The Visible Evidence documentary conference continues at USC through the weekend with several notable events in addition to an impressive, three-track array of panels and presentations devoted to all things documentary. I am especially excited about the presentation by filmmaker James Benning on Saturday night from 8:00 to 10:00PM in SCA 108. Billed as a “Multimedia Presentation” by Benning, who is best known for his uniquely rigorous body of landscape-focused structural films, the artist will be talking about his most recent non-film project “Milwaukee to Lincoln, MT,” which involved reconstructing the cabin built by Henry David Thoreau on Walden Pond and the cabin occupied by Theodore Kaczynski (aka the Unabomber) in the woods of Montana.
Known for his eclectic interests and fascination with notorious figures from American history (one of Benning’s early films mined the personal diaries of Arthur Bremer, Nixon’s would-be assassin who went on to shoot Alabama Governor George Wallace in 1972), Benning is one of the few artists who could pull off such a perverse, yet striking, juxtaposition without trivializing the subject through postmodern irony-mongering. Whatever happens when Benning goes on stage in SCA 108 tomorrow night, I promise you will not want to miss it.
The New Media://Visible Evidence exhibition showcases several examples of mainly Los Angeles-based documentary practice that employ disparate new media forms. The exhibition will include examples from the Web-based portraits of LA and its inhabitants produced by Juan Devis for the KCET series titled Web Stories; media artist Natalie Bookchin’s Mass Ornament, composed entirely of clips from YouTube videos; and several interactive DVD-ROM documentaries created by USC’s Labyrinth Project under the leadership of Marsha Kinder. The show also includes Erik Loyer and Sharon Daniel’s interactive documentary Blood Sugar; The Iraqi Doctors Project: Research and Remix, which envisions remix as a scholarly practice and was produced by Virginia Kuhn, DJ Johnson and students in IML 340; Mobile Voices, a project created by and for day laborers using the MMS feature on cell phones; as well as several examples of database documentaries made using the Korsakow System, including Matt Soar’s Almost Architecture and Florian Thalhofer’s Forgotten Flags.
In addition to showcasing the projects in the School of Cinematic Arts Gallery, the exhibition will also include three lunch-time presentations during the conference, with Bookchin appearing on Friday to talk about Mass Ornament, Marsha Kinder and Scott Mahoy on Saturday to talk about the Labyrinth Project, and Katie Mills on Sunday to talk about Web Stories. We invite you to experience some of the innovative work produced in Los Angeles – the gallery showcasing the projects is located on the first floor of the Lucas Building in the School of Cinematic Arts; the lunch-time talks will take place between 1:15 and 1:45 in the gallery.
The NEH-Vectors seminar “Broadening the Digital Humanities” just wrapped up at USC’s Institute for Multimedia Literacy last week. One of the highlights for me was Johanna Drucker’s talk on the role of design in the digital humanities. Drucker has been an inspiration to me for many years via her work with SpecLab at the University of Virginia and their work with computational literature that goes far beyond conventional text encoding to imagine literary game spaces (e.g., the Ivanhoe project). This video presents Drucker’s setup to a much longer talk about the potentials of creating an online research and publication space that would take advantage of all the affordances of networked scholarship.
My long-term commitment to creating and facilitating work that takes advantage of new venues for scholarly practice may be seen in my work on Vectors Journal of Culture and Technology in a Dynamic Vernacular. Along with Tara McPherson, I helped to conceive and found the journal, which launched its inaugural issue on the theme of Evidence in spring 2004. Vectors has published five subsequent issues devoted to themes of Mobility, Ephemera, Perception, Difference and Memory, which have received wide acclaim from an international, interdisciplinary readership. In addition to producing innovative scholarship that is designed to cut across traditional disciplinary boundaries, Vectors is explicitly devoted to helping establish the viability of emerging forms of electronic publication. In my position as Co-Editor, I work as a Producer of individual works of digital scholarship, while also overseeing production of the journal as a whole. This experience has been enormously instructive and has convinced me of the importance of promoting and challenging the paradigm shifts currently under way in electronic publication.
On a personal level, Vectors has also provided me a remarkable opportunity to collaborate with international scholars, artists and designers from very diverse backgrounds and disciplines. Among the projects I have produced are Jennifer Terry’s Killer Entertainments (Fall 2007), Minoo Moallem’s Nation on the Move (Fall 2007), Anne Friedberg’s The Virtual Window Interactive (Spring 2007), Perry Hoberman and Donald Hoffman’s Malperception (Spring 2007), Trevor Paglen’s Unmarked Planes and Hidden Geographies (Spring 2007), Melanie Swalwell’s Cast-Offs From the Golden Age (Spring 2006), Julian Bleecker’s Wifi.Bedouin (Fall 2005) and Rebecca Emigh’s The Unmaking of Markets (Spring 2004). These works range from a study of economic development in 15th century Tuscany to a history of the video game industry in New Zealand. The scholars I have worked with come from fields as diverse as Sociology, Cognitive Psychology, Media Studies, Fine Arts, Engineering and Cultural Geography. As I was completing my own project for the Memory issue, I was struck by the extent to which my own thinking about scholarly practice has been transformed by the collision of research, design, art and communication that Vectors represents.