At the ASLE Biennial Conference in Moscow, Idaho this year, I was quite happy to find that I could go from panel session to panel session seeing so many papers on film, visual media, video games, and the like. As Steve’s recent summary post and report on the Ecomedia Interest Group meeting make clear, 2015 was surely a watershed year for ecomedia studies at ASLE. Such exciting times!
A still from Under the Dome, Chai Jing’s controversial 2015 documentary which Winnie Yee discussed in her ASLE talk on Chinese ecocritical photography.
One of the most interesting panels I attended this year was “Jungles, Earth, Mines, Ruins: Representing Asian Environments in Cinema and Visual Media,” chaired by Kiu-wai Chu of the University of Hong Kong. This panel (designated E2 in the Conference Program) took place on Thursday, June 25 from 1:30-3:00pm and consisted of four presentations, discussed individually below.
As Kiu-wai made clear in his opening remarks, the panel’s over-arching goal was to address a gap in current ecomedia studies: discussion of non-Euro-American films and visual media. In an attempt to draw attention to cutting-edge work in Asian ecomedia studies, the “Jungles, Earth, Mines, Ruins” panel looked at the ways documentaries, fiction films, and still photography explore ecocritical themes in the works of key Asian visual media producers.
A 2005 photograph by Lu Guang. In her talk, Winnie Yee read Lu’s human subject’s refusal to face the camera as a decentering of the human presence in Lu’s ecocritical photography.
The panel’s first presenter, Winnie L.M. Yee (University of Hong Kong), discussed the work of Edward Burtynski and Lu Guang, two significant ecocritical photographers, in “Manufacturing Polluted Landscape: Underground and Heterotopia in Postsocialist China” [note: Winnie changed her title slightly but I do not have the revised talk title in my notes]. Her main argument was that Chinese photographer Lu’s work responds to and corrects Burtynski’s by creating images that emphasize the environmental costs of human behavior writ large while decentering individual human presences in the shots. For Winnie, if Burtynski’s work is seen as being an example of the Kantian sublime, Lu’s photographs provide an experience of the ecological uncanny, a more horrifying and less humanistic mode than Burtynski’s (toxic) sublime. Winnie elucidated this argument via some very sharp close readings of Burtynski’s and Lu’s photographs, including the eco-uncanny shot of sheep and a factory seen below.
Alok Amatya (University of Miami) presented on Indian documentary cinema in “‘The Company has swallowed it': Framing Indigenous Resistance to Corporate Mining in India.” Alok argued that Sanjay Kak’s Red Ant Dream (2013), while an important film for the ways it calls attention to India’s internal struggles over mining, fails to provide an insider perspective on these events and may serve to promote its filmmaker as much as it does the issues it purports to examine. Director Kak stays out of frame in Red Ant Dream, asking questions of his revolutionary peasant subjects from offscreen, yet this erasure of his physical presence from the film conveys the idea that what the viewer sees in Red Ant Dream constitutes neutral, objective reportage that achieves immediacy with its subjects.
Does director Sanjay Kak misrepresent the reality of Maoist and indigenous struggles with mining companies in India when he elides his own presence as interviewer in Red Ant Dream?
In his talk, Alok asked: What if the film had been made by one of the actual participants in the Maoist resistance against Indian mining companies? What if Kak had shown himself interviewing participants, thereby “admitting” to his presence as an outsider who shaped viewer responses to events depicted via his interviewing and editing choices?
Kiu-wai Chu also questioned the critical impact of what viewers see in Jia Zhangke’s 2007 documentary Wuyong (Useless) in his talk, “Contemplating Soil: A Dialectical Ideological Eco-critique of Jia Zhangke’s Useless.” Deploying Andrew Hageman’s dialectical ideological critique methodology outlined in “Ecocinema and Ideology: Do Ecocritics Dream of a Clockwork Green?” (Ecocinema Theory and Practice, Routledge 2013, pp. 63-86), Kiu-wai analyzed Zhangke’s documentary techniques in order to ask questions about Useless‘ efficacy as (anti-)capitalist critique. Useless documents a project of the same name in which fashion designer Ma Ke buries various garments in soil for two years, then subsequently unearths them and displayis them as a high-end fashion line called “Useless.”
In his presentation Kiu-wai asked: Does Zhangke’s film achieve a critical distance that allows the viewer to seriously question Ma’s activities here? Is Zhangke so intrigued by the details of the fashion project that his film misses a chance to ask hard questions about the deeply problematic process of turning garments worn by the working poor into haute couture? Beyond these troubling questions, Kiu-wai was interested specifically in how immersion in soil created a new form of commodity, adding value, infusing these cast-away garments with new, highly commodifiable properties via their contact with the material reality of dirt. How and why does immersion in dirt connote “authenticity”? What is lost when this material connection to actual soil is packaged and commodified?
