String Figures. An interdisciplinary Workshop

8. Juni 2023 bis 9. Juni 2023

String figures are among the oldest cultural techniques known to humanity. In anthropology, string figures were long considered a universal game. As a body practice that can be found in so many places of this world, it fed the epistemological fantasies of a universal cultural comparison throughout the 20th century. As early as 1888, Franz Boas described the string figures of the Kwakiutl. Subsequently, European-American ethnologists ‘collected’ string figures from almost all regions of the world. They mounted the resulting figures on cardboard or made drawings, photos and films to do justice to the performativity of the skill. They even developed their own systematics to capture the figures (including Caroline Furness Jayne, Honor Maude, and Dina Dreyfus).

String figures also served as an inspiration to the Western modern arts. For example, experimental film pioneer Maya Deren filmed Marcel Duchamp making string figures. Andy Warhol captured the string-playing Harry Smith, an idol of the Beat Generation, on 16mm. In recent years, string figures have gained prominence in cultural theory. Donna Haraway promotes string figures as a method of thinking and collaboration between both disciplines and species. Rather than the technicist and rigid metaphor of the network, Haraway’s string figures provide a playful, process-oriented, embodied, performative (and non-Western) mode of thought in which responsibility and collaboration are foregrounded.

The workshop brings these different threads together and seeks to weave connections between anthropology, history of knowledge and film, mathematics, and performance to thereby explore the possibilities of transdisciplinary collaboration.



Thursday, 8th of June

19:00 Donnerstagskino with an introduction in German by Mario Schulze and Sarine Waltenspül
Drei Fadenspiel-Filme aus der Encyclopaedia Cinematographica, Institut für den wissenschaftlichen Film, Göttingen/Deutschland, von: Rudolf Haefelfinger, Basel/Schweiz, 1975, 13 min, stumm; Gerd Koch, Niutao/heute Tuvalu, 1963/65, 6 min, stumm; Christian Adler, Thule/Grönland, 1974/79, 9 min, stumm
Caroline Monnet: “Mobilize” CA, 2015, 3 min, ohne Sprache
Harry Smith: tba
Fabrizio Terranova: “Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival” BE/F/ES, 2016, Auszüge, Englisch


Friday, 9th of June

9:15 Short introduction by the organizers

9:30–12:30 Anthropology of String Figures
Éric Vandendriessche (Paris): “Ethnomathematics of String Figures”
Mareile Flitsch (Zürich): “Hesitant Hands on Similar Strings”

Coffee Break

Paul Basu (Bonn/London): “[Re:]Entanglements Nigerian String Figures”
Rainer Hatoum (Braunschweig): “Ajarorpoq and TseLtse’no – On the Trail of Franz Boas’s Cross-cultural Fascination with Cat’s Cradle”


13:45–14:30 Philip Noble (Inverness): “History of International String Figures Association”

14:30–17:30 Film, Art and Knowledge
Rani Singh (New York): “From Buffalo Skin to Intertwined Snakes: The String Figures of Harry Smith”
Sarine Waltenspül (Luzern): “String Figures in the Encyclopaedia Cinematographica”

Coffee Break

Mario Schulze (Basel/Luzern): “String Figures Instead of Networks. Donna Haraway’s SF Method”
Ines Kleesattel (Basel/Zürich): “Witch’s Cradles”

Coffee Break

18:00–18:45 Dave Ket’acik Nicolai (Anchorage): “String Figure Performance”

19:30 Speakers‘ Dinner

Limited number of participants; please register by Tuesday 06.06., by phone: 044 634 90 11 or e-mail:

Organisiert von
Sarine Waltenspül (Wissenschaftsforschung/Universität Luzern), Mario Schulze (eikones/Universität Basel), Mareile Flitsch (Völkerkundemuseum Zürich)


Völkerkundemuseum Zürich
Sprachen der Veranstaltung


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