The article aims to bring together debates surrounding the use of ethnographic methods in contemporary art, and attempts to theorize and define artistic research or “research in the arts”. It stems from concern about differences and overlaps between the application of ethnographic methods in contemporary art and in folkloristics, ethnology and cultural anthropology, referred to here as empirical cultural research. Contemporary artists and researchers might rely on the same qualitative methods (e.g. interviewing and participant observations) in order to collect and generate data for their works, and they might even address the same or similar topics. Nevertheless, their approaches, working processes, results, and concerns differ in fascinating ways that tend to escape definition. A picture is worth a thousand words, but researchers seem to be shackled by language, especially when trying to capture the ambiguity that often characterizes the making and undoing of belonging and non-belonging. However, both researchers and artists employ ethnographic methods as their own working instruments, and their work is heavily dependent on the goodwill of others. Moreover, both art and ethnography have the ability to draw our attention to the obvious and the unseen, to show the familiar from a new and unexpected angle. The empirical starting points for the article are the author’s ethnographic fieldwork on ethnic interactions in Lasnamäe, a part of Tallinn commonly associated with Soviet-era apartment complexes and Russian-speaking immigrants, and Kärberi 37, a series of 49 portraits by the Estonian artist Eve Kask of her neighbors in the same district. Both the author and the artist are Estonian-speaking natives of Tallinn. The article discusses how their work required them to go beyond, and even transgress, the tacit norms of interethnic coexistence that call for the silencing of ethnicity. Shared by the capital’s residents, these unspoken rules contribute on a daily basis to the separateness of ethnic Estonians and Russian-speakers. While an ethnographer concerned with research ethics and anonymity might not dream of exhibiting photographs of her interlocutors, in the context of an artistic project portraits become a mirror reflecting viewers’ implicit assumptions, Estonian society, and ethnographic practices. Providing an overview of diverse approaches to artistic research, the article supports the view that artistic research is not a new discipline, but intrinsic to art.
The article gives an insight into the hagiology (Old Russian житие) of Alexander Nevsky (ca. 1220–1263), Grand Prince of Novgorod and Vladimir. It was probably put down in the 1280s, at the Nativity Monastery in Vladimir, where his body was initially buried and where, in the late 14th century, he was canonised. The hagiology was written by an unknown author. About twenty versions of the hagiology, dating back to the 14th–19th centuries, have been preserved, and all in all, about 500 manuscript texts. The unknown author did not describe Alexander Nevsky’s entire life but focused on certain details essential for the hagiology, such as the Battle of the Neva, driving out the German invaders from Pskov, the Battle on the Ice, a campaign in the Lithuanian territories, and diplomatic relations with the Golden Horde and Vatican. The ruler is depicted as an ideal hero – a brave commander, a wise politician, and a skilful diplomat. The author has not attempted to show Nevsky as a real person but has rather constructed him as a good Christian, a saint, and a pious man, who believes in Christ and therefore defeats all the enemies of Russia. The hagiology of Alexander Nevsky is a pathetic work written in the superlative, which, based on the then canons, glorifies the hero, yet includes many inconsistencies and exaggerations. It is especially important to emphasise that the story strongly overestimates the Battle of the Neva (1240) and the Battle on the Ice (1242), which were actually of local importance only. In the description of the Battle of the Neva an interesting detail is an Izhorian called Pelkoinen (in the hagiology Пелгусий) or Pelkoi (Пелгуй). These names are the first recordings of words in Izhorian. It can be concluded that Alexander Nevsky’s hagiology was a significant religious work in Russian political and church history, which aimed, through overestimating the hero’s deeds, to create and canonise the figure of an ideal ruler, which in turn helped to strengthen Russian statehood and Russians’ national identity.