Dr. Gregory Gan
A dozen international Russian-speaking artists have gathered together in a collaborative art project to explore our shared experience of growing up, living-, and working in Soviet-era panel-block apartments, where some participants continue to live today. This setting serves as inspiration for the creation—and curation—of artwork based on this experience, whereby half the project’s participants are based in Russia, and the other half is located in Germany. The goal of this transnational dialogue was to combine a diversity of voices from two countries whose Soviet-era housing has met diametrically opposite contemporary reactions from policy-makers. In Moscow, Russia, an urban renewal program launched in 2017 is marshalling the demolition of over five thousand post-war apartment blocks, promising a million-and-a-half displaced residents modern, vertical living in exchange. In counterpoint to this, approximately a quarter million “Plattenbauen” apartments in former East Berlin remain standing, having undergone extensive renovation and modernization with encouragement from the Berlin Senate. While all the artists participating in the project have grown up in panel homes, some have sought different type of housing abroad, others have remained living in their panel-home apartments in Moscow or relocated to them in Germany, and others still are facing eviction from their homes owing to the renovation initiative. The community created through this shared enterprise encourages creative discussions amongst participants, offers mutual support, or comforts participants who risk losing their homes. This paper will present this range of discussions, and introduce a range of experimental ethnographic methods developed for the qualitative research component of this collaborative, creative project.
GHOSTING THE CITY
Maja-Lee Voigt, Cesrin Schneider, Charlotte Niewerth, and Juliane Bötel
With COVID-19 haunting city streets for two years now, putting exciting, dense, and beautifully messy encounters at a (social) distance, the urbanscape seems to slowly resemble a ghost town. Its occupants are ghost (delivery) riders, human advertisement columns, promoting convenience served on your doorstep; ghost kitchens, feeding an urban infrastructure from invisible backyards; ghost workers, filtering frontends and contents; and shady smart city governing strategies, profiting from personal data shadows. During the pandemic, the public collective coming-together of differences has ghosted the city.
The spirit of (urban) community is newly and virtually gated, but not gone. It (temporarily) transitioned into rich data flows, algorithmic architectures, and immaterial, yet still ‘real’, digital agoras. Moreover, ghosting and glitching – slipping through static materializations, machines, and normative mechanisms – in this increasingly hybrid world allows for new forms of virtual encounters in an online otherwise. The ‘in-between’ of ghosts and ghosting practices encourages to occupy the cracks, hack technocapitalist and patriarchal (power) technologies, and find alternative opportunities of world-building in the margins against all oppressive odds (hooks 1989) – be it in the virtual, the unattributable data or in the urban space, the invisible places and actors that maintain the environment.
Curating an interactive, digital, and multilayered map, we not only want to think outside the Zoom tile and black-boxed (power) technologies behind it; building on experimental exploration methods of everyday life as well as on our ongoing qualitative research on the platformization of the urban we want to tell (ghost) stories. In a pandemic ‘ethnography from our home offices’, we invite everybody to follow us to the invisible, sometimes spooky digital backends and material urban backyards in Hamburg, Germany. Audio files, illustrative visualizations, mental maps, and (web)links will send you on a 90-minute-ghost hunt questioning controlling codes that privately aim to predefine urban futures; and similarly revealing the resistive fight for liberation in its ghosted cracks. Thus our map traces the Afrofuturist, Latinx, and queerfeminist call to abolish the multidimensionally violent, corporeal, and dominant (techno-social) order – towards the rewriting of spaces of possibility and a radical transformation; towards virtual and urban otherwise worlds.
Sareeta Amrute, University of Washington/Data & Society Research Institute; Gabriele de Seta, University of Bergen; Nick Seaver, Tufts University; Mathew Gagné, University of Toronto Mississauga; Madiha Tahir, Arizona State University
The anthropology of the virtual has long recognized how the human is encountered, sustained, created, and erased through technologies as diverse as atomic weaponry, automated decision-making, police and military surveillance, facial recognition, and predictive AI systems. This panel draws together the long-standing focus in the anthropology of the virtual on humans, cyborgs, simulations, and techno-social infrastructures with an equally persistent concern in ethnography and related disciplines: the question of the senses. As virtual worlds are recognized as both a part and apart from human, animal, and natural worlds, the question of how technologies perceive and how we in turn perceive them seems increasingly timely. Where once many experienced the age of modernity as a world picture, perhaps today we experience the contemporary moment as an age of the world sensor. In this panel, we collectively explore how U.S. imperial war machines sense their targets, how AI vision sees a human face, how humans and algorithmic systems pay attention to each other, how activist networks use technological channels to organize collective senses and sensibilities, how everyday encounters with machine vision technologies circulate on social media, and how users of gay sex apps distrust the sensations generated by the exchange of information. Across our contributions, we pay close attention to how these sensory apparati and the dispositions they embody both take up particular (and particularly located) histories, projecting versions of the future that are elegiac, apocalyptic, hopeful, mournful, and inevitable – to name only a few senses and tenses of these possible future worlds. These forays into future senses and sensory futures are assembled as a speculative montage, exploring the anthropological implications of the entwining of technical and human sensoria.
