CEE | Center for Experimental Ethnography
A blog of the Center for Experimental Ethnography
A CEE RECAP of THE 2018 AAA EXECUTIVE SESSION
By Alex Chen
On Saturday Nov. 16th, Dr. John Jackson, Jr. (University of Pennsylvania) and Dr. Deborah Thomas (University of Pennsylvania) co-chaired an executive session on multimodal anthropology at the American Anthropological Association Annual meeting, bringing together a panel of experienced and emerging scholars whose fascinating experimental work spans everything from choreographed ritual art to 3D printed necklaces. Underpinning the group “provocation” on multimodality was the desire to create collaboration, space, and theory that engages with a world that is increasingly mediated by technology and social media.
Working primarily in photography, Dr. Ruth Behar (University of Michigan) relayed a serendipitous story of how a photograph she took of an interlocutor 40 years ago ended up as a tattoo on the interlocutor’s grandson while Dr. Arjun Shankar (Hamilton College) theorized on the ideas of refusal and of listening to images taken by one’s interlocutor. Listening was taken up by Dr. Laura Kunreuther (Bard), who pointed us to the importance of digital infrastructures in enabling and limiting multimodality while revealing the heavy editing process that underlies the apparent transparency of sound recordings. Dr. Maryam Kashani (University of Illinois) took up video opacity as a way to assert sovereignty for Muslim American communities struggling under increasing encroachment by the surveillance state, while Dr. Deborah Thomas screened a film that mined the archive of drone surveillance footage in order to prompt an affective response against state violence.
Yet joy and hope can also spring from multimodality. Dr. Harjant Gill (Towson University) presented his collaboration with Indian NGOs to use Virtual Reality as a means to promote dialogue and empathy on critical issues of gender and sexuality. Dr. Aimee Cox (Yale University) showcased her collaborations with conceptual artists like Saya Woolfalk and Simone Leigh, including a ritual performance in Manhattan’s Fulton Center and Transit Station that brought attention to the solar, commercial, transit, and ancient spiritual energies that animate New York City as well as an installation called “Potted Woman” that interrogated the embodied experience of enclosure. Dr. Elizabeth Chin (Art Center College of Design), taking on the provocation mantle, presented her work with students at the Laboratory for Speculative Ethnology – including a “hands up don’t shoot glove,” a beautifully sequined accessory that starts taking photographs for upload into the cloud as soon as the gesture is made – while donning a laboratory jumpsuit she fashioned from Dutch Wax Print fabrics from her collaborations in Uganda.
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