Fellow Travellers: Collaborations among plants, animals, and spirits

fellowtravellers-poster-v2Please join us a for a break-away workshop at the Fallen Tree Center on the edge of the Cornell campus. This workshop is organized under the auspices of the meetings of the Society for Cultural Anthropology. It is free and open to all. Tea and light refreshments will be served.

Charis Boke | Craig Campbell | Eben Kirksey | Jane Marie Law

Friday, May 13, 2016
Fallen Tree Center 128 Muriel st. Ithaca, NY

We have booked a van to shuttle people between the SCA conference and the Fallen Tree Center.

Seats on the free shuttle are limited, so RSVP on Eventbrite: http://tinyurl.com/fellow-travellers

This event is made possible with the generous support of
the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future at Cornell University.


The need for both individual and collective action in the contemporary world has been met with increasingly urgent calls for novel modes of description, critique, and action. This panel takes up the challenge by looking more carefully beyond the exceptionalism of human forms to a rich world of more-than-human social relations. In the fanciful Lapine language developed by Richard Adams for his novel Watership Down, he designates the word ‘tharn’ to describe the horrifying paralysis of imminent doom faced by rabbits caught in the debilitating light of on-coming traffic. It is tempting to figure an analogy with contemporary modes of sociality, where humans are frozen tharn in the knowledge climate catastrophe poses an increasingly plausible and generalized threat. Such an analogical manoeuver might challenge us not only to imagine new modes of being in the world but to better describe and understand the convivialities of being within a shared biosphere. This move is founded on a practice of learning from and listening to voices across ontological rifts. It is also a move also that leads us from conviviality (living together) to collaboration (working together). Taking the notion of more-than-human collaboration seriously we explore how herbalists listen to plants and what the dead have to say about the future. We examine the gift-giving practices of ants and how our planet is not a limit point or threshold of collective labor. Fellow travelers we argue exist not only among our species and in our time, shaking tacit assumptions about contemporaneousness and autonomy. We examine also the place and location of strange collaborations from bioresearch laboratories to herb gardens, from suburban experiments in goat husbandry to nomadic architecture.

For this session we invite you to join us at the newly established Fallen Tree Center (designed for the re-imagination of suburban life). This session promises an exploration of metaphorical, analogical, and actual possibilities for thinking outside human exceptionalism towards a more-than-human sociality. With our collaborations at Fallen Tree, we recognize in the world a complexity of relations that rarely adhere to conventional notions of collective labour. Fallen Tree is less than two miles from Cornell University in the edgelands of Ithaca near the famous Cornell Ornithological Research Center. A shuttle will bring people to and from the site of the conference. Food and drink will be provided at this session which includes not only a roundtable but also a tour of Fallen Tree.


Summaries of individual presentations:

Charis Boke. Life with plants

Humans and other animals turn to plants for sustenance, for healing, for pleasure, for worship. My work with herbalists in the northeast of the United States, and as an herbalist myself, informs this exploration of what life with plants can mean on an intimate scale. Following the insights of practices developed and sustained by healers, I lead us in an experiential exercise to help us attend to the ways that our own bodies can help us understand our relationships with plants. What can plant materials shift in us? How might we understand interspecies communication, or at the very least the coordination (to use Annemarie Mol’s term) of human bodies and plant bodies through direct experience of plants used for healing work? Through the sharing of (legal) plant-based remedies, I hope to open a door of perception for participants into working intentionally with a world of plants who are already our collaborators.

Craig Campbell. Labouring under the sign of sentience

My contribution to the Fellow Travellers session develops the idea of a ‘sentient ecology’ through a series of major events in central Siberia including a mysterious space body, the Communist Revolution, nuclear waste disposal, and a proposed hydroelectric dam. Writing after his fieldwork with Dolgan reindeer herders, the anthropologist David G. Anderson described the reindeer pastoralists’ sentient ecology – an ontology that sets humans within complex non-human worlds of care and reciprocity. Sentient ecology emerges as a concept through the traditions of circumpolar ethnographies that have tended carefully to the rich ontologies of non-european indigenous peoples of the subarctic and arctic. Key texts like Brightman’s Grateful Prey, Ridington’s Trail to Heaven, and Fienup-Riordan’s Boundaries and Passages have helped to shape anthropological thinking about the limits of the human. While it has not gained popularity, I believe that ‘sentient ecology’ is a timely idiom for disrupting conventional notions of human exceptionalism. Sentient ecology, I argue might be understood as a kind of collective labour for living. Beginning with a case for the world as a more-than-human conviviality—as a sentient ecology defined by relations and reciprocities (Bateson)—I move to set of ideas around more-than-human collaborations. My focus on labour is inspired by MacKenzie Wark’s reading of early Soviet theorists and writers Alexander Bogdanov and Andrei Platonov.

