In November last year I received funding for a three-year project called Connected Homes and Distant Infrastructures. During spring and early summer I’ve made two conference presentations and a number of presentations at seminars to kick off the project. Here are two of the abstracts:
The Look of Siri
-Visual Manifestations of Digital Voice Assistants
Siri, by company Apple, is one among a number of digital voice assistants promoted and provided by some of the world’s largest corporations. Siri is based on sonic interaction, but the voice assistant also has a visual identity. This paper will discuss how Siri has been given a visual identity, and how it is related to visualisations of ungraspable technological infrastructures, corporate brandscapes and digital ephemerality. How is the voice of Siri combined with different visualisations in order to evoke corporate trust and tangibility as well as sensations of the technological sublime? What is the look of Siri, and what are the imaginaries evoked by various visual manifestations? Siri doesn’t have a face, but it is the interface to complex corporate operations.
The background to this paper is a 3-year project that has just been initialised. The project deals with how digital networked technologies are gradually changing domestic life, and it also brings in the role of imaginaries of complex technology. Internet connected devices link private and intimate spheres of homes to ungraspable technological infrastructures. During the recent year voice activated home assistants as part of The Internet of Things has been promoted forcefully by major providers of digital services like Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Google. The assistants have names like Alexa (Amazon), Siri (Apple) and Cortana (Microsoft) in order to humanize and also engender the distant, ungraspable and dispersed technological infrastructures of which the home assistants are part. These assistants are assumed to become central in homes, and to supplement screens and to interconnect entertainment devices, lighting and several other appliances. For the users of these systems the embodied sensory experience of being at home become entwined with digitally driven distributed corporate brandscapes. Part of this experience is also the visual manifestations of ungraspable technological infrastructures.
The Darkness Beyond The Digital – Internet of Things and Disquiet Connectivity
New possibilities to connect things to the Internet is promoted forcefully by various stakeholders. While new networked products are shipped and implemented, the knowledge about consequences of digital connectivity is low among users of technology. This means that digital technology permeates everyday life in often bewildering ways. This paper will take the bewildering, and potentially dark, world of networked digital everyday things in domestic settings as its point of departure. What are the Internet-connected devices, equipped with microphones, sensors and cameras, that people habitually dwell with? Who or what might be watching or listening through these things? What about all the data that is generated, while people use products and services?
In recommendations for users how to deal with potential threats coming through digital technologies, users are told not to connect more things than necessary. At the same time, technologies are designed to be connected in order to be useful. Users are recommended not to click on links or open messages if they are suspicious. At the same time, the clicking on links and opening of messages is engrained in the routinised everyday behaviour of lives together with Internet-connected things. How do people deal with these paradoxes of connectivity? How are imaginaries about what is going on beyond the interfaces of digital things influencing everyday behaviour? This paper will take its point of departure in the project Connected Homes and Distant Infrastructures, financed by The Swedish Research Council, to discuss The Internet of Things and potentially disquiet connectivity.
In November 2017 I was part of the roundtable discussion: ”Immersion, Agency and Cultural Imaginaries: The changing forms of documentary arts in research, education and the public sphere”, as part of the 116th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington DC. The round table was organised by Kate Hennessy and Roderick Coover. The participants were Jesse Jackson and me, Julie Chu acted as discussant. Flavia Caviezel was supposed to participate, but could unfortunately not attend. The roundtable became an interesting discussion about media-enhanced museum practices, mappings of anthroposcenic landscapes, interdisciplinary learning and digital imaginaries.
I wrote an introductory text for my contribution to the panel:
Evocation of worlds and the compositional craft of art probing
Since 2004 I have been working with ways to combine ethnological research with artistic practice. I have done a number of projects, both alone and together with various collaborators. In 2014 this work took me to The Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm, where I produced the first iteration of the audiovisual performance Possible Worlds. This was a digitally conceived work, based on images and sounds from the museum storage and archives that were mixed with my own field recordings. This composition of audiovisual layers summoned imaginaries and worked as the starting point to instil discussion and knowledge exchange at the museum.
Possible Worlds is an art probe, and part of a more extended project on the evocation of worlds and the rendition of imaginaries. In my practices of art probing, artistic work might stem from research questions, while the artwork might also feed back into analytic work. Different stakeholders and collaborators can be involved in these practices. Cultural analysis as well as artistic practice in the form of art probing can be understood as subsets of a broader, open-ended and temporally extended ”more-than-academic” endeavour (Willim 2017).
