Visible Evidence 2021

Anthropo/scene Visualities: Human and More-Than-Human Representational Regimes

Alisa Lebow
Adam Fish
Janet Walker
Respondent: Patricia R. Zimmermann
Wed, Dec 15
90 Min
Mousonturm (Rehearsal 1), Online
Back to Program
The Nonhuman

Earth as Character and Witness: Elemental Media, El Mar La Mar, and the Cinematic Anthropo/scene

J.P. Sniadecki states that El Mar La Mar (Bonnetta and Sniadecki, 2017) is not about the U.S.-Mexico border, but rather about the desert. The filmmakers are influenced by Jason De León’s critique of the U.S. Border Patrol’s strategy of “Prevention through Deterrence” (1994-present). Concentrating on the large number of migrant deaths from dehydration and exposure, De León writes that this strategic plan “outsources violence to the desert” (2015). What does it mean to confer or consider desert agency relative to human presence?

This presentation apprehends the Sonoran desert as a more-than-human character and witness to desert crossings, policy-as-perpetration, border “securitization,” and the violence of a fossil-fueled power dynamic or “racialized optic razed on the earth” (Yusoff 2018). At Visible Evidence, I will introduce and demonstrate a spatially-attuned and actively cartographic approach to documentary studies which shot-maps documentary films and reads them in relation to web-based geolocational media. Mapping El Mar La Mar in relation to site-specific information cultivated by humanitarian and environmental groups, I will seek resuscitate our capacity to acknowledge the abiding presence of traditional custodians of this land and those who seek passage through it.

In keeping with Lebow’s concentration on feminist documentary écriture and Fish’s understanding of field science as “an experimental and contingent practice linking humans, technologies, and other species,” I will speak in relation to questions suggested obliquely or overtly by the site-specific media works at hand. How long will a footprint in the sand persist before its grains are reorganized by the wind? How about the body of a woman? How do nature and culture endure in sacred stories and geologic formations? What happens to their social ecological viability when a wall is driven through?

In a multiscalar situation where bodies decompose in the desert while e-waste bloats our stratigraphic layer-to-be, I will show how documentary media scholarship can serve the causes of feminism, anti-racism, and environmental justice by mapping relationships between geologic archives and representational works. This talk resists the racialized, extractive, mediated, sonified optic razed upon the Sonoran desert and supports strenuous crossings into geosocial futures.

Janet Walker

Janet Walker is Professor of Film and Media Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara and author or co-editor of books including Feminism and Documentary (with Diane Waldman), Trauma Cinema, Documentary Testimonies (with Bhaskar Sarkar), and Sustainable Media (with Nicole Starosielski). She is co-recipient of a Mellon Sawyer Seminar grant for a continuing project on Energy Justice in Global Perspective and founding co-editor of the University of California Press open access journal, Media+Environment.

In search of ‘Écriture Feminist’: Feminist documentary interventions in the logics of the Anthropocene

There is a movement afoot by artists, filmmakers and film scholars, reclaiming a space of “Science Fact” and the grounded stability it appears to offer. This move is so pronounced that Sylvére Lotringer wondered aloud whether “we are going to be closer to understanding the Anthropocene by turning ourselves into scientists?…Should artists [really] get into this becoming-scientist?”

Additionally, this dependency on precisely the same tools and technologies that have been used by corporations and governments for decades, implies an “unquestioned masculinist and technonormative approach” (Grusin) to the Anthropocene that far too many artists, scholars, and even activists have taken up. Remember, Haraway warned decades ago, that “the eyes have been used to signify a perverse capacity—honed to perfection in the history of science tied to militarism, capitalism, colonialism, and male supremacy—to distance the knowing subject from everybody and everything in the interests of unfettered power.” Do we really believe that harnessing the same controlling power of vision will awaken a different critical response? Resistance is necessary, but how we resist and what tools we choose to use in that resistance, is at issue here.

