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‘It’s personal’: Women’s journalism, weather ‘focusing events’ and the politics of climate crisis
Deb Anderson & Pepi Ronalds, Monash University, Australia
This paper explores the roles women are playing in communicating issues of social-environmental politics and policy failure in Australia through long-form journalism on the present implications of climate crisis. In Australia over the past two decades, the frequency and severity of extreme weather disasters have increasingly formed ‘focusing events’ (cf. Alimi & Maney 2018) that draw attention to the problems of climate policymaking in this nation. From the peak of the millennium drought, through recurrent bushfires to the NSW floods of 2021, women have contributed to what we propose is an emerging genre of long-form science reporting/literary journalism that works on human scale. This writing is inclusive of both the global and the local while underscoring an ‘ever-newer normal’; as environmental historian Libby Robin (2008: 302) points out, ‘climate change makes Australia’s experience with strange weather salutary for the rest of the world’. Further, their work gives voice to a sense of lost trust in basic democratic institutions and their capacity to act on climate. It thus offers fertile ground to explore the characteristics of a ‘personal is political’ turn in environmental journalism and the power of long-form work to cut through the fixation on politics and public opinion that continues to drive mainstream environmental journalism in this country – not to mention ‘the political shenanigans that are Australia’s climate policy’ (Newlands 2020: 308).
A pilot project is examining the ways women writers are responding in distinctive, if under-acknowledged, ways to the immense challenge of reporting climate-related disasters in Australia. Here we consider the vital contributions of journalists as well as scientists, freelancers and non-fiction writers, given the environment beat in Australian newsrooms has suffered amid media mergers, redundancies and restructuring. We are especially intrigued by how, through high-quality, politically charged, long-form writing published to audiences near and far (from the Guardian and The Monthly to The New York Times), these women have eschewed the conventional ideal of dispassionate disaster reporting (cf. Pantti, Wahl-Jorgensen & Cottle 2012). Interviews so far have explored the genesis of their work, their sense of social responsibility and contribution to public knowledge, and how these aspects intersect with structural issues of gender and diversity.
Pepi Ronalds is a freelance writer and PhD candidate based in Melbourne. She has been published in Meanjin, The Lifted Brow, Kill Your Darlings and more. The focus of her PhD research is a ‘recovery’ genre of non-fiction writing/journalism. She is exploring the elements of what this genre might include via her non-fiction manuscript about rebuilding and recovery in Miyagi after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
Deb Anderson is a scholar and journalist. Born in rural Queensland, she worked for a decade as a Fairfax journalist before joining Monash in 2013. Her research draws on oral history to examine Australian experiences of environmental change. She is the author of Endurance: Australian Stories of Drought (CSIRO, 2014).
The Stranger (1964-5): Environmental refugees of a poisoned world
Djoymi Baker, RMIT University, Australia
The Stranger, an ABC television production from 1964-5, was the first science fiction drama program to be made locally in Australia. It was also one of the first Australian television programs of any genre to be sold overseas when it was picked up by the BBC. It features a mysterious stranger (Ron Haddrick) ostensibly suffering from amnesia, who arrives on the doorstep of schoolmaster (John Faasen) in New South Wales, Australia. He is soon revealed to be an alien refugee from a planet he is too young to have seen himself, one with “air and water, green plants, trees, and animals of all kinds” that subsequently became “poisoned.” The few remaining descendants seek a new home – on Earth.
In contrast to most other science fiction television of the era, the show is not studio-bound. Rather, its outdoor settings of bushland and garden-filled suburbs provide the visual contrast of a world not yet poisoned, the sights and sounds of nature provoking both joy and fear in its new visitors. These settings also serve to assert a local Australian iconographic identity onto science fiction television for the first time, in the broader context of an industry seeking to compete in the international market. Through its science fiction premise, The Stranger asks how humanity might respond to environmental refugees, while its background story of a contaminated planet registers fleetingly on the screen through its survivors’ estranged relationship with nature.
Djoymi Baker is a Lecturer in Media and Cinema Studies at RMIT University, whose work explores genre studies, myth in popular culture, and the ethics of non-human representation. Djoymi is the author of To Boldly Go: Marketing the Myth of Star Trek (I. B. Tauris, 2018) and the co-author of The Encyclopedia of Epic Films (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014). Her current research projects examine children’s film and television history.
Truman meets climate change: the delusion of a media life in the Anthropocene
Ignacio Bergillos, CESAG — Universidad Pontificia Comillas, Spain
This presentation introduces a theoretical reflection on our ambivalent relationship with media and the planet. It contributes to the ongoing conceptual debate on the Anthropocene by supporting a nuanced understanding of human agency in an age of ubiquitous media and climate change. My approach is based on two premises: one is the idea that contemporary societies do not live with media but rather in media (Deuze, 2012). The other is that the Anthropocene serves as a conceptual framework to understand a new socio-natural reality (Arias Maldonado, 2015). Specifically my argument assumes the irreversibility and unpredictability of both phenomena and explores their close interrelation. In that sense, I will focus on the opportunity to rethink human agency if we consider the delusion that a media life in the Anthropocene represents (Deuze, 2012, Zylinska, 2014). By gaining awareness of our limitations in a media-saturated environment, we actually gain sovereignty by realizing that our decisions are not the product of an unmediated process of rational thinking. In order to understand on this issue, I will analyze how The Truman Show (Peter Weir, 1998) reflects on agency, media and humans as (un)knowing protagonists of their environment.
Ignacio Bergillos is a lecturer in media studies at CESAG – Universidad Pontificia Comillas. He holds a Ph.D. in Audiovisual Communication and Advertising from the Autonomous University of Barcelona. He is interested in media technology and innovation, the changing logics of media industries and the relationship between audiences and professionals within the framework of participatory culture.
Design and desire: Encounters between and with architecture and media
Daniel Binns, RMIT University
In the midst of the (continuing) 2020 shitshow, audiences flocked to YouTube in droves. Between film cast Zoom reunions, then-unproblematic Bon Appetit videos, and the usual gaming offerings, one of the perhaps unexpected hits of the pandemic were celebrity house tours and architectural videos.
This trend continues a long history of architecture in other moving image media, on film and television. Rather than just a backdrop for the action, very often buildings and designed elements become core to the storytelling. Even if not, their presence and dominance on screen can have profound effects on the viewer.
This paper considers the attraction of architecture in media, observing this recent trend of home tours and architectural breakdowns online, alongside representations in legacy media such as cinema. This research connects theories of architecture, affect, cinema and media in order to attempt to not just understand but to theorise why these representations are so affective and addictive.
Dr. Daniel Binns is a writer, producer, and researcher with a strong interest in screen theories, histories, production, and cultures. He is a Lecturer in Media at Melbourne’s RMIT University. He has worked as a screenwriter, director, producer and production manager on corporate films, television documentaries, multi-sensory experiences and short-form works. Dan researches media texts, tools, and technologies. He is the author of The Hollywood War Film: Critical Observations from World War I to Iraq (2017), and Material Media-Making in the Digital Age (2021).
Noticing Landscapes, Sensing Climates: Expanding Ecocinema in Online Audiovisual Nonfiction
Hannah Brasier, Independent Researcher
There has been a call in documentary film scholarship to organise nonfiction content “beyond story”, particularly in dealing with complex issues. Juhasz and Lebow argue the “constricting contours” of story insufficient in capturing experiences which are “unmoored, confusing, unstorified, especially when experienced in crisis” and Miles suggests stories make “too neat something that was intrinsically messy, ambiguous, dangerous, and multiplicitous” (7). Climate change is “unmoored, confusing, unstorified,” “intrinsically messy, ambiguous, dangerous, and multiplicitous.” Together, Ecocinema and Expanded Documentary practices provide an attuning to the effects of climate change in situated landscapes. This presentation will consider how Ecocinematic Expanded Documentaries provide “new tools for noticing” Anthropocentric damage in online audiovisual nonfiction (Tsing 18).
