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Exploring the interplay of ideas about hope and articulation led Eben Kirksey to cross conventional disciplinary divides and contribute to theoretical conversations in the social sciences, the humanities, and the arts. Eben has already published one book, about human rights and indigenous politics in West Papua, as well as two edited collections on environmental issues in the Americas. Emergent Ecologies, which draws on 21 months of ethnographic field research in Panama and Costa Rica, is under contract with Duke University Press. He currently holds an Australian Research Council Fellowship (2014-2017) and is a permanent faculty member in the Environmental Humanities at UNSW Australia.

2010-2012, Mellon Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor, CUNY Graduate Center
2008-2010, NSF Postdoctoral Fellow, Science and Society Program.

Ph.D. 2008 UC Santa Cruz
M.Phil. 2003 University of Oxford
B.A. 2000 New College of Florida

Friday, November 28, 2014

Joshua Oppenheimer at AAA

The Oscar-nominated director Joshua Oppenheimer will be attending the AAA Annual Meetings to screen two films and discuss his tactics of challenging Indonesian death-squad leaders to reenact their real-life mass-killings in the style of the American movies they love.  The Act of Killing, his first major film, is "an important exploration of the complex psychology of mass murderers" in the words of Chris Hedges.  "It is not the demonized, easily digestible caricature of a mass murderer that most disturbs us. It is the human being."  "The hallucinatory result is a cinematic fever dream, an unsettling journey deep into the imaginations of mass-murderers and the shockingly banal regime of corruption and impunity they inhabit," in the words of critics.  Oppenheimer will be showing the Director's Cut of this film, which is rarely screened in the U.S., and will be offering an exclusive advanced preview screening of his latest film, The Look of Silence.  Free screenings will take place at the Marriott Wardman Park, 2660 Woodley Rd NW, Washington, DC 20008.

THURSDAY, December 4th
4:30 PM - 7:30 PM (Marriott Ballroom): Exclusive Screening: The Act of Killing Director's Cut (159 min) followed by Q&A with director Joshua Oppenheimer.  Free and open to the public.
SUNDAY, December 7th
9:30 AM - 12:00 PM (Marriott Thurgood Marshall Ballroom North and East) Advanced Preview Screening of The Look of Silence (99 min) followed by Q&A with director Joshua Oppenheimer, Joseph Saunders (Human Rights Watch), and Max White (Amnesty International), facilitated by Eben Kirksey.  Open to AAA members.  RSVP required for members of the public.

SUNDAY, December 7th
12:00 PM-1:45 PM (Marriott Thurgood Marshall Ballroom North and East) AAA Panel: Ethnographic Tactics

The Act of Killing

Nominated in the “Best Documentary” category for the 2013 Academy Awards, The Act of Killing (2012) has generated extensive debate across a multiple fields for its troubling subject matter, uncanny approach, and uncomfortable conclusions about memory, filmmaking, as well as the human capacity for empathy. This special event will feature a screening of the film followed by a Q&A session with the director, Joshua Oppenheimer.  The Act of Killing poses unique questions and challenges to anthropologists, including the role and function of fiction in ethnographic and documentary productions (whether textual or visual), approaches to understanding memory and traumatic experience, and the critical distances (or closeness) between engagement and collaboration. The film itself has generated much praise and criticism since its release, particularly regarding reenactment as a mode of reflection and response in documentary film.  This special screening of the Director's Cut, the uncut version of the film as it was released in almost all countries apart from the US, "gains in depth, taking you into a vortex of fever dreams, pulling you deep inside the nightmares of the protagonists," according to Werner Herzog. "You find yourself drawn irrevocably into the darkest souls, and time acquires a different role, as if you and the world had stopped breathing. The shorter version is trimmed down mostly to emphasize its political content, but Joshua Oppenheimer's film is much more than a political documentary. It is a masterpiece of filmmaking, full of depth, surrealism, and stunning silences that will outlive the political message."  The Q&A session, facilitated by Eben Kirksey, will explore anthropological concerns on the complicated nexus of fiction, reality, and representation. Joshua Oppenheimer will also present an exclusive advanced preview screening of his new film, The Look of Silence, and participate in a panel discussion about "Ethnographic Tactics" on Sunday.  Screening presented in partnership with Film Platform and with support from the Committee on World Anthropologies.

