Table of Con­tents | Arti­cle doi: 10.17742/IMAGE.MM.12.2.7 | PDF

Resilience in Pan­dem­ic Sense­mak­ing Mary Eliz­a­beth Luka

Resilience in Pandemic Sensemaking: Thinking Through a Community of Practice

Mary Eliz­a­beth Luka

In the fall of 2020, a series of videos cre­at­ed for the explorato­ry shared expe­ri­ence called Mas­sive Micro Sense­mak­ing were pre­sent­ed at the Vir­tu­al Inter­na­tion­al Arts (VIA) Fes­ti­val for Social Change in New York. In this arti­cle, Luka con­sid­ers these works as car­ing, reflec­tive and expres­sive prac­tices of resilience dur­ing a glob­al cri­sis, while ques­tion­ing who ben­e­fits from pro­mot­ing ideas about social resilience in such circumstances.

À l'automne 2020, une série de vidéos créées pour une expéri­ence partagée exploratoire, appelée Mas­sive Micro Sense­mak­ing, a été présen­tée au Vir­tu­al Inter­na­tion­al Arts (VIA) Fes­ti­val for Social Change à New York. Dans cet arti­cle, Luka con­sid­ère ces vidéos comme des pra­tiques de résilience bien­veil­lantes, réflex­ives et expres­sives dans un con­texte de crise mon­di­ale, tout en se deman­dant à qui prof­ite la pro­mo­tion d'idées sur la résilience sociale dans de telles circonstances.


On Octo­ber 27, 2020, 40 peo­ple from around the Eng­lish-speak­ing world met on the COVID-19 pandemic’s ubiq­ui­tous gath­er­ing plat­form, Zoom, to screen and dis­cuss a col­lec­tion of 14 videos. It was the first night of a three-day inter­na­tion­al salon-gath­er­ing-slash-vir­tu­al-per­for­mance-fes­ti­val, the Vir­tu­al Inter­na­tion­al Arts (VIA) Fes­ti­val for Social Change, host­ed by the Mark De Gar­mo Dance Com­pa­ny. The lat­ter is a non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion that sup­ports inter­dis­ci­pli­nary pro­gram­ming in New York City, tar­get­ed to under-served school-age stu­dents (https://​markde​gar​modance​.org/). De Gar­mo chore­o­graphs and per­forms dance-the­atre as well as host­ing per­for­mance art and time-based media salons, such as the VIA fes­ti­val where the MMS videos were exhib­it­ed. The nom­i­nal rev­enues gen­er­at­ed by dona­tions to the orga­ni­za­tion help cov­er the costs of exhi­bi­tions, dis­cus­sion forums, dance-the­atre per­for­mances, and edu­ca­tion­al programs.

The first night of the Octo­ber 2020 VIA Fes­ti­val fea­tured videos gen­er­at­ed by a 21-day autoethno­graph­ic prompts ini­tia­tive, Mas­sive Micro Sense­mak­ing, (Markham and Har­ris 2020) that had end­ed just four months ear­li­er, on June 7. Curat­ed into batch­es of five to eight min­utes of view­ing (four batch­es of three videos; one of two videos), the pre­sen­ta­tion hon­oured the messy pro­duc­tion val­ues required by the rapid response and mul­ti­ple file trans­fers used in these short-term time-based respons­es. Inter­spersed with five-minute dis­cus­sion inter­ludes with the three cura­tors and sev­er­al of the mak­ers, the hour-long event cre­at­ed a bub­ble of vis­cer­al, intense reminders about what it had been like in the first weeks of the lock­downs, with­in which to watch, revis­it, react, feel, and reflect on COVID-19 times, so far. Months lat­er, it is evi­dent (as with oth­er arti­cles in this spe­cial issue) that the lay­ers of obser­va­tion, reac­tion, and ear­ly analy­sis gen­er­at­ed with­in these ear­ly “bub­bles” (see Peterken, this issue) by MMS par­tic­i­pants allowed the schol­ars, artists, and activists a way to feel con­nect­ed to oth­ers through star­tling shifts in aware­ness of unfold­ing life expe­ri­ences, to active­ly pause their own research agen­das, and to explore a shared autoethno­graph­ic expe­ri­ence. More than this, how­ev­er, in this arti­cle, I explore how some­times seem­ing­ly super­fi­cial notions of resilience embed­ded in the video pro­duc­tions are deeply, if ten­ta­tive­ly, felt, and can be unpacked as expres­sions not just of the tan­ta­liz­ing promise of MMS (mak­ing sense of the world col­lec­tive­ly through ‘sense­mak­ing’), but also how it might con­nect to long-stand­ing con­sid­er­a­tions of cul­tur­al trau­ma devel­oped by Indige­nous schol­ars and artists such as Thomas King and Cheryl L’Hirondelle. As the world (at the macro lev­el) and the par­tic­i­pants (at the micro lev­el) emerge from that first year of extreme flux due to COVID-19, to what extent will shifts in research and cre­ative prac­tice and the kind of col­le­gial­i­ty engen­dered by MMS with its 165 par­tic­i­pants take hold in the longer term, and why does this mat­ter? I exam­ine the cura­to­r­i­al threads drawn through the VIA Fes­ti­val pro­gram­ming sequence and peer through the lens­es of the videos of that evening—and a few oth­er artworks—to bet­ter under­stand what the process offered beyond imme­di­ate cathar­sis and pre­lim­i­nary sense-mak­ing about the sit­u­a­tion evolving—or some­times unraveling—before us.

Massive Micro Sensemaking

The MMS project came call­ing in April 2020, just a cou­ple of weeks after the ini­tial nation­al lock­down in Cana­da in response to the emerg­ing COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. Annette Markham, one of the orga­niz­ers (then based in Den­mark), asked if I would be inter­est­ed in col­lab­o­rat­ing on an autoethno­graph­ic creative/critical research response to the pan­dem­ic. Like so many oth­ers, I was intent on mak­ing sense of what was hap­pen­ing, as well as alter­nate­ly resist­ing and accept­ing the changes to dai­ly life that it was obvi­ous had arrived. So, I said yes. On the work front, my prepa­ra­tion for sum­mer research involv­ing vis­its to cre­ative hubs across the coun­try had come to a screech­ing halt. I had flipped my win­ter cours­es to online deliv­ery over the week­end. We offi­cial­ly tran­si­tioned from win­ter to spring and had deliv­ered the last three weeks of the course in a shock­ing­ly dif­fer­ent way than antic­i­pat­ed. And I was prepar­ing to teach an inten­sive, mul­ti-dis­ci­pli­nary meth­ods course for 20 grad­u­ate stu­dents online at the largest uni­ver­si­ty in the coun­try. The stu­dents I work with come from dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines and degrees as well as diverse schol­ar­ly and pro­fes­sion­al back­grounds and exhib­it var­i­ous lev­els of com­fort with being online for course­work. While some were reg­is­tered in dig­i­tal design pro­grams, most were in edu­ca­tion, man­age­ment, or arts-based cours­es. As for me, the mul­ti-dis­ci­pli­nary course was the sev­enth new-to-me course in a row. I was exhaust­ed and felt unmoored in life and work, com­ing into the lock­down. The unfold­ing MMS prepa­ra­tion and process­es helped to ground me.

While there have been sev­er­al ear­ly out­pour­ings of schol­ar­ly, pro­fes­sion­al, prag­mat­ic, and cre­ative reflec­tions on the impact of the pan­dem­ic, this paper takes a step back to exam­ine the way in which COVID-inflect­ed pro­duc­tions set the stage to help shape accep­tance of dis­rup­tion and emer­gent visu­al cul­ture pre­sen­ta­tion prac­tices online. One of the out­comes of MMS was a series of videos pro­grammed for view­ing at the Mark De Gar­mo Vir­tu­al Inter­na­tion­al Arts (VIA) Fes­ti­val for Social Change on Octo­ber 27, 2020, an event that pro­vid­ed the non-prof­it edu­ca­tion­al and per­for­mance com­pa­ny, Mark De Gar­mo Dance, with an engag­ing online event man­age­ment expe­ri­ence. The first video pre­sent­ed that night was “Run Bun­ny Run” (Bastick et al., 2020, 0:51 mins).

Figure 1: Still from “Run Bunny Run” (Bastick et al., 2020, 0:51 mins).

