DISJUNCTION AND REVERBERATION
Adam Fleischmann, Mónica Cuellár, Alonso Gamarra and Atoq Ramón, Federico De Musso
The present panel engages virtual relations and their material anchors in everyday practice. We believe that unexpected linkages and disjunctions between the “virtual” and the “material” offer a lens to investigate how various abstractions (e.g. concepts, theories, power and processes) are enacted and negotiated via different media.
From digitally mediated collaborations between researchers to second-hand contact with fleeting pasts to ways of seeing and unseeing reality, we seek to charter how virtual experiences constitute the solid backbone of everyday life encounters and, conversely, how material processes anchor and virtualise abstract chains of signification and relation.
We aim to engage in this conversation in our separate but related presentations by experimenting with different media and their unique role in evoking disjunction and reverberation between the material and the virtual. Each collaborator on this panel considers the virtual practices that ground our research, thinking, and living in the current era. From reflections on digital media and methods to analogic photography, through interactive documentary-making and digital montage, our presentations foreground an analysis of virtual relations that populate the idiosyncratic connecting power of each medium.
VIRTUAL GEOGRAPHIES OF LOS ANGELES
Rachel Parks, Yair Agmon, Brian Young, Ulises Espinoza, Nicole Smith, Damanjit Gill, Jewell Humphrey, Jason De León, Zoe Malot
This session explores what a multimodal ethnographic approach can tell us about “the occlusion of natural history by landscape ideology” in Los Angeles and the unfolding tensions of a developing natural catastrophe resulting in our anthropological confinement to virtual spaces. Using a collaborative panel with multiple contributions and perspectives centered around Mike Davis’s Ecology of Fear, participants will explore the dynamics between Los Angeles’s increasingly uninhabitable cityscape and the local government’s longstanding commitment to water, land, fire, earthquake, and housing management policies that imagine the City as impervious to the increasingly present effects of environmental catastrophes. Historic greed and arrogance have shaped the city’s anthropocentric relationship to its environments, and this legacy continues to the present and inevitably crashes into perpetual crises of water scarcity, housing shortages, wildfires, mudslides, and megadroughts. Yet the effects of such scarcity and the affective threat of an ever-looming crisis, much like the region’s riches, are inequitably distributed amongst its residents.
The work proposed in this panel is an outgrowth of the UCLA Visual Anthropology & Multimodal Praxis (VAMP) Working Group, an interdisciplinary project that seeks to promote visual methods (emphasizing but not limited to photo-ethnography) within anthropology and its sister disciplines. Participants in this session will use a range of visual approaches to explore the ways the dynamics described above are present in contemporary Los Angeles and have been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Each panelist will be presenting visual ethnographic work that responds to Ecology of Fear and explores both the promise and the limits of the virtual in documenting Los Angeles’s response to disaster. Together these contributions will form a single visual ethnography of Los Angeles rather than individual works. Following these brief presentations, the group as a whole will engage in a discussion of how the Working Group’s collaborative and multimodal approach can contribute to research projects such as these and ethnographic practice more broadly.
OF DISTANCING BODIES
May Okafor, Sunu Doe, Tsholofelo Moche, and Chidi Ugwu
This panel interrogates distinct ways in which virtual alternatives and aspects of our individual and collective professional practices continue to shape and re-shape our careers, particularly in creativity, ethnography, and exhibitions. In many ways, these aspects of our practices are primarily defined by social interactions geared toward data collection, its assimilation, and appreciation. We contemplate that these interactions, conceptualized as ‘sharing’, have continued to be shaped and re-shaped by the digital realities of the 21st century and more dynamically within the context of physical distancing brought about by COVID-19 protocols.
Faced with certain challenges and prospects posed by this new norm, we examine how the intensification of the virtual, specifically by physical distancing, has disrupted the concept of ‘sharing’ for creatives and researchers. We question how indigenous music, the local art appreciation and industry, curatorial engagements, and in-person ethnographic interactions with communities of people in Africa have been influenced/affected by this new reality?
