Documentary Ontography: Nonfiction Stories Using Lists of Things

Some of what I’m teaching this semester.

The below as a pdf….

ontography

Exploded view of a JVC GY-HD100U Camcorder (http://www.nomenclaturo.com/jvc-gy-hd100u-camcorder-parts-exploded-diagram.html)

Like a medieval bestiary, ontography can take the form of a compendium, a record of things juxtaposed to demonstrate their overlap and imply interaction through collocation. The simplest approach to such recording is the list, a group of items loosely joined not by logic or power or use but by the gentle knot of the comma. (Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology or What It’s Like to be a Thing p.38.)

What happens when things in the world world, not us, is made a cause and the centre of telling stories?

description

There is a wave of new ideas in media and cinema studies loosely known as media materialism, speculative realism, or post digital media. This work is changing how we understand what the media is and our relation to it. These theories criticise media and cultural studies for placing us (the social, human, even language) at the centre of our understanding of what the world is. These theories also provide different ways for us to think about the role of narrative in what we do.

These new ideas are relevant when the internet and social media, combined with global environmental and cultural problems, change what making media is. These ideas can provide us with a different vocabulary for how and what we make as media professionals. One step in achieving this is to make creative
Like a medieval bestiary, ontography can take the form of a compendium, a record of things juxtaposed to demonstrate their overlap and imply interaction through collocation. The simplest approach to such recording is the list, a group of items loosely joined not by logic or power or use but by the gentle knot of the comma. (Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology or What It’s Like to be a Thing p.38.) nonfiction because it addresses the world. A second is to learn how these ideas let us understand and work in digital media in more sophisticated ways.

These ‘materialist’ theories describe the way things form relations that are more complex than we give them credit for, and how we are part of these relations too. They regard an object, person, even an idea as, equally, a thing. When this is understood our relationship to media, making, content, tools, stories, and ourselves changes.

This studio is relevant for anyone wanting to understand and play with network media, video, media theory, digital media, documentary, cultural studies, and philosophy.

In the studio we will do theoretical readings that will be understood through making a variety of media
artefacts. This will include online media and interactive documentary.

Students will be required to purchase required software (OS X or PC) for US$25 for this studio.

aims

  • To get an introduction to recent radical media theory
  • Learn how to make sophisticated online work that demonstrates complex ideas creatively
  • Learn and initiate ways of making media that is about the world that is relevant across different media and stories

Learning Approach

The learning approach of the studio is a mix of problem based and action learning methodologies. Each of these emphasise the ways that to learn anything you have to do something, and then take what you have done to inform what happens next.

Problem based learning emphasises the asking of complex, open questions — problems — that don’t have simple answers, and the class using what is already known to see what is already known, what is not known, and what needs to be found out. This last step defines what is done next.

Action learning is common in management seminars. However, it is useful for us because it places an emphasis on being able to identify what you don’t know that matters, and recognises the value in sharing different points of view, understandings, and experiences to solve problems.

The combination of problem based and action learning will lead to what we will describe as ‘matters of concern’ for the class. These are the things that the class decides are significant and will form what we need to investigate.

Work in progress will be regularly reviewed in class by the students and teacher together as a basic principle of studio teaching is that making is public, iterative, and constructively critiqued.
The studio will rely on face to face teaching and will make extensive use of a variety of online platforms to share information, resources, and work. This studio will not use Blackboard to share or distribute course work, undertake discussions, or generally do anything. The platforms and services used will be defined by the studio, and may be a mix of individual blogs, FaceBook, a dedicated web portal, Google Apps, or new services such as Slack or Podio. We are committed to using ‘real world’ platforms as part of the learning in this studio.

We are committed to the work of the studio being public facing (online and available for others to see).

Teaching Schedule

There is no set weekly schedule for this studio. It is anticipated that the first studio each week will concentrate on readings and theoretical problems which will then be explored through the second studio. The direction that the studio takes in relation to readings, problems, and work undertaken will emerge from the ‘matters of concern’ that arise in the classes. These concerns aren’t known in advance.

Assessment Criteria/Learning Outcomes

Students will be assessed according to the Learning Outcomes of the Media Course they are enrolled in:

COMM2626 Media 3
Discuss and apply relevant theories and frameworks in order to demonstrate media literacies
Investigate, design and produce media at an intermediate level
Work collaboratively at an intermediate level
Reflect on and evaluate your own and other’s creative process to improve outcomes

COMM2628 Media 5
Independently situate your practice in relation to appropriate disciplinary theories and frameworks
Research, design and produce media at an advanced level
Work collaboratively at an advanced level
Analyze your own and other’s creative process at an advanced level and critically evaluate and act on feedback provided

These learning outcomes will be assessed in relation to specific pieces of assessment. Individual project briefs for the studio may assess one OR several of the learning outcomes. Project briefs will clearly indicate which course learning outcome is being assessed.