Run Bun­ny Run” (Bastick et al., 2020, 0:51 mins)

Stills of the gold-foil-wrapped choco­late ‘bun­ny’ in the ‘out­side world,’ cou­pled with the threat­en­ing, pound­ing music in the sound­track video pathet­i­cal­ly and hilar­i­ous­ly rep­re­sent the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty that many peo­ple felt in the ear­ly days of the pan­dem­ic lock­downs and the urge to some­how escape the sit­u­a­tion, even if that meant self-injury or destruc­tion. Its gen­tle but deci­sive­ly fatal opti­mism results in the dis­so­lu­tion of itself as an object—every loca­tion it vis­its results in fur­ther melt­ing, in just 51 seconds—even while sug­gest­ing that there is a way ahead, which is ful­ly unknown and yet to be shaped.

In the heart-pound­ing ear­ly days of shel­ter-in-place/s­tay-at-home orders, in late April and ear­ly May, I worked behind the scenes with Markham and her co-lead in the MMS project, Dan Har­ris, to pre­pare a series of 21 prompts for use between May 18 and June 7 (Markham and Har­ris). These exer­cis­es were designed to acti­vate clas­sic crit­i­cal autoethnog­ra­phy as method by: “(1) dis­rupt­ing norms of research prac­tice and rep­re­sen­ta­tion; (2) work­ing from insid­er knowl­edge; (3) maneu­ver­ing through pain, con­fu­sion, anger and uncer­tain­ty and mak­ing life bet­ter; (4) break­ing silence/(re) claim­ing voice and writ­ing to right; and (5) mak­ing work acces­si­ble” (Hol­man Jones et al., 32, empha­sis in orig­i­nal). These qual­i­ties make crit­i­cal autoethnog­ra­phy a unique­ly suit­able method for explor­ing com­plex under­stand­ings of resilience and sur­vivance. As I explore below, “resilience” (McRob­bie) was one of the terms that was fre­quent­ly used in ref­er­ence to the chang­ing social con­di­tions exac­er­bat­ed or caused by the unfurl­ing of the COVID-19 glob­al pan­dem­ic, though the way in which it was deployed has more in com­mon with how cre­ative work­ers in the arts devel­op pro­fes­sion­al capac­i­ty in pre­car­i­ous work con­di­tions com­pared to how the relat­ed term, “sur­vivance” (Vizenor), is used by Indige­nous schol­ars and artists in regard to trau­mat­ic social changes or conditions.

In Markham and Harris’s ini­tial call for papers for a poten­tial spe­cial issue on the autoethno­graph­ic expe­ri­ences of COVID-19 to a vari­ety of List­servs, more than 150 peo­ple respond­ed with abstracts (includ­ing the 20 grad­u­ate stu­dents I was teach­ing). The 21 days of autoethno­graph­ic prompts was a way to build a com­mu­ni­ty of con­nec­tion and con­duct research about sud­den manda­to­ry forms of social iso­la­tion at a time when the sen­sa­tion of iso­la­tion was more unfa­mil­iar and there­by intense (Markham, Har­ris, and Luka 2020). One recur­rent theme that has since become a trope of the times, “being togeth­er, alone,” was pro­mot­ed by gov­ern­ments glob­al­ly as a way to behave for the fore­see­able and unknown future. In con­trast, the ini­tial chal­lenge posed in the MMS call began with ques­tions to observe what impacts such exhor­ta­tions were hav­ing on peo­ple (as indi­vid­u­als or in a social con­text): “How is the expe­ri­ence of COVID-19 trans­form­ing every­day life? How are we mak­ing sense of this moment on both a glob­al and gran­u­lar scale?” Lat­er, every sin­gle dai­ly prompt would begin with this directive:

You have 24 hours to com­plete this task. The goal, as we will repeat dai­ly like a mantra, is to build our embod­ied sen­si­bil­i­ties toward the mate­r­i­al we study, prac­tice autoethno­graph­ic forms of analy­sis, and trans­form our per­son­al expe­ri­ences through this COVID-19 moment into crit­i­cal under­stand­ing of scale, sense­mak­ing, and rela­tion­al­i­ty of humans, non­hu­mans, and the planet.”(Markham and Har­ris, 2020)

One of the prompts that I was deeply invest­ed in was Prompt 3, which was a vari­a­tion on anoth­er COVID-19 research-cre­ation project, EXC-19 (https://​exc​-19​.com/, Luka 2020). This pre­ced­ing cre­ative project had invit­ed artists, stu­dents, researchers, and oth­er inter­est­ed peo­ple to work togeth­er in a team of four to pro­duce an “exquis­ite corpse” video, with­out know­ing who the oth­er three peo­ple were. Midi Onodera, the cre­ator and pro­duc­er of the project, noted:

[EXC-19 was] based on the Sur­re­al­ist draw­ing game, ‘The Exquis­ite Corpse’, mod­i­fied for the mov­ing image. Each video would begin with a writ­ten piece of 19 words [because…COVID-19]. This text was then ran­dom­ly and anony­mous­ly giv­en to some­one else to shoot video, pho­tos or source found footage that some­how spoke to the writ­ten word. The footage would then be for­ward­ed to anoth­er per­son for edit­ing and final­ly a fourth per­son would cre­ate the sound­track. The ‘col­lab­o­ra­tors’ for each video would only be revealed once the video had been com­plet­ed.” (EXC-19 website)

I used the EXC-19 expe­ri­ence as inspi­ra­tion for the MMS ver­sion of a media-based Exquis­ite Corpse game. A sign-up sheet in the shared Google fold­er allowed for up to four peo­ple to come togeth­er for MMS-EXC. Peo­ple who did not yet know each oth­er could com­mit to under­tak­ing this process togeth­er, act­ing as an ice-break­er to get to know one anoth­er as well as a cre­ative exer­cise and prompt response. Many man­aged to com­plete their own step of the exer­cise with­in 24-48 hours (as direct­ed by the prompt and notwith­stand­ing mul­ti­ple time zones), which result­ed in sev­er­al videos being com­plet­ed with­in a week.

The two videos that I was involved in met the cri­te­ria of Prompt 3. The Group 6 video, “Land Here” (Gall­away-Mitchell et al., 2020, 1:11 mins), used pro­gres­sive­ly stark still images from a research site in the north, each fea­tur­ing local birds and wildlife, except for one col­lage of four images of heavy-duty equip­ment in the mid­dle of the sequence. While the first image of a bird showed it fly­ing in a wide open sky, the next images of birds were shown mov­ing around har­bour waters and the rest moved through stages of death and decom­po­si­tion. The sound­track was com­posed from wind, bird sounds and machine sounds, waves float­ing in and out of hear­ing. The group that had cre­at­ed this video loved it, though it was not shared with the rest of the MMS project because the images came from a research site and were not meant to be revealed, a con­di­tion shared after the video had been com­plet­ed. Nonethe­less, the objec­tives of the exer­cise were achieved, as all the par­tic­i­pants came to know each other’s work a bit bet­ter and to feel more involved as part of the larg­er group. The oth­er Prompt 3 video I was involved in, “Zoom Haiku,” (Hol­ford, Markham, Luka, and Har­ris, 2020, 1:15 mins) incor­po­rat­ed a cacoph­o­ny of images typ­i­cal of the ear­ly days of the lock­downs (social media screen grabs from ‘doom­scrolling,’ lone­ly though often con­tem­pla­tive walks by the shore, puz­zles, marks on a paper from unfin­ished or only briefly glimpsed draw­ings, head­lines from politi­cians false­ly claim­ing to have con­tained the virus, and, increas­ing­ly, screen cap­tures of glitch­es) with glitzy, tacky titles reveal­ing the 19-word ‘haiku’, over­laid with a beau­ti­ful­ly calm­ing piano sound­track com­bined with the sound of waves and wind. Many of the videos fea­tured at the Octo­ber 27 VIA Fes­ti­val event took a close look at the expe­ri­ence of sud­den­ly enforced iso­la­tion, with sev­er­al using sim­i­lar­ly jar­ring jux­ta­po­si­tions of sound, image, and text, includ­ing the sec­ond and third ones screened at the VIA Fes­ti­val, “Braid­ing Dis­lo­cat­ed Lives” (Frølunde, Peterken, Phillips, and Che­mi, 2020, 2:25 mins) and “The Thresh­old of Sound” (Carl­son, Markham, Stir­ling, and Zheng, 2020, 1:50 mins).