Eben Kirksey. Trophallaxis (Nourishment-Interchange)

Ectatomma ants forage for insects at night under electric lights in the City of Knowledge, an abandoned U.S. military installation in Panama.  They also glean sugary liquid honeydew from leafhoppers and communicate with caterpillars in high-pitched stridulatory sounds in old growth forest.  Studying trophallaxis—the fluid exchange of material and semiotic elements, in a laboratory at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute I found that Ectatomma ants freely give gifts to strangers. Bataille classically argued that the living organism “ordinarily receives more energy than is necessary for maintaining its life…the excess cannot be completely absorbed in its growth, it must necessarily be lost without profit; it must be spent, willingly or not, gloriously or catastrophically.”  Collaborating with William Wcislo, Deputy Director of the Smithsonian in Panama, I designed a scientific study to test Bataille’s insights in the world of Ectatomma.  Rather than finding a pattern of reciprocal altruism—gifts that demand gifts in return—we found that these ants have fleeting whims, sentiments about the distribution of surplus that are beyond rational calculus.  Tracing actions oriented to the care of beings and things, across species lines, I also studied how Ectatomma ants enlist others in the production of common worlds.  Working as a participant and observer in the domain of the biological sciences, I explored the speculative possibilities of multispecies ethnography—not just documenting what life is or was like in particular times and places, but also exploring what life might or could be (Ingold 2014; cf. Kirksey 2015).

Jane-Marie Law. Scheming with the Living, Colluding with the Dead: The Conversations Guiding the Creation of Fallen Tree Center for a Resilient Future

In my 58th year, I used my slim inheritance to purchase the derelict house and land (3/4 of an acre) next door to my home, with t he intention of creating a center for ecological sustainability, providing a model for converting suburbia into agriculturally productive, habitat conserving and community enriching space. In this paper, I reflect on the nature of the emotional, logistical and technical conversations and collaborations I have to bring this project to fruition.  I argue that, when we speak publicly, we operate within existing and rational understandings of influences the dead have upon the actions of the living , but in fact people involved in projects of stewardship and sustainability often operate with a more fluid, metaphorical and dreamlike quality of dialogue along the living/dead divide.  This paper explores how loosening up the idea of agency of the dead to include the dead  as co-collaborators, however metaphorical, may enable greater success and appeal in small scale  ecological projects such as this.  I argue that the lived experience of collaboration within which many people locate themselves is far from rational, and often includes strong emotional influences and guidance from the dead.

download: 2016-05-05_fellowtravels



Posted in Miscellaneous | Comments Off on Fellow Travellers: Collaborations among plants, animals, and spirits

Screening Manakamana and Nepal Earthquake Fundraiser

Manakamana Screening
Noon on Sunday, May 17th (2015)
Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. Tickets $10
Director Stephanie Spray will be in attendance for a post-film discussion.

Screen Shot from Spray's Manakamana.

Screen Shot from Spray’s Manakamana.

High above Nepal’s lush, mountainous landscape, a cable car carries pilgrims, villagers and the occasional American tourist to an ancient Hindu temple. For centuries, devoted followers had to undertake an arduous multi-day trek to reach the shrine of the wish-fulfilling goddess Manakamana. Today, the trip takes just under 10 minutes. Filmed entirely inside these cable cars as they glide over fog-enshrouded peaks and remote villages, MANAKAMANA captures the conversations of its passengers – personal exchanges, anecdotes, shared observations on the landscape below – and emerges with a rich, vibrant view of Nepal, a land of ancient traditions and rituals on the brink of a technologically-powered future.


The proceeds from this screening will be donated to the American Nepal Medical Foundation to support their efforts in providing medical care and disaster relief in response to the recent tragedy in Nepal.





