I was supposed to publish this post yesterday. Only i started exploring Serial, one of the works selected for the 2014 IDFA DocLab Award for Best Digital Storytelling and i couldn't stop myself, i went from one episode to another, talked about each of them with The Boyfriend and the whole afternoon flew by.
So here i am 24 hours late with the follow-up of my notes from the DocLab: Interactive Conference 2014, a day of talks about the way artists, film makers, designers and entrepreneurs are exploring digital behaviour and redefining the documentary genre in the digital age.
The DocLab talks took place at The Flemish Arts Centre De Brakke Grond and so did the exhibition. The nominees for the Best Digital Storytelling award were lined up in one room and the curated exhibition DocLab Expo: Immersive Reality was spread into the rest of the building.
I was ready to shun the The Virtual Reality Screening Room because i really, really, don't like the idea that i can be seen looking like this. Also i never regarded myself as a germaphobe but having half my face eaten up by a device that dozens of people have worn before me makes my skin crawl. I did it though. I wore the unhygienic headset. Because i'm brave and i believe in taking risks in order to write my blog. I even liked some of the works....
In particular Strangers with Patrick Watson by Felix & Paul Studio. You put the unsanitary Oculus Rift goggles on (seriously, am i really the one who's got a problem with oculus hygiene???) and you find yourself transported into the studio loft of musician Patrick Watson in Montréal. He's attempting to compose some music and his dog is relaxing on the floor. And so was i. Relaxing, not on the floor. There is nothing to do for you, except look around and enjoy the scene. It's peaceful and pleasant, there is no need for awkward keyboard manipulation in the dark.
The retro-looking Trojan Offices installation brings us back to the early nineties when computer scientists at the University of Cambridge scientists rigged up a camera to monitor the coffee pot located in the main computer lab and casually invented the webcam.
Nowadays, countless numbers of webcams are streaming live to the internet, indexed by search engines without permission. With a simple hack, artist Dries Depoorter gained access to them, selected half a dozen of them in order to give us a live glimpse into unsuspecting coffeepots and offices from all over the world.
The most compelling part of the day for me was when i discovered the nominees of the Digital Storytelling competition. Because the focus of the selection is as much on new forms of interactivity as it is on strategies to weave a compelling story, all the projects were deep, multi-layered and compelling. Some took me ages to explore. Cue to...
Serial is a weekly podcast that investigates the true circumstances behind the murder of a Baltimore high school girl. Hae Min Lee was found strangled in a park in 1999. Her former boyfriend Adnan Syed was sent to prison with a life sentence on the basis of one testimony only. No physical evidence linked Syed to the crime and he has always claimed he is innocent. In the podcast producer Sarah Koenig takes listeners back to 1999 and shares interviews with people involved in the affair, audio archives from the trial and snippets of conversation between the prisoner and the journalist. The website that accompanies the quest also presents maps, photos, copies of handwritten letters, etc. The audience discovers along with the makers of the programme that the story has multiple layers and inconsistencies.
Serial is more gripping than many lavishly produced tv series or movies. One of the characteristics of the show is that it remains ambiguous, you have the feeling that the journalist doesn't have an agenda, she slowly uncovers evidences along the way. Like her, you might not be able to make up your mind and figure out whether Syed was guilty or innocent. I'm glad the podcast is the winner of the 2014 IDFA DocLab Award for Best Digital Storytelling.
Every day, hundreds of thousands of cat owners upload photos of their pet on photosharing websites. I Know Where Your Cat Lives collects the images, retrieves the latitude and longitude coordinates embedded by many cameras and visualizes the location of the cats. The databank is charming, cats are so irresistible that in some countries feline photos are more popular than selfies. But as the title of the work suggests, there is also a slightly creepy dimension to the project as it makes you realize that once a piece of personal data is online, you lose control over it.
The option "Cats by country" shows how many cat photos have been uploaded in a given nation. This is why the makers themselves say that "the maps are perhaps a better representation of globalism, access to smart phones, and relaxed consideration for individual privacy."
Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa, Ghana, etc. Dutch colonialism has left its marks across the world. With Empire Interactive, Eline Jongsma and Kel O'Neill investigate into the aftershocks of the first global capitalist endeavor, Dutch colonialism. The multi media works shows how little known enclaves of post-colonialism are geographically distant from each other, yet strangely united by their past exposure to colonial imperialism.