Figure 2: Still from “The Threshold of Sound” (Carlson et al., 2020, 1:50 mins).

Braid­ing Dis­lo­cat­ed Lives” (Frølunde et al; 2020, 2:25 mins)

In the first half, a del­i­cate sound­track of rain is over­laid on stills of the sky, a vague­ly fig­u­ra­tive (blue) paint­ing and a short video of a snail mov­ing along the ground. The text exhorts view­ers to “watch slowness/feel slowness/be slow­ness.” In the sec­ond half, stills from protests over Indige­nous lands and a white per­son wear­ing a white mask are paired with a video clip of the destruc­tion of white mask­ing mate­ri­als, while the text cri­tiques “white priv­i­lege.” The only sound in the sec­ond half is ambi­ent sound from the mask mate­r­i­al destruc­tion. The title sug­gests that the video­mak­ers are attempt­ing to “braid” togeth­er dif­fer­ent life expe­ri­ences to jar view­ers out of com­pla­cen­cy, using the “dislocate[ion]” of the pan­dem­ic expe­ri­ence to com­pel us towards a call to action to ame­lio­rate embed­ded inequities. All this, while work­ing close­ly and fast with strangers-becom­ing-col­leagues, at a time when the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment was regain­ing strength.

What was evi­dent at the screen­ing of these videos was the degree to which they could evoke the sen­sa­tions of the first few months of lock­down, when so much change seemed both impos­si­ble (lock­down behav­iours) and impos­si­bly hope­ful (social change). Less than a year after the ear­li­est lock­downs in Aus­tralia, Asia, and then Europe and North Amer­i­ca, the hush that fell while watch­ing these raw reac­tions to the cir­cum­stances of the moment illus­trat­ed how those chaot­ic, deter­mined, some­times fran­tic reac­tions were still with us. As I write this, more than a year after those first lock­downs, the research doc­u­ment­ing longer term men­tal health, social and cul­tur­al effects is just start­ing to emerge.

The Thresh­old of Sound” (Carl­son et al., 2020, 1:50 mins)

A mix of sounds drawn from protests, bird­song, piano music, and mechan­i­cal com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed or mod­u­lat­ed audio, (e.g. “Hel­lo, my name is Karen,” “do you take care of your­self?, I want you to,” “hash­tag what I learned today,” “link/image/analysis,” “June 3, 2020,” “even the sharp punc­tures of bird calls in the ear­ly morn­ing future…I’m sure it’s just a phase” were among the deci­pher­able phras­es) were com­bined with black and pur­ple screens fea­tur­ing count­downs. This form of sam­pling was clear­ly ‘ripped from the head­lines’ of social events, par­tic­u­lar­ly those pre­sent­ed and re-pre­sent­ed thou­sands and tens of thou­sands of times on social media, such as the growth of #BLM, or COVID precautions.

The “Braid­ing” video delib­er­ate­ly set the micro/macro views side by side (first half com­pared to sec­ond half), while the “Thresh­old of Sound” video aimed to inte­grate these lens­es. The lat­ter may be because “Thresh­old” was gen­er­at­ed out of Prompt 21, the sec­ond delib­er­ate­ly col­lab­o­ra­tive prompt, meant to take up to a week or more to com­plete after the rest of the prompts were done. As a final crit­i­cal autoethno­graph­ic (Hol­man Jones et al., 2014) exer­cise, this one aimed to com­pel some more enriched reflec­tion and analy­sis but in a small group. Again, par­tic­i­pants were encour­aged to reach out to each oth­er, on shared Google docs, the group Face­book page, or the List­serv, to build teams, but this time after hav­ing learned some­thing about each oth­er from the shar­ing of respons­es to pre­vi­ous prompts, includ­ing visu­al and time-based media. Prompt 21 asked:

Find at least two oth­er peo­ple in the group to address the ques­tion: “What is going on here?” This is a clas­sic ethno­graph­ic ques­tion. It is a ques­tion that seems sim­ple but relies on immer­sion and “thick” under­stand­ing of the cul­tur­al sit­u­a­tion to answer. It is a ques­tion that asks the researcher to move past sim­ply describ­ing what’s present­ly hap­pen­ing, to con­sid­er what these par­tic­u­lar­i­ties of the sit­u­a­tion mean, at a more abstract, cul­tur­al lev­el. In this activ­i­ty, you should make a final per­for­mance with your group, in what­ev­er way you choose. Post for the whole group on the mail­ing list. Please use the mail­ing list for shar­ing your team’s product(ion), since this is the only place where all the par­tic­i­pants have access.” (Markham and Har­ris, 2020, p.13)

While some of the videos fea­tured in the VIA Fes­ti­val were drawn from the Prompt 3 videos, a sub­stan­tial num­ber were drawn from Prompt 21, 18 days lat­er. Between Prompt 3 and Prompt 21, much had hap­pened in the broad­er world, includ­ing the mur­der of George Floyd by Min­neapo­lis police action, and a surge of protests in sup­port of the anti-black-racism social move­ment Black Lives Mat­ter around the world. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, the respons­es to Prompt 21 tend­ed to oscil­late between the micro (e.g. close obser­va­tions of one person’s expe­ri­ence) and the macro (e.g. world events, stance in the world, etc.), much more than the pri­mar­i­ly micro-focused respons­es to ear­li­er prompts (includ­ing Prompt 3) had done. But the Prompt 3 respons­es gen­er­at­ed more raw, explorato­ry, or inter­est­ing­ly unre­solved pieces. I have been think­ing a lot about why this was the case, and turn to a recent­ly pub­lished man­i­festo on research-cre­ation ground­ed in psy­cho­analy­sis to think this through ana­lyt­i­cal­ly and in more affec­tive and vis­cer­al ways.

The end of the world or just another shift?

During the first few months of the pan­dem­ic in North Amer­i­ca, through my involve­ment in EXC-19 and then with MMS, I revis­it­ed research-cre­ation com­mit­ments and prac­tices that had been impor­tant in ear­li­er work (e.g. Luka 2020, 2018), build­ing on my own prac­tice as a video artist and then as a dig­i­tal media pro­duc­er and pol­i­cy-mak­er. Through video and audio edit­ing, I observed that I could achieve a lev­el of defa­mil­iar­iza­tion with what I was exam­in­ing, includ­ing at the affec­tive lev­el. Defa­mil­iar­iza­tion was prefer­able to seek­ing dis­tance, which was patent­ly impos­si­ble in the dra­mat­i­cal­ly devel­op­ing changes of the times, even while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly cre­at­ing some­thing watch­able or lis­ten­able. Sim­i­lar­ly, in Natal­ie Loveless’s recent book on research-cre­ation as a mode of schol­ar­ly pro­duc­tion and analy­sis, How to make art at the end of the world (2019), she dis­cuss­es the metaphor and sto­ry-telling impli­ca­tions of Don­na Haraway’s exam­i­na­tion of her rela­tion­ships with her dogs in Haraway’s Com­pan­ion Species Man­i­festo (2003). This con­sid­er­a­tion of the affec­tive work required to exam­ine inter-species rela­tions as a kind of defa­mil­iar­iz­ing sto­ry­telling process is a mod­el not just for under­stand­ing how to inves­ti­gate a com­plex prob­lem­at­ic, but par­tic­u­lar­ly to exam­ine a cir­cum­stance with­in which the per­son doing the inves­ti­ga­tion is deeply impli­cat­ed. In Loveless’s dis­cus­sion of Haraway’s book, as under­tak­en by a group of stu­dents, the fig­ure of the dog play­ful­ly comes into its metaphor­i­cal use as short­hand. Stu­dents became accus­tomed to ask­ing each oth­er “So what is your dog?” (p.25), which is to say, what are you exam­in­ing that you need to sep­a­rate out from your­self, even as you rec­og­nize how close­ly entwined you are with what you are look­ing at? In the con­text of my expe­ri­ence of EXC-19 and of the crit­i­cal autoethno­graph­ic expe­ri­ence at MMS, iden­ti­fy­ing the dog is sim­i­lar to ask­ing how to denat­u­ral­ize the sit­u­a­tion, the con­di­tions, the peo­ple and oth­er-than-peo­ple that are inter­sect­ing at the spe­cif­ic moment of the glob­al pan­dem­ic, and how this was being expe­ri­enced local­ly, or at micro lev­els. Ques­tions that can sup­port the kind of curios­i­ty Love­less aims to engen­der through research-cre­ation include autoethno­graph­ic ones posed at MMS, such as “why is this impor­tant?,” “who cares?,” “why?” and “what next?”