The Look of Silence
(Open to AAA members.  RSVP required for members of the public)

"One of the greatest and most powerful documentaries ever made," according to Errol Morris. "A profound comment on the human condition.”  "The Act of Killing was about the mechanisms of moral delusion, mass-murderers escaping the implications of their pasts by turning them into performance," writes The Telegraph, "but The Look of Silence connects the dots back up, and turns the focus back on culpability and complicity...while Oppenheimer's Oscar-nominated 2013 picture showed the death squads’ leaders gleefully re-enacting the butchery in a series of surreal, ghoulish theatrical tableaux, this second film zooms in close, finding unfolding fractal patterns of horror-within-horror in the story of a single victim’s plight."  A family of survivors discovers how their son was murdered and the identity of the men who killed him. The youngest brother is determined to break the spell of silence and fear under which the survivors live, and so confronts the men responsible for his brother's murder – something unimaginable in a country where killers remain in power.  "The Look of Silence," writes the director, Joshua Oppenheimer, "is a poem about a silence borne of terror – a poem about the necessity of breaking that silence, but also about the trauma that comes when silence is broken. Nothing will wake the dead. We must stop, acknowledge the lives destroyed, strain to listen to the silence that follows."  The Look of Silence has not yet been released in US theaters and this exclusive screening will be followed by a Q&A session with Joshua Oppenheimer and a panel discussion on "Ethnographic Tactics" (12:00 PM-2:00 PM) featuring comments by Natasha Myers (York University) and Andrea Ballestero (Rice University).  Screening presented in partnership with Film Platform and with support from the Committee on World Anthropologies.

Ethnographic Tactics

Ethnographers are stealing tricks and tools from lawyers, artists, historians, film makers, and biologists.  We are also pushing the bounds of the political with performative interventions.  In order to study elusive facets of power, anthropologists and allied culture workers are adding new tactics to the tool kit of ethnography.  Tactical interventions for Michel de Certeau (1984), involve using texts and artifacts in creative and rebellious ways, constantly manipulating events and seizing opportunities on the wing.  The Tactical Media movement of the 1990s in the arts, whose heroes included the prankster, the hacker, and “the camcorder kamikaze,” drew on de Certeau’s ideas to develop an aesthetic of poaching and tricking (Garcia and Lovink 1997).  Cheap Do It Yourself (DIY) media—consumer electronics and laboratory equipment—enabled artists in this movement to interrogate political, economic, and ethical questions by designing video games, setting up elaborate hoaxes, and even creating their own genetically modified organisms (Marcus 2000, da Costa and Philip 2008, Raley 2009, Fortun 2012).  Ethnographers have become infected by the DIY ethos and are dabbling in new fields as amateurs (de-skilling) and acquiring new specialized training (re-skilling) to responsibly enter new domains (Bishop 2011).  This panel will showcase a range of new tactics available to anthropologists by bringing ethnographers into conversation with scholars in allied disciplines as well as creative practitioners.  Dehlia Hannah, a philosopher, will chronicle her participation in a “performative experiment” which involved staging an outdated pregnancy test (involving a live Xenopus frog) to get us thinking and speaking differently about gender, multispecies entanglements, and the social epistemology of laboratory protocols.  Eben Kirksey will depart from insights about “tactical biopolitics” gleaned from bioartists at The Multispecies Salon, an art exhibit, to reframe anthropology’s engagements with the natural sciences.  Nicholas Shapiro will talk about the ethnographic tactics he developed at the intersection of chemistry, art, and biology to track toxic domestic ecosystems from the FEMA trailers after Hurricane Katrina to tightly-sealed high-end green homes in Silicon Valley.   The Oscar-nominated director, Joshua Oppenheimer, will discuss how he had perpetrators of mass murder reenact their crimes for his film, the Act of Killing.  Ryan Shapiro, a historian and transparency activist, will describe how he has used Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests as a tactic to learn about FBI surveillance practices of animal rights advocates and environmental activists.  If anthropology was once in an “experimental moment” with cultural critique (Marcus and Fischer 1986), the presentations on this panel will describe emergent modes of experimental practice at the intersection of art, science, and politics.

In the News

In September 2010 Eben testified before the U.S. Congress about massacres in West Papua.

He joined Indonesian investigative reporter Andreas Harsono in 2008 to publish "Criminal Collaborations", a peer-reviewed article about Indonesian military involvement in the murder of two Americans. This research started a lively discussion in the Indonesian media and sparked a series of media articles in publications such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the International Herald Tribune. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! invited Eben to discuss this research on her news show.