This talk will critically reflect upon the making of an online audiovisual nonfiction project, There’s Still Heaps of Water, in relation to recent Expanded Documentary projects and the Ecocinema of James Benning. Through this practice-based approach I will consider how we can come closer to attending to the complex entanglements of landscapes. Ecocinema’s privileging of landscape through extended duration and stillness, in combination with Expanded Documentary’s use of multiple capturing technologies and perspectives invite the audience to sense environmental damage from human and nonhuman perspectives.
Sensing then becomes an alternative to story in attending to the complexity of climate change. We come to notice a landscape through multiple capturing technologies and ways of knowing the land. While, There’s Still Heaps of Water does not fulfil its sensorial potential, it does expand upon an Ecocinema experience to show how online interactive landscape films can encourage attentive care towards climate change.
Hannah Brasier is a research practitioner interested in how Ecocritical Anthropology can be used to develop Expanded Documentaries in response to climate change. She has taught extensively in the Media program at RMIT and the Film and Television department at Swinburne, Universities in Melbourne, Australia. Hannah has published in the Studies in Documentary Film Journal, presented at Visible Evidence and was a co-founder of the Docuverse Group.
Film as Mutation: British Nuclear Tests in Australia 1952-63
Mick Broderick, RMIT University, Australia
During the cold war a major series of British atmospheric nuclear detonations were conducted in Australia, first on uninhabited islands off the northwestern coast (1952, 1956) and at remote, sparsely populated locations in central South Australia (1953, 1956 – 57). At the behest of their British partners, the Australian government excised vast tracks of land – an area roughly equivalent to France and Germany combined – and forcibly removed First Nations people from their traditional lands for decades. In addition, several hundred top-secret “minor” trials were conducted (1955-63) to test weapons safety (e.g. subjecting radioactive material to petrol and electrical fires, and high explosives blasts).
After decades of controversy and increasing whistle-blower accounts, a wide-ranging Australian Royal Commission was established in the mid-1980s to investigate the conduct of the British nuclear testing program. It sought to establish lines of Anglo-Australian authority and responsibility in the efficacy of the weapons trials and document the impact on military participants, nearby Indigenous communities, downwind rural and urban populations, and flora and fauna. Amongst the evidence presented to the Commission, headed by Justice Jim McClelland, were thousands of official documents, interview transcripts, testimonies and photographs and films recording the atomic detonations. However, some of these film records were incomplete, or remained secret and unseen, as subsequent declassifications over the years demonstrate.
Hence, this paper considers as ‘visible evidence’ previously unknown or withheld films – both as raw and edited footage – that possess the latent potential of filmic ‘mutation’, evolving from the text’s original utilitarian or propagandist use to be recast as corroborative data that may serve to verify disputed claims by civilian and nuclear service veterans of occupational or environmental harm (particularly from inhalation, ingesting and injection) caused by exposure to radiation via fallout from weapons tests and/or lingering ecological contamination.
Mick Broderick is Adjunct Professor of Media at RMIT University. He has produced over 100 scholarly outputs including research monographs, edited collections, journal articles, book chapters, artworks, curated exhibitions and digital media productions. His latest monograph (with Stuart Bender) is Virtual Realities: Case Studies in Immersion and Phenomenology (Palgrave in-press 2021).
What are bioregional media, what could and should they be?
Jan Bruggemeier, RMIT University, Australia
According to neuro-scientific research landscape as a symbolic form is, rather, an innate way of thinking, an intertwining of cerebral and cognitive structures shaped over the course of hundreds of millennia by the sensory experience of hominids and Homo sapiens sapiens in their respective ecosystems (Meschiari, 2010).
According to Peter Berg: “put simply, a bioregion is a ‘life-place,’ the natural place around you that’s alive and contains your life as well as the lives of other species” (Berg 1998). It is “a geographic terrain and a terrain of consciousness” (Berg 1998).
In this research presentation I aim to delineate a media communication model in which the concept of landscape is no longer the historical by-product of a given culture, but rather the trace of a trans-historic and universal cultural paradigm. In addition to introducing the concept of a bioregional media practice, we aim to extend the current media discourse that is mainly concerned with the local / global dichotomy with a perspective that is more deeply rooted in landscape as ecological life-place.
Exploring what constitutes a bioregional media practice means to look how the concept is reflected in its technological setting, its distribution area, its production processes and last but not least: its imaginary. This is research-in-progress.
Jan Hendrik Brueggemeier is a media artist and producer, creative-practice researcher and lecturer in Professional Communication at RMIT, Melbourne. His artistic interests lie in sound design, environmental activism and experimental media art. Past sound design projects include podcasts, media art installations and film scores. He conceived the environmental art/science project Nature in the Dark which projected video art into public space, and was displayed at Melbourne’s Federation Square, The Gertrude Street Projection Festival and the National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD, USA.
Jan has been actively involved in the organisation of international media networks and has curated numerous art festivals and exhibitions. He is the co-owner of the boutique production company Two Genres and a member of Commoners Press, an experimental print studio in North Coburg.
His work has been exhibited internationally at venues such as M+ in Hong Kong, Radio Saout, Marakech Biennale 5, The Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, The Goethe Institute of Rome and Meteor Festival in Bergen.
Ecotones: Nature reclaiming industrial requiems
Gerda Cammaer (Ryerson University, Canada) and Max Schleser (Swinburne University of Technology, Australia)
The presentation by Gerda Cammaer (Ryerson University, Toronto, CAN) and Max Schleser (Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, AUS) will showcase work-in-progress of their collaborative research-creation project Ecotones that explores links between immersive media, mobile and smartphone filmmaking, industrial history, and ecology. The aim of Ecotones is to develop an eco-critical perspective and contribute to a better understanding of how environmental issues appear and evolve in culture, just like an ecotone is a transition area between two biomes or habitats, a place where two ecological communities intersect and integrate. While there is a strong emphasis and focus on nature and landscape in Ecotones, the project is based on the holistic concept that “ecology, by its very definition, is unrestricted; it is impossible to say where nature stops and culture begins, or vice versa” (Bozak, 2012:15).
In their respective Ecotones, Cammaer and Schleser explore how environmental concerns can be expressed in an experiential engagement with the audience by combining imaginative storytelling, sound composition, experimental film techniques and immersive media. A New Compass, is an immersive video installation and A New Dawn is a Mobile Cinematic VR experience that portray two former industrial sites, where nature is given a chance to reclaim the terrain: Toronto’s East Gap Pier in Canada and Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord in Germany. These two sites symbolise the ecological and cultural conversion of former industrial regions in western societies (the Great Lakes in North America and the Ruhr Area in Germany), while they undergo a major ecological transformation as nature claims them back. The artists will also introduce the idea that small, local and independent mobile films can easily be thought of as eco-critical cinema as they are capable of inspiring a progressive eco-critical reflection and discourse among viewers as well as a sustainable understanding of our environment and media practice ecosystem.
Ecotones is partly supported by a Ryerson University Creative Fund Grant.
Gerda Cammaer is a filmmaker, curator, scholar and Associate Professor in the School of Image Arts at Ryerson University (Toronto, Canada). Her main research interests are experimental and documentary film, smartphone filmmaking and microcinema, media and the environment. She is the co-founder and organizer of the Moving_Image_Arts International Short film festival and she is actively involved in CILECT and MINA. She is the co-editor of Cinephemera: Archives, Ephemeral Cinema, and New Screen Histories in Canada (McGill University Press, 2014) and of Critical Distance in Documentary Media (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018). Her creative work is available on Vimeo and on her website: wwww.gerdacammaer.com
Max Schleser is a filmmaker (www.schleser.nz). Senior Lecturer in Film and Television and Researcher in the Centre for Transformative Media Technologies (CTMT) at Swinburne University of Technology (Melbourne, Australia), Adobe Education Leader, Founder of the Mobile Innovation Network & Association (www.mina.pro) and Screening Director of the International Mobile Innovation Screening & Festival. Max’s research expertise are Immersive Media and Creative Arts 4.0 with a focus on Cinematic VR and interactive filmmaking. His research explores Screen Production, Emerging Media and Smartphone Filmmaking for community engagement, creative transformation and transmedia storytelling. His monograph, Smartphone Filmmaking: Theory & Practice will be published by Bloomsbury in September 2021.