Finally, Jeffner Allen (Binghamton University, SUNY) gave an in-depth presentation on the theme of luminosity in the work of Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul in “Effulgences: Decomposition, Particles in Motion, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Sonic Jungles.” Noting that Apichatpong is best known for his images of non-human animals, plant life, jungles, and the like, she explored the theme of light and effulgence in several of the director’s projects, including Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010). Jeffner’s breadth knowledge of the Thai director’s work was impressive, and her close readings of individual frames from his films was engrossing.
At the end of her talk, Jeffner urged all of us to check out Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s information page on Animate Projects.
In conclusion, the panel on Asian Ecocinema chaired by Kiu-wai Chu approached this year’s ASLE conference theme of “Notes from Underground” in a particularly material, “grounded” way. The four panelists on “Jungles, Earth, Mines, Ruins: Representing Asian Environments in Cinema and Visual Media” discussed aspects of material culture (smog, pollution, dirt, water, light) as represented, problematized, and/or critically wrestled with in fiction films, documentaries, and still photography from mainland China, Thailand, and India. Beyond that, all four presenters supported their claims with keenly observed and sharply interpreted visual close readings of individual photos and screenshots, displaying a high level of formalist interpretive skill. It was a smart, stimulating, and entertaining panel to attend and I hope we see more panels like this at future ASLE and ecomedia conferences.
This is the second post in a series of three on the 2015 ASLE conference. This post documents our discussion at the second (ever), Ecomedia Interest Group meeting, held Thursday evening June 25 from 5:30-6:30pm.
20 people from a wide variety of universities and departments were present for all or part of the meeting. Not bad considering the rather inconvenient hour of the meeting (pushing into the dinner hour) and the fact that that a number of our peers were draw to other interest groups meeting at the same hour, including the Asian Ecocriticism and Graduate Student groups.
After introductions the group reviewed the status of the 5 action items that came out of the 2013 meeting and then discussed new action items:
Item 1: Outreach to other organizations
Notably, one panel at this year’s ASLE conference, “When the Creature Emerges: Eco-Teaching Speculative Fiction Film” chaired by Bridgette Barclay and Andrew Hageman and featuring Barclay, Hageman, Steve Rust and Tiffany Deater, was sponsored by the Science Fiction Research Association.
Most significantly, many members of the ASLE Ecomedia group are also members of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS), the largest international organization in the field of film and media studies. 2013 saw the start of a Media and the Environment SIG within SCMS which has quickly grown to more than 50 members. They have held two meetings, at the 2014 and 2015 SCMS conferences. For more information on that group see their group page at the SCMS site and their group Facebook page.
Significant as well was the 2015 Conference on Communication and the Environment held earlier in June in Boulder, CO. Our colleagues in communications, journalism, and the social sciences presented important findings at that conference that will help shape our conversation. Again this year ASLE sponsored a panel at the conference. The panel was titled “Communicating Crisis in Ecopoetics” and was chaired by Kristin George Bagdanov of Colorado State University and featured the following papers: “The Anthropocenic Crisis in Contemporary Ecopoetics,” Kristin George Bagdanov (Colorado State U.); “Depictions of Environmental Crisis in William Carolos Williams’s Paterson,”Sarah Nolan (U. of Nevada); and “Touch, Not Sight: Touch Perception in Aristotle’s DeAnima and Touch Imagery in Forrest Gander’s Poetry,” Gracie McCarroll (Colorado State U.).
To curate their inaugural ASLE mini film festival, featuring seven Pacific Northwest eco-films, Steve Rust and Salma Monani reached out to several organizations, including the Nez Perce cultural center, the University of Idaho libraries, the imagineNATIVE film festival, and the Nortwest Film Center.
Item 2 – An off-year ASLE on Ecomedia?
Interest remains strong in organizing an off-year ASLE-sponsored symposium on Ecomedia Studies for approximately 100 presenters. We’re still waiting for someone to pick up this ball and run with it. Planning well ahead for 2018 seems the best choice. Any takers?
In the meantime, Mario Trono invites all of us to Calgary, Alberta for the 2016 “Under Western Skies” Conference. The 2016 conference theme will be Water and film and media scholars are most welcome.
Item 3 -Maintaining Group Communication Hub
Folks are fine with EcomediaStudies.org remaining as the central communication hub for the group, supported by the Group Facebook Page, which currently has 240 members. Steve Rust has asked for folks to recommend a graduate student looking for a great CV line to become the resources editor for EcomediaStudies.org to maintain and update the bibliography, syllabi, and other resources that are difficult for Steve and Salma to maintain on their own.