As the videos posted on vimeo demonstrate, the long-term impact of Dutch colonialism is truly astonishing: from the private town for white people in South Africa and other signs of a nostalgia for the Apartheid era, to the man seen as a god by the inhabitants a full-size replica Dutch village built in the middle of the Sri Lankan jungle, and the WWII enthusiasts who dress as members of the Waffen SS and proceed to military maneuvres on the island of Java.
Empire is an online, portable version of an exhibition. As the artists explained in an interview with Indiewood: Originally, in installation form, the project allows viewers to wander from installation to installation, and from story to story. As a viewer, you get to be a bit more autonomous than you are used to: we give you the parts, but you do the labor. We are trying to use the same principles in the interactive online version. In that sense, we think that transmedia art broadens the horizon of visual storytelling and gives both the creator and the audience more power to experiment than they may have with other art forms. It doesn't replace "traditional" film, it just offers a different way of going about things.
The Empire project also exists in the form of a limited edition book.
Pentecostalism claims that the Holy Spirit is here and now. I've no idea what that might mean but i must be in a minority because Pentecotalism is believed to be the fastest growing religion in the world.
Atlas of Pentecostalism, by documentary filmmaker Bregtje van der Haak and information designer Richard Vijgen, aims to develop a reusable model for reporting on dynamic global trends and crises, incorporating crowdsourcing, big data, interviews, academic research and visual information.
The work allows you to investigate the religion through photos of church buildings and logos, maps of belief in the devil, interview with experts in anthropology, etc. Anyone can contribute photos to the permanently expanding Atlas of Pentecostalism. You can also 'download the website' as an e-book or print-on-demand book, which freezes the dynamic data at the moment of ordering.
Refugee Republic challenges our view of refugee camps. They are places of displacement, misery and distress but that's only part of the story. Life rebuilds itself in a refugee camp: bakers prepare the bread, children go to school, people fall in love. Skipping from photo to video to drawings to text in a very fluid way, the interactive documentary allows you to step inside Camp Domiz, a refugee camp in northern Iraq where some 64,000 inhabitants, mostly Syrian Kurds, live.
More images from DocLab 2014:
DocLab expo took place at The Flemish Arts Centre De Brakke Grond in Amsterdam. The exhibition is over, alas! but the show Pieter Van den Bosch. Aanslagen zonder gevolgen opens tomorrow and it looks really good.
More images on Brakke Grond facebook page.
Peter Cusack is a field recordist, musician and researcher who has traveled to areas of major environmental devastation, nuclear sites, big landfill dumps, edges of military zones and other potentially dangerous places. He has been to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; the Caspian Oil Fields in Azerbaijan; 'London Gateway' the new port on the River Thames where massive dredging severely damages the underwater environment; the Aral Sea, Kazakhstan, which is now being partially restored after virtually disappearing due to catastrophic water misuse.
While most of these locations have been extensively discussed in articles and documented in images, we don't know what a day in any of these places sounds like. With his field recordings, however, Cusack gives us an idea of what a radiometer with a cuckoo in the background in Pripyat sounds like. Or what it is like to hear the wind whistling by the Sizewell nuclear power stations. These recording belong to a practice that the artist calls sonic journalism. The discipline is an audio complement and companion to images and language. Using field recordings and careful listening, sonic journalism provides valuable insights into the atmosphere of a particular site.
Hi Peter! The public is now used to seeing images of dangerous places. Focusing on sound recordings from these same places, however, is less banal. What can sound communicate that an image cannot convey?
Field recordings are very good at communicating the atmosphere of places. They also give a good sense of space (distance, position, how things are moving) and timing of any events happening. I think this is important because it gives a sense of what it might be like to actually be there and allows you to think about what you might feel, or how you might react if present. I don't really agree that images are more banal (some recordings are also). It depends on the image. For me a better impression is given when images, sounds and language are working together. Most reportage uses images and language but not the sounds, which means we are usually missing the aural information. This is a pity because it can be very informative and expressive.
