Tag Archives: Sarah Pink

Taking Korsakow to Göttingen

It seems like ages ago, that I left RMIT and Australia to return to Göttingen University. Before wrapping things up, though, I presented my fieldwork material in the context of a seminar in dialogue with PhD candidate Citt Williams (@cittw) hosted by Sarah Pink and the Digital Ethnography Research Centre on recent advances in “Digital Documentary, Interaction and Storytelling”. Drawing on two quite different approaches and findings, Citt and I critically discussed how the rapid advancements in the affordances of media technology are and could be utilized to engage with “the real”. As a professional, passionate and proactive filmmaker and environmental scientist, Citt explored how technology currently enables us to tell stories of environmental complexity, whilst through an ethnographic lense, I talked about my approach to develop meta-perspectives on documentary filmmakers using digital technology (i.e. Korsakow).

DERC Twitter: Post

DERC Twitter: Post 17th March 2016

The seminar was really well attended and a lively discussion followed touching upon issues such as engagement – disengagement, multilinear aspects of knowing (affective, sensory etc.) and the discrepancy in social media discourse between doing/producing and viewing/responding. It was a great pleasure to also welcome Adrian Miles and Hannah Brasier amongst the audience. After the presentation Adrian came to congratulate me but when asked whether he felt that I had portrayed him and his process with Korsakow in a way that he could approve he just said that it would not matter. The only thing that mattered to him was that my research would lead to new insights about what his practice. Right. So I am going to tell him something he does not yet know about himself? Good luck, future-me. Anyway, I’d like to take this opportunity to say that I am very grateful to have received such broad support from all of my protagonists during my stay at RMIT and beyond (A big Thank You to all of you again).

Since April I’ve been circling back and forth between my desk, the editing room, the 13th Göttingen International Ethnographic Film Festival, a workshop with Australian Visual Anthropologist David MacDougall and frequent Skype meetings with the other Docuversers back in Melbourne. One of the most interesting but also challenging tasks at hand, however, is that of teaching Korsakow in the context of the local Master program in Cultural Anthropology with an emphasis on Visual Anthropology (CVA). In this project-based curriculum, the students are currently focusing on the overall topic of “images” (in a broader sense) and the specific practices behind the production of these images. Amongst the potential protagonists they chose for their camera-based fieldwork are artists, actors and urban planners but also dreams, opticians and surveillance technology. By applying notions from social practice theory (Reckwitz 2003), “skilled visions” (Grasseni 2007) as well as sensory and phenomenological approaches in visual anthropology, the students will carefully observe the specific visual practices in accordance with the particular subject-object constellations that inform the implicit and incorporated knowledge at work.

Although, the aim of the Master’s program is to engage with the theory and practice of ethnographic film, we will also attempt to choreograph the material they will gather during their fieldwork within a collective Korsakow project. In a first step, we will investigate to what extent Korsakow can be helpful within the research process itself. Through a circular process of observing and capturing material and importing this into the software, we hope to use Korsakow as a tool to notice unnoticed aspects in the footage which will then, again, inform how the students approach the field and camerawork. In a second step, the various clips will be combined in a joint project to trace connections across the different visual practices.

On Tuesday, the first session of introducing interactive documentary to the students kicked off with a practical exercise: Without providing them with a definite time frame, I asked the students to individually engage with Florian’s Planet Galata and to take notes on their experience. The task served as an exploratory reception study for my research as well as it offered the students a starting point for their work with Korsakow. By approaching the system from a viewer’s perspective, they were immediately confronted with their own expectations towards the format. During the following discussion, many students expressed frustration and stress, feeling overwhelmed by Korsakow’s small-size, multimodal arrangement, its lack of structure, tension and closure.

Mindmap: A viewer's perspective on Korsakow, 17th May 2016

Mindmap: A viewer’s perspective on Korsakow, 17th May 2016

Among other things, their sense of disappointment was clearly stemming from their background in and knowledge of linear documentary and, thus, the criteria they utilized to view and evaluate the Korsakow film turned out to be misleading. The discussion then also revealed that it is not only a “lack” of the system but perhaps a lack in the literacy of the audience: How do we watch these films? How can we evaluate and talk about them? Isn’t the term “film” itself a misleading one?

However, after looking at the following quote by Judith Aston and Sandra Gaudenzi, their perspective started to change:

“Florian Thalhofer’s description of his difficult experience in editing his first linear film Planet Galata (2011) for Arte television, raised issues relating to the affordances of both the linear and non-linear form. As the inventor of Korsakow (an authoring tool for interactive video), he claimed that ‘the film’ (the linear Planet Galata) made him lie. He used humour and provocation to explain how the Aristotelian narrative form – with its need of a beginning, a complication, a middle and a resolution at the end – ‘forced’ him to construct a story that was not fitting with his real life experience. Contrary to the argument that most documentary makers have about the use of interactivity in documentaries – that the lack of authorial voice ultimately leads to a multitude of meaningless stories – Thalhofer argued that interactivity can set up scenarios whilst at the same time freeing the author from forcing a point of view onto his audience” (2012, 133).

With reference to debates in cultural and visual anthropologists around issues of representation, some of the students felt that such a multilinear arrangement of the material could get closer to the actual experience in the field by highlighting the different perspectives and processuality in our research. As a form of disseminating knowledge, however, Korsakow remains under close scrutiny. In the next session, the students will learn how to use Korsakow and it will be interesting to see how their experience as viewers will influence their role as makers.



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.