Report from MST in Ireland April 19-21

Mst_and_dancing_days_final_con

Mapping Spectral Traces V held an international exhibition and symposium (Bodies – Space – Memory) in Galway April 19-21 in collaboration with Dancing Days Festival. These scholarly and performance events were co-organized by Dr. Nessa Cronin and Tim Collins of the ??m??s ??ite at the Centre for Irish Studies, National University of Ireland Galway (http://www.nuigalway.ie/research/centre_irish_studies/omos_aite.html), Dr. Karen Till of National University of Ireland Maynooth, http://geography.nuim.ie/research/space-place, and Galway Dancer in Residence, R??onach N?? N??ill, http://vimeo.com/user1223144/videos.

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Overview: i-Docs 2012 (Exploring Interactive Documentary in Bristol)

If you don’t have time to read what I’ve written below, I’ll just begin by saying, please visit the website

i-Docs.org. There will be a great deal there to interest you. Now read on …

Last week I spent two very thought provoking days at this year’s i-Docs symposium here in Bristol, and I just wanted to share some thoughts. The work presented during the two days deal with many of the themes that interest members of the Mapping Spectral Traces group. i-Docs is co-convened by Judith Aston, senior lecturer in Digital Media at the University of the West of England and Sandra Gaudenzi, Associate Lecturer, Master in Interactive Media University of the Arts London LCC with support from the Digital Cultures Research Center (DCRC) in Bristol.

The first question, what is meant by the term ‘i-Docs’, isn’t easily answered. In fact, during day two of the event, one of the breakout sessions (and one sadly I didn’t attend) debated that very issue. On one level the contraction of the words ‘interactive’ and  ‘documentary’ seems straightforward. From my conversations with Judith Aston, I know that her intention is choosing i-Docs as the event’s name, was that it should allow a loose interpretation of the term, to explore a wide range of practices and thought processes. There is no doubt that the presentations over the two days illustrated just how broad the area of interactive documentary making has become.

One of the strongest points in the the event was the programming of speakers with a strong history of film-making, some of whom had entered the platform of interactive documentary or film-making, in its current digital sense. Alongside of them, we heard presentation from Max Whitby who worked in the very early days of interactive laser disc and then CD-ROM. Brian Winston, presented and talked about an interview he made with political sociologist, John Gaventa and the film John made in 1973 around the Brookside Mine Strike in Harlan County. The invitation of the film-maker to the strikers to, effectively, make their own film, in order that their voice should be heard, reminded us that interactive film doesn’t necessarily mean an end-user sitting at a computer clicking a mouse.

Other participants spoke about their projects which took on the very contemporary practice of participant interaction through web-based social media; in particulat Jigar Mehta his project 18 Days in Egypt, presenting and representing through mapping, Twitter and YouTube the experiences (very often, as they happened) of the protesters in Tahrir Square and beyond. Mention must be made of Paulina Tervo Awra Ambra project and Kat Cizek’s presentation (via Skype) of Highrise. Both feature very strong collaborations with their featured communities that I feel sure will resonate strongly with member of Mapping Spectral Traces.

All these projects raised very interesting debates, around the nature of interactive documentary, and how one deals with the matters of authorship and ownership, and the very real danger in which people sometimes place themselves when sharing media in this way.

Breakout sessions meant that I had to make difficult choices in what I saw. Sessions that I would have enjoyed (but had to miss) were a presentation of Charlotte Croft’s interactive installation, Curzon Memories, set in the Curzon Cinema in Clevedon (one of the oldest working cinemas in the country, having opened in 1912), and a talk by sound and locative media artist Duncan Speakman. Both were tackling the themes in layered reality. Day one, therefore, focussed more on the principles, philosophies and ethics.

Day two, whilst still allowing space for artists and documentarians to share their work, focussed much more on the mechanics. For those interested in how they might best produce their project, three producers of online tools presented their work, with examples of how it has been used so far. Brett Gaylor currently works for Mozilla, and has been working on an open source system called Popcorn to produce interactive web-based video. A stripped down online version for those who don’t want to engage with Javascript coding is now available. Guillaume Urjewicz and Maria Gemayel presented their system Klynt (currently Flash based, but an HTML5 version is on the way). FInally, Bruno Flaven presented another HTML5-based interactive video system, 3WDOC.

I haven’t mentioned all the speakers by any means. All are featured on the i-Docs website. Many themes and conclusions can be extracted from the event. For me one of the main themes was how we should never forget the history of documentary film-making. Many of  the issues that the younger generation of documentary face today in the interactive arena, have already been faced by those who worked in film and television thirty or forty years ago, and it was a valuable and integral part of the  festival that both generations were brought together.

The two days were crammed with inspiring and thought provoking panels and presentations, and there was much for those of us who  engage with deep mapping to explore, mull over and be inspired by. Videos from the i-Docs events will be posted on the website.

Once again the website address:

i-Docs.org

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David Smith
http://www.treasuremind.org