DIASPORIC PRAXIS: RE-THINKING ETHNOGRAPHIC APPROACHES TO THE BALKANS
Pauline Shongov, Maya Shopova, Borislav Angelov
The panel will discuss a multi-year online project that has been in production since fall 2020 called Off-Site: Diasporic Imaginaries of the Balkan Edge. Employing methods in visual anthropology and cultural heritage studies, this work rethinks the possibilities for ethnography through curation and collaborative research between artists, scholars, and communities. The site of the virtual becomes a first step towards an ethics of care. The project asks the following questions: In what ways can we re-imagine the scale of the Balkans on a material, affective, and sensorial level? How do historical conditions complicate the geographic binary of periphery and center to rethink edges as mobile and discrete sites of diasporic life? How can we approach the production of knowledge from the edge?
Drawing on the period of 1989, when Bulgaria witnessed its largest wave of emigration, Off-Site pivots around three definitions of преходът (prehodat), or passage, defined as a change in material state, geographic place, and historical condition. We have curated site-specific prompts that range in gustatory, sonic, and visual engagements with site for each group of selected artists. To date, we have invited eighteen artists and generated six prompts: “Building Affects: Body in/of the Archive,” “Practices of Care,” “Sonic Knowing,” “Physics of Entropy,” “Liquid Ecologies,” and “Brick Dust Matter.” Each prompt, carefully curated from content to location, centers around a material relationship to Bulgaria. From the gathering of oral history, herbal tea, sound recording, video documentation, plant specimen, and material culture, the prompts not only establish a tangible proximity to site, but also stage the next phase of the project, one that will invite artists to animate these locations on site. While responding to the prompts, artists are asked to contribute to the Collective Brain, an online repository of readings, notes, and sketches that add to an existing archive of ongoing research in the Off-Site project: http://www.collectivebrain.xyz/g/Off-Site.
Since the conception of the project, the notion of diaspora has expanded to include various local actors and institutions in Bulgaria, and across other countries, who continue to assist our initiative in structuring the online exhibit. We have worked closely with an herbalist in Bulgaria to send tea packages as prompt material to one group of artists and have interviewed folk singer Valya Balkanska and musician Petar Yanev, whose song was part of the Voyager records in 1977, for another. The Harvard Herbaria also assisted with the mounting and packaging of plant specimen collected from ruin sites in Bulgaria. The artists contributing to the project include: Alen Agaranov, Nicolas Kisic Aguirre, Anna Ulrikke Andersen, Katarina Burin, Nolan Oswald Dennis, Ganavya Doraiswamy, Sam Ghantous, Elitza Koeva, Nicole L’Huillier, Eric Maltz, Mariangela Mihai, Noha Mokhtar, Manar Moursi, Lucas Odahara, Zeynep Toraman, Nancy Valladares, Zhe Wang, Anya Yermakova.
VIRTUAL MATTER: TRANSLATIONS OF TIME, SPACE AND PEOPLE
Nikolas Matovinovic, Oscar Raby Piccardo, Kate Euphemia Clark, Trang Le, Eylem Kim
New technologies are often promised to change the way we interact with the world. THe most recent example of this being Facebook rebranding itself as Meta, a new internet where we supposedly will have more freedom, along with less spatial and temporal constraints. However, digital technologies always seem to fall short of these promises. In reality, technology is influenced by, embedded in, and constrained by our material conditions. This panel seeks to explore the socio-cultural context that is left out when the assumption is made that digital technology is ‘immaterial’. This panel looks at many different manifestations of digital space, including, film, virtual reality (VR), platforms, and smartphones to explore the ways that technological mediation changes our relationship with the world around us. Whether this be in the form of mediation of political weaponisation of emotions (Platformising humanitarian assistance during COVID-19 in Vietnam); social relationships (Pressed for Time); our own subjectivity (Don’t look up); the role of the artist (“I am not a cat”); or physical space (The limits and possibilities of digital reproduction of spaces). The increasing sophistication of digital technology does not signify a move beyond material concerns, instead it requires us to reconsider how digital technology refracts the physical world.
Rashmi Kumari and Sreedhar Nemmani
For the Indigenous (Adivasi) youths organizing and resisting India’s extractive expansion into their traditional homes, and sacred and pastoral lands, surveillance is an everyday visceral experience. When the in-person rallying, and sitting-in protests are not possible due to multiple reasons – Covid-19 protocols, incessant rains, and barricaded village roads being a few examples, the option of mobilizing support is not closed to the youth. They seek multiple platforms to garner support and keep the state at bay from further encroaching into their lands with rhetoric of development and aided by heavy construction machineries, armored vehicles, military camps, and patrolling police forces. This panel presents a film and a discussion on the various strategies that the Adivasi youth from ‘conflict-ridden’ Bastar adapt to use virtuality to overcome their physical and material interruptions imposed by the state machinery. We bring into conversation Rashmi’s doctoral research on youth resistance with Sreedhar’s work on non-conventional uses of technologies in peripheral community spaces. For this panel, we present a film that was made by collating footages shot during our fieldwork, footages shared via social media by the youth activists, and the campaigns around the activism made by both youth and the state. The film includes sloganeering, and chanting of political messages during active rallying, singing and dancing to the tunes of political songs, and political speeches made by Adivasi youth activists during their ongoing protest over the last 9 months. These songs evoke the community’s sense of belonging to the forests, to the rivers, and to the hills by invoking the spirit of their revolutionary forefathers. By connecting to the past and to the future the youth use traditional forms of connectivity with digital technologies to sustain their movements.