Simulating ember attack: Encouraging bushfire preparedness through immersive video
Kalika Navin Doloswala, Western Sydney University, Australia
People living in New South Wales and Victoria are no strangers to Bushfires. We have suffered the loss of lives, properties and livelihoods as a consequence of the ravages of these sometimes natural sometimes man-made disasters. Did you know that the cost of bushfires to NSW is likely to more than double by 2050 to $200million.
The scientific community argue that the prevalence and the likelihood that their occurrence and their severity is likely to increase as a consequence of climate change. Did you know there has been an increase in the number of extreme fire weather days and we have seen a new category ‘catastrophic’ added in 2019 to the fire danger rating scale?
Despite these dire predictions did you know that almost half of the people living in bush fire-prone areas are judged poorly prepared to combat bush fires (Libatique 2020)?
Urban planning fails to adopt a more strategic approach to where new developments are located (Maund, M. et al. 2020). Meanwhile policy initiatives are challenged by the needs to allow for personal freedoms while protecting biodiversity priorities, lives and property.
Petersen et al (2021) suggest that implementing an immersive intervention within a broader inquiry-based learning climate can show ‘an increase in declarative knowledge… and intentions to change behaviour (pp 2099).
Imagine if it was possible to give people in these areas an embodied experience of what it is like with an unprepared property in a bush fire. To what extent might this encourage them to take steps toward making their properties better prepared to withstand a bush fire.
The work currently under development seeks to emulate or replicate some of the ‘uncomfortable non-negotiable presence Zika invokes in his manipulation of digital light’ (Toffs in Cubitt, Palmer & Tkacz 2015 p200).
The simulation of the lived experience of being in a bush fire is what this projects seeks to deliver. Proof of concept has been developed with further image capture interrupted by NSW Covid lockdown however further image capture and processing will occur in August 2021. The project involves 360 video capture and neural network moving image processing.
Kalika (Navin) Doloswala is a Lecturer with the School of Humanities and Communication Arts at Western Sydney University. The core of his research, as a creative practitioner, researcher and educator are processes associated with creativity. His recent teaching approaches have involved using creative practice, learning by doing and peer review to help students understand the dynamics and contradictions of media environments. His research is increasingly also looking at the connections between creative practice, performance, machine learning, artificial intelligence and spirituality. His most recent experiments and investigations have involved fire, sacred plants, photographic image processing, video and immersive 360 video within the context of neural network processing.
Crash Theory: Drone Entanglements with Endangered Species
Adam Fish (University of New South Wales, Australia)
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).
It is not only drones that crash. Seventy-five percent of the earth and 66% of the sea are severely degraded by human activity; this is threatening 1 million species with extinction (Diaz et al. 2019). Sixty-percent of wildlife has disappeared over the past 30 years (World Wildlife Fund 2018).
Drones provide a means of sensing the earth; witnessing these human impacts, diminishing habitats, and disappearing wild animals. And yet, even when the drone is crashing or has crashed it remains an important object through which to understand the emergent relationship between humans, technologies, and species. Working from ethnographic, reflexive, and experimental dronework, 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 and speculate 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 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).
Sporae Vita – A Science Technology and Fiction(al) Studies experiment on Space Infrastructures in a Degrowth Future
Andreu Belsunces Gonçalves, UOC (Open University of Catalunya) / IN3-Tecnopolítica
Sporae Vita is Science, Technology and Fiction(al) Studies experiment about how technoscientific institutions define the meaning and mission of life and humanity while deploying and constraining certain ideas of progress.
The installation, commissioned by Center for Contemporary Culture of Barcelona for the exhibition Mars, The Red Mirror, presents both an object of study situated in a world-yet-to-come and an investigation into it. It is composed of two posters: the first one describes a post-collapse civilisation that has restored life to the planet through bio- and geo-engineering and its consequent myths. Sporae Vita is the space agency of this world. Its goal is to create the conditions for life to flourish on other planets: it sends humans who have been merged with a machine created by Sporae Vita to inhabit Mars, while it systematically communicates the agency’s technological and scientific achievements.
The second poster displays the results of an STS research study completed on Sporae Vita held in this same future. A diagram illustrates how the space agency, as a critical infrastructure, reproduces civilisational myths through scientific programmes and demonstrations. By doing so, Sporae Vita identifies as desirable certain forms of knowledge (and therefore discriminates against others); indirectly regulates the residual inertia of the
technocapitalist society that caused the original collapse; and finally organises a particular shared experience of time.
Sporae Vita converges hypothesis and concepts from degrowth theory, post-human philosophy, media studies, ecology and STS to explore the normative and material consequences of institutional management of sociotechnical imaginaries.
This project is part of Engineering Fiction, a research platform aimed at observing and enacting experiments with the imaginary components of technological and scientific apparatuses. Within this frame, fiction is considered as a sociotechnical phenomenon that (1) functions as a constitutive element in rational knowledge practices while (2) playing a structural function in the (re)production of collective and contradictory visions of the future.
Andreu Belsunces Gonçalves researches the intersections of sociology of design and technology, politics of fiction,
collaborative practices and transition design. He’s interested in the entanglements between discursive practices and material phenomena in technology development, looking particularly at the convergence between narrative artifacts, infrastructures, data, epistemology, democracy and industrial outlets. He is a lecturer in different universities and co-founder of Becoming, a research studio on emerging scenarios, and lecturer in critical thinking, artistic and design research, and speculative design in different universities.
Wiring the Forest: Sense, Technology and Tactics with Operation Igloo White
Pujita Guha, University of California Santa Barbara, USA
This paper focuses on the life of Operation Igloo White, an American military sensor-embedding project during the Vietnam war, to think about media infrastructures as sites of political and tactical contestation, and how they were shaped by the tropical forest milieu of their placement. By 1966, the North Vietnamese military strategy was to quietly move through the mountainous forested belt of Ho Chi Minh Trail to take control of South Vietnam.To automate intelligence gathering across the vast mountainous forests of Central Highlands,the Americans launched Operation Igloo White. The entire forest floor was wired with a vast network of seismic, olfactory and audio sensors that picked up and relayed signals of enemy presence and movement to data bunkers in Thailand where enemy locations were mapped in real time. Via Igloo White, I focus on three interrelated imaginations of sensory infrastructure and the environment sin which they are embedded. First, I conceptualize “deployment” to think about how first biogeographical considerations of the tropical forest shaped sensor design and embedding activities. Second “detection” considers how Americans sought to interpret and detect enemy presence from a chaotic array of signals and noises emanating from the dense tropical milieu. The third, “deception” looks at how Igloo White provoked a tactical response from the North Vietnamese side who sought to confuse or divert enemy attention by relaying pre-recorded forest sounds, sounds of troop movement, etc that the Americans would
erroneously interpret. Enemy deception was accomplished through attunement to, first, the environmental conditions of the forest, its distinctive sounds and movements, and, second, to the sensory infrastructure of the acoubuoys that relayed information for data analysis. I thus argue that, with Igloo White, the forest was not only mediatized as data; this mediation in turn produced guerilla, insurgent mediations which mobilized infrastructure and sensory perception for a proxy-politics of the forest – a war by other means.
Pujita Guha is a Ph.D student at University of California, Santa Barbara and is the co-director of the artistic research platform, Forest Curriculum along with Abhijan Toto. Her doctoral research and curatorial work focuses on the intersections of forest, and mediatic practices in south and southeast Asia, and is invested in the histories of extraction,militarization, and resistance in the region. In her free time she likes to make zines, and is currently, along with her Forest Curriculum partners designing and building flags and tables as part of a larger installation on posthuman and nonhuman within nationalist histories of the region. She hasbeen published in Art Critique of Taiwan, NANG, South Asia History and Culture, and has upcoming essays in India International Quarterly, Pelikula
Journal, amongst others.