Posted in Intermedia, Workshop | Comments Off on Screening Manakamana and Nepal Earthquake Fundraiser

Workshop with visiting fellow, Samuel Cepeda.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06

Research and Remediation techniques in the critical study of media.

The research of contemporary culture frequently implies paying attention to the symbolic production in different media, as well as the material and semantic consequences of its remediation. The researcher, in order to understand the symbolic production within a group or culture, needs to deeply comprehend it as a creator too. In this workshop, through the practice of various remediation techniques we’ll approach a way of theorizing while producing.

Date: Friday, May 8th. 2015. noon – 2pm
Location: Intermedia Workshop (SAC 4.120)

Free and open to all

Samuel Cepeda was born in Nuevo León, México. He’s a media artist and has been doing research and teaching since 2000 in private and public universities in México. He is currently a full time artist and researcher working on his dissertation at Tecnológico de Monterrey in the PhD program of humanities studies in science and technology.


Screen Shot-01b

Posted in Intermedia, Workshop | Comments Off on Workshop with visiting fellow, Samuel Cepeda.

Workshop with Stephanie Spray

Stephanie Spray is a visiting fellow with the Intermedia Workshop (with support from the South Asia Institute). She is an award winning documentary filmmaker, currently finishing her PhD through the Sensory Ethnography Laboratory in Anthropology at Harvard University. Her latest directorial project is titled MANAKAMANA.

In the workshop Stephanie will discuss her film Manakamana and her work in Nepal with a community of itinerant musicians called the Gandharba as well as her practice as an anthropologist and filmmaker.  Sponsored by Radio-TV-Film at the University of Texas in Austin.

You can learn more about her work at her website: http://www.stephaniespray.com

Tuesday, April 21st. 2015. 3pm-5:30pm
Studio 4D (CMB 4.122)


Posted in Intermedia, Workshop | Comments Off on Workshop with Stephanie Spray

Imagining Manipur

Installation by Jogendro Singh Kshetrimayum.

imagining Manipur

There are 387 photo images all together, 273 of which were generated by the image search of “Manipur” on Google (generated during the months of April and May 2014). The remaining 114 images are from my field visits to Manipur in 2009, 2011 and 2013. The photos are all in 4X6 prints. The images from the ethnographic fieldwork are merged, without any distinct boundary, with the images generated by Google search engine. The area enclosed by the seven vitrines is a reflection of the ‘work space’ where I struggle to write about Manipur. There are papers, articles, drafts, corrections and rejections. The copies of The Sangai Express, locally published in English and Manipuri, were collected during the field visits. The piles of American Ethnologist and American Anthropologist, stacked up or spread out, are indices of the production of ‘anthropological knowledge’ and its uneven distribution. In one of the shelves of the first vitrine to the left, there is a receipt of the books on Manipur that I checked out from the Perry-Castañeda Library (PCL). PCL has more than 300 books and documents on Manipur in its collection. Some of them are hard to find in the libraries of Manipur.

The reflections on the glass panels create some interesting effects for the images – some of which were happy accidents and some deliberate. The exhibition is part of the final project in Craig Campbell’s Intermedia and Aesthetics (Spring 2014).


Jogendro Singh Kshetrimayum
Graduate Student Department of Anthropology
University of Texas at Austin
Venue: Next to SAC 4.114 – 4.120
Time: Spring 2014 – Summer 2014


Posted in Intermedia | Comments Off on Imagining Manipur

Ex-Situ Workshop in UK

structures3bEx-Situ co-organizer and Dept. of Anthropology affiliate, Yoke Sum Wong (Lancaster University) has organized a symposium and writing salon for this May.

Download programme.pdf


15 MAY 2015

The title of this meeting is inspired by Raymond Williams’ Structures of Feeling essay (1977) in which we explore “a kind of feeling and thinking which is indeed social and material, but each in an embryonic phase before it can become fully articulate and defined exchange.”

It is this embryonic phase that we give attention to in the experiencing of architecture as immaterial and material and as we navigate its configurations – negotiating towards the affective consciousness of spatial form/s that is at once social and personal – emergent and emerging – in an ‘interrelating continuity’. How do spatial forms contribute to, as Susan Lepselter writes, an ethnography of emergent feeling? How do we feel architecture and world it – taking worlding as a way of apprehension and comprehension – giving it a structure that we make (non)sense of.