Such ques­tions also prompt cru­cial ways of gen­er­at­ing obser­va­tion at dif­fer­ent reg­is­ters (vis­cer­al, ana­lyt­i­cal, nar­ra­tive, descrip­tive, etc.), often explic­it­ly ground­ed in visu­al or oral cul­ture prac­tices. For exam­ple, in the man­i­festo, Love­less pairs this kind of curios­i­ty with Thomas King’s (2003) com­mit­ment to retelling var­i­ous iter­a­tions of “sto­ries of cre­ation” as the artic­u­la­tion of emer­gent ethics and val­ues sit­u­at­ed in time and place (Love­less, 19-21, 23, 24-25). Con­se­quent­ly, sto­ries (the abil­i­ty to put togeth­er a nar­ra­tive line, or the desire to string togeth­er images, words, and sounds in a time-based project) become flex­i­ble meth­ods to reflect on what can be under­stood as stead­fast forms of resilience in a social con­text. As I sug­gest below, the MMS videos demon­strate efforts towards the lat­ter; a loos­er and less resolved form of try­ing to under­stand shifts in social behav­iour and inter­pre­ta­tions of the world-as-it-is-now as these are recount­ed in King’s teach­ings about cre­ation sto­ries, and enjoined in Loveless’s “provocation…[that] the craft­ing of a research ques­tion is the craft­ing of a sto­ry that is also the craft­ing of an ethics” (pp. 24-25, empha­sis in the orig­i­nal). The sin­cere and atten­tive rework­ing of such sto­ries, between the time of MMS Prompts 3 and 21, and as research-cre­ation com­mu­ni­ties of prac­tice in evolv­ing envi­ron­ments, enabled the scholars/artists involved to become more prac­ticed observers and ana­lysts of those sit­u­a­tions, how­ev­er raw and incom­plete (i.e. with­out con­clu­sion) those expe­ri­ences may have been.

Mak­ing use of the idea of emer­gent knowl­edge in this con­text insists it is not pos­si­ble or even desir­able to pre-know what is under obser­va­tion or being expe­ri­enced. While some para­me­ters can be set out around “the dog” in ques­tion, these need to allow for new infor­ma­tion to come through. Autoethno­graph­ic prac­tices, deep­ened through the some­times visu­al­ly awk­ward or unre­solved MMS videos, sim­ply aim to build steps towards illus­trat­ing one or more person’s rela­tion­ship to the world in a con­stant­ly shift­ing space, time, and set of reg­is­ters. By assem­bling these videos into one hour of shared expe­ri­ence, the VIA Fes­ti­val event began to point towards broad­er dis­com­fort­ing and more unre­solved social issues. As the months passed fol­low­ing the Fes­ti­val and ear­ly days of the pan­dem­ic, the dis­com­fort would only grow, as if the glob­al pause enact­ed by the sit­u­a­tion com­pelled priv­i­leged and mar­gin­al­ized groups alike to look around and see how dev­as­tat­ing the impacts of colo­nial­ism and sys­temic inequities were being felt in the cir­cum­stances. Efforts to con­nect seem­ing­ly dis­con­nect­ed expe­ri­ences, such as in the sec­ond set of videos curat­ed for the VIA Fes­ti­val, reflect­ed shifts from fran­tic or chaot­ic reac­tions to more measured—through still emergent—sensorial respons­es and social com­mit­ments. So, for exam­ple, “Marsh Wings Fad­ed” (Dun­lop, Wolf, Hutchin­son, and DeGar­mo, 2020), moved from hec­tic 1950s black and white com­mer­cial footage of white peo­ple con­sum­ing media to con­tem­pla­tive colour video clips of a lush green for­est. Sim­i­lar­ly, “Out, Emp­ty, Away” (Sed­dighi, Mur­ray, Dorsey, and Sar­watay, 2020) pulled on a nar­ra­tive thread that led from close-up images of micro spaces inside the home to a sub­tle exhor­ta­tion to become involved in protests to sup­port Black Lives Mat­ter, and to a cri­tique of white suprema­cy in the details of the stereo­typ­i­cal, seem­ing­ly safe mid­dle-class home. The final short video in this sequence, “Ice melt­ing on art­work” (Coop­er, 2020), act­ed as an inter­stice between these two videos and the next set of videos, com­prised of a moment-in-time-lapse with­out sound, and com­plete­ly with­out resolution.

Figure 3: Still from “Marsh Wings Faded” (Dunlop, Wolf, Hutchinson, and DeGarmo, 2020, 1:07 mins).

Marsh Wings Fad­ed” (Dun­lop, Wolf, Hutchin­son, and DeGar­mo, 2020, 1:07 mins)

Starts with found black and white footage and noisy pro­mo­tion­al ver­biage about the launch of tele­vi­sions in homes in the 1950s, as well as a scene out­side a com­muter train space. In the last half of the video, the footage is inter­cut with the 19-word text and video images of a deli­cious­ly lush green for­est, accom­pa­nied by a qui­et piano sonata, “On a Summer’s Day”.

Figure 4: Still from “Out, Empty, Away” (Seddighi, Murray, Dorsey, and Sarwatay, 2020, 3:29 mins).

Out, Emp­ty, Away” (Sed­dighi, Mur­ray, Dorsey, and Sar­watay, 2020, 3:29 mins)

Sev­er­al low-res­o­lu­tion stills are cut togeth­er, with images rang­ing from beige indoor spaces to colour­ful flow­ers and cups, keys on the counter, art­work, an open dog col­lar, research books, a laun­dry ham­per, i.e., every­day indoor micro scenes. One cen­tral image fea­tures an exhor­ta­tion to be (an) activist along­side an art poster with a sim­i­lar theme. The 19-word text is typed as if they were file fold­er labels stuck on top of images, with the penul­ti­mate words: breath, breath­less, BREATHE, fol­lowed by kitchen-based images (a bleach called “White King”, salt [to rub in the wounds of racism?], vit­a­min pill box, timer, etc.). The sound is a sim­ple, syn­the­sized, qui­et, con­tem­pla­tive refrain.

Ice melt­ing on art­work” (Coop­er, 2020, 0:23 mins, no sound)

This rough time-elapse sketch was a response to the potent nature of Prompt 7, which asked par­tic­i­pants to hold an ice cube in their hands until it melt­ed, and curat­ed into the VIA col­lec­tion as an indi­ca­tor of some of the raw respons­es to the prompts. For many, Prompt 7 was among the most pow­er­ful­ly evoca­tive prompts, and marked a turn­ing point in depth of obser­va­tion and analy­sis dur­ing MMS. For an expand­ed response to this prompt, see Wei Li’s poet­ic-dance-pho­to­graph­ic essay (Li 2020).

What I appre­ci­at­ed most about the col­lab­o­ra­tion between MMS and Mark De Gar­mo Dance was the oppor­tu­ni­ty for both pro­fes­sion­al and aspir­ing artists and schol­ar­ly or cre­ative autoethno­g­ra­phers to pro­duc­tive­ly reflect on their explo­ration of research-cre­ation as a mode and method for engag­ing in the every­day world in front of them/us: both those who were involved in the process, and those who wit­nessed these out­comes. To be able to share the stage with new peers and to flex mus­cles as they were being acquired was a gift that a bur­geon­ing prac­ti­tion­er could only hope for in the heart of the pan­dem­ic. View­ers were reward­ed with some gems of expres­sion that cap­tured aspi­ra­tions, emo­tions, and analy­ses but were also almost entire­ly unre­solved, much like the sit­u­a­tion with­in which they found them­selves. So what? Why does this mat­ter? For one thing, the two VIA Fes­ti­val events and sev­er­al month­ly Salon events (over the last three years) exper­i­ment with how per­for­mance and visu­al arts can be expe­ri­en­tial­ly pre­sent­ed in con­text and in dis­cus­sion. In COVID-19 times, the VIA Fes­ti­val and month­ly Salon events were part of a much broad­er social exper­i­ment in the arts that tack­led the chal­lenges of con­vey­ing vis­cer­al cre­ative and social engage­ments online. For exam­ple, sub­se­quent VIA Fes­ti­val and Salon pre­sen­ta­tions fea­tured more live dance per­for­mance stream­ing than the first VIA Fes­ti­val, as well as the abil­i­ty to watch these after the fact for a mod­est pay-what-you-will fee. This emer­gent prac­tice is an exem­plar of how quick­ly and effec­tive­ly some arts orga­ni­za­tions (par­tic­u­lar­ly those with an edu­ca­tion­al as well as aes­thet­ic man­date) adapt­ed to the new world (dis)order. As the Unit­ed States con­tin­ues its move back into ‘real world’ per­for­mances, the VIA Fes­ti­val pro­duc­ers are able to con­tin­ue to pro­gram inter­na­tion­al­ly for online pre­sen­ta­tion while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly con­sid­er­ing the future of live in-per­son events in New York.