Ethnopoetic approaches to uncertainty
Shelley Guyton, New York University-Shanghai
How can creative methods help us research and understand the concept of uncertainty as it is used in disaster and environmental studies? Whitington approaches uncertainty as a method (a research point of entry), a practice (a component of knowledge and not just lack of), and “a constitutive element of late industrial environments” (Whitington, 2018: 146). I am inspired to use uncertainty as a research point of entry, and poetry as method for considering multidimensional experiences of uncertainty. I approach understanding uncertainty here without the structure of traditional essay, and instead with the experimentation of poetry.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, I found myself reflecting on the concept of “uncertainty” as I worked with it in my research on typhoon communication in the Philippines. I found myself facing uncertainty daily during the pandemic. In both disasters, uncertainty manifested as both an individual and social experiences.
In this presentation, I take a creative approach to reflecting on this question. I review moments of uncertainty that my research participants experienced during Typhoon Yolanda and its aftermath. I do this by recounting my ethnopoetic impressions recorded in my fieldnotes of the uncertainty my participants experienced. I leaned on poetry during field research to process complicated emotions of understanding disaster from survivors’ perspectives. I found that my poetic fieldnotes helped me capture those things not necessarily communicated in the line text of a transcribed interview, or even an audio recording.
I likewise creatively reflect on moments of uncertainty felt in the pandemic. I reflect on personal experiences of uncertainty largely produced by the media coverage of the pandemic, and shared experiences of uncertainty experienced with people I lived with, and the people I love. In the presentation, I will read my poetry and include background information and context informing those poems. I envision my future research will incorporate some methods of participatory poetry, and this presentation forms an early step in establishing that direction.
Shelley Tuazon Guyton received a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California, Riverside, with a designated emphasis in Southeast Asian Studies. She ethnographically researches disaster, media, and infrastructure in the Philippines. She is currently a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at New York University-Shanghai.
Invisible threats and materialist visibility: Degradations (James Schneider, 2007) and Quiet Zone (Karl Lemieux and David Bryant, 2015)
Charlie Hewison, Université de Paris (Diderot), France
The coronavirus can be seen as an instance of the “Virus”, one of the three figures (with the “Desert” and the “Animist” that Elizabeth Povinelli describes as being symptomatic of the ways in which the late liberal mode of governance, which she calls “Geontopower”, is fragilized. It refers not only to literal viruses such as Ebola, but also “nuclear power” or the “Terrorist”: the person that looks just like “we” do as she plants the bomb1. That is, it refers to those often invisible elements which disrupt current arrangements of Life and Nonlife, by ignoring any such differentiation. Indeed, if the current pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the ecological crisis brought about by the very mode of governance that Povinelli talks about is as much made up of invisible threats as hypervisible events. As Rob Nixon – in his work on the slow violence of environmental collapse – or, even earlier, Rachel Carson – in the pioneering Silent Spring – and others have repeatedly intimated, it is also and perhaps especially to the immanent yet not-so-directly visible threats of the ecological crisis that we must pay attention.
Historically however, cinematic representations of ecological threats to humanity have mostly favoured the hypervisible event: tsunamis, ecological devastation shown through awe-inspiring timelapse or aerial footage, storms wreaking havoc, blistering and squint-inducing bright heat or dark tinted shivering cold. This is true in mainstream studio films, as well as in more directly political-minded “message” films (one only has to watch Extinction Rebellion’s films on Youtube, for example, to see the prevalence of this aesthetic of the hypervisible). In light of the events of the last year and a half, there seems some urgency to find ways to acknowledge and make visible those invisible forces that are also being unleashed by our current mode of living in the world.
Two examples – the Degradation series of films by James Schneider (2007) and Quiet Zone by Karl Lemieux and David Bryant (2015) – seem to propose certain solutions to this problem. In both instances, the materiality of the filmstrip and its sensibility to physical intervention (by the filmmakers or by other forces) is foregrounded in ways that create an effacement of the represented figures. Both thus attempt to make visible the invisible and potentially dangerous forces at play in the (largely man-made) environments surrounding us, through materialist practices that invite us to experience the world differently; not as a collection of stable entities and bodies but as an intertwining of apparently invisible material processes that can both constitute and destroy them.
Charlie Hewison is a French-Australian doctoral student at Ecole Doctorale 131, at the Université de Paris (Diderot), and am part of the CERILAC research laboratory. His thesis, under the direction of Emmanuelle André, is titled “Réenchanter la pellicule: pour une approche vitaliste du cinéma” [Reenchanting film: for a vitalist approach to cinema] and focuses especially on contemporary experimental analog film practices and ecocriticism. He teaches a number of classes at Université de Paris, in English and French, on experimental cinema, cinema and politics, cinema and ecology and Australian cinema.
Rainforest restoration in the Scottish Highlands: practice-led film research, work-in-progress
Jenny Holt, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK
The little-known remnants of Britain’s temperate rainforests are scattered along the country’s Atlantic west coast. High rain-fall and a relatively mild hyper-oceanic climate create the conditions for a unique forest ecosystem, a specialist habitat for rare and diverse species (Warner et al, 2021). Scotland is home to the largest remaining acreage of these forests, although at 1% of its original expanse is fragmented and vulnerable. Conservation charity Woodland Trust Scotland recently purchased an entire mountain, Ben Shieldaig, with an ambition to reforest its remaining ancient woodlands. Rising from the shores of Loch Torridon in Wester Ross UNESCO biosphere, the mountain is home to two distinct fragments of native rainforest – birchwood and Caledonian pine – which WTS aims to restore and expand over the next two decades.
This presentation outlines an artist-documentary research project work-in-progress focused on the reforestation of Ben Shieldaig. A preliminary stage in an intended wider interdisciplinary project, this scoping period constitutes field and artistic research exploring the material landscape of Ben Shieldaig’s two distinct forest ecosystems and WTS’s initial phase of restoration. The research investigates entanglements of human and material agencies of the forest environment, drawing on a new materialist concept of documentary as emergent and active (Hongisto 2015) to explore how artist-documentary might be used to research these networks and relations. The scoping questions guiding this preliminary research are:
– How might entanglements of active matter and human ecological values, subjectivities and activities create benefits for forest restoration?
– Through the lens of more-than-human agency (Cloke and Jones 2008, Kohn 2013), how might artist documentary practice be used to ‘think differently’ about forest-human relationships? – How can film cinematically investigate co-existences of the spectacular and the fragile, the nature of forest time and the ‘new’ growth of an ‘ancient’ ecosystem?
– How might a collaborative methodology be developed between artist-documentary research, environmental conservation, forestry research/practice and stakeholder communities, and what ecologies of practice might emerge from this process?
The presentation will be illustrated through work-in-progress footage shot at the location during the UK summer 2021, evaluating this preliminary stage of research towards the development of a wider research project with interdisciplinary collaborative dimensions.
Jenny Holt is programme leader for BA and MA Filmmaking and MA Documentary, Manchester School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK. With a background in visual art and television documentary production, her practice-led research explores interconnections between poetics and ecologies of everyday life and landscape, and processes of documentary film as an active and generative enquiry. She is currently investigating documentary practice as a collaborative method in interdisciplinary environmental and sustainability research.
Source Stories: Narrative in Media Coverage of the Upper Jukskei Rejuvenation Project
This paper offers an analysis of the science communication strategies, with a particular focus on narrative, of the upper Jukskei rejuvenation project in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The Jukskei river originates underneath the city near Hillbrow, the most densely populated neighbourhood on the entire African continent. Originally a wetland, the source was integrated, due to non-environmentally sound city planning, into storm water and sewerage systems. As such, the Jukskei is highly polluted. Running under the city for many blocks, the river sees daylight in a deprived neighbourhood with high unemployment, poor services, significant migrant communities, and limited economic opportunity.
Water for the Future (WFTF) is an NGO coordinating efforts between government, city authorities, the private sector and academia to remediate this potentially life-sustaining natural resource and realise the numerous benefits it could provide communities along its route. WFTF is piloting and developing a collaborative model for urban watershed and river restoration that is sustainable and replicable at different scales. Integrating scientific data collection and the engagement of hydrologists, ecologists and other experts, the project uses green technology, eco-art and community participation to try and save both the river and the communities who live alongside it. The aim is to build a resilient infrastructure along with an informed pro-active community, and to offer replicable rejuvenation models that can be scaled up all along the pathway of the river.