Some of the sounds you collected are seducing and fascinating. The ones you recorded in the Chernobyl exclusion zone are particularly charming, even the Cuckoo and radiometer has some poetry in it. So how do you suggest the sense of danger to the listener?
Yes, sometimes they are a complete contrast to a sense of danger. However they are part of the the larger whole. Most dangerous places are very complex. For me it's important to suggest the complexity and the contradictions that are present. That way one gets a more complete picture, e.g it may seem a contradiction that the Chernobyl exclusion zone is now a wonderful nature reserve. That is definitely to be contrasted with state of human health there.
Is it easier to get access to these locations as a sound artist than as a photographer? I imagine that people in charge of a military site or a particularly environment-damaging oil field will be wary of a photographer but might underestimate the strength of a sound recording. Do you find that you face the same resistance and restriction when you record ambient sound than when you take photos?
The only place where i had access to a place where photographers cannot not go was the Jaguar car factory in Liverpool, where they are paranoid about industrial espionage from rival car manufacturers. At Chernobyl they give anyone access if you can pay the entry fees.
In places where you don't get permission it depends on how obvious you are. Large microphones are as visible as large cameras. I often use small equipment which is not easy to see. However, it's true that security guards don't know about recording equipment compared to cameras.
The UK now is very security conscious. I've been stopped at places for recording and for just standing in the wrong place not recording or photographing.
The first recordings of the series dedicated to the oil industry were made in 2004 at the Bibi Heybat oil field, in Azerbaijan. Why did you start there? Was it a conscious decision to start in that location or did you find yourself there for another reason and the idea emerged then to start a new body of work?
i was in Azerbaijan for a holiday. i did not know the oil fields were there, so it was a very lucky accident from which the project grew.
You see Sounds from Dangerous Places as a form of 'Sonic Journalism'. Yet, you are a sound artist, so what makes your work an artwork rather than merely a 'sound reportage'?
My interest is to document places as best i can (audio recording, photography plus any other kind of material or research) so that anyone listening/reading can get an idea of the place itself and the relevant issues. this material gets used for a variety of purposes - sound art, cds, radio, education, talks, installations. whether it is art, documentary or journalism is not so important to me.
Are there dangerous places you wish you could go to or sounds you wish you could capture, only they are out of reach for some reason?
Yes, many. most military areas are completely impossible to get into. So are a lots of industrial sites, nuclear power stations, etc. Sometimes official tours are organised but usually these are useless for recording, which takes time to do properly without other people talking or getting in the way all the time. However it's sometimes possible to make interesting and valuable recordings from outside the fences.
Other places are really, and personally, dangerous like war zones. My project concentrates on environmentally dangerous place. War zones are not part of this and i've no wish to get killed.
After this exploration of the energy industry, you are planning to explore global water issues. Can you tell us a bit more about this project? Your website states that the work will include the dam projects in Turkey. Why do these dams strike you as representative of the global water problems? Where else will the project take you?
The Aral Sea in Kazakhstan. the aral sea was once the 4th largest lake in the world. today it has almost dried up because the water flowing into it is diverted into major irrigation schemes far up stream. The disappearance of the sea has been disastrous for the local climate and huge fishing industry that once supplied the Soviet Union with 25% of its fresh water fish.
The Kazakhs are now trying to restore a small part of the sea with support from the world bank. This has been quite successful and the fishing industry has re-started bring the economy back to some of the fishing villages. the wildlife has returned and so has the climate. I have travelled there twice so far - very interesting.
Last week (or maybe it was the week before) i was in Hamburg for the Reeperbahm festival. As soon as the symposium i participated to ended, i walked to the other end of the city to see the Santiago Sierra show. Only that i went to Deichtorhallen -one of my favourite centers for contemporary art and photography- to discover that Sierra was actually in another exhibition space a few metro stops away and that i had to book in advance to see the show. Well, i was Deichtorhallen, they have a nice bar, an über friendly staff (i should add that i found everyone i spoke to in Hamburg to be extraordinarily helpful and welcoming) and a photography show. I love a good photo show. And so i stayed.
VisualLeader 2013, The Best of Magazines And Internet displays the works of the nominees and winners of last year's LeadAwards, Germany's most prestigious print and online media award. Photo reports, fashion shoots, advertisement, blogs, etc. The lot! That made for a great afternoon so without further ado and in no particular order...