Project Briefs

Project One: An Exploded Map of A Media Thing
Due: presented in class, week 2.
Description: This is a prototyping task. Select any thing (where a thing can be any object, idea, artefact, tool, event) that is clearly and unambiguously a media thing. Draw a map showing all the parts/things/units that make up, influence, include, effect, participate in, are influenced by, this media thing. Colour and labels are essential.
Form: The completed artefact is to be at least large enough to require a sheet of butchers paper. It will be a flow chart drawing of all the parts that you have found, thought, think, make up the media thing you are documenting.
Submission: presented in class
Learning Outcomes Media three: 4
Learning Outcomes Media five: 4

Project Two: An Exploded Media Map of a Media Thing
15% of overall result
Due: presented in class, week 4.
Description: This project requires you to develop the map you prototyped in project one, refining and ‘thickening’ it. The new map is to distinguish human, technical, nonhuman physical and nonhuman nonphysical actors.
Form: Poster, that includes images, labels, arrows and so on. Can be done by hand, printed, or not. Can be presented electronically.
Submission: presented in class
Learning Outcomes Media three: 2, 4
Learning Outcomes Media five: 2, 4

Project Three: A List of 100 Concerns from the Point of View of….
25% of overall result
Due: presented in class, week 7.
Description: This project will be done in pairs. Describe a statement or question that will become a proposition that is the ‘point of view’ of the project. This statement may include a ‘productive constraint’. The point of view must be from a thing. This proposition is to be realised by creating 100 brief video or audio clips that express this point of view (aka ‘a matter of concern’).
Form: A Flickr album or any similar platform that allows them to be presented as an array of 100 images/videos.
Submission: presented in class
Learning Outcomes Media three: 1, 2, 3
Learning Outcomes Media five: 1, 2, 3

Project Four: A Poetic Listing of Concerns from the Point of View of…
40% of overall result
Due: Week 13, work is published online and url emailed to Adrian Miles
Description: This project is to be done in pairs.
Documentary
Using media from Project Three develop a multilinear, poetic video documentary (an interactive documentary) that becomes a description of the thing that the point of view is of. The media from Project Three can be edited, remixed, reshot, etc.
Essay

“Let’s adopt ontography as a name for a general inscriptive strategy, one that uncovers the repleteness of units and their interobjectivity. From the perspective of metaphysics, ontography involves the revelation of object relationships without necessarily offering clarification or description of any kind.” (Alien Phenomenology, p. 38).

discuss one of:

  1. how does your film reveal ‘object relationships’ and the ‘repleteness of units’?
  2. how has using lists and other non–story strategies let your documentary engage the world? (Does it engage with the world?)
  3. how does your documentary show how ‘replete’ things are?
  4. what sort of difference has not using a story made to how your documentary discusses something in the world?
  5. how and in what way (is?), your interactive ontograph a documentary? Why? How?
    Submission: to be confirmed

Learning Outcomes Media three: 1, 2, 3, 4
Learning Outcomes Media five: 1, 2, 3, 4

Portofolio
20% of overall result
Due: Week 13, if electronic email url to Adrian Miles, if hard copy then hand in via Building 9, Level 4 submission box.
Description: Using the studio experience graph (this will be made in the final week of the studio) write an essay of up to 1000 words that selects the ‘critical moments’ or ‘critical events’ that signify important moments of your studio journey. This essay should provide a narrative of your semester. It can be chronological (ie, time-based narrative), highlighting positive or negative things that happened, or it can be thematic that coalesce insights, inspirations and changes in your understanding that took place. It is expected to use evidence from the informal documentation you have made through the semester. The submission must include your studio experience graph.
Learning Outcomes Media three: 4
Learning Outcomes Media five: 4

Reading Cloud

Bill Nichol’s Documentary Nodes
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Documentary_mode

Wikipedia introduction to Oulipo
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oulipo

Wikipedia on Fluxus
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fluxus

Fluxus on fluxus
http://www.fluxus.org/

MOMA on fluxus
http://www.moma.org/collection/details.php?theme_id=10457

Tim Morton’s OOO for beginners
http://ecologywithoutnature.blogspot.com.au/p/ooo-for-beginners.html

studio blog 
http://www.mediafactory.org.au/2015-documentary-ontography/

i-docs (UK)
http://i-docs.org/

Adrian Miles’ blog
http://vogmae.net.au/vlog

Korsakow Manual
http://korsakow.org/learn/manual/

Studios, Open Pedagogy

We have moved to a studio model of teaching in the media degree (I got it adopted it across the honours degree several years ago). In practice this means that our media students have half of their course load in media specific subjects (the other half is made up the sorts of subjects you’d expect to find in a media and communication school). These subjects are now generic studio ‘placeholders’, ie media studio 1, 2, 3, and so on, right through to 6. In each studio (except for 1 and 6 which get special treatment) rather than a particular subject, we simply have our staff offer individual topics. They are available (currently) to a mix of students from different year levels, and with our enrolment numbers it means that this semester, to kick it off, we have seven staff offering seven different topics. We call each topic a studio (which sounds confusing but it isn’t really), so for instance I am offering the documentary ontography studio. Students completed a ballot of preferences, and as so often happens, everyone easily got their first choice.

