Visible Evidence 2021

The Politics of Augmenting Place: Hyper Local Landscapes in Emergent Forms of Documentary

Elizabeth (Liz) Miller
Dorit Naaman
S Topiary Landberg
Respondent: Patricia R. Zimmermann
Fri, Dec 17
90 Min
Mousonturm (Studio 2), Online
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WasteScapes: Using Augmented Media to Uncover Waste Histories, Infrastructures and Artifacts

Where and how does waste live and circulate in our immediate environments? How do urban waste spaces reproduce social and racial hierarchies? In reclaiming waste lands, what histories are then buried? How might media augmentation be utilized to bring past activism into conversation with present and future collective action? How can augmented documentary and embodied ways of learning help to address environmental racism, unchecked development and settler colonialism? To address these questions and more, Liz Miller and MJ Thompson, are developing the augmented reality app Wastescapes. The app guides walkers and cyclists to selected waste sites in Montreal. Like the game Pokémon Go, an individual has to physically “be there” to access the stories. The app permits users to encounter histories, artifacts and underground infrastructures such as America’s oldest sewage system or an informal sculpture garden of refurbished industrial materials. The app guides users to sites of reclamation, such as Frédéric-Back Park, once a landfill and now a futurist park and site of alternative energy. With environmental justice as a key critical lens, the aim of the app is to help users to perceive waste at different scales, from the individual to the communal, from the regional to the global.

Elizabeth (Liz) Miller

Elizabeth (Liz) Miller is a Professor in Communication Studies at Concordia University and a documentary maker with an expertise in environmental media. She uses collaboration and interactivity as a way to connect personal stories to larger social issues such as water privatization, climate migration, gender & climate change. Her interactive media projects such as The Shore Line, Hands-on: Women, Climate, Change, and SwampScapes, have won awards and been screened in classrooms and at international festivals such as Hot Docs, Atlanta and RIDM. She is the co-author of Going Public: The Art of Participatory Practice (2017). The book has a companion website profiling twenty-nine socially engaged practitioners.

A Totem Pole on a Pile of Garbage: Double Exposures on Environmental and Colonial Violence

Driving into Kingston Ontario one might notice an unexpected sight: a Totem pole neglected and unmarked. Only after considerable investigation can one discover that the pole was carved by members of the Native Brotherhood at Joyceville Correctional Institution in 1973, and presented to the City to acknowledge 300 years of European presence in the area. The pole marks the entrance to Belle Park, a recreational facility built on a landfill. The landfill in turn was built on a wetland. And the wetland formed a rich habitat connecting Belle Island to the shore of the Great Cataraqui River. As a multilayered site marked by ongoing environmental and colonial violence, Belle Park is also a site of natural regeneration and the persistence of Indigenous communities. In 2020 I co-embarked on a collaborative Research-Creation project with historians, geographers, environmentalists, artists, Indigenous community members and other park stakeholders to bring attention to this site through performances, audio and video documentaries, audio and physical walking tours, AR, VR and more. We seek to illuminate the unseen, denied, generative, and unpredictable dimensions of this space in order to imagine possible and less-toxic futures. In this presentation I will discuss the first two interventions in the park: an AR project presenting the plentitude of fish that once lived in the river and a time-lapse video where Indigenous and settler partners ask the Totem Pole any questions they have.

Dorit Naaman

Dorit Naaman is a documentarist and film theorist from Jerusalem, and a professor of Film, Media and Cultural Studies at Queen’s University, Canada. In 2016 she released an innovative interactive documentary, Jerusalem, We Are Here, offering a model for digital witnessing. Dorit’s in-production collaborative project A Totem Pole on a Pile of Garbage: Contending with Colonial and Environmental Violence in Kingston, Ontario is situated in Belle Park and Belle Island, and continues her interest in using creative practice to make visible, legible and audible that which has been actively erased or obfuscated.

Exit Zero: An Atlas of One City Block Through Time

In this panel I will provide a guided tour of the web-based, urban landscape essay i-doc: Exit Zero: An Atlas of One City Block Through Time. Focusing on a single central San Francisco city block where a freeway bisected a Victorian multi-ethnic neighborhood dating back to the Ohlone period before the Gold Rush. After many years of anti-freeway activism, the neighborhood eventually succeeded in removing the freeway infrastructure, replacing it first with a temporary community garden and now with a combination of market rate and low-income housing developments. Using the interaction metaphor of the compass, viewers are encouraged to explore the many different temporal chapters of this place through one of the four cardinal themes animating the project. As a synecdoche of the dynamics of hyper-gentrification plaguing San Francisco, Exit Zero invites its audience to get tangled in a web of interconnections to uncover the affects and legacies of racial, social and spatial injustice. Re-animating two almost forgotten periods of anti-freeway and urban environmental activism— “The Great Freeway Revolt” (1960s) and the “Second Freeway Revolt” (1990s), this project offers a complex view of San Francisco’s identity as a progressive, environmentalist vanguard. Placing competing narratives about sustainability in counterpoint with mobility, Exit Zero allows the past to “speak” to the present and uses digital media as a provocation for embodied exploration.

S Topiary Landberg

S Topiary Landberg is a digital artist, curator and independent scholar. She completed her PhD in Film and Digital Media from University of California, Santa Cruz in 2020 and was the 2018-2020 Mellon Curatorial Fellow at the Oakland Museum of California, where she produced/co-curated a micro-site on Dorothea Lange: Topiary’s multi-media work have been presented at The Kitchen, Thread Waxing Space, Southern Exposure and many other theaters, galleries and film festivals in NYC, SF and internationally. Her critical writing has appeared in Camera Obscura, Film Quarterly and Rethinking Popular Documentary (Indiana University Press, 2021).

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.