Using narrative and discourse analysis, this paper will explore and theorise media coverage of the project in 2020 (a time at which the Jukskei river and its stories suddenly started to gain increasing attention from journalists). The analysis will consider a cross-platform corpus of media articles and posts, including traditional news sources and interactive multimedia social media posts. The aim of the analysis will be to glean which narrative aspects have dominated how the river rejuvenation was reported on and discussed in the public realm, and how these link back to relevant scientific evidence informing the project. The article will present these, and further theorise which forms of narrative and storytelling were most effective in getting across both scientific and social aspects of this ambitious project.
Duration of Decay: A Materialist Photography Practice in the Digital Age
Todd Johnson, Deakin University, Australia
This presentation investigates a tripartite connection between the artist, deterioration of slide film, and aquatic ecosystem (lakes, lagoons, reservoirs, dams, rivers) in an age of environmental instability. This is communicated through a live slide film projection installation Eighty Lakes (2019 – 2021), which displays deteriorating photographs of lakes and waterways captured at numerous sites across Australia from 2019 – 2021. Once processed, the film was later submerged in lake water for durations of up to two months. Gradually, the colour layers stripped away, and the minerals, bacteria and pollution of the water slowly disintegrated the medium into an unpredictable material abstraction. Bacteria continued to eat away the image, demolishing the pictorial, and freeing the photo-object from the burden of depiction. This ongoing collaboration with place allowed elements of the landscape to control and steer the photograph, functioning as both agent and subject in the material process. The resulting ‘materialist photographs’ testify as indexical links to a reality that is doubly inflected as the landscape is registered on both a visual and physical level.
As analogue technologies disappear in the wake of our increasingly digital landscape, the Australian aquatic ecosystem is increasingly threatened due to anthropocentric climate change (Williamson et. al. 2009). The physical, chemical, and biological effects of climate change on lakes have already begun to take shape (Williamson et. al. 2009) and much greater impacts have been predicted for the future (Soh 2007, Koehn 2011). This presentation explores the unlikely connection between the vulnerability and projected disappearance of lake ecosystems and analogue technology. Subject and medium; record, hold, and project the problem at hand.
Todd Reece Johnson is an Australian artist and educator who employs analogue techniques to investigate the materiality of photographic images. His photographs result from a physical exchange between the body, film and elements of the environment. Todd has exhibited his work nationally and internationally, including Hybrid States (2020) at PhotoAccess Gallery, Canberra, Australia; Surfaces (2019) at Millepiani Exhibition Space, Rome City, Italy; The Found Object (2018) at Praxis Gallery, Minneapolis, United States; Materialist Photograph (2018) at Jarvis Dooney Gallerie in Berlin; and Fossils (2017) at Kaunas Photo Festival (2017) in Lithuania. Todd lectures in Photography studies at Deakin University, Deakin College and Australian Catholic University.
Digital Solutionism Meets Pandemic Imaginaries
Adi Kuntsman, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK
This presentation aims to put my long-term work on eco-imaginaries of digital technologies, and more specifically, the notion of digital solutionism in environmental imaginary and its paradigmatic myopia with regards to environmental harms of digital technologies, into the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite a growing number of critical voices, pointing to environmental footprints of digital communication (such as mining, e-waste, energy demands and heat emissions) – the subject remains on the margins of socio-cultural research into digital transformations, including that which is particularly environmentally-oriented. Most discussions around environmental issues and climate change are shaped by “digital solutionism”– a belief that digital technologies themselves are not only environmentally neutral but also beneficial for environmental protection. Digital solutionism has been the organising principle of most research and policy into environmental sustainability and climate change, before the global pandemic of 2020. The main question to be explored in this presentation is whether and how might have Covid-19 changed digital solutionism, and whether any alternative eco-imaginaries of the digital have emerged in the last year and a half. I will be examining digital imaginaries of the Covid-19 pandemic in media and academic publications, looking for intersections with questions of climate change and environmental degradation; scanning in particular of silences around eco-harms of digital economy, and transformations and alternative imaginaries, including any reductions of digital dependency, and refusals of compulsory pandemic digitalities.
Adi Kuntsman is Reader in Digital Politics at the Department of History, Politics and Philosophy, Manchester Metropolitan University. Adi’s current work focuses on selfies between political activism and biometric governance; the politics of ‘opting out’ of digital communication; and environmental impacts of digital technologies. Adi’s recent publications include “Towards a paradigmatic shift in sustainabilitystudies: a systematic review of peer reviewed literature and future agenda setting to consider environmental (un)sustainability of digital communication” (2019, with Imogen Rattle), Environmental Communication; and “From digital solutionism to materialist accountability: The urgency of new interventions”, Journal of Environmental Media 1/1; and a rapid response special issue, Environmental media amidst the COVID-19 pandemic (2020, with Becky Alexis-Martin and Liu Xin).
A reinforced sense of crisis among concerned young Melburnians: How COVID-19 pandemic has shaped their climate perceptions and actions?
Wendi Li, University of Melbourne, Australia
In 2019, waves of climate movements swept the globe, largely initiated by young people and then supported by older generations. Facilitated by the frequent and widespread youth-led global climate activism, climate change has entered and gained a constant presence in the global public arena. A sense of climate crisis has emerged in the global public sphere due to this. However, since 2020, the unexpected COVID-19 pandemic has directed the public attention to this the pressing global health crisis, distracting people from dealing with climate change.
Against this backdrop, this study explores how COVID-19 has impacted young Melburnians who were already concerned about climate change before the COVID-19 pandemic. More specifically, by conducting semi-structured interviews with this group of young people and online participatory observation, this study investigates how COVID-19 has shaped their climate perceptions and actions. The result reveals that, by relating the COVID-19 pandemic to climate change, these young people have reinforced their sense of climate crisis and expressed extra urgency to addressing climate emergencies. It also shows that young climate activists among the interviewees have successfully maintained the momentum of climate activism online. For example, Student Voice Network (SVN), a Melbourne-based virtual youth platform, has managed to publish an inter-school green magazine, hold yearly online climate conferences, and organize climate-related educational campaigns during the pandemic. In addition to these comparatively milder activist practices, some others have turned to more disruptive mobile tactics, such as phone jamming, i.e. calling executives of big corporations to pressure them into taking climate actions.
Wendi Li is a PhD candidate in Media and Communications at the University of Melbourne. In her PhD project, she is researching young people’s communication experiences and identity formation in relation to climate change in two global cities, Hong Kong and Melbourne. Her research interests lie in the intersection of civic agency, global cities, and comparative approaches in the context of globalisation and climate emergency. Funded by the Centre for Contemporary Chinese Studies (CCCS of UniMelb) 2021 PhD Publication Grant, she is working on a paper titled ‘Constructing a youth-led global climate public sphere with a case study of Hong Kong.’
Loving the Planet One Pixel at a Time: Small File Ecomedia as Pandemic Technologies of Care
Laura U. Marks (Simon Fraser University, Canada) and Radek Przedpełski (Trinity College Dublin)
Driven by the concern that ICT (information and communication technologies) contributes 3% to 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, of which 1% comes from streaming media, this dialogical and performative panel seeks to address the question of ecomedia from the point of view of green computing and sustainable experimental media production. Laura U. Marks founded the annual Small File Media Festival (08/2020; 08/2021; https://smallfile.ca/) to lovingly celebrate low-bandwidth movies that stream with no damage to the planet at a time where the pandemic saw a marked increase in streaming video. The festival, its second iteration currently running between 10 and 20 August, affirms ecomedia by exploring how artists can work within the constraint of 5 MB file-size and 5 minutes in duration to produce aesthetically pleasing and though-provoking sustainable artworks. The festival was part of the Tackling Carbon Footprint of Streaming Media project (https://www.sfu.ca/sca/projects—activities/streaming-carbon-footprint.html) led by Laura U. Marks and IT engineer Stephen Makonin, professors Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University, joined by researchers: engineer Alejandro Rodriguez-Silva and media scholar Radek Przedpełski. Funded by the Canadian SSHRC Knowledge Synthesis Grant: Living within the Earth’s Carrying Capacity, the project aims to translate engineering and media industry literature for lay audiences, accurately measure the carbon footprint of the ICT sector, raise awareness, influence policy, and propose solutions.