Art probing, as it is conceived in projects like Possible Worlds, is more about evocation than representation or documentation. There are some resemblances with works like the film Leviathan by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel. However, rather than framing my art probing as a ”representational craft of ontological poetics”, as Eduardo Kohn (2015) calls the work of Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel, I would say that Possible Worlds is based on a ”compositional craft” through which mixing, blending and transmuting become crucial practices. I do not abandon the possibility of representation, but the practice of composition and even rendition should be seen as the primary concern.
The performance is mainly based on the evocation of imaginary worlds that are decoupled from sites of capturing, recording and filming. The intention is to challenge any attempt of clear interpretation or final resolution. There is no (ethnographic) world that should be depicted, represented or conveyed, instead associations, feelings and glimpses of imaginary worlds are meant to emerge during a 30-minute audio-visual performance. As an art probe Possible Worlds could be distanced from questions about the epistemology (or ontology) of ethnographic operations, but it could also work as a kind of provocative counterpoint to ethnographic practice. Possible Worlds and my practices of art probing explicitly appreciates that there are manifold ways of knowing, and it brings forth affective, sensuous and performative dimensions.
Link to a trailer for Possible Worlds:
Kohn, Eduardo. 2015. ‘Anthropology of Ontologies’. Annual Review of Anthropology 44 (1):311–27.
Willim, Robert. 2017. ‘Evoking Imaginaries: Art Probing, Ethnography and More-than-Academic Practice’. Sociological Research Online 22 (3):1–24.
November 22-24 I took part in the conference Big Video Sprint at Aalborg University. I was invited as keynote speaker and presented how I work with art probing. The theme of the conference was to explore how new technological tools can advance the way researcher work with video, and how we can rethink processes of capture, analysis and communication of audiovisual material. One aim of the conference was to discuss ”ways of collecting time-based records of social, material and embodied practices as live-action events in real or virtual worlds.” The name of the conference was a bit of a word-play. ”We use this glib term [Big Video] to suggest an alternative to the hype about quantitative big data analytics. Big can mean both large datasets and more than just video. Thus, we argue that there is a need to develop an infrastructure for qualitative video analysis in four key areas: 1) capture, storage, archiving and access of enhanced digital video; 2) visualisation, transformation and presentation; 3) collaboration and sharing; and 4) software tools to support analysis.”(from the Call-for-papers”.
Many of the participants came from conversation analysis and neighboring disciplines. It was rewarding to learn more about their approaches and to juxtapose the way I work with ethnography, art, fieldwork and video to other kind of analytic practices.
I also had a ”data session” where I presented Close to Nature. The work is based on a sequence of iterations, through which the experience of the work unfolds through the different iterations. By juxtaposing this concept with the way multimodal material is analysed within conversational analysis we could approach ideas about time-based media and temporality in novel ways.
On September 30 2017 the art exhibition 100 Jahre Finnland – Identity und Bewusstsein opened at The Altes Pfandhaus in Köln, Germany. I was one among 11 artists who participated in the show. The works were either related to Finland, or the artists had a background in the country. The artists were: Volkmar Ernst, Silke Haase, Eeva-Kaisa und Magdaleena Jakkila, Jaakko Heikkilä, Lala Nomada, Rauno Salminen, Jürgen Umlauff, Robert Willim, Jussi Valtakari, Antti Ylönen. Some events were also arranged, like a literature reading by Matti Mäkelä (writer) and a sensory walk by Helmi Järviluoma (sound, music, and cultural scholar and Professor of Cultural Studies, University of Eastern Finland).
The techniques of the different works included in the exhibition ranged from large-scale photography to miniature wooden sculptures. It was uplifting and inspiring to set-up works as well as to walk around and enjoy all the different works. I enjoy shows that are not “over-curated”, where you find place for creative friction between works and room for thought-provoking juxtapositions.
I showed works from the series, Selkonen and In Praise of Other Places, as well as the installation Give Voice – At Hand. The exhibition as well as my own works was well-received, and I had a really great time in Köln! A big thanks to everyone who made this happen.