Seeing something anew, again

The leg­i­bil­i­ty or opaque­ness of the MMS videos after the fact of their pro­duc­tion tells us some­thing about the intense­ly spe­cif­ic nature of the time in which these videos were pro­duced. In Thomas King’s terms, each of these videos aspired to present a micro-ele­ment of the pan­dem­ic sto­ry, the cre­ation of new (or the dou­bling-down on not-so-new) social con­di­tions, and var­i­ous stances that humans involved took in rela­tion to social jus­tice, health, and cul­ture in May and June 2020. Of course, the oth­er activ­i­ties that were gen­er­at­ed by the 21-day MMS project also puz­zled over this ques­tion, but were not shared in a pub­lic forum with the intent to digest and analyse how var­i­ous con­di­tions had changed (if they had), or what the rever­ber­a­tions of the ear­ly expe­ri­ence of the pan­dem­ic would or could be. By pre­sent­ing and reflect­ing on the videos in an exhi­bi­tion and dis­cus­sion set­ting, the par­tic­i­pants began to turn to ques­tions that had arisen or been act­ed upon since their ini­tial autoethno­graph­ic respons­es, such as how to incor­po­rate and move beyond the expe­ri­ence of the pan­dem­ic in a healthy gen­er­a­tive way, in pro­fes­sion­al or per­son­al or social lives. These includ­ed whether there were lessons to be learned about what was use­ful or desir­able about pan­dem­ic con­di­tions (min­i­mal trav­el, a decrease in con­sumerism, time to write, etc.), or recov­ery strate­gies to be devel­oped to ame­lio­rate dam­age that was done dur­ing this time, or to what degree par­tic­i­pa­tion in social jus­tice protests and efforts to change nation-state reg­u­la­tions, leg­is­la­tion, and bud­get process­es could affect polic­ing prac­tices, pol­i­cy devel­op­ment, and funding.

Figure 5: Still from “The Warrior” (Torres, Peterken, Jones, and Chen, 2020, 0:51 mins).

The War­rior” (Tor­res, Peterken, Jones, and Chen, 2020, 0:51 mins)

This response to Prompt 3 was typ­i­cal of the ear­ly group videos, it is par­tic­u­lar­ly con­tem­pla­tive and hope­ful. The Ken Burns effect (a slight push in to a tighter ver­sion of the image) was applied to sev­er­al still images, most of them fea­tur­ing blue skies or the colour blue. Only one image dis­rupt­ed that even slight­ly: a blue sign with the word “Emer­gency” on it. A light, calm, melod­ic line repeat­ed through­out, and the 19-word equal­ly calm­ing text appeared at the end briefly.

Paces” (Shel­ton, Cooke, and Wong, 2020, 2:28 mins)

This response to Prompt 21 was typ­i­cal of the later—more direc­tive and nar­ra­tive­ly smoothed-out—group videos. As con­tem­pla­tive as the one that pre­ced­ed it in the line­up, “Paces” used a calm­ing sound­track of some­one walk­ing on con­crete (a side­walk? a road?), a slight breeze and bird­song vague­ly in the air as a through-line. But this time, the sound was com­bined with a series of 26 still images, most­ly screen cap­tures of head­lines and pho­tographs pub­lished in news out­lets in May and June 2020 about protests against grow­ing polit­i­cal oppres­sion and racism in Aus­tralia, Hong Kong, and the USA, as well as reports of the increas­ing lev­els of infec­tion and death tolls from the virus. None of these images remained still, with a com­bi­na­tion of push­es, pans, and tilts over the two to five sec­onds each image was onscreen. Along with the sounds of walk­ing, this cre­at­ed a sense of move­ment and sol­i­dar­i­ty but also a sense of the intran­si­gent and increas­ing­ly vis­i­ble nature of the prob­lems being high­light­ed. The stills were inter­spersed with a screen cap­ture of a video of typ­ing out the lines from “a Chi­nese ancient poem/Written while tak­ing sev­en paces/By: Cao Zhi.” The poem rein­forced the anger, grief and con­fu­sion aris­ing from the pan­dem­ic, bemoan­ing the cook­ing of peas in a pot (“why boil us so hot?”), using the very husks that had nur­tured the peas to stoke the fire, while con­nect­ing the present-day sit­u­a­tion to much old­er oppres­sions and resis­tances. This was the only video in the exhi­bi­tion that used a lan­guage oth­er than English.

Team 2 EXC” (Shel­ton, Shields, Cooke, and Wong, 2020; 1:26 mins)

This Prompt 3 video (from May) used a draw­ing of a typ­i­cal Zoom meet­ing of the time, with fac­ul­ty at a uni­ver­si­ty as the visu­al foun­da­tion, and sev­er­al tex­tu­al quo­ta­tions in Eng­lish super­im­posed on the images, rolled across, spun or tum­bled into view. These includ­ed “you’re on mute,” “can you mute your­self? I hear a blender in the back­ground”, phone calls inter­rupt­ing the meet­ing, and then ques­tions about the dan­gers of return­ing to work in per­son or the pre­car­i­ty of jobs that may have been asked in the chat or out loud, and a final com­mit­ment by the meet­ing lead to send a poll around “for next week’s meet­ing” when they “might have some answers.” The cam­era was always mov­ing; it ‘pushed in’ to var­i­ous peo­ple depend­ing on the text pre­sent­ed on screen, or ‘pulled back’ when the ques­tion became more gen­er­al. Mar­tial, rhyth­mic music (heavy on bass and drum) played in the back­ground. A sin­gle two-line head­line was repeat­ed at the begin­ning and end of the video: “BREAKING NEWS: ‘Tram­pling our rights’/Terrorists pre­tend­ing to be pro­tes­tors, scream­ing spit­tle about shel­ter-in-place ‘tram­pling our rights.’” The vio­lence of the lan­guage in the head­line, the anonymiz­ing of the spe­cif­ic meeting(s), the relent­less­ness of the inter­rup­tions and the back­ground music, the inabil­i­ty to read emo­tion or make con­nec­tion to any­one on the screen, and the con­stant­ly mov­ing text across the screen repli­cat­ed the sense of agi­ta­tion and anx­i­ety that many of the respons­es to the prompts shared in the MMS21 group doc­u­ment­ed about ear­ly shel­ter-at-home lock­downs. There was noth­ing resolved about the sit­u­a­tion, even while there were evi­dent efforts to com­mu­ni­cate and sup­port the participants.

As the dev­as­tat­ing nature of the ways in which the pan­dem­ic exac­er­bat­ed inequitable social con­di­tions became clear­er (between Prompts 3 and 21, and then between the end of the 21-day expe­ri­ence and the Octo­ber event), the videos began to present images and text that expressed con­flict­ing notions of resilience and col­lec­tive action. What makes some­one “resilient” in cir­cum­stances such as pan­demics, or dur­ing broad-based protests about col­lec­tive ver­sus indi­vid­ual rights across social groups or about anti-racism? What is meant by “resilience”? Why do some gov­ern­ments attempt to ame­lio­rate a severe eco­nom­ic crash as part of a resilience strat­e­gy and oth­ers do not? The ques­tion of who ben­e­fits is key.

