Last week I was in Auckland for a couple of days to go to the MINA (Mobile Innovation Network Aotearoa) 2013 Symposium at the Auckland University of Technology. Having just recently arrived in New Zealand the symposium seemed like a great opportunity to meet some researchers and artists working in and around pervasive/locative media, and to see what kinds of mobile media research and praxis are going on in New Zealand.
The conference kicked off with a fascinating keynote from Larissa Hjorth from RMIT in Melbourne. Hjorth looked at practices surrounding current cultural usages of mobile imaging technologies from an ethnographic perspective, and charaterised this as second generation research in camera phone studies. Whereas the first wave focussed on mobile imaging through the perspectives of networked visuality, sharing/storing/saving, and vernacular creativity, she characterises second generation camera phone studies as focussing on the notions of emplacement through movement, the prominence of geo-temporal tagging and spatial connectivity, intimate co-presence and re-conceptualising casual play as ambient play.
My other highlights on the first day were a fantastic session on activism and mobile video practices which features papers from Lorenzo Dalvit and Ben Lenzner. Dalvit explored the use of user uploaded mobile phone videos to a tabloid online newspaper The Daily Sun, which provides a public forum for citizens to publish and attract widespread attention to instances of police brutality within South Africa. In particular Dalvit focussed on a case where police dragged a Mozambican taxi driver to his death through the streets, and mobile footage posted to the Daily Sun was used to contradict the official police account that the taxi driver was armed, and was thus pivotal in bringing the policeman in question to face trial for their actions. Dalvit also highlighted the utility of audiovisual media in cultural contexts where literacy cannot be assumed as universal, and the ways that the Daily Sun provided a forum of public discussion surrounding the commonplace acts of police brutality which are primarily aimed at impoverished black youths in SA.
This was followed by a look at some of Lenzner’s PhD research which compares the usage of mobile video streaming techniques by US activist such as Tim Poole and the Indian community-activist group India Unheard. Similarly to Dalvit’s South African case study, Cole’s footage of Occupy Wall Street was used in court to quash bogus charges fabricated by police against an Occupy protester, again highlighting the ways that citizen journalism and in particular video evidence can provide a powerful tool in providing counter-narratives to official accounts which are often pure fabrications. Whereas Cole was able to stream video live on to UStream, community video activists working for India Unheard have to go somewhere to compress and upload material due to the difference in bandwidth between New York and Mumbai. This forced pause means that they produce activist video which is closer to traditional forms of video activism, providing edited stories rather than just a live stream of events. Both these papers were fantastic examples of how the increasing access to media production tools provides ways for previously unheard voices to be heard, and within a legal context, to provide very strong evidence to contradict official statements from powerful institutions linked to the state.
Also on the Thursday were really interesting papers from Craig Hight and Trudy Lane. Hight’s paper focussed on the implications of emerging software digital video, and in particular various ways that numerous forms of consumer/prosumer software are automating increasing amounts of the editing process. The paper outlined a number of fairly new tools, such as Magisto, which claims to ‘automatically turns your everyday videos into beautifully edited movies, perfect for sharing. It’s free, quick, and easy as pie!’ Within the software you select which clips you wish to use, a song to act as the soundtrack and a title, and Magisto assembles your video for you. While Hight was quite critical of the extremely formulaic videos this process produces, it’s interesting to think about what this does in turns of algorithmic agency and the unique ability of software to make the types of decisions normatively only associated with human (what Adrian Mackenzie has described as secondary agency).
Lane by contrast is an artist whose recent project the A Walk Through Deep Time was the subject of her paper. While the deep time here is not the same as Sigfried Zielinski’s work into mediation and deep time, it does present an exploration of a non-anthropocentric geological temporality, intially realised through a walk along a 457m fence to represent 4.57 billion years of evolution. The project uses an open-source locative platform called roundware which provides locative audio with the ability for users to upload content themselves whilst in situ, allowing the soundscape to become an evolving and dynamic entity. The ecological praxis at the heart of Lane’s work was something that really resonated with my interests, and it was great to see that there are really interesting locative art/ecology projects going on here.
The second day of the symposium opened with a keynote from Helen Keegan from the University of Salford. Keegan’s presentation centred on a unit she had run as an alternate reality game entitled Who is Rufi Franzen. The project was a way of getting students to engage in a curious and critical way with the course, rather than the traditional ways of learning we encounter within lectures and seminars. The project saw the students working together across numerous social media platforms to try and piece together the clues as to whom Rufi was, how he had been able to contact them, and what he wanted. The project climaxed with the students having been led to the triangle in Manchester, where they were astonished to see their works projected on the BBC controlled big screen there. It looked like a great project, and a fantastic experience.
My highlight of the second day was a paper by Mark McGuire from the University of Otago who presented on the topic of Twitter, Instagram and Micro-Narratives (Mark’s presentation slides are online via a link on his blog and well worth a look). Taking cues from Henry Jenkin’s recent work into spreadable media, which emphasises the ways that contemporary networked media foregrounds the flow of ideas in easy to share formats, McGuire went on to explore the ways that micro-narratives create a shred collaborative experience whereby the frequent sharing of ideas and experiences, content creators become entangled within a web of feedback or creative ecologies which productively drives the artistic work. Looking at Brian Eno’s notion of an ecology of talent and applying interdisciplinary notions of connectionist thinking and ecological thought and metaphors, McGuire made a convincing case as to why feedback rich networks provide a material infrastructure which cultivates communities who learn to act creatively together.
There was also a really interesting paper on the second day from Marsha Berry from RMIT, Melbourne, who built upon Hjorth’s notions of emplaced visuality to explore how creative practices and networked sociality are becoming increasingly entangled. Looking in detail at practices of creating retro-aesthticised images using numerous mobile tools including Instagram and retro camera filters, Berry explored these images as continuity with analogue imaging, as a form of paradox, as Derridean hauntology – as a nostalgia for a lost future, and finally as the impulse to create poetic imagery, highlighting that for teenagers today there is no nostalgia for 1970s imaging technologies and techniques which pre-date their birth.
Max Schleser and Daniel Wagner also presented interesting papers, looking at projects they had respectively been running which used mobile phone filmmaking. Schleser outlined the 24 Frames 24 Hours project for workshop videos, which featured a really nice UI designed by Tim Turnidge, and looked like a really nice tool for integrating video, metadata and maps. Schleser explored how mobile filmmaking is important to the emergence of new types of interactive documentary, touching on some of the conceptual material surrounding iDocs. Wagner presented the evolution of ELVSS (Entertainment Lab for the Very Small Screen), a collaborative project which has seen Wagner’s Unitec students working alongside teams from AUT, University of Salford, Bogota and Strasbourg to collectively craft video based mobile phone projects. The scale of the project is really quite inspiring in terms of thinking what it’s possible to create in terms of global networked interdisciplinary collaborations within higher education today.
Overall, I really enjoyed attending MINA 2013. The community seems friendly, relaxed and very welcoming, the standard of presentations, artworks and keynotes was really high and it’s really helped me in terms of feeling that there are academic networks within and around New Zealand who’re involved in really interesting work. Roll on MINA 2014.