We propose a panel on small-file media seen from the point of view of ecomedia, as well as a curated selection of small-file artworks which practically unfold the implications of ICT engineer Bonnie Nardi’s call for Computing Within Limits (LIMITS). Our proposal makes an intervention into the very concept of ecomedia. Ecomedia is not simply a representation or visualisation of environmental problems but an immanent practice of responsible world-making indexical to the earth and the cosmos, as well an activist pedagogy and act of community-building. Small-file media are pandemic technologies of care; they at once abandon the pure and innocent image of an antediluvial “nature” opposed to culture, and on the other hand, forgo the innocent image of digital technology as an immaterial nebula of operations. Instead, we lovingly embrace the pixel as an ecosexual entity engaging time, matter, and the cosmos at large: an immanent interface for processes of enfolding and unfolding. In this way, we extend the concept of ecomedia whole naturalcultural continuum making possible heterogenous and transversal operations conceived as what Laura—drawing on Leibniz and Islamic Neoplatonism—has called ‘soul assemblages’.
Laura U. Marks works on media art and philosophy with an intercultural focus. A programmer and founder of the Small File Media Festival, she teaches in the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University. Laura was a principal investigator, together with Dr. Stephen Makonin (SFU Engineering), research associate Dr. Radek Przedpełski, and PhD student Alejandro Rodriguez-Silva (SFU Engineering) on the one-year project “Tackling the Carbon Footprint of Streaming (TCFSM)” funded through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s program “Living within the Earth’s Carrying Capacity.” The project’s mandate was to survey the engineering literature on the carbon footprint of streaming media in order to translate engineering findings into accessible terms, identify gaps in the research, and make policy recommendations.
Radek Przedpełski (rah-deck pshet-pe-oo-skee) (his/him) is a lecturer in media studies and visual culture at Trinity College Dublin and National University of Ireland, Maynooth. He has a background in digital media and sound design. Radek is also a migrant artist working in sound, photography and video. Between April 2020 and April 2021 Radek was a postdoctoral research associate on the Tackling the Carbon Footprint of Streaming Media transdisciplinary project at Simon Fraser University. Radek co-edited a volume on Deleuze, Guattari and the Art of Multiplicity (published by Edinburgh University Press in October 2020). Radek co-organised at TCD international conferences on Deleuze, Guattari and aesthetics (2016, 2018) and on art in the Anthropocene (2019).
The Memory within Photography: how to observe Photographic Images in the “post” context
Rodrigo Mattos, Unisinos, Brazil
Seeking an understanding of how photography is updated nowadays, the image in crisis emerges as a notion that encompasses the process of the image that criticizes its current and past forms of manifestation. In this paper, we seek to discuss the technocultural context in which contemporary photography takes shape and from which the condition of an image in crisis emerges. Therefore, we propose two conceptual categories: interface photography and the web of imaginariness. The first of them points to the updating of photography’s ways of being, reflecting on its new constitution in environments in which the photographic image should not be thought of considering only the referent within the frame, but, differently, in its articulation with interactive elements of the interface, which contributes to the generation of other notions of image. The second points to the condition of a virtual memorial arrangement built around interface photograph, when considering the subjectivities expressed by other communicating individuals who interact with the images on sociotechnical platforms such as Instagram.
Rodrigo Mattos is MS in Communication Sciences at Unisinos, funded by CAPES scholarship. He is a member of the Audiovisual and Technoculture research group: Communication, Memory, and Design (TCAv). His master’s dissertation, Images in Crisis: Ambiguity Constructs in Photographic Images on Instagram, examined photographic images as images in crisis. Based on the concept of the critical image by Georges Didi-Huberman (1998), the image in crisis emerges from photographic works containing multiple meanings within, developing as a deconstructive way of looking at the contemporary photographic image. His bachelor’s degree term paper approached the return of the vintage movement on Instagram and how the platform plays an important role in constructing this type of aesthetics on contemporary photographic images.
Seeing Australian Ecologies: the relationship between settler-Australian visions of landscape and Google Maps
In 2020, Google revitalised the palette of its maps, streamlining the colours of the world from over 700, to 25 major and minor tones. There is a seductively designed oral history page on the official Google website that features interviews with the team who developed the new colour coding. Their aim, they say, was to ‘[r]eveal more of the earth’s details’ while maintaining the map’s accessibility and its ‘recognizable-ly Google’ look. This performance presentation grew out of a research project in north-eastern Victoria which proposed the use of in-depth, in-person interviews to gather perspectives on what different actors are thinking about the future and past of rural Victoria. Successive lockdowns, and university restrictions on fieldwork throughout 2021, saw a broadening of the research methods to include the use of digital platforms like Google maps and satellite view, and the use of memories. From 1996 to 2000 I drove along the Oven’s Valley in north-eastern Victoria twice a day on my way to and from high school. This performance presentation draws on my settler-Australian memories of habitually moving through and observing place, alongside Google map visions of the same location, to ask what details does Google Maps reveal and obscure in the Australian context? In doing so, it asks how does one of the world’s leading machine vision systems interpret Australian landscape and ecologies and what is the relationship between that vision and settler-colonial interpretations?
Dr Clare McCracken is a Melbourne-based, site-responsive artist and early-career researcher and lecturer in Art History and Cultures. Her practice-led research sits at the intersection of art, human geography and urban theory. She employs innovative, performative methodologies to research how mobility systems coproduce space, place and landscape across generations in Australia.
Jaws, From the Shark’s Point of View
Brett Mills, Edge Hill University, UK
“This is the story of my death.”
How would the shark in Jaws make sense of, and respond to, the representational forms and cultural norms they are entrapped within? Would they see the story – and their role within it – in a manner akin to that the film offers to its assumed human audience? And what happens to the film, and anthropocentric understandings of it, if it is read by the eponymous shark?
“I have been made a monster.”
Dominant anthropocentric discourses prioritise human needs and deem things that threaten those as problems to be eradicated. Like many other animals, the shark is often understood as a threat, less because of its behaviour and more because it troubles notions of human exceptionalism. Jaws make the shark into a monster. How would the shark feel about this? What would they understand as the forces of monstrosity in the film?
“You humans tell the stories you need to tell.”
Representation functions as the most powerful tool by which anthropocentric and anthroparchal societies enable humans to encounter non-humans. As animals have disappeared from real-life, everyday encounters they have been replaced by depictions, and thus these depictions inform how human cultures understand species, environments, and individual non-human beings. Analytical approaches common in media studies, film studies, television studies, and the humanities more broadly centre the human as the dominant locus of enquiry. So what is the consequence for storytelling – and those academic field that examine storytelling – if a shark instead tells the story Jaws recounts?
“I shall tell you the story of Jaws, from my point of view.”
Brett Mills is Visiting Professor of Media Studies at Edge Hill University, UK. His most recent book is Animals on Television: The Cultural Making of the Non-Human (Palgrave 2017) and he has published articles on animals in media and culture in journals including Screen, European Journal of Cultural Studies, Continuum, Critical Studies in Television, Environmental Communication, and Series. He is part of the team undertaking the AHRC-funded research projects, ‘Multispecies Storytelling: More-Than-Human Narratives about Landscape’ (2019-22) and ‘Multisensory Multispecies Storytelling to Engage Disadvantaged Groups in Changing Landscapes’ (2020-22).
A new normal? Representations of the meat-environment nexus in UK online news media
Gilly Mroz, University of Oxford, UK
Although a “mainstreaming” of veganism has been taking place in western countries over the past few years, the Covid-19 pandemic has served to further increase interest in plant-based eating thanks to growing concerns about health. For example, a record number of people—582,538—signed up to participate in Veganuary in 2021, in comparison with around 400,000 in 2020.
Despite this growing popularity, the health benefits of vegan and/or vegetarian diets remain largely contested. Conversely, the impact of meat on the environment is clear. Greenhouse gases from the livestock industry contribute not only to around 14.5% of total global emissions, but also to biodiversity loss from rainforest clearance and water pollution from industrial waste. Striking visual reminders of the ever-present and increasing threat of climate change can be seen in the 2019-20 Australian bushfires or the recent floods in Germany and China.