Our panel comprises a 4-member team of creative practitioners and an anthropologist. We begin our session with a 10-minute introduction by May Okafor. Then, each participant will make their 20-minutes presentation involving talks, videos, and sounds. Together, these sum up to a 90-minute session.
THE MAP, THE STORY, AND THE PHOTOGRAPH
Myriam Amri ; Morgan P. Vickers ; Pablo Aguilera Del Castillo ; Zsuzsanna Dominika Ihar
How to study environmental change? At stake in the question is first a “how” that implies investigating, and perhaps critically developing tools to study “environmental change” with the implications that the objects studied are neither static, bounded nor singular. This panel aims at showcasing a set of tools and methods to apprehend environmental change. We keep both environmental and change as two capacious terms, the former, synonymous with the place/spaces, geographies, and sites occupied materially and discursively, and the latter a rejection of teleological transformations to instead foreground non-linear movements, the jolts, the shrieks, and the tremors. Today, scholars are caught between the need to transcend anthropocentric views of the world and that of holding humanity accountable for its function as a geologic force threatening life. Responding to this challenge requires researchers to develop particular instruments, and documenting processes to observe the changing relationships between humans and non-humans amid the long-established legacies of colonialism, capitalism, and late-liberalism. New ethnographic instruments are needed to sense these unforeseen forms of change. At the same time, we also recognize the latent risks of the mere beautification of ethnographic accounts through new media and the complex ways in which aesthetics and politics interact in any multimodal project.
Through multimodality, we engage in practices of critical encountering of environmental changes but also modes of speculation that imagine an otherwise within the cracks of capitalist degradation. We aim to consider the multimodal potentialities of our methodologies, ones which in their creative praxis will help us trace, layer, historicize, collapse scales. In doing so, we attempt to pry open the ethnographic and its association of fieldwork and the field, the observation, the participant. Yet at the same time, we seek to be aware of the politics of multimodality, as the lure of the camera, the image, the map, can become ways to dissolve anthropology’s “savage slot” or salvage the discipline from its neocolonial endurances.
The four projects of this panel begin through methods of apprehending environmental transformations. They do so by taking objects like maps, photographs or stories as sites to enter from. In the contemplations of these different objects, refusal is central. The refusal to be lured by the material or its creative potential and to acknowledge the difficult archival and documentary practices that come when the terms of environmental changes are synonyms of waste, degradation, fragmentation, decay and disappearance. In doing so the different projects recenter the incomplete methodological enquiries that frame multimodality and the politics at play, not only in the community facing environmental transformations but also in the researcher’s practices of collecting, documenting, speculating against the grain.
Yichen Rao; Anna Castel; Arba Bekteshi; Beatriz Herrera; Kimberly Hassel; Kimberly Fernandes; Juan Miguel Ortega Quesada; Dalia N; Fabián de la Parra Rodríguez; Ina Goel; Jacqueline Lin; Sarah Busch; Suzanne Morrissey; Silas Udenze; Glenda-rose Layne
From early 2021, we, the Feeling Digital Collective (consisting of artists, activists, and researchers from different embodied, disciplinary, and socio-cultural backgrounds across multiple time-spaces), designed and conducted a set of bodily experiments physically enacted and shared on Zoom. The aim of these experiments was to enact through practice-based research exercises that critically addressed our forced digital living upon our forced digital living, working, and researching during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our project was born out of our desire to examine: How do we, by living, working, and researching bodies, perceive, experience, and live the pandemic through the altered corporeal feelings and mediated senses of connection bound by digital devices? What does “feeling digital” mean for ethnographic practices? In this project, we consider the body not only an epistemic object but an epistemological agent that builds and generates knowledge from itself and about itself in relation to the collective. Coming from diverse geographical locations, we produced embodied records from our practices, materialized in digital mediums, and then reported and reflected on through a multimodal ethnographic conversation. This panel is a reflexive and creative staging of our multi-modal ethnographic experiments, which will include one introductory video followed by a series of audio-video products co-designed by group participants. Through this panel, we review our processes and experiences to engage with “affect” and reconstruct the boundaries between “actual” and “virtual”, “online” and “offline”, from an incarnated, situated, and phenomenological scope.