Monday, 21 September 2015

MOJO Rising

Catherine Adams reports from “News : Rewired”, the latest digital journalism conference on how Mobile Journalism and Virtual Reality are set to dominate our news. 

Security was paramount at the gleaming, corporate headquarters of MSN in Cardinal Place, central London – even going to the Ladies required a secret code. A murmuration of delegates from across the UK news industry attended presentations on live news, social storytelling, smartwatches and more. As well as staff from BBC, Reuters and the Guardian, representatives flocked to the July 16th event from digital-native operators such as Google, and Mashable

Among some notable international speakers were the founder of Smart Film School, Robb Montgomery, who exclusively teaches mobile journalism (MOJO) and Patricia O'Callaghan, a TV journalist with RTE, who showed reports shot and edited on her iPhone for broadcast, using apps such as Filmicpro, Pinnacle Studio, Storehouse, PicPlayPost and Adobe Voice.

The star turn was online news guru Emily Bell, ex-Guardian, director of Tow Centre at Columbia University, who stressed that the social media desk is now firmly fixed at the centre of news organisations. She explained how mobile alerts are breaking news, social media is the new “content management system,” (ie, where you publish stuff) while “ye olde” website is the archive. This, she warned, means publishers are potentially handing control to the 24-year-old engineer tweaking an algorithm. 

Ongoing issues such as how to verify User Generated Content and how to protect sources threaded through the conference. Publishers are learning new ways of coding content so that text and photos cannot be cut and pasted and randomly shared with others. Other speakers identified the urgent need to educate the public on what risks they’re taking using Twitter etc. Media students should be made aware that if they geotag their pics, it gives their location away to anyone.

There was a smattering of marketing. Tom Quast and Nils Kaehler of Creative Vikings demonstrated smart watches, “the most personalised tech so far,” which the New York Times are experimenting with to publish ‘one sentence stories’. Wearing one of these £500 devices as “an extension of yourself”, you are never separated from the net - as whoever you’re with will be acutely aware, whenever it ‘taps’ you on the wrist with a “micro-interaction” to let you know your team’s scored a goal.

Virtual Reality is the next “hottest thing”, according to Dan Pacheco on a videolink from Syracuse University. He claimed that transporting viewers to the scene of a story in graphic 3D would explode as a way to experience news. Although he admitted “huge potential for misperception.” Ed Miller, from came up with the extraordinary (and unsourced) statistic that VR would rise by 13 000% in the next few years. The FT has already created a VR version of stock charts which you can ‘ski’ down. In the future, your avatar could ‘meet’ and ‘chat’ with avatars of people involved in the news. Reddit could be a series of virtual rooms. Anyway, the race is on to beat the launch date of The Oculus Rift headset in January.

Should we be immersing people in the news? Will MOJO put yet more highly-skilled news professionals out of jobs? Do we want to be jacked up to social media during our most intimate moments?

In spite of the huge implications of these latest developments in digital news, there seemed to be little or no opportunity to debate or discuss such things at News : Rewired, leaving participants feeling rather limp.

You can check out the next News:Rewired events here

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Losing Mothers: Queer Allure of Julianne Moore

Cüneyt Çakırlar presented an audiovisual essay on the star-image of Julianne Moore at the symposium Performing Stardom: New Methods in Critical Star Studies, which took place at the University of Kent (29 May 2015). The symposium was hosted by NoRMMA (Network of Research: Movies, Magazines, Audiences) and focused on way to explore film studies research through nontraditional approaches. Examples included: performance, video essays, interpretative dance, creative fiction/non-fiction, poetry, music, and any kind of multimedia project. Through this symposium, the team explored the connections between scholarship and fandom, research and creativity, the benefits and disadvantages of exploring an (audio)visual art through (audio)visual means, and the development of the innovative and ever-emerging field of practice as research. 

Çakırlar's response to the event took the form of an audiovisual essay. Çakırlar's videographic analysis reflected on the queer potentialities of Julianne Moore’s on-screen star image that comes to repeatedly reveal her presence as an unconventional, if not failed, maternal embodiment. The essay focused on the ways in which Moore’s body-image has frequently become an object of (i) (queer) cinematic pastiche, (ii) an ambivalent transgressive sexuality, and most significantly, (iii) an uncanny erotic of motherhood. Çakirlar's piece is currently under review for intransition: Journal of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies.    