Here are PDF’s describing the three works I showed:
Here is a text in German about the exhibition:
Am 6. Dezember 2017 feiert Finnland 100 Jahre Unabhängigkeit (1917-2017). Anlässlich dieses Jubiläums zeigen Künstler verschiedener europäischer Länder aus den Bereichen Bildende Kunst, Bildhauerei, Fotografie, Grafik, Installation, Neue Medien und Performance Arbeiten zum Thema „100 Jahre Finnland – Identität und Bewusstsein”. Wissenschaftliche Ansätze wie in Sensory Walk und eine Literaturlesung ergänzen die Ausstellung.
Teilnehmende Künstler/Innen und andere Mitwirkende:
Aus Finnland: Jaakko Heikkilä (Fotografie), Magdaleena Jakkila (Malerei-Video), Eeva-Kaisa Jakkila (Malerei), Rauno Salminen (Grafik), Jussi Valtakari (Bildhauerei), Antti Ylönen (Bildhauerei), Helmi Järviluoma (Sensory Walk) und Matti Mäkelä (Literaturlesung).
Aus Frankreich: der deutsch-französische Künstler Volkmar Ernst (Malerei)
Aus Österreich: die mexikanisch-deutsche Künstlerin Lala Nomada (Performance-Video)
Aus Schweden: Robert Willim (Fotografie und Neue Medien)
Aus Deutschland: Silke Haase (Grafik-Installation) und Jürgen Umlauff (Malerei-Video)
Verantwortlich für Idee, Konzept* und Organisation: Silke Haase, Eeva-Kaisa Jakkila, Kaisa Kerätär,
Jussi Valtakari und Jürgen Umlauff.
Selkonen is a new series of works that I initiated in the summer of 2017. Part of the series is a number of prints. The prints are based on video shot in the area around Taivalkoski, in Northeastern Finland.
The Taivalkoski-area is famous for locations of the literary worlds evoked by late author Kalle Päätalo. The Selkonen-series is inspired by the way imaginary and fictional worlds are entangled with concrete geographical locations, and the images of the series consist of interweaved visual layers that have been transmuted using digital and analog techniques. Everything from light reflections to the limitations of various file formats have left media-specific traces and influenced the transmutation process, hereby making the interplay between enhancement and distortion intrinsic to the series. This is a technique that I started to explore with the work In Praise of Other Places.
Another part of Selkonen is a sound installation based on sounds captured in the same area as the video recordings. The captured sounds are composed and mixed in a fashion that resembles the transmutation process of the images in the series.
Selkonen will be my major contribution to a group exhibition in Köln, Germany in September 2017. The theme of the exhibition in Köln is identity and consciousness related to Finland’s 100 year anniversary. During my stay in Taivalkoski in the summer of 2017 I exhibited some early part of the Selkonen-concept in the wonderful space at the barn house attic of Jalavan kauppa. The two images are from the rough exhibition space. During the opening of the exhibition, I used the images to start collect stories about imaginaries from the visitors. This is part of my more extended probing of spatial imaginaries.
In March 2017 I participated in The 13th international SIEF congress in Göttingen, Germany. Several parts of the congress were geared towards expressions beyond traditional academic text and talk. This is a promising development. I was part of the audio-visual strand, and had the opportunity to present and discuss my work. Here’s an excerpt from the proposal Three Art Probes for the congress:
The 3 video works Close to Nature, Fieldnotes and Possible Worlds are Art Probes. They combine art and cultural analysis as companion pieces of an evolving set of provisional renditions. The works approach how mediation interplay with imaginaries and how technology is entangled with ways of living.
This presentation is based on the screening of three video works. They have been used within an explorative process, through which art practice has been combined with ethnographic research in order to form an extended open ended exploratory process that goes beyond the scope of specific research projects. Within this process artistic practice is used as art probing, which is intended to have a double function. Firstly, art probes can instil inspiration and possible points of departure for research, and secondly they can be used to communicate and twist scientific concepts and arguments beyond the scopes of academic worlds. According to this point of view artistic and scientific output should be seen as companion pieces of an evolving meshwork of provisional renditions. The three screened works all approach how mediation interplay with imaginaries and how technology is entangled with ways of living. The works are: Close to Nature (2011), Fieldnotes (2013) and Possible Worlds (2014).