Photos taken by Benny Lam for the Hong Kong-based social welfare group Society for Community Organization highlight the housing crisis in one of Asia's richest cities. The apartments photographed are just four feet by seven feet. According to the South China Morning Post, an estimated 280,000 families are currently living in those shoebox apartments, which are essentially regular-sized (for Hong Kong) flats that have been divided into usually four smaller units (source).
Paolo Pellegrin photographed life in the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo. Together with journalist Tim Golden, he traveled to the place that Obama promised to abolish. Yet, terror suspects are still being held without charge in the military detention camp. Pellegrin's photos were submitted to the scrutiny (or rather censorship) of the military press office. He had to delete approximately a third of his photos.
Life's a Blast is a series of photos that Linda Forsell took in Israel and Palestine from 2008 to 2010.
A print ad campaign for The Standard hotel featuring an image from Erwin Wurm's series of Instructions on How to Be Politically Incorrect.
Everyone's favourite: 'salarymen' who fell asleep in the gutter in their suit and polished shoes.
I got a surprising (to me at least) request from the guard while i was taking photos in the gallery. He told me that i would have to either stop taking pictures or go back to the ticket office and buy a 'photo license' that cost 2 euros. That was new to me. No more laughable excuse, just "go and get the right to take photos."
VisualLeader 2013, The Best of Magazines And Internet runs until 13 October at Deichtorhallen The House of Photography in Hamburg. Deichtorhallen has a photo set on flickr.
To many of their fellow Israelis, they are traitors. They are attacked, arrested and demonised. Yet Israelis like Yehuda Shaul, leader of Breaking the Silence and Jonathan Pollack from Anarchists Against the Wall continue to struggle for a more peaceful Middle East. They believe that they can save their state by putting an end to the military occupation. But the Israeli peace movement has lost momentum in recent years. There is widespread apathy in Israel against ending the Occupation, especially after the withdrawal from Gaza. 'Israel vs Israel' takes a fresh look at one of the leading tensions in Israeli society.
Trailer of the documentary:
Israel vs Israel follows 4 Israeli peace activists: a grand mother, a veteran soldier, a rabbi and a young anarchist. The one hour long documentary was directed by Terje Carlsson. I had liked his previous documentary, Welcome to Hebron, so much that Carlsson was kind enough to send me a copy of the dvd.
Palestinians living in in the West Bank and wishing to go to work, attend classes at school, deliver milk or simply get to the hospital on time have to go through checkpoints, roadblocks and other obstacles. There are hundreds of them in the West Bank. Even going from one Palestinian area to another involves barriers and documents. Queuing for two hours is nothing exceptional. My heart bled when the documentary showed old ladies standing under the sun holding a permit that would allow them to visit a relative or pray. Could i imagine my grand-mother going through that?
Ronny Perlman, the Jerusalem coordinator of Checkpoint Watch, goes regularly to a checkpoint and documents violations of human rights of the Palestinians. She tries and intervenes in favour of a father trying to get his young child to the doctor, she discusses with the soldiers, chitchats with the women waiting for their turn to cross the checkpoint. She is one of the many Israeli women based in Israel who take a peaceful stand against the occupation of the territories and the repression of the Palestinian nation.
A moving scene in the documentary shows Perlman talking to her son who is serving as a soldier. They have a conversation about the occupation and the army. The theme is taboo in many families. She hopes her grandson will never have to carry a gun, her son differs and says that, once he is 18, his will probably have to kill 'Arabs' to defend his country.
The consensus view of the international community is that the building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law, although Israel disagrees. B'Tselem reckons that more than fifty percent of the land of the West Bank has been expropriated from Palestinian owners "mainly to establish settlements and create reserves of land for the future expansion of the settlements". Palestinian farmers are prevented from tending to their crops, their olive trees are cut, their houses demolished.
Rabi Arik Ascherman stands between the soldiers and the farmers, sometimes he even stands between the bulldozer and a Palestinian house that has to be destroyed.
Ascherman insists that RHR works for the human rights of Jews, Palestinians and foreign workers alike. It has indeed condemned both Israelis and Palestinians, while recognizing that it is Israel who holds most of the power.
