Years ago, I attended a leadership program at the Banff Centre. The first team building exercise involved being strapped into a harness, climbing to the top of this very high pole and jumping off, trusting that the people I’d met just a few short hours ago would do their part to break my fall. I found this especially terrifying given my fear of heights, but I did it! While subsequent visits to the Banff Centre haven’t resulted in such extreme levels of physical risk, every visit has involved thoughtful exploration that pushes me beyond my comfort zone.
This weekend, I was in Banff for the Rundle Summit, an intimate gathering of University of Calgary and University of Alberta students, professors and alumni whose research interests focus on communications, media, film studies, technology and related areas. Here are my reflections on this years conference...
Bison, railways and broken trust
My MACT colleague, Kyle Napier, is focusing his research on land-based learning of language in indigenous communities. He contextualized his research by providing an apt summary of several hundred years of Canadian history that encapsulated the roots of colonialism. This included a rather disturbing image of A LOT of decapitated bison heads. Even though it was a drawing, it was shocking to see this illustration which clearly spoke to the destructive role of capitalism in Settler/Indigenous relations.
I couldn’t help but think about the role capitalism continues to play given the pipeline protests that have been unfolding across Canada for the past two weeks and the more recent announcement by Teck Resources to pull the plug on its proposed mining project.
Kyle’s research is about reconnecting to language and land, yet I feel his presentation took on a larger significance in the context of current events. Hearing his talk raised bigger questions around the role of land, issues of sovereignty, who has authority, power and legitimacy, as well as the continued lack of understanding and appreciation for the role of ceremony in engaging with Indigenous communities – all of which feels incredibly relevant and timely.
Building relationships as researchers
Nicolette Little, a doctoral student at the University of Calgary, referenced her experiences as a white presenting woman working as a researcher within the community of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG). Her work focuses on Indigenous feminist media activism. Nicolette’s acknowledgment of the importance in building relationships and trust in engaging within a community, especially when you are not of that community, really
struck a chord with me. This is something I think about a lot as I move into research with a community in which I have outsider status.
Reenactment as reality
Is fiction a new truth? This is a question that Anastasiia Gushchina is thinking about exploring for her doctoral work. She shared thoughts about the early work of film re-enactments of significant historical events. These representations played an important role in capturing the lives of people groups (Nanook of the North) or key events (wars, murders) for which there was no actual documentation.
Yet, as documentary film and the tools to document became more pervasive, re-enactments were replaced with this ostensibly more accurate and authentic form of capturing reality. Now, it can be argued, in our hyper-documented world where we have tools to easily manipulate sounds and images to create deep fakes, perhaps there is a fresh take on the role of re-enactments. Maybe there is a greater authenticity in a fictionalized truth that is transparent about its fictional status? An interesting take on the issue of trust.
Is it live or is it Memorex? Virtual realities.
My presentation was part of a panel that explored a range of issues surrounding technology, virtual reality, film, gaming, a historical perspective on cybernetics and AI. I was too sick to deliver the actual talk without losing my voice. Fortunately, I had made a recording of myself practicing the talk with the Powerpoint slides and I was able to share that instead, which . reminded me of the iconic Memorex commercial.
My fellow panelist, Tyler Morgenstern, won best paper at the conference with a fascinating talk that linked together colonialism, Indigeneity and cybernetics. He was followed by Ray opt’Land who shared many interesting insights including thoughts as to why VR hasn’t taken off in popular use. Ray explored how much of today’s tech-reality has been inspired by fictional accounts like Neuromancer that inspired “tech bros” to leverage billions of dollars in funding to build that imagined future. However, in many cases, there may not be a real market or demand for the technology.
Bring on the Dancing Drones
There were so many more interesting people and papers at the conference including a fantastic closing key note by Dr. Li Cornfeld on her work exploring the cultural significance surrounding of how we frame technology, such as dancing drones and other “tech-spectacles” at events like the Consumer Electronics Show.