A new feature: Forums, has been added to the website to encourage group communication. How useable that feature is remains to be seen. ASLE would like us to be using the Member Forum on the ASLE website but there is general agreement that this feature has been unused and is generally unappealing.
Steve is hesitant to start a ListServe but believes that a small and manageable list is needed for
Item 4 – Plenary Speakers on Ecomedia at ASLE
Yet again another ASLE has come and gone with a plenary speaker whose work focus primarily on Ecomedia Studies. Speakers like Stacy Alaimo last year and Stephanie Lemenager this year do work that intersects with ours but there is still a feeling that a plenary speaker from our field would cement our hard earned prominence in the environmental humanities.
Steve was reminded that the Ecomedia Interest group could have sponsored panels at this year’s ASLE conference which he did not realize had been adopted as a policy. Next conference panels can qualify for interest group endorsement.
Item 5 – A Journal?
One of the very first ideas that came out of the 2013 ASLE ecomedia meeting and the 2015 SCMS meeting was discussion of establishing a journal in the field to provide a publication venue and central location for shared conversation in the field. At this point, we generally agree that the relative size of our field may not yet quite justify a journal but we are definitely moving closer to that point. We’ll need someone in the field who has the financial savvy and institutional support to take on such a venture when the need becomes sharper. Perhaps someone at UCSB?
Lauren Woolbright raised a question about journals and the publication of video-based research, such as video essays and game-based scholarship. No one in the group had an immediate response for the perfect publication venue but several were suggested, including Resilience, Jump Cut, Critical Ecologies, Electronic Book Reviews, and Ant, Spider, Bee by Alenda Chang and others. Mario suggested In Media Res as a great online publication as well.
New Action Items:
- Clarify which panels are specifically ecomedia prior to conferences. For next conference, sponsor panels.
- Sarah Crosby suggested we plan a party for the next conference, if not sooner.
- Work on communication online and in-between conference years. Suggested options:
- improve the current Ecomedia Studies blog site to include resource wiki (Michelle Gibeault generously offered to help with the site); and also a way to provide member profiles; search options. More to come as tech support is difficult on a free site. A new Forums function has been added to the site but needs to be tested. This may be a place to organize reading groups and webinars if the function is use-friendly. Members are invited to send their member profiles to email@example.com.
- Create an Academia group page (which can be used as a listserv too? Elena Past generously offered to check into this and it turns out that it is not possible; however folks are encouraged to add the tags Ecomedia Studies or Media and Environment to their profiles)
- Continue using FB, but work on linking different social media sites to get all users (Alenda Chang mentioned Twitter).
- Members also agreed to be provide recaps on the panels they attended (Carter Soles, Lauren Woolbright, Ryan Eichberger both looked interested). We’re hoping to get these posted on the website over the next couple of weeks.
It was an absolute pleasure to attend the 2015 ASLE conference in Moscow, ID last week. As we all resurface from the conference and turn back to individual research, teaching, and summering, it’s important to reflect on what we accomplished and where we might go from here.
Over the next week or two, I’ll be asking conference attendees to share their thoughts on panels or events they attended.
In summary, the impact of ecomedia studies at ASLE was felt across the conference. Eleven panels, each comprised of three to four speakers, formed the Visual Arts and Film stream in the conference program. Additionally, visual media were the primary focus of more than a dozen other speakers spread throughout other panels. All told, that’s more than fifty conference presenters focused on visual arts and media. Video games studies was represented by a complete panel of four presenters (details below). While none of the plenary speakers at the conference was an ecomedia scholar, many of the presenters included visual media in their presentations. Two thought provoking films, Even Though the Whole World is Burning and Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story, were screened at Moscow’s independent theater, the Kenworthy and a first ever ASLE mini film festival featuring seven films by Pacific Northwest filmmakers was currated by Stephen Rust and Salma Monani. Perhaps most importantly, the Ecomedia interest group meeting was attended by twenty core members, who have dedicated themselves to growing the field in the years to come.
Meeting Report: Ecomedia Studies Interest Group
This week, the ASLE conference is taking place in sunny Moscow, Idaho. Coming on the heals of the Environmental Communication conference earlier this month in Boulder, CO, the ASLE conference provides more signs of the growing prominence of ecomedia studies across the academic spectrum.
An ecomedia interest group meeting will be held Thursday, June 5 and there are enough full panels devoted to film and media this year that the conference has created a ‘Visual Arts and Film’ stream to help conference goers note relevant panels.
