Tag Archives: i-docs

Summing Things Up

While this year is slowly coming to its end, I would like to take the time to reflect on my first 2,5 months of research at RMIT’s non/fictionLab. The last weeks at uni have been quite busy with a lot of events: after presenting my work at the Graduate Research Conference, I attended a DERC workshop which was held on the 16th Dec and which aimed at redefining what it means to be part of the Digital Ethnography Research Centre. I was very happy to be a part of that and tried my best to help envision what this center could offer PhD students in the future in terms of academic and social support as well as international networking. As a first oucome of this meeting, a new Facebook group was installed and hopefully this will serve as a starting point for an ever thriving conversation amongst ethnographic scholars here and there. As a result of this attendance, I already feel more connected to DERC and will hopefully get the chance to engage in more workshops and events at the start of next year. Methodologically, it is a huge bonus for me and my research to be able to interact with like-minded scholars in the field of digital ethnography and, thus, I hope to present my work (and preliminary results) at DERC towards the end of my stay in March 2016.

Another event that was quite crucial for my research was Adrian Miles’ Korsakow Workshop (which unfortunately took place at the same day, so I found myself caught between the two worlds of DERC and the non/fictionLab). During the first part of the workshop, Adrian gave a presentation on the philosophy and the technicalities of the software. While I was busy filming the whole thing, I had a hard time (as always) focusing on both, getting good footage as well as listening attentively. However, I’m happy about the result and will post some of the material early next year. What I did manage to catch, though, was the fact that he framed Korsakow just the same way he had during our first interview at the beginning of my stay. Following this, he compared Korsakow, for instance, to “a musical instrument” that “you learn how to play” and referred to its affordances as a way to “choreograph the different parts” and eventually “notice the patterns that emerge”.

The second part of the workshop was then dedicated to “making things” with Korsakow. Adrian provided us with short video clips of trees in the wind or trains going in and out of stations and the corresponding still images. He talked us through the circular process of importing the material into the software, assigning keywords (usually the same keyword for every clip to start off with) and then exporting the K-Film to let the clips interact with each other randomly and using that observation as a means of informing and shaping the gradually evolving keyword design.

All in all, the workshop gave me a good idea of what Korsakow could be used for and how it could work. But to put it in Kim Munro’s words:

You have to think in Korsakow to become a Korsakowian.

Still, when I watch Hannah Brasier and how she builds her PhD project in Korsakow, I can’t seem to wrap my head around it fully: What does it all mean? After our last session of supervision this year on the following day where we (amongst other things) discussed Simon O’Sullivan’s Aesthetics of Affect, it dawned on me: I haven’t been able to fully grasp affect theory yet. Otherwise, I would have understood by now that this might not be about meaning in the first place.

The next three months already promise to be busy ones: I’d like to conduct an interview with Seth Keen who also teaches Korsakow at RMIT and even developed his own tool for interactive documentary in the context of his PhD. I also need to conduct a follow-up interview with Adrian – too many question marks are hovering above my head at the moment. Moreover, there is still our Docuverse Symposium that needs more planning before it can actually happen in February 2016. I have also been invited to give a poster presentation at the upcomming i-docs Symposium in Bristol at the beginning of March which is super exciting but will take up a lot of time in terms of preperation and travelling. Last but not least, this blog hasn’t reached its full potential yet. I would like to post more frequently and use it as a space for reflection that could then feed back into my research at the Lab. Another thing that is still lingering in the back of my mind is my supervisor Regina Bendix and her comment on this blog:

Great blog! Now I’m excited to see how you will use it to shape first (non-)linear thoughts of analysis.

How could this blog be used in a nonlinear way I wonder? I already use hyperlinks, right? Neither the wordpress format nor my coding skills (or lack there of) offer much room for innovation. Adrian thinks it’s not possible to explore multilinearity on a platform like that. Well, I guess we will have to see what happens… trial & error, over & out.

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.

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…