Resilience is one of the terms often used to describe the abil­i­ty to move past/put behind us/cover over past trau­mas, big and small. Under extreme con­di­tions, sur­viv­ing severe social trau­ma expe­ri­enced across whole cul­tures for gen­er­a­tions, such as by Indige­nous peo­ples in North Amer­i­ca and else­where, has pre­vi­ous­ly been described as “sur­vivance” (Vizenor, 2008). Here, I turn to the work of Cheryl L’Hirondelle to illus­trate sur­vivance as a form of resilience. Draw­ing on the idea of “speak­ing the world,” per­for­mance artist Cheryl L’Hirondelle talks about Cree “sounding[s] of the world­view” (L’Hirondelle, Alvarez, and Zointz, 290) as deeply con­nect­ed to lan­guage. Sim­i­lar­ly, Thomas King’s (2003) vari­a­tions in the telling of cre­ation sto­ries are a way of accom­mo­dat­ing and speak­ing the world out loud, com­ple­ment­ing the con­cept of sur­vivance as a pos­i­tive attribute emerg­ing from trau­mat­ic expe­ri­ences, often mobi­lized in research about the sur­vival and evo­lu­tions of Indige­nous cul­tures. These are not just ways to defa­mil­iar­ize and chal­lenge the seem­ing impla­ca­bil­i­ty of the sur­round­ing con­di­tions, but also to acti­vate the impor­tance and strength of lan­guage in the main­te­nance and adapt­abil­i­ty (sur­vivance) of cul­tures, par­tic­u­lar­ly Indige­nous cultures.

Sim­i­lar­ly, S. Rose O’Leary (2020) applies the lens of sur­vivance to focus on dias­poric impacts on iden­ti­ty through cre­ative sto­ry­telling and image-mak­ing. O’Leary’s account tack­les the macro impli­ca­tions of sur­vivance as both strat­e­gy and inex­orable con­di­tion from the per­spec­tive of large eth­no-cul­tur­al groups of peo­ple com­pelled to migrate glob­al­ly and there­by to make rad­i­cal cul­tur­al, emo­tion­al, and intel­lec­tu­al changes or com­mit­ments because of inequitable, shift­ing social con­di­tions. This bears a resem­blance to Cheryl L’Hirondelle and Thomas King’s work, but also to the micro-lev­el work of MMS over its 21 days of prompts.

While some forms of resilience acknowl­edge chal­lenges to and sur­vival of dis­crete forms of iden­ti­ty, cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion, and social expe­ri­ences, even as these are being trans­formed by dete­ri­o­rat­ing social or work con­di­tions, the term is also used in the cre­ative econ­o­my as a pri­mar­i­ly lauda­to­ry and desired char­ac­ter­is­tic for work­ers in the sec­tor, who expe­ri­ence pre­car­i­ty and often dam­ag­ing work con­di­tions. Meant to express less about trau­ma and more about adapt­abil­i­ty, the notion of resilience in the cul­ture sec­tor is often mobi­lized to help explain the process or method of inte­grat­ing emer­gent and com­pet­ing forms of iden­ti­ty or social mores, includ­ing through cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion and expres­sion. Unpack­ing the eli­sion of mean­ings in the term resilience through the fourth trio of videos pro­grammed at the Octo­ber 2020 VIA Fes­ti­val event is help­ful for under­stand­ing how the cre­ators of these works were begin­ning to inte­grate and make sense of the pan­dem­ic, using visu­al metaphors. This set of videos was the qui­etest of the group­ings, which pro­duced a con­tem­pla­tive mood among the salon participants.

Home­steading Across Time” (Bolan­der, Smith, and Stir­ling, 2020, 2:08 mins)

The first half of the video begins with two still images of net­worked threads or bac­te­ria, with a round robin of the read­ing of a quote from Harold Rheingold’s 1993 Vir­tu­al Com­mu­ni­ty: Home­steading on the Elec­tron­ic Fron­tier repeat­ed by the three par­tic­i­pants, exhort­ing us (in part) to “think of cyber­space as a social petri dish…and vir­tu­al com­mu­ni­ties, in all their diver­si­ty, as the colonies of micro-organ­isms that grow in petri dish­es,” while the cam­era tilts up across the colour image of linked bac­te­r­i­al threads in pur­ple and green and black and white. The sec­ond half of the video shows the cam­era con­tin­u­ing to tilt up through the “sky” of the thread­ed bac­te­ria, with no oth­er sound.

Figures 6 and 7: Stills from “Braided work visual art (Brode-Roger, Erdely, and Murray, 2020, 2:00 mins, no sound).
Fig­ures 6 and 7: Stills from “Braid­ed work visu­al art (Brode-Roger, Erde­ly, and Mur­ray, 2020, 2:00 mins, no sound).

Braid­ed work visu­al art” (Brode-Roger, Erde­ly, and Mur­ray, 2020, 2:00 mins, no sound)

The video is a visu­al essay that incor­po­rates many still images, includ­ing draw­ings and pho­tographs, with a series of frag­ments of dense quo­ta­tions and excerpt­ed com­ments in text in Eng­lish from May and June 2020 thread­ed among the stills. The text (more than the images) raise ques­tions about the rela­tion­ship of human to more-than-human, about the (macro) threats posed by the virus, by protests, by con­test­ed pol­i­tics, and the (micro) com­forts from a priv­i­leged posi­tion of researcher.

Figure 8: Still from “Birdsong” (Snepvangers, Murray, Pronzato, and Waysdorf, 2020, 2:30 mins)

Bird­song” (Snep­vangers, Mur­ray, Pron­za­to, and Ways­dorf, 2020, 2:30 mins)

The video is a series of stills, start­ing with 30 sec­onds of sev­er­al quo­ta­tions typed in or pho­tographed that address obscen­i­ty, art, and social unrest. The next ten sec­onds fea­ture four screen cap­tures from phones view­ing news items from around the world, and then a video clip with a slow 40-sec­ond pan from the bal­cony of a six-sto­ry build­ing in Europe across an emp­ty-seem­ing neigh­bour­hood, fol­lowed by addi­tion­al text and image stills that repeat the ear­li­er themes, and end­ing with a still of flow­ers and a 50-sec­ond video clip of walk­ing through trees. Record­ings of bird­song through­out are per­haps a ref­er­ence to the ear­ly days of the pan­dem­ic when peo­ple took note of qui­et streets, nature sounds, and the idio­syn­crat­ic appear­ances of ani­mals and oth­er crea­tures in city streets.

Still feeling our way: Moving toward some conclusions

The details offered in the lat­ter group of videos speak to a desire to express resilience: to inte­grate emer­gent micro expe­ri­ence with dras­ti­cal­ly chang­ing macro con­di­tions. Ear­li­er, I talked about Natal­ie Loveless’s man­i­festo for research-cre­ation (2019). In that text, the idea of resilience also sur­faced, this time as the affec­tive work required to rethink the world in emer­gent, cul­tur­al­ly expres­sive ways on an ongo­ing basis. Why? Love­less notes: “An approach to research-cre­ation mod­eled on emer­gence insists on the com­plex­i­ty of lived his­to­ries and worlds, and on the dif­fi­cul­ty of account­ing for and respond­ing to such com­plex­i­ty” (26). Jean­nette Win­ter­son also talks about resilience in com­plex­ly affec­tive terms: as a mode of sur­viv­ing and mov­ing past trau­mat­ic life events relat­ed to fam­i­ly vio­lence and sex­u­al­i­ty (2012). But, as in Vizenor’s and O’Leary’s notions of sur­vivance, Win­ter­son does not reject those events out­right, giv­en how for­ma­tive they were. Instead, Win­ter­son thinks care­ful­ly about what had hap­pened and what is still hap­pen­ing (emo­tion­al­ly, intel­lec­tu­al­ly, in lan­guage; to her­self and to oth­ers around her), using an elas­tic form of resilience (like King) as a lever to “change the sto­ry” (Win­ter­son 2001, 5) in the present and for the future or to change the social pres­sures that aim to have peo­ple con­form in ways that are oppressive.

