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SMRN Workshop on Non-Western Media Genealogies in Buffalo NY

By Kalpana Subramanian


The Substantial Motion Research Network announced its presence in Buffalo NY, on 20th Feb 2019, through a workshop at Squeaky Wheel Film and Media Art Center titled Non-Western Media Genealogies. Six media artist-scholars explored alternative media genealogies in relation to their own research and art practice, engaging in dialogue with and receiving feedback from Laura U. Marks (SMRN founding member) and Kalpana Subramanian (local SMRN member). There were two invited guest presentations as well.

Tanya Shilina-Conte, film scholar and Assistant Professor from the Department of English at the University at Buffalo briefly introduced Laura, Kalpana and SMRN to the audience. The workshop began with Laura sharing a method she has developed to help researchers investigate non-Western genealogies, and also introduced them to the SMRN’s vision, focus and activities.

The first presentation was by Mani Mehrvarz, who works with concepts of temporality and memory in analog and digital media. He discussed his media installation series Strata of Memory (2018), which explores the technologies and construction of memory by experimenting with electromechanical storage devices and their functionality over time. This was followed by Maryam Muliaee’s presentation on her video projection, Off-the-Path (2018) from Recycled Series (2015-19), which de-constructs and re-constructs photographic and filmic archives using xerography to create alternative variations and imaginaries of a past. She uses printers and scanners to recycle images, and trigger processes of degradation, distortion and transformation. Leonardo Aranda, presented his research enquiry into the politics and aesthetics of technological development in Latin America, using the framework of ‘technological appropriation’ to critique Western notions of ‘progress’. Nida Ali shared her films that examine relationships between immaterial projected architectural forms and the material body: (object and viewer), through the phenomenon of optical and haptic visuality. Her work also investigates how this relationship produces an implied space and raises questions concerning race and gender. James Pollard’s presentation challenged the idea of Western calendar time in the context of programming the WorldJournal, a database tool for fictional worlds. His project seeks to articulate a layer of abstraction, which can communicate and translate existing measures of time and well as alternative possibilities and variants. Azalia Muchransyah’s project involves exploring the genealogy of Indonesian Cinema from a post-colonial perspective. In particular, her film project seeks to advocate for incarcerated, HIV-infected, gender non-binary individuals creating a platform for self-representation that is rooted in an embodied and haptic visuality.

There were two guest presentations by Chris Lee and Jodi Lynn Maracle. Chris’ presentation offered a critique of the normative Western genealogy of graphic design as a facet of commerce and effect of industrialization, and as a destabilizing precondition for appreciating what a non-Western genealogy would mean. He connected in his talk, four brief narratives of the grid—as a foundational component of graphical space—that includes ancient clay documents, the commodification of the American landscape, urbanización, and Microsoft Excel. Jodi’s presentation explored how Haudenosaunee media traditions can be articulated in the context of contemporary Indigenous presence, reclaiming memory, in the face of settler-colonial occupation and forced forgetting.

Overall, the presentations, feedback sessions with SMRN members and discussions, helped articulate new possibilities and directions for media art practice and research in relation to the workshop theme. It was also really interesting to see how the SMRN focus was engaged beyond the network. By the time we concluded, the collective energy of the room, had us feeling mutually invigorated and inspired!

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