New Approaches to the Archaeology of Art, Religion and Folklore and, most recently, Antiquaries and Archaists: The Past in the Past, the Past in the Present. He is currently working on a monograph on art and shamanism.


Dr Robert Wallis | talks | www


Date and Time:

28 July 2009 at 6:00 pm


2 hours 30 minutes



The October Gallery
24 Old Gloucester St
020 7242 7367

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£7 /£5 Concessions

Available from:

RSVP so that we can anticipate numbers – Please book in advance by credit card to guarantee a place or pay on the door. Tel: 44 (0)20 7831 1618 – email: rentals@octobergallery.co.uk

Additional Information:

Arrive 6pm for a 6:30pm Start - Wine available

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