Tag Archives: sensory ethnography

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.



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.