Notwithstanding this scientific (and visual) evidence, previous research has found a significant lack of media reporting on the impact of meat on the environment—until now. In this presentation I take Morris (2018)’s suggestion of “de-meatification” slowly beginning to occur in the media further by suggesting that a “new normal” is already underway. Having analysed 116 environment-related meat articles from UK online news media from 2019, I explore the shift that has occurred, providing insights into changes in volume of coverage; popular pro- and anti-meat narratives; solutions and recommendations; and the media’s sentiment towards meat. Research has shown that environmental advantages are less important than individual benefits when it comes to dietary change (Bryant, 2019); I conclude by considering how changing perceptions of meat and health during the Covid-19 pandemic can in turn serve to boost discussion around the impact of food systems on the environment.
Gilly Mroz is a postdoctoral researcher working on the Livestock, Environment and People project at the University of Oxford (but currently based in Australia). Her research looks at media representations of meat from environmental, health and animal welfare perspectives. Prior to this she conducted research into how the shift to remote GP consultations during the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK was portrayed in the media. Despite having made media research her “new normal” during the pandemic, her background is in modern languages, and she holds a DPhil in Spanish and Russian literature from the University of Oxford.
Deep Learning the Climate Emergency: Making Generative Artwork with Machine Learning
Can machine vision of the Anthropocene offer insights for humans? The climate emergency is both existential and material, and much of human understanding of it is shaped through photographic and video imagery. Social media feed and news broadcasts are filled with imagery of a warming planet like red smoke-filled skies, bleached coral, and receding glaciers — visual signs of imminent and possible extinctions of different scales. In this presentation I will show work-in-progress artwork created with Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) trained on image-based datasets of climate crisis imagery. This speculative project brings together artistic inquiry and deep learning to consider how the climate crisis can be envisioned through artificial intelligence. What might imagery generated from algorithmic processes teach us about the Anthropocene?
Rebecca Najdowski is a Melbourne-based artist and Lecturer at RMIT University. Her work engages with the material and political implications of representing nature through expanded photographic technologies including video, 3D modelling, and machine learning.
Machine materiality in post-growth debates
Anna Olszewska, AGH University of Science and Technology, Poland
Mythologies of machines are built around notions of alienation and endurance. Technical assemblages are typically conceptualized as antagonistic to humans, operating independently of social constraints and scales, thus unknowable and nature-like.
In the context of post-growth debates, machines portrayed in this way, if not considered ‘evil’, are at least seen as superfluous. The movement for human-centred systems uses mythologies of machines to illustrate the scale of exploitation and inequality imposed by automation. At the same time, factions of neo-Luddites advocate a romantic-pastoral path to restoring social balance. But would taking the opposite route – entangling machines and nature – be merely a rhetorical attempt or the opportunity to debunk neoliberal recklessness?
In the following presentation, we reflect on the mythology of restless, alienated systems to discuss machines as media for communicating environmental issues. We argue that the ongoing discussions about automation and growth have a somewhat undervalued stale component of technology communities. Debating parties tend to view automation merely as an act of positioning (positio), resulting in a proliferation of artefacts, legal agreements, and patents. Alternatively, the flip side of machine mythology (negatio), the exploration of interoperability, kernel panic episodes, and data overload reveals the intriguing potential of machines to become proof-of-concept for sustainable futures. We aim to show that philosophy and art can communicate the existential complexity of political, economic and environmental issues by placing machines outside the positivist paradigm.
Anna Olszewska is a researcher and curator based in Poland. Responsible for Re:Senster project of cybernetic art restoration since 2016. She is currently involved in artificial vision and post-growth technology studies. She is an adjunct at the Faculty of Humanities at AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow.
Ana Peraica, Danube University, Austria
The photographic camera was invented only 55 years after the steam engine, which Paul Crutzen, who was the first to propose the sounding concept of the Anthropocene, a geological era in which humans radically impact on environment, saw as its beginning. Thus, motifs of the Anthropocene can be tracked to the beginning of photography, in images sometimes accidentally recording landscapes with chimneys, exploitation of geologic material, deforestation, massive urbanization or initial defrosting of permanent ice. Such pictures, some of which were never made to document the environment, exist in public and personal photographic archives, albums, and sets (as family records on beaches and in the mountains). To know the changes, these historical images are supplemented with new ones to compare them (in before-after shots).
Images of the past, the ones documenting present changes, and ones yet to be recorded in the future produce our knowledge on the Anthropocene. Being framed by photographic images, this period is captured by a neologism – Photographocene. Photographocene primarily refers to images indicating human intervention on the geological scale (defining photography as a fossilization process), even in images that are not consciously made to record them (as; images of species or their different habitats that are undergoing change). In addition to images critically capturing the ecological problem, there are also ones preventing the awareness by various photographic techniques (as reframing, retouching…) polluting our relationship to the physical environment.
Photographocene’s main characteristic is compulsive documentation and archiving of life forms running more important than life itself. It is marked by the growing role of archives, which become the sources of life diversity that are lost in reality, while databases once documenting life become the ones extinct. Utterly, they privilege the archive over the life recorded, even the one of the archivist.
Moreover, Photographocene is producing pictures and artefacts and conserving them to battle the natural process of dissolution (as photographs are “made to last”). In addition to archives, a number of images monitoring changes that none will ever see, made by nonhuman agents, continue to produce an additional carbon footprint. Privileging photographs over nature, these images consolidate the devaluation of nature. In such a nature, elements of photographic processes are released to the environment without control (chemical, or electronic waste produced using technology, process fallouts, doubled prints, hyper-archiving), polluting the ground.
Ana Peraica is the author of The Age of Total Images (Institute of Advanced Cultures, Amsterdam, 2019), Fotografija kao Dokaz (Multimedijalni institute, Zagreb, 2018), Culture of the Selfie (Institute of Advanced Cultures, Amsterdam, 2017). She is the author of chapters for anthologies and readers published by MIT Press, Routledge, Palgrave Macmillan, Springer, encyclopedia entries for SAGE and publishes with journals as Leonardo, Philosophy of Photography, Art Documentation, Lexia and other. She holds a position of Visiting Professor at Danube University in Austria and was previously a Visiting Fellow at Central European University in Budapest. In addition to her scholarly and academic work, she still holds the photographic studio opened by her grandfather in 1934 and later run by her late father.
Writing currents — an oceanographic approach for making metaphor matter
Logan Ramsay, RMIT University, Australia
In their paper, The Ocean in Excess: Towards a More-than-wet Ontology, Peters and Steinberg present the idea of a more-than-wet ontology. Key to Blue Humanities thinking and key to this ontology is that the ocean be more than metaphor, a completely deterritorializing and infinitely changing medium of physical experience, in excess. But metaphor has a bad rap, it’s often relegated to pure poetic ornamentation, a writerly technique lost in the “shall I compare thee to a summers day” abstraction of similar. Metaphor is more than a ‘mere matter of words’, and making metaphor matter, as a conceptual and material point of access, is now more important than ever. Seemingly abstract, distant, yet existential, threats like ocean acidification need real, immediate, and tangible connections. Metaphor needs an oceanic revisit.
By examining Lakoff and Johnson’s challenges to the existing fallacies around metaphor and taking their concept of metaphorical mappings as a lead into an oceanographic Langrangian read — a moving and many particled approach — I will ask if metaphor does in fact have a deeper role to play in oceanic more-than-wet ontology and if ontological metaphor can in turn be best expressed via oceanography.
Adopting a stream of consciousness wash of words, building a raft of oceanic metaphors, and then mapping their connective, relational depth — a movement out of movement — I will present metaphor in its true cognitive, illuminating yet deeply material nature.
Logan Ramsay is a Melbourne-based writer and digital experience artist, recent presenter of [echo]logram imaginary and the whale for ASLE’s 2021 EMERGENCE/Y and early career academic charting the myriad ⥂ abstract ⥄ material ways of oceanic communication. Logan is the first of his family to sail these educational waters and hopes to empower others to chart their own wild course imaginary.
