Tag Archives: Guided Interviews

Ah! – The Korsakow Point of View

The last two weeks marked some kind of a “threshold” for me – an epiphany, a moment of “Ah!” in which you suddenly notice a pattern, to speak in Korsakow (Adrian’s ?) tongue.

It all started to make more sense when I decided to conduct a second interview with Adrian a couple of weeks ago. This time, however, I felt rather unprepared. My questions did not seem as well-thought through as the ones I had compiled for the first round of interviews. Having conducted four of these more introductory interviews about Korsakow in general and how my respondents use and conceptualize it in particular, the questions would come to me almost automatically. This follow-up conversation, now, confronted me with all the gaps and question marks that had piled up in my head over the last four months. It was probably best to recapitulate what I already knew, which were two things, at least:

1) I had to grasp “the Korsakow point of view” and
2) I was not quite there yet.

In the end, the bad preparation turned out to be a rather good one as the course of the interview followed my inner confusion and eventually, led to a rather lively conversation between Adrian and me. Gradually, it appeared I was taking on the role of the provocateur, sending one follow-up question after another into Adrian’s direction who picked up on them in long monologues which seemed to spark new ideas for both of us. A couple of days later he publishes a new post on his blog:

Franzsi interviewed me last week and had some provocative questions, observations, and concerns. It was good to be called to account and to stretch ideas. One of these proddings was around non versus multi linearity. I prefer multilinearity as a way to describe the sorts of interconnected nodal things I make and advocate.

[…] In relation to interactive media (for example a Korsakow film) that understand these affordances this thicker notion of nonlinearity is, I suspect, an interesting and provocative way to theorise what happens with readers. I click, click, click, wondering what is happening and why, and then, ah, I begin to understand. That ‘ah’ is the phase transition, a threshold, where I move from random clicking to the discovery of what I take to be a significant pattern. This emergence of a pattern, performed by the reader, is a different question or problem to that asked by the general structure of interactive work.

This sounds strangely familar. Am I experiencing a “Korsakow – Ah” moment right now? At first, though, there was still more confusion to come when I interviewed another lecturer of the RMIT media program, Patrick Kelly, whose research focuses on contemporary documentary film-making and storytelling and who had used Korsakow for one of his projects and was keen on telling me more about his experience with the software.

While his answers, again like the ones Seth gave me, varied from Adrian’s and Hannah’s notions on Korsakow and what it could and rather not be used for (to some extent quite significantly), let alone comparing the ideas collected here to Florian Thalhofer’s, I figured adding yet another in-/coherent piece to the fuzzy Korsakow puzzle did not really help me.

Browsing through all of the interviews I had shot so far, listening to one description of Korsakow after another, and yet another, “wondering what is happening” here at RMIT “and why”, I suddenly began to notice something and decided to edit this short sequence.

Aside from Adrian’s very clear notions of what Korsakow can and cannot be used for (and no doubt, he has given it a lot (possibly the most) of thought), let alone the software’s somewhat limited affordances, to me the “story” of Korsakow appears to be still open-ended. For one, it is a tool with undiscovered potentials; Seth Keen and Patrick Kelly both pointed towards the possibilities utilizing Korsakow’s affordances in different (research design; installation; narrative; …) ways. When asked about his opinion (and initial criticism) about my research proposition that Korsakow could be used as a tool for ethnographic research, Adrian compared it to tools used in the Social Sciences for qualitative data analysis (e.g. atlas.ti or MAXQDA) highlighting the similarities of the process: As an ethnographer, you go into the field with an open-mind towards what might matter and then explore the connections that emerge between the pieces of data you have collected (finding out what matters) with the help of the software. Interestingly, when I last presented my project’s development to the members of my Research Group in Germany on the 8th October 2015, I proposed the very same idea but it was dismissed for lacking basis of comparison since Korsakow and QDA-software were thought to be too different…

For Adrian it is documentary, because it assists him in exploring his ideas about the world. Due to its generative procedural nature, Korsakow becomes “a tool you can think with” about the messiness of the world and in what ways all these multiple facets of each and every object, human or non-human, are interconnected.

Interactivity, documentary, interactive documentary – for Adrian these are, first and foremost, pragmatic terms, to be heard and understood amongst a field of theoreticians who are still chasing romantic concepts of documentary and the ways it used to be defined (with regard to film and video). It seems to me, in order to grasp Korsakow’s point of view, one has to grasp the web’s point of view – which might be small-scale, individual, fragmented… but most definitely its environment is inherently different from that of traditional film and media. With a lot of interactive documentaries being made by practitioners who are still caught up in old paradigms, the transition is not as simple as merely transferring the content onto these new online platforms. For the expanding field of interactive documentary, Korsakow’s role could be that of assisting this transition, offering practitioners a tool to explore new ideas how to make use of the web in ways that make sense to its distinct characteristics. In the same vein, it could become a tool for exploring fieldwork data in different ways, possibly paying more attention to sensory, aesthetic or usually overlooked moments and making this open process of finding multiple connections available to the public instead of constructing one linear master-narrative.