World Cinema and the Essay Film

Cüneyt Çakırlar presented a paper (with Elif Akçalı, Kadir Has University, Istanbul, Turkey) on Werner Herzog's film-making at the international conference World Cinema and the Essay Film, at University of Reading (30 April - 2 May). The paper, titled ""A Form of Proto-Cinema": Aesthetics of Werner Herzog's Documentary Essayism", explored potentials and paradoxes of interpretation in Herzog’s recent documentary practice. Capitalizing upon the various aspects of “the aesthetic” embedded in his filmmaking (from the on-screen presentation of the subjects’ urge to create and re-invent to the fimmaker’s performative address at his “documentary” aesthetic), the project aims to discuss the ways in which Herzog turns his documentary material into a series of artful acts and “proto-cinema” gestures. What makes this transformation possible especially in the  documentaries Grizzly Man (2005), Encounters at the End of the World (2007) and Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010) is the filmmaker’s persistent interventions both as director and participant observer in the pro-filmic events as well as his highly stylised additions to the narratives during post-production including his editing decisions, use of sound and voice-over narration.  The subject matters that these documentaries originally deal with multiply and turn into remote questions both voiced by the filmmaker’s on- and off-screen comments, and implied through his filmmaking aesthetics.  Rather than reinforcing a documentary truth claim, Herzog’s subjective interventions in each film create an alternate narrative prone to essay-films, which run next to these otherwise participatory documentaries. The continuous juxtaposition between Herzog’s subjectivity and the films’ photographed, quasi-objective realities including the people and the landscapes creates an ambiguity in defining certain moments from these films as they fluctuate between fiction and non-fiction, real and represented, and natural and artificial. Focusing on his engagement with film form, style, and the recurring themes of ecstasy, spirituality, scientific reason, and the indifference of nature, we would like to address wider methodological implications in Herzog’s practice. 

Thursday, 26 February 2015

My Child (2013) in Nottingham

Cuneyt Cakirlar hosted a screening event for the documentary My Child (2013). Can Candan’s feature documentary focuses on a Turkey-based activist collective initiated by the parents of LGBTI individuals in Turkey (LISTAG). LISTAG, founded in 2008, is a solidarity and support group for friends, families and especially parents of LGBT individuals, actively working against homophobia, transphobia, discrimination and hate crimes in Turkey. To gain visibility, the group participates in discussions, panels and conferences in cooperation with NGOs and universities in Turkey. Candan’s feature documentary recounts these parents’ experiences.

My Child has been travelling in international festivals and its public visibility in Turkey had become an important catalyst that facilitated debates in the Turkish parliament on LGBTI rights. Mr Candan visited the UK with 2 members of LISTAG under the sponsorship of British Embassy in Ankara. NTU hosted them in Nottingham and the film was shown at Broadway Cinema on 1 December 2014. The event was followed by a Q&A session with the director and the LISTAG members, Mr Metehan Özkan and Ms Sema Yakar. 

For the Introduction and Q&A, please see below. Special thanks to NTU students Darrell Bickley, Hafsa Mirza, Umair Naushashi and Laura Shenton for preparing the film.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Why all the scrutiny of public universities?

In this post, Liz Morrish argues that public universities need to make their voices heard in the forthcoming General Election. Universities are coming under undue criticism from the media, politicians,  and from new private entrants to the higher education sector.

In his Times Higher editorial this week, John Gill writes that higher education has been ‘weaponized’ as an issue for the forthcoming General Election. This eventuality might now be contemplated ruefully by the nation’s Vice Chancellors who, in future, might be careful what they wish for.

After years of relative invisibility in the public sphere, mentions of universities in politics and the media are now as frequent as mentions of cricket. The optimists among us can congratulate ourselves that this signals a welcome democratization of higher education. Those with a glass half empty may point out that much of the publicity is damaging to the reputation of the sector. Politicians from all quarters have charged universities with failing to address social inequality, failing to turn out employable graduates, failing to teach relevant courses, failing to prevent student radicalisation, failing to prevent illegal immigration, failing to give value for money, failing to tackle sexual assault on campus, failing to protect free speech. Day after day, we learn that universities are failing, failing, failing. Indeed, only 38% of MPs think that universities spend money efficiently, according to a recent report. This does not bode well for the inevitable review of spending after the 2015 election.

And yet, the UK has possibly the most successful higher education system in the world, so it is worrying when we see the frequency, and the glee, with which these accusations are levelled. It seems that with increased student numbers and £9000 tuition fees has arrived more searching scrutiny, and often misplaced criticism. 