Dominic Redfern, RMIT University, Australia
For Experimenta’s 2021 Triennale I was commissioned to create a multi-screen video installation based on cyanobacteria, the single celled algae that created the conditions for complex life to arise on earth 800 million years ago. I have created a number of installations around urban waterways, looking at the relationship between human and non-human histories. Still working with water but taking a deep dive into pre-history my work, first forms, looks beyond human life to the history of all multi-celled life forms. Cyanobacteria, when left to their own devices, slowly build up sedimentary forms known as stromatolites (sometimes called living fossils). They once covered large areas but can only be seen in a couple of places in the world today. The installation combines close studies of specimens from the UWA minerology collection and the collection of the WA Dept of Mines with location recordings of the stromatolites of Shark Bay, and Lake Thetis, Western Australia to create an image of the origins of all life in pre-Cambrian earth. I combined this footage with a soundtrack consisting of text and music to create a type of contemporary chant that positions the scientifically based text as one set of beliefs amongst many.
My presentation for eco-media will offer an excerpt of the work and a discussion of my thinking in creating it. I will focus on the origins of this creation myth and my approach to the construction of the work in both formal and conceptual terms.
Dominic Redfern is an artist and academic whose work addresses social and natural histories and the manner in which they are enmeshed: ecologies within urban environments; how geography impacts land use; the fuzzy boundary between the artificial and the natural; between the human and non-human. Dominic is always interested in origins and his key interests are evolution, geography and biology. He typically works with video in multi-screen installations, but also makes single channel and live screen works. Across his career his work has been supported by all three levels of government in Australia from various municipalities on up to the Australian Research Council as well the Australia Council for the Arts and state arts funding bodies. Dominic has undertaken residencies and site-responsive projects in Brazil, the USA, Japan, China, Korea, Thailand, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Scotland, Germany and France. He is an Associate Professor at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, where he teaches in the School of Art.
Public-interest journalism on a post-abundance planet: investigating how UK news media organisations are assessing and addressing their environmental impact
Kirsty Styles, University of Central Lancashire, UK
This PhD study, sponsored by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, seeks to understand how UK news media organisations are assessing and addressing their environmental impact in light of growing calls for countries, industries and individuals to make suitable efforts to avert environmental crises.
It is a quantitative, comparative analysis of two UK news media organisations selected to assess whether different economic models influence environmental outcomes, a key tension in the literature. This will then inform a qualitative, explanatory stage.
The study draws on the three pillars of sustainable development, alongside corporate sustainability, to create a model for news media decision-makers, sustainability practitioners and academia to understand the interaction between economic, environmental and social sustainability.
The news media is considered to have unique responsibilities because of its so-called ‘brainprint’, or the potential effect that editorial output has on people’s understanding of the world. As such, this study aims to understand to what extent the news media’s organisational and editorial outputs are aligned to achieve environmental sustainability.
It offers a number of contributions in the journalism field. There is limited research comparing UK news media organisations’ efforts to achieve environmental sustainability, other than some work by industry in collaboration with data science. International academia compares media companies’ ‘corporate responsibility’, questions of ‘ethics’, however this thesis focusses on ‘corporate sustainability’, or business survival. It will establish whether the news media can be sustainable across the three pillars of sustainable development, while considering claims about the industry’s ‘brainprint’.
It will also be among the first to interrogate how the global drive to ‘net zero’ is shaping environmental sustainability plans at UK news media organisations. To date, ‘net zero’ does not having a working definition for organisations. Given there is also no operational definition for ‘sustainable journalism’, this thesis will establish one.
Kirsty Styles is a journalist, campaigner, researcher and performer. Career highlights include bringing ‘ethical tech’ stories to millions through business and consumer media, including working as an editor for the New Statesman, creating a flagship public-speaker training programme for women in tech in the North, called Northern Voices, and launching a British Podcast Award-winning podcast for the New Economics Foundation.
Recent work includes creating the Standup For Journalism comedy training and performance night, offering journalists a new way to talk about the public interest, and acting as a selection advisor for Nesta’s Future News Fund.
Kirsty is the first PhD candidate supported by the World Association of Newspaper and News Publishers. She also works at Open Data Manchester and is a journalism innovation lecturer at the University of Huddersfield.
Animating the Natural World – Some Thoughts on Stop-motion Landscape Animation
Dan Torre, RMIT University, Australia
This 15-minute presentation will consider how animation can be used to help re-connect us to the natural world. It will begin by highlighting some of the ways in which our cognitive processes are analogous to the processes of animation; next it will focus on some themes surrounding the practice of animating natural, real-world, spaces through the use of stop-motion animation – a process referred to as landscape animation.
Although, landscape animators may practice a variety of approaches, they all seem to be deeply affected by the space itself, and this in turn has a profound effect on their animated outcomes. The landscape in a sense, becomes a collaborator in the animation process.
Ultimately, this presentation will consider some practical, theoretical and philosophical ideas surrounding the animating of the natural world.
Dan Torre is a Senior Lecturer in Animation in the School of Design at RMIT University. He is author of a number of books, including: Animation – Process, Cognition and Actuality (Bloomsbury 2017); Cactus (Reaktion Books 2017); Australian Animation – An International History (Palgrave 2018); Carnivorous Plants (Reaktion Books 2019); Grendel Grendel Grendel – Animating Beowulf (Bloomsbury 2021); Orchids (forthcoming); The History and Theory of Cut-out Animation – From J. Stuart Blackton to South Park (forthcoming).
We Found a Body: The Intra-Body of Human, Technology, Narrative and Environment
Cassandra Tytler, RMIT University, Australia
This presentation explores the in-progress intermedial project, We Found A Body. The piece takes the form of an experimental crime drama series where viewer-participants follow a map (using a Geocaching app) through an urban space in order to watch each episode. The work is about environmental destruction of the Earth’s body and white Australia’s fear, disconnection and confusion about how to deal with the harm that we’re causing.
I use a posthumanist queer reading of performativity (Barad 2003; 2011) to analyse how We Found a Body, in its potential for intra-action of human, technology, narrative and environment, can reconfigure and intertwine bodies and matter in a dynamic and embodied way. This is a space where the artwork acts as a performative call to action where iterative materialisation creates an intra-body of all these elements.
Cassandra Tytler (she/her) is an artist and academic. She works across single-channel video, performance, and video installation. She completed her practice-led PhD within the Faculty of Art (Theatre Performance) at Monash University in 2021. Her research interest lies in performance in and of video, and its potential to create a relational and aware politics of resistance. She has exhibited, screened and performed work, and spoken at conferences both nationally and internationally.
Visualising Extinction: XR and mediagenic street theatre
Linda Williams, RMIT University, Australia
This brief paper focuses on the communication strategies of Extinction Rebellion (XR): not just in how this organisation has adapted civil disobedience to a range of media platforms but also through the mediagenic and affective potential of XR street theatre.
By eschewing the kind of posthumanist adaptation of new materialism that privileges a fairly flat ontological relation between the human and nonhuman, the critical attention here is instead drawn to the all-too-human capacity for ecological destruction. This preference is based on the view that the acknowledgment of obvious differences in power and agency between human and nonhuman animals provides a more effective way of responding to global crisis than to choose this particular moment to focus on how the human is constituted by the nonhuman. This is not to say that we are not so constituted- and indeed the evolutionary connections between the human and nonhuman have been understood scientifically for well over a century. But as Derrida pointed out over a decade ago, the evolutionary theory that constituted such a deep wound to human exceptionalism has made little difference to the exploitative industrialisation of animal life, and we have, so to speak, at least for now managed to sooth the wound. Hence in response to the resilience of anthropocentrism, rather than providing examples from contemporary culture of how we might like to think of ourselves as occupying a posthuman condition, my focus here is on how XR representations of human agency are sufficiently differentiated from the agency of nonhuman species to produce new kinds of human self- recognition appealing to more enlightened forms of self-interest.
Linda Williams is an Associate Professor in the School of Art at RMIT, where she coordinates HDR candidates and leads the AEGIS Research Network for Art & Ecologies. She has published widely in the field of the Environmental Humanities with a particular research focus on the history of human-animal relations and concepts of the nonhuman world in western thought from the 17th century.