It could become a tool for thought.

Korsakow – A tool for … what?

Only three weeks into the new year, and things are already advancing rapidly, again. Adrian Miles felt like kicking things off in our first session of supervision this Monday when he had us draw a timline for our PhD projects. Reverse-engineering it from the time I should be finished (which is March 2018 THE LATEST), I ended up with quite a work-intensive schedule for 2016. According to my calculations, this would mean that by the end of this year, I will have

  • attended three conferences
  • published two articles
  • completed my fieldwork AND reception study
  • analyzed my data
  • AND written one to two chapters of my dissertation

Right. Not sure if this is supposed to motivate or scare me. Probably the plan is a bit ambitious, to say the least. Afterall, it’s hard to know your time management, when there is nearly any external institution that makes you meet certain deadlines along the way. This reminds me again of one of the biggest differences compared to the Australian (or RMIT?) system, where you have to present milestones at regular intervals throughout your candidature (very clear requirements indeed, even a specific word count that has to be achieved – this is how clear it can get!). Anyway, having this rather vague timeline hanging on my fridge now definitely serves as one thing: a reminder that there will be an end to this sheer never-ending endeavor to “map Korsakow”.

As for the ongoing process of my lit review, the supervision group has been quite helpful as well. Following our discussions on Simon O’Sullivan’s The Aesthetics of Affect piece, and the confusion it produced regarding affect theory, we decided to dig a bit deeper into the field of new materialism. A while ago, my attention was drawn to actor-network theory but after having tried and failed to understand this “theory” (I know it is NOT a theory but it is called “theory” after all right?) by reading Latour, confusion overwhelmed me and I put it back on the massive stack of “to be read”. Although, we did not get a chance to talk about this on Monday, the readings of Annemarie Mol’s article on Actor-Network Theory: Sensitive Turns and Enduring Tensions and John Law’s chapter on Multiple Worlds already offered a highly beneficial starting point for further enquiry.

Feeling the (positive) pressure stirring up inside of me, I scheduled another interview for the next day. This time it would be with Seth Keen, a lecturer at RMIT in the media program, specialized in teaching the new media strand courses. I had already met Seth during MINA festival, the Dialogues and Atmospheres Symposium as well as Craig Hight’s Masterclass in Documentary and was really excited to talk to him more in depth about his specific approach to Korsakow considering that he had developped an authoring tool for interactive media himself during the course of his PhD. Compared to my other interviewees, Adrian Miles and Hannah Brasier, his perspective appears to be slightly different and perhaps a bit more closely related to my own ideas surrounding Korsakow as a tool and for what this tool could possibly be used for. At this point, I don’t want to give too much away just yet. But check out his definition of Korsakow and get an idea on what this could be hinting at:

By adding more pieces to the puzzle, the Korsakow picture gets more precise as it gets blurry. At least, actor-network theory and new materialism promise to become helpful tools in finding an appropriate set of terms for describing how the different actors involved enact each other. Hopefully, the Docuverse Symposium in February will bring more people together working in the field of expanding notions on documentary theory and practice and will, thus, serve as a platform for addressing questions such as how to make sense of all these different perspectives in the context of documentary knowledge production and dissemination.

Here is our updated Call for Contributions with details on confirmed speakers, location and RSVP:

Updated Call for Contributions DOCUVERSE


Presenting my Project at the Graduate Research Conference

GRC_WednesdayOn December 2nd 2015, the annual Graduate Research Conference kicked off with a day full of 10 minute presentations of current PhD candidates at RMIT’s Media and Communications Department. After being encouraged by Adrian Miles and fellow students to use this opportunity to present my work in progress, I sent an abstract to the GRC committee and was happy to find that I was put on a panel together with Hannah Brasier and Kim Munro. With Hannah talking about her approach to Korsakow as a tool for “composing multilinear rhythms” to “engage with the messiness of the world”, she provided an illustrative example for the ways this software can be appropriated. While my talk offered a meta-perspective on her practice, Kim concluded the panel with yet another example for an authoring tool to create interactive documentary – Klynt. In the following discussion, chaired by Sam Whiting, the questions mainly focused on the differences between these platforms (multilinearity vs. polyvocality), the reasons for using interactive (online) affordances to construct documentary (and fiction?) meaning as well as the specific disposition and experience of the audience. What was most interesting for my research, however, was the discussion surrounding Korsakow’s standing within the field of interactive documentary (new interest?) as well as the difficulties of my role here at the non/fictionLab having to do research with as well as on Hannah. In return, the question bounced back to Hannah who told us how it made her feel to be observed and interviewed by me.GRC Discussion