Additionally, there are a number of film screenings and art installations to take note of:
On Thursday evening from 7:30-10pm be sure to check out “Ecologies of Inconvenience,” a video installation by Cary Peppermint and Leila Nadir of EcoArtTech.
Also on Thursday evening from 7:30-10pm a running loop of 7 short environmental films will play at the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre in downtown Moscow, curated by Salma Monani and Stephen Rust.
On Friday at 1:30 the Kenworthy will screen Even Though the Whole World is Burning, a feature-length documentary of poet William S. Merwin followed by a discussion led by Aaron Moe.
Finally, on Friday at 4:00 the Kenworthy will screen Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story a feature-length narrative film followed by discussion led by Greta Gaard.
Soundscapes and Sonic Cultures in America, 6-8 Nov. 2015, Graz, Austria
Conference of the Austrian Association for American Studies
Organizers: Nassim W. Balestrini and Klaus Rieser, University of Graz
With this conference theme, the Austrian Association for American Studies tunes into the growing bandwidth that the study of sound has been acquiring within the field of American Studies and beyond. Special issues on sound studies have appeared in journals ranging from the American Studies Association’s American Quarterly to Music, Sound, and the Moving Image. Since 2009, the open access weekly Sounding Out! The Sound Studies Blog has been featuring peer-reviewed articles and scholarly conversations in myriad formats. It is also notable that the aforementioned special issue of American Quarterly appeared simultaneously with a complementary website that provides many of the sounds and soundscapes discussed in the featured articles. These examples from a burgeoning field have contributed to firmly situating soundscapes and sonic cultures as essential to the American experience and to American cultural practices.
In his seminal work The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (1977), Canadian composer and environmentalist Raymond Murray Schafer conceptualized the “soundscape” as a central feature of how sound mediates between living organisms and their environments. In his World Soundscape Project (launched in 1971), which was later continued as the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology, Schafer and his team at Simon Fraser University recorded and studied a variety of soundscapes across the globe. Since then, the concept has journeyed from its ethno-ecological foundation into diverse fields from music via sound design to film and literature.
While we invite conference participants to contribute papers on a diversity of topics relating to the transdisciplinary field of Sound Studies, we are particularly interested in two major areas of inquiry:
First, we would like to explore American Studies approaches that focus on how soundscapes, which may comprise sounds of any kind (voices, music, noise, and their alternation with silence), relate to a particular space or place and its inhabitants, and how this relation can be interpreted. Second, we would like to explore the poetics of sonic cultures in order to address the particular role of sounds in culture formation and cultural practice (which may be defined by region, ethnicity, gender, age, or musical taste).
As a result, we envision our conference to provide fertile ground for lively scholarly exchange about reception- or listener-oriented soundscapes and production- or producer-oriented sonic cultures. Listening from within and from outside, conference contributors will assess and debate the cultural, social, and historical implications and connotations of what they hear.
Possible areas of inquiry include, but are not limited to:
- The reciprocity of space and sound: sounds of the city, sounds of nature, noise pollution, sounds of work and leisure, music as representing spaces
- The cultural implications of sound technology: surround-sound cinema and home entertainment, Walkman and mp3-player usage, mobile phone ringtones, music streaming, digital composing
- The creation and development of sound imaginaries: local, regional, national, and transnational aspects of North American culture, perceived from within and without; cultural stereotyping through sound styles and specific sounds
- Ethnic sonic cultures and their trans/national aspects: Jewish fiddles, Native Drums, Jazz, Blues, or Hip Hop; sound diplomacy, (inter)national reception, appropriation, feedback loops
- Economics and sound: industrial noise vs. the quietude of bourgeois arcadia, the clamor of the street vs. pastoral sounds, the sound of progress, the sound of capitalism
- Inter-/Transmedial Representations of sound (in non-sonic or multi-media): sound in literature, visual arts, performance, and film
- Gender and sound: gendering of voice production and reception, “feminine” and “masculine” sounds (e.g. in horror, pornography, comedy), sound evocative language in feminist discourse
- Silence as the “other” of sound: silence as signifier, silent vigils vs. speaking up, silence as creative, healing, meditative, generative, or resistant.
Call for Participants
Men and Nature: Gender, Power, and Environmental Change
Date: 26–28 February 2016
Location: Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, LMU Munich, Germany
Conveners: Sherilyn MacGregor (Keele University, UK) and Nicole Seymour (California State University, Fullerton, USA)
“Gender,” in the environmental humanities and social sciences, has long been synonymous with “women.” Feminist and ecofeminist scholars have produced a great deal of work on the links between femininities and environments and on women’s involvement in environmental politics and practices. More recently, the emerging field of queer ecology has troubled the binary construction of gender that traditionally has informed (eco)feminist research. What remains under-addressed are the myriad ways in which masculinities and masculinized roles, identities, and practices shape human relationships with the more-than-human world.Indeed, the few available scholarly articles that do interrogate masculinity and environment begin with the recognition (and a lament) that there is so little research available.