Three of L’Hirondelle’s art­works illus­trate this approach well. “Nika­mon ohci askiy: songs because of the land (Van­cou­ver song­lines)” (2008) fea­tures L’Hirondelle explor­ing, learn­ing about, and singing her way through the unfa­mil­iar ter­ri­to­ry of Van­cou­ver, Cana­da, as a mode of acknowl­edg­ing the tra­di­tion­al ter­ri­to­ry and the peo­ple who stew­ard it, as well as to learn about the city (see also Jacob­son-Kone­fall, Chew and War­ren, for exam­ple). Peo­ple were wel­come to accom­pa­ny her, although not nec­es­sary for her pur­pos­es. “The NDN Sto­ry­telling Bus” (2011-2014 in Regi­na, Cana­da) was a peri­od­ic, ongo­ing (often under­stood as anar­chist or dis­rup­tive) explo­ration of ter­ri­to­ry as well, but, as L’Hirondelle notes, “our trick­ster who goes wan­der­ing out of curios­i­ty and to vis­it rel­a­tives” (L’Hirondelle, Alvarez, and Zointz, 296), notwith­stand­ing that the colo­nial and set­tler struc­tures and social stric­tures have (in turn) pre­vi­ous­ly (attempt­ed to) disrupt(ed) or destroy(ed) the lan­guages and cul­tures from which the fig­ure of the trick­ster emerges. In this time and space, West­ern space and time gets thrown out the win­dow of the bus. Final­ly, “Why the Caged Bird Sings” (2008-2020, var­i­ous loca­tions) presents low res­o­lu­tion videos of incar­cer­at­ed Indige­nous women singing over prison land­lines, try­ing to con­nect with oth­er peo­ple through the details of their relayed expe­ri­ence even when no one is on the oth­er end of the line. The poignant per­for­mances gath­ered togeth­er in L’Hirondelle’s pre­sen­ta­tion of these works point to how Indige­nous women are dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly incar­cer­at­ed, and also recall the strength gained from gath­er­ing vir­tu­al­ly and spir­i­tu­al­ly while being unable to phys­i­cal­ly gath­er, retelling and recon­tex­tu­al­iz­ing sto­ries through song and image, words, laugh­ter, and tears. Here, the promise of future con­nec­tion enables the women to feel their way into future gath­er­ings. The final set of videos pre­sent­ed dur­ing the VIA Fes­ti­val reflect­ed sim­i­lar ambi­tions in the COVID-19 con­text for this group of artists, activists and scholars.

Feel­ing Our Way” (Fahey, Dun­lop, and Whit­ney, 2020, 2:21 mins)

A fil­tered heart­beat sound starts with a still of a fem­i­nine shad­ow fol­lowed by stills of two abstract images. The sound changes to a song about aban­don­ment and death sung by a solo female artist with gui­tar, com­bined with still images of an apart­ment court­yard and oth­er urban set­tings, abstract paint­ings and draw­ings, and fol­lowed by a final state­ment: “to recon­firm that human thing/that mat­ters most/we hold each other/in feel­ing ways/feeling our ways” com­bined with the sound of peo­ple gath­er­ing in an urban setting.

A Moment” (Fitz­patrick, Sre­berny, Clark, and Dilkes, 2020, 2:58 mins)

A group of four peo­ple, some­times shown indi­vid­u­al­ly, some­times shown in the four quad­rants of the screen, one per per­son. A con­ver­sa­tion about how to be safe in the wan­ing days of MMS 21. The seem­ing ‘pass­ing along’ of a mask from one quad­rant to anoth­er, in a video where the ter­ri­to­ry (parts of the video/parts of the world) is rep­re­sent­ed by these quad­rants. A toast. Curat­ed to wrap up the pre­sen­ta­tion, the video sim­ply fea­tured the four par­tic­i­pants com­ing togeth­er to learn some­thing about each oth­er and then con­nect­ing on zoom to share some of the lessons they’d learned in ear­ly Covid times.

Giv­en the specif­i­cal­ly fem­i­nine nature of many of the videos in the Fes­ti­val, and to add a cau­tion­ary crit­i­cal note to this final sec­tion, I take up the way in which Angela McRob­bie con­verts the notion of resilience into a crit­i­cal tool. Through the notion of “Per­fect Imper­fect Resilience (PIR)” (42-45), McRob­bie thinks about fem­i­nine resilience as it is cur­rent­ly pro­mot­ed and prac­ticed in the West­ern world (e.g. McRob­bie explores Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg’s “lean-in” approach) and how this “pro­tects the sta­tus quo” (46). PIR becomes a mech­a­nism to con­trol peo­ple (com­pared to sur­vivance as an aspi­ra­tional or redeem­ing social qual­i­ty in the world as-it-is-today), par­tic­u­lar­ly through cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion (both the work required and the out­puts). It is clas­si­cal­ly impos­si­ble for non-dom­i­nant fig­ures (those oth­er than white, cis-gen­der males) to attain ‘per­fec­tion,’ or to be ful­ly suc­cess­ful, in this con­text. McRob­bie dis­cuss­es PIR as a way to analyse the “dis­posi­tif” (52) in action in the field of cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion, as the con­di­tion or ten­den­cy towards the repli­ca­tion or cre­ation of con­di­tions that rein­force pre-exist­ing ide­o­log­i­cal com­mit­ments (to cap­i­tal­ism, to spe­cif­ic forms of equi­ty, to rad­i­cal­ism) that do not upset the sta­tus quo. McRob­bie uses PIR to exam­ine how mag­a­zine or craft pro­duc­tion (for exam­ple) is prac­ticed and cir­cu­lat­ed to repli­cate sys­temic inequities and the devalu­ing of female labour or per­spec­tives. This becomes a way to exam­ine the inequitable and imper­fect ways in which the cul­ture sector/creative indus­tries are actu­al­ly gen­er­at­ed and sup­port­ed. Why is this impor­tant? PIR draws our atten­tion to the way in which artists, crafts­peo­ple, wom­xn, and mar­gin­al­ized or out­lier groups are com­pelled to prac­tice or learn or demon­strate resilience in imper­fect ways in order to be allowed to par­tic­i­pate in cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion. The MMS videos as a whole point to sim­i­lar con­tra­dic­tions and exhor­ta­tions that sur­faced in more obvi­ous ways in COVID-induced conditions.

Why did so many of the MMS video-mak­ers (and cura­tors, and par­tic­i­pants) find that col­lab­o­ra­tive video-mak­ing might help sig­ni­fy a kind of hope to gath­er peo­ple togeth­er in ways that weren’t phys­i­cal­ly gath­er­ing togeth­er? In the mak­ing of the videos, were peo­ple feel­ing more (or less) able to cope with the shock­ing changes expe­ri­enced? Giv­en the expe­ri­en­tial nature of both the MMS prompts and the curat­ed video pro­grams, it is unclear whether this is even the right ques­tion. What is clear, how­ev­er, is a pal­pa­ble desire to make sense of the world out­side the MMS space and time while sit­u­at­ed with­in it, in a con­tin­gent way: to be resilient and to show resilience at spe­cif­ic sites of sto­ry­telling. Many of the MMS videos hint at or direct­ly refer to dev­as­tat­ing per­son­al and social expe­ri­ences dur­ing the first half-year of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. These rep­re­sen­ta­tions do not com­pare in scale or depth to the sys­temic sup­pres­sion of cul­tures and iden­ti­ties expressed by L’Hirondelle, King, O’Leary, or Win­ter­son, and the result­ing affir­ma­tion of sur­vivance. Nor do they have the impact of social jus­tice protests involv­ing tens of thou­sands of peo­ple around the world, such as those sup­port­ing Black Lives Mat­ter, dur­ing COVID-19. How­ev­er, they do offer fleet­ing impres­sions of relat­ed efforts to become resilient allies and neigh­bours in healthy and affirm­ing ways dur­ing the ear­ly days of the pan­dem­ic. Some aim to look even more deeply into ways to resist those deep­er and more long-stand­ing oppres­sions. Trou­bling eli­sions between spe­cif­ic appli­ca­tions of the terms resilience and sur­vivance are there­by made use­ful­ly vis­i­ble by the kind of sit­u­at­ed research con­duct­ed dur­ing MMS. A decade or even a cen­tu­ry from now, who will be look­ing at how the time avail­able to researchers, artists, activists, and cit­i­zens was mobi­lized dur­ing our respec­tive expe­ri­ence of COVID-19? What will researchers, artists, and pol­i­cy-mak­ers be reflect­ing on, and will it have import oth­er than in tan­dem with social jus­tice move­ments of the moment? Time may or may not tell.

Works Cited

Bastick, Zachary, Hei­di Camp­bell, Lyn­nette Wid­der, Eliz­a­beth Whit­ney. “Run bun­ny run”

. 0:51 mins. 2020.