The third activist portrayed by the documentary is Yehuda Shaul, founder of Breaking the Silence, an organization of veteran Israeli soldiers that collects testimonies of soldiers who served in the Occupied Territories during the Second Intifadah. Soldiers who serve in the Territories are witness to, and participate in military actions which change them immensely. Cases of abuse towards Palestinians, looting, and destruction of property have been the norm for years, but are still excused as military necessities, or explained as extreme and unique cases.
Shaul served in Hebron and as he half-joked "In Israel, people shouldn't be allowed to vote before they visit Hebron." Israel vs Israel includes images from Terje Carlsson's previous documentary Welcome to Hebron (i can only recommend you to watch it on youtube: part 1, 2 and 3.) Although it is the second time i saw those images, they shocked me deeply: children of settlers throwing stones and spitting at Palestinian school girls, kids shouting "Slaughter the Arabs!" and other scenes i wish i had never seen:
Shaul appears as incredibly honest and brave. Not only has he to live with what he has done to Palestinian civilians while he was part of the army, but now he also has to face abuse from settlers who call him a traitor and a terrorist. Like all the activists portrayed in the documentary, Shaul cares deeply for Israel. He explains that one has to chose between the land of Israel or the State of Israel with the democracy and equality that it entails.
Videos reports and testimonies uploaded by Breaking the Silence.
Pollack and AAW have embarked on a grassroot, nonviolent crusade against the seizure of Palestinian land for Israel's construction of its -illegal- wall and settlements in the territories. He has been injured, arrested and imprisoned several times for his solidarity actions with Palestinian villagers.
Israel vs Israel is as painful and uncomfortable as it is necessary and gripping. It made me sad and angry. As a European who cares for human rights, i'm often exposed to the works of US or European ONG and activists. I've heard the voice of Palestinians, of foreign observers, of concerned reporters. For the first time, i get to see a video that portrays Israelis (some of them Zionists) who care for their country as much as they care for the respect of basic human rights.
I hope Israel vs Israel comes to your town soon. Doc Lounge Göteborg will kick off their autumn programme with "Israel vs Israel" on September 21, 2010. Screenings are scheduled in Stockholm, Göteborg, Karlstad and Malmö in late September. Screenings outside Sweden are planned for later this year. Join the facebook group for updates.
Filmmaker Terje Carlsson is a freelance journalist based for many years in Jerusalem, working mostly for Swedish National Radio and Television. During the last decade, he has produced shorter documentaries and features from ex-Yugoslavia, South Africa and different parts of the Middle East. His first feature documentary, Welcome to Hebron, was released in 2008. The film won several awards at festivals all over the world. TV broadcasters from more than 10 countries around the world bought the rights for broadcast.
Another Israeli organization worth mentioning: B'TSELEM - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. Please add a comment if you know of others.
See also Friday Film Pick: Unrecognized, Architects out of Ariel, Facing jail, the unarmed activist who dared to take on Israel, Walking Through Walls, an essay by Eyal Weizman.
The continuous withdrawal of mental health funding has turned jails and prisons across the U.S. into the default mental health facilities.
This is a student's work btw. Jenn answered a few questions about the process of the project in his blog.
Gold Farmers are young people who earn their living by playing MMORPG games. They acquire ("farm") items of value within a game, usually by carrying out in-game actions repeatedly to maximize gains, sometimes by using a program such as a bot or automatic clicker.
They sell the artificial gold coins and other virtual goods they've harvested to players and/or farming organizations and get "real" money in return. Players from around the world will then use the golden coins to buy better armor, magic spells and other equipments to climb to higher levels or create more powerful characters.
Many companies have attempted to block the use of gold-farming services by specifically stating in their End User License Agreements and Terms of Service that any and all game assets (from the player's characters themselves, to any items that they may be carrying) remain the sole property of the company itself, and taking aggressive action to close the accounts of any that are found to be using gold-farming (or similar) services.
Although there are gold farmers or gold farms in countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, and Mexico, Chinese are by far the most dynamic. There, young players typically work twelve hour shifts, with just a lunch break somewhere in the middle.