Of course, men of all backgrounds figure prominently in local and global environmental (his)stories, and elite men hold the most cultural and economic power to shape the contemporary environmental problematique. But rarely is their gender itself an object of critical inquiry and analysis. It is the purpose of this RCC workshop to shine light on and perhaps start to redress this curious lacuna in the environmental humanities and social sciences literature.The workshop aims to bring together academics, professionals, artists, writers, and activists who have an interest in exploring the connections between masculinities and environmental change in the past, in contemporary societies, and in visions of the future.
Topics and themes might include, but are not limited to, the following:
male experiences of environment, especially as they are shaped by specificities of race, class, sexuality, age, and/or dis/ability
constructions and performances of masculinities in environmental movements and green parties
hegemonic masculinity and anti-environmentalism/climate change skepticism
subaltern, queer, and/or trans masculinities in environmental activism and/or environmental narratives (literature, multi-media)
men, materiality, and everyday environmental practices (consumption, green households, and eco-communities/villages)
the lack of reflexivity about masculinities in the environmental humanities and social sciences.
This will be a two-day workshop that enables collective intellectual work. We will avoid a conventional academic conference-style approach to ensure open discussion and maximum participation. Participants will be invited to make short (~10 minute) presentations, with notes/papers/artwork/etc. to be circulated in advance.
Please send a proposal and brief biography to firstname.lastname@example.org by 1 September 2015. The proposal format is open, but please include a statement of how you will engage with the topics and themes of the workshop, and a description of what your presentation might entail.
Exciting things are underway at the Humanities for the Environment initiative. Be sure to check out the website and like the group Facebook page.
Here’s some key information from their “About” page:
The urgent challenge being examined in Humanities for the Environment‘s ongoing research is to learn how to adapt to and live creatively in a torrentially changing world, a world where humans have adopted modes of life that have altered the longstanding physical forces of nature in extreme, unpredictable, yet radically unjust ways, on both local and global levels.
HfE receives its funding as part of the larger Integrating the Humanities Across National Boundaries $1.2 million Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant to the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI). HfE explores how the humanistic disciplines contribute to understanding and engaging with the challenges of global environmental change by observing and exploring human actions and motivations, values, priorities, and habits. HfE activities, projects, publications, conferences, workshops, and events recognize the need to change and reevaluate human ideas about rights and responsibilities to resources and to recalibrate human strategies for adaptation and survival.
Its research projects are being conducted at three international observatories, the Australia-Pacific Observatory, the European Observatory, and the North American Observatory. The Australia-Pacific Observatory is led by Iain McCalman, Professorial Research Fellow and Australian Research Council Fellow at the University of Sydney. The European Observatory is led by Poul Holm, Trinity Long Room Hub Professor of Humanities at Trinity College Dublin.
The North American Observatory is c0-led by Joni Adamson, Professor of Environmental Humanities and Senior Sustainability Scholar, and Sally Kitch, Director of the Institute for Humanities Research and Regents’ Professor of Women and Gender Studies at Arizona State University.
Next week in Boulder, CO, the 2015 Conference on Communication and Environment will kick off. If you’ll be in the area you can still register on site to attend the conference, which runs June 11-14. Just click on the conference link for more information.
This year’s conference theme reflects the setting of the conference near the geographical Great Divide. Conference presenters will consider divides within the landscape of environmental and sustainability communication, and how those divides might be bridged:
Presenters will discuss such divides as those between:
- environmental communication theory AND practice
- scholars AND practitioners of environmental communication
- differing theories of change in environmental communication
- different environmental discourses
- advocacy intentions AND policy outcomes
- the many disciplines, arts and sciences that inform the field
- environmental attitudes AND behaviours
- aspirations for public participation AND actual opportunities
- media watchdogs AND media lapdogs
- environmental science knowledge AND actual public understanding
- cultures that see, experience, and value the world differently from each other
- communities facing environmental conflicts
- media representations AND environmental literacy
- different environmental, social, and cultural values
- differing political alternatives to address environmental issues
From a quick glance at the conference abstracts, it look like a great number of panels and presenters will focus on media texts and contexts, including photography, documentary film, and web-based communication.
A talented range of keynote speakers have been invited to present: Heather Ackroyd & Dan Harvey, Hunter Lovins, Susanne Moser, and Edward Maibach. For complete information click on this keynote speakers link.