The bridging of thought and feeling, the sensations that we encounter in built environments – despair, happiness, joy, fear, dread, hope, disgust nostalgic, warmth and so on – are often evoked instantaneously before we begin to stitch the narratives together or to grasp why we are attuned to the spaces the way we do. Another way of framing it is through Kathleen Stewart’s ‘atmospheric attunements’ which “attend to the quickening of nascent forms, marking their significance in sounds and sights and the feel of something’s touch or something penetrating…[turning] a potentiality into a threshold to the real.”

The structure of this gathering is based on the writing workshops held at The University of Texas, Austin, and the Ex-Situ Workshop in Marfa, Texas. As opposed to the conventional academic paper, we seek the “embryonic” eg. creative short pieces that reflect the theme (broadly) and are no more than 750 words or a presentation piece of no more than 15 images or 10 minutes of video/audio productions. We also welcome all forms of experimental work.

At present, the call for participation is internal and we hope to hear an expression of interest by 31 March. Instead of an abstract, we seek an idea, a theme, an image.Our aim is to have three presentations per hour to provide time for discussion.

Please respond to y.wong@lancaster.ac.uk or adam.kaasa@rca.ac.uk

download the poster: structures3

Posted in Miscellaneous | Comments Off on Ex-Situ Workshop in UK

Director Joshua Oppenheimer in Discussion

627-627x336Joshua Oppenheimer, Oscar nominated director of The Act of Killing (2012) and Look of Silence (2014), will be at the University of Texas, Austin for a public discussion on his practice as a documentary filmmaker.  This discussion will cover a wide range of themes led by faculty members from Anthropology and Radio Television and Film with time for the audience to ask questions of Oppenheimer.  Some of the themes we will explore include documentary aesthetics, ethics and collaboration in filmmaking, approaches to cultural difference, the promise of documentary in the aftermath of violence.

Joshua Oppenheimer is a multiple-award winning documentary filmmaker and recipient of MacArthur Genius Award.

Thursday, March 12th.

3:30-6:20 pm.  Screening of the Act of Killing (director’s cut)
7-9 pm.  Discussion with Joshua Oppenheimer

Location: Belo Center for New Media (BMC) 1.202

Free and open to the public

Continue reading

Posted in Intermedia | Comments Off on Director Joshua Oppenheimer in Discussion

Intermedia Fellows

The Intermedia Workshop is pleased to introduce two fellows for January 2015. Stephanie Spray (visiting from Harvard University) and Samuel Cepeda (visiting from Tecnológico de Monterrey).  Stephanie and Sam will be making use of the workshop, attending departmental activities, and sharing their work in screenings and workshops.

Stephanie Spray joins us with support from the Department of Anthropology and the South Asia Institute.

Samuel Cepeda joins us with support from the Department of Anthropology and the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies.


Screen Shot from Spray's Manakamana.

Screen Shot from Spray’s Manakamana.

Posted in Intermedia, Miscellaneous, Workshop | Comments Off on Intermedia Fellows

Intermedia fellow: Samuel Cepeda

01_Clods_h_NN_52x35cmsSamuel Cepeda [samcepeda.com] was born in Nuevo León, México. He’s a media artist and has been doing research and teaching since 2000 in private and public universities in México. He is currently a full time artist and researcher working on his dissertation at Tecnológico de Monterrey in the PhD program of humanities studies in science and technology. He has also worked for media companies as Televisa, ReporteIndigo.com and About.com (a NY Times company), creating old and new media content for massive distribution. His work is mainly engaged with the boundaries between science & technology, visual studies and anthropology; often questioning the social and scientific ways of building realities, trying to broaden the vision of any reality we could be used to.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 12.21.58 PMAt UT austin, trying to expand his research experience in Digital Visual Artist networks, Cepeda will participate in our academic community by attending workshops, public lectures and meeting informally with students and faculty at the Intermedia Workshop,
Anthropology Department, College of Communications and College of Fine


Feel free to contact him:

t – @elfusible
g+ samuelcepeda


Posted in Miscellaneous | Comments Off on Intermedia fellow: Samuel Cepeda

Multispecies Tailgate

Thanks to everyone who joined us for the Multispecies Tailgate party at Monkeywrench Books.

Images courtesy of Jimmy Beveridge.

Posted in Intermedia, Miscellaneous, Workshop | Comments Off on Multispecies Tailgate