Looking at an example of a new ‘ecriture feminist’ (Nuclear Hallucinations, Fathima Nizaruddin, 2016) taking account of intersectionality, complex agency, not to mention multi-perspectival subjectivity, this presentation seeks to identify a mode of address, a rhetorical position, a discursive form that might be capable of intervening in the logics of man-made disasters and offer a compelling alternative. I seek an intersectional yet avowedly feminist register that while not necessarily rejecting all modes aligning with science and objectivity, does not reproduce its dangerous and damaging “god-tricks.”

Alisa Lebow

Alisa Lebow is Professor of Screen Media at the University of Sussex. She is the award-winning author/maker of the interactive meta-documentary, Filming Revolution (Stanford UP, 2018), and her books include The Companion to Contemporary Documentary Film (co-edited with Alexandra Juhasz, Wiley-Blackwell, 2015), The Cinema of Me (Wallflower 2012), and First Person Jewish (University of Minnesota Press, 2008). She is the 2020 recipient of the SCMS Anne Friedberg Award for Innovative Scholarship.

Crash Theory: Drone Entanglements with Endangered Species

Drones crash into everything: oceans, lakes, glaciers, trees, cars, people, buildings, temples, birds, chimpanzees, mountains, windows, boutiques, power poles, trains, boats, canyons, hot air balloons, bridges, prisons, oil refineries, oil pipelines, nuclear power plants, airplanes, helicopters, agricultural fields, stadiums, bicycles, bullets fired from police officers, the White House lawn, Seattle Space Needle, and the Japanese Prime Minister’s residence (Dedrone 2019).

Drones provide a means of sensing the earth; witnessing these human impacts, diminishing habitats, and disappearing wild animals. And yet, even when the drone crashes it remains an important object through which to understand the emergent relationship between humans, technologies, and species. This presentation examines this relationship through the event of the crashing drone, exploiting a material link shared by crashing drones and collapsing species, and in the process, challenges the accepted hybridity of nature and culture.

To empirically define crash theory, this presentation provides case studies of conservation drone phenomenon speculating on what their crashes, or the threat of their crashes, materialize. Drone crashes in the United Kingdom near white rhinoceroses present the imbroglio of the electromagnetic spectrum during the generation of machine learning training data, the threat of drone crashes in Washington State near orcas uncovers the impacts of wildlife protection laws and their negotiation, and drone crashes and their aftermath in Sri Lanka around Asian elephants presents the problems of technological repair for impoverished agrarians.

In light of this data, the discussion advances four insights: 1) using drones for field science is an experimental and contingent practice linking humans, technologies, and other species; 2) these linkages become most evident during crashes, where the challenges of conservation become clear; 3) drone crashes exposes the points of friction in the convergence of nature and culture; and 4) parallelism, a methodology which examines the material relationships between laterally arrayed phenomenon, in this case, crashing drones and endangered megafauna.

Adam Fish

Adam Fish is Scientia Fellow at University of New South Wales, Sydney and Senior Research Fellow at the Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society, Berlin. He is a cultural anthropologist and documentary producer working across social science, computer engineering, environmental science, and the visual arts. Fish has authored 3 books: Hacker States (2020 MIT); Technoliberalism (Palgrave Macmillan 2017); and After the Internet (Polity 2017). His 4th book, Drone Justice, is forthcoming (MIT).

Respondent: Patricia R. Zimmermann

Patricia R. Zimmermann is Professor of Screen Studies and codirector of the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival at Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York. Her most recent books are Documentary Across Platforms: Reverse Engineering Media, Place, and Politics (2019); Open Space New Media: A Toolkit for Theory and Practice with Helen De Michiel (2018); The Flaherty: Fifty Years in the Cause of Independent Cinema, with Scott MacDonald (2017); Open Spaces: Openings, Closings, and Thresholds in International Public Media (2016); Thinking through Digital Media:Transnational Environments and Locative Places with Dale Hudson (2015); Flash Flaherty:Tales from a Film Seminar (2021) with Scott MacDonald.