Bolan­der, Brook, Philli­pa Smith, and Fiona Stir­ling. “Home­steading Across Time”

. 2:08 mins. 2020.

Brode-Roger, Dina, Jen­nifer Erde­ly, and Peta Mur­ray. “Braid­ed work visu­al art”

. 2:00 mins. 2020.

Carl­son, Rebec­ca, Annette Markham, Fiona Stir­ling, and Sharon Zheng, “The Thresh­old of Sound”

. 1:50 mins. 2020.

Coop­er, Jayson. “Ice melt­ing on artwork”

. 0:23 mins. 2020.

Dun­lop, Melis­sa, Lea Wolf, Jonathon Hutchin­son, and Mark DeGar­mo, “Marsh Wings Faded”

. 1:07 mins. 2020.

Exquis­ite Corpse-19 (EXC-19). https://​exc​-19​.com/ Pro­duc­er: Midi Onodera. 2020.

Fahey, Dawne, Melis­sa Dun­lop, and Eliz­a­beth Whit­ney. “Feel­ing Our Way”

2:21 mins. 2020.

Fitz­patrick, Esther, Annabelle Sre­berny, Mar­i­anne Clark, and Danielle Dilkes. “A Moment”

2:58 mins. 2020.

Frølunde, Lis­beth, Corin­na Peterken, Louise Phillips, and Tatiana Che­mi, “Braid­ing Dis­lo­cat­ed Lives”

. 2:25 mins. 2020.

Gall­away-Mitchell, Lee-Anne, Dina Brode-Roger, Nico­la Sum, Mary Eliz­a­beth Luka. “Land Here”

. 1:11 mins. 2020.

Har­away, Don­na. The Com­pan­ion Species Man­i­festo: Dogs, Peo­ple, and Sig­nif­i­cant Oth­er­ness. Cam­bridge: Prick­ly Par­a­digm Press, 2003.

Hol­ford, Elyz­a­beth, Annette Markham, Mary Eliz­a­beth Luka, and Anne Har­ris, “Zoom Haiku,”

. 2020, 1:15 mins

Hol­man Jones, Sta­cy, Adams, T. E., & Ellis, C.. Hand­book of autoethnog­ra­phy. Rout­ledge, 2014.

Jacob­son-Kone­fall, Jes­si­ca, May Chew, and Daina War­ren. “Song­lines, not Stu­por: Cheryl L’Hirondelle’s nika­mon ohci aski: songs because of the land as Tech­no­log­i­cal Cit­i­zen­ship on the Lands Cur­rent­ly Called ‘Cana­da’.” Imag­i­na­tions 8:3 (2017): 71-82. DOI:10.17742/IMAGE.MA.8.3.5>

King, Thomas. The Truth about Sto­ries: A Native Nar­ra­tive. Toron­to: House of Anan­si Press, 2003.

L’Hirondelle, Cheryl. “Nika­mon ohci askiy (songs because of the land).” Van­cou­ver, BC: grunt gallery. 2008.

L’Hirondelle, Cheryl. “The NDN Sto­ry­telling Bus” per­for­mance art, Regi­na, SK. 2011-2014.

L’Hirondelle, Cheryl. “Why the Caged Bird Sings” instal­la­tions. Var­i­ous loca­tions. 2008-2020

L’Hirondelle, Cheryl, Natal­ie Alvarez and Keren Zaiontz. “INTERVIEW Already-And: The Art of Indige­nous Sur­vivance.” Sus­tain­able Tools for Pre­car­i­ous Times Per­for­mance Actions in the Amer­i­c­as, edit­ed by Natal­ie Alvarez, Claudette Lau­zon, and Keren Zaiontz, 2019, pp. 289-302. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​0​7​/​9​7​8​-​3​-​0​3​0​-​1​1​5​5​7-9

Li, Wei. “Pause and For­ward: Body, Move­ment, and COVID.” Qual­i­ta­tive Inquiry, 20 Oct. 2020. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​1​7​7​/​1​0​7​7​8​0​0​4​2​0​9​6​2​478

Love­less, Natal­ie. How to Make Art at the End of the World: A Man­i­festo for Research-Cre­ation. Durham & Lon­don: Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2019.

Luka, Mary Eliz­a­beth. “Mak­ing Video Glit­ter in the Time of COVID.” (2020). Qual­i­ta­tive Inquiry, 26 Oct. 2020. DOI: 10.1177/1077800420962473

Luka, Mary Eliz­a­beth. “Assem­bling col­lab­o­ra­tion in the debris field: from psy­cho­geog­ra­phy to chore­o­gra­phies of assem­bly.” Cana­di­an The­atre Review, no.176, 2018, pp. 41-47.

Markham, Annette N. and Anne Har­ris. “Prompts for Mak­ing Sense of a Pan­dem­ic: The 21-day Autoethnog­ra­phy Chal­lenge.” Qual­i­ta­tive Inquiry, Nov. 6 2020. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​1​7​7​/​1​0​7​7​8​0​0​4​2​0​9​6​2​487

Markham, Annette, Anne Har­ris and Mary Eliz­a­beth Luka. “Mas­sive and micro­scop­ic sense­mak­ing in times of COVID-19.” Qual­i­ta­tive Inquiry, Oct. 30 2020. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​1​7​7​/​1​0​7​7​8​0​0​4​2​0​9​6​2​477

McRob­bie, Angela. “Fem­i­nism and the Pol­i­tics of Resilience.” Fem­i­nism and the Pol­i­tics of Resilience: Essays on Gen­der, Media & the End of Wel­fare. Cam­bridge: Poli­ty, 2020, pp. 42-72.

O’Leary, S. Rose. “(Re)Coding Sur­vivance and the Regen­er­a­tive Nar­ra­tive.” First Per­son Schol­ar, 8 July 2020. http://​www​.first​per​son​schol​ar​.com/​r​e​c​o​d​i​n​g​-​s​u​r​v​i​v​a​n​c​e​-​a​n​d​-​t​h​e​-​r​e​g​e​n​e​r​a​t​i​v​e​-​n​a​r​r​a​t​i​ve/

Sed­dighi, Gil­da, Peta Mur­ray, Zachary Dorsey, and Dev­ina Sar­watay, “Out, Emp­ty, Away”

. 3:29 mins. 2020.

Shel­ton, Stephanie Anne, Emma Cooke, and Estel­la Wong. “Paces”

. 2:28 mins. 2020.

Shel­ton, Stephanie Anne, Ali­son Shields, Emma Cooke, and Estel­la Wong. “Team 2 EXC

. 1:26 mins. 2020.

Snep­vangers, Kim, Geor­gia Rose Mur­ray, Ric­car­do Pron­za­to, and Abby S. Ways­dorf, “Bird­song”

. 2:30 mins. 2020

Tor­res, Lisette E., Peterken, Corin­na, Kel Hugh­es Jones, and Siyu Chen, “The Warrior”

. 0:51 mins. 2020.

Vizenor, Ger­ald. Sur­vivance: Nar­ra­tives of Native Pres­ence. Lin­coln, NE: Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka Press, 2008.

Win­ter­son, Jean­nette. Why Be Hap­py When You Could Be Nor­mal? Toron­to: Knopf Cana­da, 2012.

Win­ter­son, Jean­nette. The Power­book. Lon­don: Vin­tage, 2001.

Image Notes

Fig­ure 1: Still from “Run Bun­ny Run.” Bastick et al., 2020, 0:51 mins.

Fig­ure 2: Still from “Braid­ing Dis­lo­cat­ed Lives” (Frølunde et al; 2020, 2:25 mins).

Fig­ure 3: Still from “Marsh Wings Fad­ed.” Dun­lop, Wolf, Hutchin­son, and DeGar­mo, 2020, 1:07 mins.

Fig­ure 4: Still from “Out, Emp­ty, Away.” Sed­dighi, Mur­ray, Dorsey, and Sar­watay, 2020, 3:29 mins.

Fig­ure 5: Still from “The War­rior.” Tor­res, Peterken, Jones, and Chen, 2020, 0:51 mins.

Fig­ures 6 and 7: Stills from “Braid­ed work visu­al art.” Brode-Roger, Erde­ly, and Mur­ray, 2020, 2:00 mins.

Fig­ure 8: Still from “Bird­song.” Snep­vangers, Mur­ray, Pron­za­to, and Ways­dorf, 2020, 2:30 mins.