Student satisfaction, according to HEFCE, is at a 10 year high with a headline-grabbing figure of 86% of students who are satisfied with their course. It is worth bearing in mind that this is 4 percentage points higher than the 2013 figures of satisfaction ratings for i-phones, and we all know how much students cherish those. So students who may appear to be victims of an inflated fee regime, and debts that may never be discharged, may, paradoxically, be the beneficiaries of a new priority of satisfying the ‘customer’. 

There is no doubt that marketization, especially since the 2010 Browne Review, has propelled universities into a student satisfaction arms race. Superb ensuite student residences have colonized any brown field site available. Sports facilities will never rival those in the US, but are improving. Libraries, wifi-enabled, reconfigurable teaching spaces and climbing walls have thrust upwards and outwards in a kind of Great University Build Off.  

And yet, as one Twitter commentator has observed, the vultures are circling. Private providers want a share of the action, or, more importantly, the money. Thursday saw a salvo from a leading champion of private higher education that public universities cannot afford to ignore. It contains an echo of President Obama’s recent question: “Why does college cost so much”. BPP, a private university which specializes in Law, Health, Business and Finance courses, thinks that publicly-funded universities waste money. Carl Lygo, the Vice Chancellor, is delighted to tell us that BPP charges between £12,000-£18,000 for the whole undergraduate degree to home and EU students. 

In a sense, Vice Chancellors set themselves up for this when, on 2nd February, their representative organisation, Universities UK, attempted via the letters page of The Times, to stifle Labour rumblings of a tuition fee cut to £6000. Their case against what is still only a rumour about a policy, is that it would compromise the student experience. Furthermore, it would require £10bn of additional public funding to close the gap, and would consequently leave universities vulnerable to future cuts to public spending.

So why are public universities so dependent on tuition fees in the region of £9000? Firstly, post Browne Review, courses other than science and medicine receive no public investment; the money only comes in to universities as fee-bearing students are recruited. Secondly, universities have a mission to teach, but also to conduct research. Private universities do not, to any significant extent, undertake research, and none was entered in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework. Their  focus is on credentialing, rather than developing the next generation of scholars. How else do they cut costs? We can speculate, but a trawl around BPP’s website does not readily lead the enquirer to any member of staff. At their Nottingham Study Centre, we are told that qualified tutors are ‘dedicated to your exam success’, and that ‘you'll also have access to their mobile numbers’. Indeed, if these are contingent  staff, that might be your only option in securing academic advice. Facilities ? They boast a snack vending machine. 

In advance of the election, with Labour policy on higher education as yet unpublished, and Lib-Dem policy in a holding pattern, it is time for universities to make the case for public education. One thing that unites Vice Chancellors, academic staff and students is fear of massive cuts to higher education after the election. The question of how universities should be funded, sadly, is more likely to divide them.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Documenting Art and Performance: Embodied Knowledge, Virtuality & the Archive

The Asian Art and Performance Consortium (AAPC) of the Academy of Fine Arts (KuvA) and the Finnish Theatre Academy (TeaK) of the University of the Arts Helsinki jointly hosted a symposium focused on documenting and archiving Asian and trans-cultural performance and fine arts. This is the third and final symposium organized under the Shifting Dialogues - Asian Performance and Fine Arts research project, funded by the Academy of Finland in 2011-2014.

Issues raised at the symposium included embodied, iconographic and electronic transfer of performance traditions in Asia related to live performance and traditional pedagogies. These include the use of moving image, photography, web-based presence and new media, historical and theoretical writings, the construction of archives, museums and libraries.

Cuneyt Cakirlar, in his paper “Mediation of Document: Ethnographic Turns and Art as Methodological Object in Critical Humanities”, examined relations of ethnography, contemporary art practice, globalisation and scalar geopolitics with particular reference to a selection of artists including Kutlug Ataman, Ming Wong, Akram Zaatari, Slavs & Tatars. Concentrating on these artists’ engagement with ethnography, Cuneyt’s paper analyzed a selection of videos and gave an account of different scalar aspects of their artworks as well as the ways in which conceptual art-objects bear the potential of forming transient archives in academia to exemplify critical methodologies of ‘dealing with data’. Rather than addressing scale as a differential concept, this paper aimed to demonstrate the ways in which these artworks produce self-scaling, self-regioning subjects that unsettle the hierarchical constructions of scale and facilitate a critique of the scalar normativity within the global art world’s documentary regionalisms and internationalisms.