There is no reason for a studio topic to be repeated, so I could offer a different studio next semester. Why? To reflect and align with research I may be doing. A symposium that is coming up, a visitor coming to town. It is, as some colleagues from another university noted, very agile. We have also, in one fell swoop, changed the entire experience of the degree (apart from the pedagogy) as now instead of 2 subjects that were writ in stone the students can choose from 7, every semester.

How studios are being taught will vary a bit, given the differences in staff ability to let go of older practices, of being comfortable to a greater or lesser extent with emergent curricula, and so on. While once upon a time I probably would have worried about that, these days I’m not. Students will work out the differences amongst the staff, and probably manage to get a variety of experiences and learn what they prefer. (We will prevent students from following an individual staff member from studio to studio.)

Anyways, for those curious enough, here’s a gallery of our studio offerings (and as a pdf booklet).

Camera Stylo Conference

Amazing looking conference coming up shortly at the University of Sydney that I’ve completely missed! Camera-Stylo: intersections in literaure and cinema. Obviously channeling Astruc’s seminal essay, this is one I would’ve tried hard to get to if it hadn’t managed to slip past me so comprehensively! Great line up, topic, and possibilties.

Stories are Broken

Preliminary abstract for a new paper.

Interactive documentary finds itself caught, theoretically, by the narratological assumptions that underwrites much cinema and documentary studies. These theories rely, implicitly or explicitly, on the presence of a story that audiences are required to interpret or understand in some way. Theoretically we have sophisticated ways to account for the actions of audiences on documentaries, documentaries on audiences, and the relation of documentaries to the world, yet in most instances we do this through the gestalt of story. However, stories as a theoretical model by which to understand interactive documentary are problematic in two ways.
The first is that documentaries are, while obviously complex and sophisticated language machines, resolutely linear, sequential and reliant on linear cause and effect. This is not surprising given that film and video is an insistent time based and sequential medium. In spite of our celebration of ambiguity and complexity stories struggle to account for, describe, or perform the simple complexity of, well, anything, because of their inherent necessity to be linear, sequential and ordered.

This is not how the world is.

For now we find ourselves wondering whether we are in the new geological age of the anthropocene, facing unprecedented environmental change, population migration, and sociopolitical transformation from north to south and east to west. Combined with a twenty first century media ecology that has long departed the command and control model of industrial media manufacture and distribution, we can ask whether stories, in the pragmatic way we use the concept critically, is adequate.

The second is that new media, as a technical form, is not, like film and video before it, linear and sequential. This would suggest that it is a form that is ill suited to storytelling (whether fiction or nonfiction), and while as a species we find it easy to tell stories about anything (an epistemological practice) this is a very different claim to then thinking that everything is a story (an ontological claim).

By beginning from the narratological assumptions that underwrite much cinema and documentary discourse interactive documentary theory risks misreading what interactive documentary is, and can do, by looking past the specificity of the computer and network through its colonisation by narrative.

In this paper I explore this proposition relying on case studies of digital nonfiction works using recent materialist media theory. I revisit interactive documentary to describe what digital media is, and does, and on that basis argue that narrative is not a key trope or method to investigate interactive documentary. Narrative is at best a handmaid to interactive documentary, and so begs the question of what interactive documentary is for, if not story.

References

Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. Minneapolis: University Press of Minnesota, 2012.

Dovey, Jon, and Mandy Rose. “We’re Happy and We Know It: Documentary, Data, Montage.” Studies in Documentary Film 6.2 (2012): 159–173.

Gaudenzi, Sandra. “The Interactive Documentary as a Living Documentary.” Doc On-Line 14 (2013).

Nash, Kate, Craig Hight, and Catherine Summerhayes, eds. New Documentary Ecologies Emerging Platforms, Practices and Discourses. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Parikka, Jussi. “Operative Media Archaeology: Wolfgang Ernst’s Materialist Media Diagrammatics.” Theory, Culture & Society 28.5 (2011): 52–74.

Parikka, Jussi. The Anthrobscene. Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2014.

Parikka, Jussi. What Is Media Archaeology. Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity, 2012.