In August I attended a workshop organised by the Data Ethnographies initiative, RMIT University. It took place during an afternoon in Copenhagen. The intention was to better understand how the concept data can be understood. The theme was “Broken Data” and this was the starting point for the discussion:
In a world where predictive big data analytics and data driven policy and design are increasingly prevalent, the concept of broken data seeks to interrogate and disrupt the possibilities associated with these trends. Concepts of breakage, damage and repair, and recent literatures about ‘broken world’ type theories, offer us an alternative starting point: what are the implications of putting these concepts at the centre of our understanding of digital data and its futures? By whom and where does data explicitly and more invisibly manifest itself as broken, incomplete and damaged? How is it repaired?
What might an agenda for broken data research look like? And why might we need one?
I did a video based on the workshop. The video is an attempt to mix documentation of Academic presentations and discussions with experimental film:
The result of the workshop was, together with the video, presented as a joint Position paper.
As one of the scholars invited to introduce the theme of Broken data, I also wrote the paper The Noise at The End of The Data Stream.
The scholars participating in the workshop were:
- Sarah Pink
- Minna Ruckenstein
- Robert Willim
- Elisenda Ardevol
- Martin Berg
- Melisa Duque
- Vaike Fors
- Debora Lanzeni
- Francesco Lapenta
- Deborah Lupton
November 15 I performed a version of Possible Worlds as part of the course “Composing Cultural Analysis” at the master-programme in Applied Cultural Analysis (MACA). It took place in a space called the LARM-studio, which is part of the Humanities lab at LUX, Lund University. The intention was to use the performance to discuss ethnographic placemaking and Imaginaries. The students, together with some representatives from the staff, took part in the sessions.
In connection to the performance we discussed the experience, and I explained the concept as well as some of the techniques I used to make and perform the work. At a seminar some days after the performace we will discuss how this kind of “worldmaking-session” can be related to ethnographic knowledge. What are the ends of an ethnographic place? How can we think about imaginaries, atmosphere and affective dimensions when we compare this kind of event with the smaller fieldworks that the students conduct at various sites in Lund, Malmö and Copenhagen?
For some years I have been part of the research group SCACA, based at Halmstad University. The aim has been to develop ethnographic and cultural analytic reseacrh in collabroration with different partners. One of these partners is VOLVO cars, and in the autumn of 2016 the group received funding from VINNOVA in order to work with the project Human Expectation and Experience of Autonomous Driving (HEAD). I will mainly work with my combination of art and cultural analysis.
September 19th I will have an exhibition / installation in the atrium of the main building at Lund university. Here’s a pdf with info (English, Swedish), or if you have click fatigue, here’s the synopsis:
The main building of Lund University was inaugurated in 1882. In the building conceived by architect Helgo Zettervall the rational quest for knowledge of Academia is enmeshed with a world of mythical symbols. Sphinxes and griffins meet deans and professors. Suggestive symbolism and ornamentation inspired by the worlds of classical antiquity meet contemporary rituals and processes.
The exhibition Multistable Fields by Robert Willim has been specially made for the atrium of the building. It is based on two works (In Praise of Other Places and Chambers) that emphasise tensions in the meetings between academic knowledge and the unknown. In these meetings some dimension merge and generates new knowledge and values, while other dimensions remain estranged. Like in the interpretation of multistable images and fields constant shifts of perspective are required to create meaning and understanding. The work with the exhibition has been guided by thoughts on ethnographic surrealism.
In Praise of Other Places is a series of prints based on altered images extracted from the timeline of the audiovisual performance Possible Worlds. The performance was a commissioned work for the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm in 2014, which has since then led to a number of iterations. The aim was to let the artist examine the ways museums and ethnography take part in the rendition of worlds and how imagination and mediation is in constant interplay. How can dreamlike fragments of other places be evoked through altered layered compositions? The images in the series consist of interweaved layers that have been transmuted using digital and analog techniques. Everything from light reflections to the limitations of various file formats have left media-specific traces and influenced the transmutation process, hereby making the interplay between enhancement and distortion intrinsic to the work. One of the images, in which a symmetrical object appears, differs from the others. The object recurs in a number of Willim’s works.
The sound installation Chambers is based on site-specific sounds, composed to reshape the aural space and to generate a dreamlike ambience. The sound used has been recorded in the atrium as well as in the anechoic chamber, which is part of Humlab at the university. The sounds recorded in the anechoic chamber stem from the object that appears in one of the images of the exhibition. The sounds have been convolved with reverberation from the King’s chamber in the great pyramid at Giza.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]