Ethnographies of the Imagination Volume 1: The Beach

By Lana Z Porter

The beach has long occupied the Western imagination as a vision of the good life; indeed, when you Google “paradise,” you get images of white sandy beaches, turquoise water, and palm trees. Are these images accurate reflections of our values and aspirations, or the result of stagnant memories? Are they the good life?

Using methods from anthropology, computer science, and psychology, “Ethnographies of the Imagination” considers the role of memory in the formation of collective imaginaries. As shared collections of beliefs and symbols that are at once grounded in the particularities of individual experience while also drawn from collective understandings of what is useful or good, imaginaries are instructive for tracing how a set of ideals or values form within a society.

New visions of paradise were generated by artists in response to a brief containing 26 attributes extracted from historical depictions and descriptions of the beach as paradise. Out of context, the attributes take on different meanings and form a new set of patterns from which to envision new outcomes. The new ‘paradises,’ constructed by the artists in response to the attributes, reflect the ways in which memory and imagination are connected through subconscious instincts and beliefs, even when we try to suspend them.

Attributes (26): alcohol, amusements/games, beach chair, bodies on display, danger/risk, distant, domestication, food, greenery, healing/therapy, holiday/escape, horizon, island,, locals/natives, luxury, mild, ocean, palm tree, sand, service (food, drink), sex/romance, shelter, sunset, umbrella, unspoiled/pristine, warm


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