Monthly Archives: November 2015

Getting Started at RMIT’s non/fictionLab

One year into my PhD project, I have finally left my desk in Göttingen and hundreds of hours of lit review behind, to start collecting some empirical data. For the next six months, I will be a participant observer at RMIT’s non/fictionLab, Melbourne, Australia. It took a lot of bureaucracy, diplomacy and, most importantly, patience. But now, I am finally here, thousands of miles away from my desk, colleagues, family and friends.

RMIT Staff Card

RMIT Staff Card

One month into my fieldwork and I am already exhausted by the amount of input I got exposed to. This is, of course, a good thing because it means my stay here is more than worth it in regard to my research interest. In fact, already the first week was so packed with information and introductions, it drowned my head in exciting confusion, while leaving my field diary empty and untouched (apart from arriving at this highly sophisticated headline):

Empty Field Diary

Empty Field Diary

Clearly, I did not have a clue where to start.

When I reached out to a fellow ethnographer her advice was simple but wise: Just start. So I decided to start by filming my first interview with Adrian Miles who is a New Media lecturer at RMIT and one of the key protagonists for this research.

In preperation for that, the first pages of my diary were gradually filling up…

Preperation for my first Interview with Adrian Miles

Preperation for my first Guided Narrative Interview with Adrian Miles

 

Mapping Korsakow

Mapping Korsakow

Exhibiting my project at Goettingen University's "Long Night of Knowledge", Nov. 2014

Short Introduction

My name is Franziska Weidle and I am a PhD candidate from Göttingen University in Germany. During my Masters in Visual Anthropology and English Philology, I put special emphasis on cultural anthropological knowledge and how it is produced and disseminated when using film/video as a tool for ethnographic research and representation. One project, I was involved in during this time, focused on migration in Germany. After completing our fieldwork, we collaborated with artists to present our findings in an interactive media installation as well as an open digital archive. In my Master thesis, I focused on documentary hybrids and suggested to utilize the narratological concept of unreliable narration as a framework for the analysis of films like Paul Wolffram’s “Stori Tombuna – Tales of the Ancestors”.

Since October 2014, I’ve been working on my PhD thesis as a member of The German Research Foundation (DFG) Research Training Group “Literature and Dissemination of Literature in the Digital Age”. The specific focus of this postgraduate group allows for a perfect synthesis of my different research interests, on the one hand, and an employment of the various methodological tool kits, on the other. To tackle my overall research question, namely in what ways the documentary genre has been and is being influenced by the digital, thus, I combine literary and visual anthropological methodologies. More specifically, I look at a software and what different agents do with, through and around it in order to construct documentary meaning. This software is called Korsakow. Some refer to the software as an authoring tool for documentaries, others might classify Korsakow films (K-films) as nonfiction while German artist Florian Thalhofer who developed the software in 2000 talks about creating nonlinear, rule-based, interactive narratives. Thalhofer is one of Korsakow’s most frequent users. However, other artists, filmmakers and scholars have started using it to produce a significant body of documentary (?) work. The software is being discussed by media industries at international documentary film festivals as well as by academics across different disciplines on conferences and in publications and it is even used for teaching film/media students.

At my Desk in Goettingen

At my Desk in Goettingen: Preperation Phase for my Fieldwork at RMIT, Melbourne, Australia

To put it an a nutshell, already the description of Korsakow and what it might be and not be points towards potential confusion. On a larger scale, this confusion is mirrored in the rapidly evolving field of so-called interactive documentaries (or “i-docs” as Sandra Gaudenzi has coined the phenomenon in her PhD), an umbrella term to encompass a highly diverse palette of forms and contents, different levels of engagement and interactive affordances and they are all framed as “documentary”. So instead of looking at the entire field of or discourse on interactive documentary, I have decided to approach this on a micro level: If we take a closer look at Korsakow, its affordances, its makers and players, the agents and discussions surrounding it, then we begin to see a microcosm of its own which, nontheless, shares significant characteristics with the general developments in the wider field of interactive documentary and will hopefully give me a better understanding of interactivity’s role within the context of documentary knoweldge production.

Mapping i-docs, an impossible task

Trying to make sense of i-docs: an impossible task?

Apart from analyzing the software itself and the works that have been produced with it, I undertake participant observation in on- and offline environments which means, I follow the discussions surrounding Korsakow on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, I have visited several international documentary film festivals that have developed programs dedicated to interactive forms and specifically discussing Korsakow, and I have already conducted an interview with Florian Thalhofer. Last but not least, I have also developed an online questionnaire with which I hope to address the invisible and anonymous group of people who only watch Korsakow films but not produce films themselves or take part in the discussions.

Now, to take my fieldwork a step further, I am currently conducting a camera-ethnography at RMIT’s non/fictionLab where Adrian Miles appears to have institutionalized the software to a certain degree. Not only does he write about the software and creates his own K-films, he also started teaching it and is currently even supervising a PhD project that uses Korsakow for a practice-based research.

So, for my research stay here at the non/fictionLab, I have set myself an agenda:
Not only will I take part in the Lab’s activities such as workshops, meetings and events, I will also film interviews with key protagonists as well as compile an audiovisual field diary on my experience. Then, I hope to learn how to use Korsakow by taking part in one of Adrian’s workshops before I’ll eventually use the material I have collected to make my own Korsakow film. This blog aims at documenting this experience. Stay tuned…