There are gold farmers or gold farms in other countries as well, such as the Philippines, Indonesia, and Mexico. However, they do not approach the scope and scale of the Chinese farm industry.
Ge Jin, a 30-year-old Shanghai native and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, San Diego, has shot a Gold Farmers, a documentary that delve into the background and lives of Chinese gold farmers.
Gold farming puts down the mechanisms that govern a universe in which everyone starts at the same level, no matter how rich their parents are, no matter how many degrees they've collected at the university. Players trying to work their way up according to the rules and in all fairness are the ones who get hit hardest by the practice of gold farming.
Watching the documentary, you can't help but feel some compassion for the gold farmers: they have very little free time, they are paid quite poorly to feed the whims of the Western consumer, they have to deal with the ire of a family who doesn't approve of what they do for a living, they must face the hostility of other players as soon as these realize that gold farmers are on their turf, their english is not good enough to enable them to communicate with other players, and they work hard. Don't be fooled, they don't sit there for hours just for the fun, most of their activity is extremely repetitive. In fact they would sometimes end their day at the "factory" by playing a real game in WoW. Just for the fun.
Chinese Gold Farmers Preview video (Ge Jin has uploaded more video previews):
I asked Ge Jin to discuss his documentary for the blog:
First of all, is the video on show at laboral only part of the documentary you are making or is it the full version of it?
I have another 40 min. long version, but this one is complete in itself as a short version.
Gold farmers have the challenging task of constantly navigating between clandestinity and the need to advertise their service. i suspect that finding and getting the "gold farmers" to talk must have been difficult. how did you locate the players and how did you gain their trust?
It is indeed difficult to get into the exclusive "gold farming" circle. But I was lucky to have an old friend in Shanghai who was running gold farms from 2003 to 2005. This friend introduced me to some gold farm owners. But the reason that the gaming workers/gold farmers trusted me was mainly because I treated them with respect. They face discriminations from non-gamers who see them as game addicts who are losers in real life as well as discriminations from gamers who think they care about more about money than gaming itself. I tried to be a good listener for them and they can see I didn't approach them with many assumptions.
How much has the phenomenon evolved since you started working on this documentary in 2005 (it think)?
Yes I started following this phenomenon since 2005. I think the market become much more competitive and the profit margin for gold farmers are much smaller now. Meanwhile, more sophisticated services like power-leveling have become the mainstream of real money trade. Also, the domestic demand for in-game goods in China has risen so much that Chinese gold farmers no longer just work in foreign games.
You are right that I'm not taking a stand. And I try to let the people involved in real money trade to tell their own stories in my documentary. But I think some of my "biases" do make their way into the documentary. For example, I don't really care if real money trade changes the regular gaming experience, I'm more concerned with how people's virtual life and real life affect each other, so you don't hardly hear the game industry's point of view in my documentary.
Is gold farming regarded differently in China than it is in the USA, Europe or Japan for example? Is the practice seen as more acceptable by the public and the government? How much does China try to tax and regulate the business?
Culturally, real money trade is indeed more accepted in China than in other countries. For example, the successful game Legend from Giant. Ltc thrives on incorporating real money trade in game design. Western game companies dare not do so blatantly because many gamers may think the game is not a level playing ground that way. But the Chinese gamers seem to accept this inherent unfairness, as if they see so much injustice in real life that they don't expect the virtual world to be better. The government doesn't seem to have any problem with the gold farming business. It has not figure out a good way to tax virtual trade yet, in some rare cases, some gold farms pay a fixed amount of tax based on very rough estimation of trade volume. There is currently no policy directly regulating this industry. Though there are regulations generally aiming to purify content of games and limit how long people can play online games.
Did your research on gold farming sparkle the interest of Western commercial gaming companies? Asking your help to crack down on farmers? Or asking for your opinion on how to make the most of this new form of economy?
To my surprise, I was contacted by gold selling websites who want to use my website to advertise themselves, by gold buyers who are looking for a steady supplier, and by market researchers who want to measure the supply and demand of gold trade. I wish I could seize such opportunities to make some money for myself. But unfortunately I was occupied by exploring the social implications of this economy.
Thanks Ge Jin!
Another documentary part of Homo Ludens Ludens is the fantastic 8 bit movie.