Christian S. Hammons

In Animate: A Multispecies Ethnography


In Animate: A Multispecies Ethnography, a multimedia (video/film and sculpture) installation, is part of an ongoing project in sensory ethnography at the Carousel of Happiness, a restored carousel in the mountain town of Nederland, Colorado. The project explores the capacity of mimetic machines to animate the inanimate by routinely traversing the human-animal divide. Both the carousel and the cinema are late 19th century technologies with ongoing afterlives in the 21st century. They materialize moments in time. They are both archive and ephemera.

In 1983, still recovering from the trauma of the Vietnam War and plunging into a career handling torture cases for Amnesty International, Scott Harrison began to carve animals. They were larger than life, colorful, and at the time, homeless. Two decades later, more than 30 were scattered throughout the small mountain town of Nederland, Colorado. Then, in 2006, with the support of the community, the animals were brought together under one roof, along with the frame of a 100-year-old Loof carousel and a 1913 Wurlitzer organ. The Carousel of Happiness opened in 2010.

Born from trauma and the creative impulse of a man and a community, the carousel now has a life and a creative impulse of its own. It is a living, breathing organism made of metal and grease, carved wood and paint, people and stories. The installation takes this proposition seriously, using a variety of media, like the carousel, to reverse the polarity of animate and inanimate. At the Carousel of Happiness, the machine – the inanimate – is organic and alive. It animates not only the sculpted animals, but also the humans who ride them, absorbing them and their experience into its frame. It is a collection of human agency, which is itself agent. The carousel is animatic.



Christian S. Hammons teaches in the Departments of Anthropology and Critical Media Practices at the University of Colorado-Boulder. His research focuses on nature-cultures and the cosmopolitics of animism in two ethnographic contexts: the Mentawai Islands off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, and the mountain town of Nederland, Colorado. He is a Fulbright Scholar and a Contributing Editor to Anthropology News. He holds an MFA in Film Production and a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Southern California.

Installation by Christian S. Hammons, Sculpture by Scott Harrison

Video by Christian S. Hammons & Kevin Barrera