Here is what I presented:

Hi and welcome to my short presentation on Interactivity and Documentary Knowledge. With this talk, I would like to accomplish two things: First of all, I would like to give a short introduction to myself and my PhD project and secondly, this will hopefully provide an answer to the question of what I am actually doing here at RMIT for the next 5 months. So let’s get started…

PPT_GRC_021215_Folie1My name is Franziska Weidle and I am a visiting PhD candidate from Göttingen University in Germany. I’ve been working on my PhD thesis since October 2014 as a member of a research training group which mainly consists of literary scholars focusing on the overall topic of literature and the dissemination of literature in the digital age. During my Masters in Cultural and Visual Anthropology I learned how to use photography, film and video as a tool for ethnographic research and representation. I found it to be an invaluable extension to the anthropologist’s toolkit to pay justice to the richness of the fieldwork experience. Given my research group’s focus on the digital age and its influence towards literary forms, I then started wondering: in what ways are technological advancements influencing documentary forms and how could digital tools be used for anthropological research?

PPT_GRC_021215_Folie2When trying to map the rapidly evolving field of digital interactive documentaries, I found it really difficult to make sense of what I encountered:

  • augmentation, mobile and social media, live performances, virtual reality, 360°
  • databases, UGC, geo-mapping (to name only a few)

Not only was I dealing with a highly diverse palette of forms and contents, different levels of engagement and interactive affordances, moreover, these phenomena were all framed as “documentary”. This observation clearly challenged the notions of documentary that I had encountered in my studies. Well to put it bluntly, I was highly confused.

PPT_GRC_021215_Folie3To shed a bit of light onto the chaos unfolding in front of me, I decided to approach this issue on a micro level: When I was looking at all these different interactive formats there was one tool that stood out for me because it appeared to incorporate all the essential ingredients, I was interested in:

PPT_GRC_021215_Folie4So what is this software all about?

Some refer to this software as an authoring tool for documentaries, others might use broader terms such as nonfiction or simply interactive works while German artist Florian Thalhofer who developed the software in 2000 talks about creating nonlinear, rule-based, interactive narratives. He invented this tool because he was working on a film about a mental disease which leads to dementia and was interested in finding a form which would imitate this fragmentation of the brain. However, over the years other filmmakers, artists and scholars have started using the software to produce a significant body of documentary work. Hannah Brasier is one of them and her presentation already provided a wonderful example for this software and how you could make use of it (yes, we are talking about Korsakow). Korsakow is also subject of debate amongst interactive media practitioners and scholars of various disciplines, it is discussed at international documentary film festivals, and even used for teaching media and film students.

So why am I looking at this?

My proposition, for the time being, is that if we take a closer look at Korsakow, its affordances, its makers and players, the agents, discussions and dynamics 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 in general, and the ecology of an interactive or “living” documentary as Sandra Gaudenzi has put it, in particular. So by studying the software as a system that is embedded in a wider discourse and by asking what its users do with it and why they do what they do, I hope to gain a better understanding of the different dynamics at play when using interactive technology to construct documentary meaning. My observations, then, will hopefully lead to some insights into how this could be applied to cultural and visual anthropological research.

PPT_GRC_021215_Folie5So how am I going to study this?

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 addressing Korsakow, and I have already conducted several interviews with Florian Thalhofer, the inventor of Korsakow. Last but not leat, 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 the nonfictionLab where Adrian Miles appears to have institutionalized the software to a certain degree. Not only does he writes about the software and uses it to make his own interactive works, he also started using it for teaching and is currently supervising Hannah Brasier’s work which is also of particular interest for my research.

PPT_GRC_021215_Folie6So for my research stay here at the nonfictionLab, 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 my observations and 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 footage I have collected to make my own Korsakow film to test my proposition how this could be used for an ethnographic approach.

Apart from the Lab, RMIT University is also of great significance to me because of its focus on practice-based research which is a complete different environment for me compared to my home university. Furthermore, my take on visual anthropology has been heavily influenced by Sarah Pink’s work on Sensory and Digital Ethnography. Thus, I am very happy to have the chance to meet her here and familiarize myself more with the Digital Ethnography Research Center of which she is currently the incoming Co-Director. By taking part in the reading sessions and other DERC events, I hope to facilitate discussions on not only my research but also on methodological approaches in general when it comes to engaging with digital environments and affordances.

By the beginning of April next year, I will have returned to Germany to teach a class on interactivity and documentary knowledge production at Göttingen University. For this purpose, I hope to use the knowledge and skills I have acquired at RMIT and together with the visual anthropology students in Germany, I would, then, like to test how Korsakow lets me think about cultural anthropology in a different way.

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