Sensory Ethnography Lab Works

Selected Projects

Jeff Silva and Vic Rawlings
2016, DCP, 96 minutes

An immersive meditation on the passage of time and the persistent resonance of place, Linefork follows the daily rituals of an elderly couple living in Kentucky's Appalachian Mountains. Now well into his eighties, Lee Sexton is the last living link to the distant past of a regional American music. A retired coal miner with black lung, Lee and his wife, Opal, continue to farm the land where he was born. Together they face encroaching health concerns and stark economic realities. Recorded over three years, Linefork is an observational film documenting their marriage, their community, their resilience, and the raw yet delicate music of an unheralded banjo legend, linked to the past yet immediately present.

Philip Cartelli and Mariangela Ciccarello
2015, DCP, color and black & white, 5.1, 14 minutes

A multi-layered narrative of a past event--the sudden appearance and disappearance of a volcanic island off the southern coast of Sicily in 1831--intersects with contemporary Mediterranean itineraries and possibilities.

Ah humanity!
Ernst Karel, Véréna Paravel, Lucien Castaing-Taylor
2015, audio-video installation, 4.1, 23 minutes

Ah humanity! reflects on the fragility and folly of humanity in the age of the Anthropocene. Taking the 3/11/11 disaster of Fukushima as its point of departure, it evokes an apocalyptic vision of modernity, and our predilection for historical amnesia and futuristic flights of fancy. The images were shot on a telephone through a handheld telescope, at once close to and far from its subject, while the audio composition combines empty excerpts from Japanese genbaku and related film soundtracks, audio recordings from seismic laboratories, and location sound.

Into the Hinterlands
Julia Yezbick
2015, DCP, 39 minutes

The Hinterlands, a Detroit-based performance ensemble, practice a form of ecstatic training which they see as a provocation towards the unknown — a space both physical and imaginary whose mystery is its source of generation and from which their creativity emerges. Their practice is one of ecstatic play, of finding the edge of one's balance, and the limits of one's body.

J.P. Sniadecki
2014, HD video, color, 5.1 surround sound, 83 minutes

Filmed over three years on what will soon be the world's largest railway network, THE IRON MINISTRY traces the vast interiors of a country on the move: flesh and metal, clangs and squeals, light and dark, and language and gesture.

The Figures Carved Into the Knife by the Sap of the Banana Trees
Joana Pimenta
2014, DCP, 16 minutes

The rapid turning of a light draws a circle. In the space bound by its line unravels an archive of postcards sent between the island of Madeira and the former Portuguese colony of Mozambique. The figures carved into the Knife by the Sap of the Banana Trees circulates between a fictional colonial memory, and science-fiction.

Single Stream
Pawel Wojtasik, Toby Kim Lee, and Ernst Karel
2014, DCP CinemaScope and 5.1 audio, 23 min.

Blurring the line between observation and abstraction, SINGLE STREAM plunges the viewer into the steady flow of the plant and the waste it treats, examining the material consequences of our society's culture of excess. The title refers to the method of recycling in which all types of recyclables are initially gathered together, and sorted later at a specialized facility. Inside a cavernous building, a vast machine complex runs like clock-work, sorting a steady stream of glass, metal, paper and plastic carried on conveyor belts criss-crossing the space, dotted with workers in neon vests. This complex ballet of man, machine and movement produces sounds and images that are overwhelming, but also beautiful, and revelatory.

Stephanie Spray, and Pacho Velez
2013, 35mm and DCP, 95 min

Pilgrims make an ancient journey in a state-of-the-art cable car. Their rides unfold in real-time, highlighting interactions with one another, the landscape, and this strange new mode of conveyance. Through these encounters, the film opens a surprising window onto contemporary Nepali lives, propelled along by the country’s idiosyncratic modernization.

Xu Ruotao, J.P. Sniadecki, and Huang Xiang
2013, 65 mins.

YUMEN combines ghost stories and “ruin porn” to form a celluloid psycho-collage of wandering souls seeking connection with one another and a lost collective history among the frozen remnants of the abandoned oil town of Yumen in China’s northwest Gansu province.

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Bedding Down
Lucien Castaing-Taylor
2012, audio-video, 35mm and HD digital video, 6 mins.

A crepuscular pastoral.

Coom Biddy
Lucien Castaing-Taylor
2012, audio-video, 35mm and HD digital video, 8 mins.

Shear, v. To cut, divide, shear, shave.

Véréna Paravel
Lucien Castaing-Taylor
2012, 35mm and DCP, 87 mins.

In the very waters where Melville’s Pequod gave chase to Moby Dick, Leviathan captures the collaborative clash of man, nature, and machine. Shot on a dozen cameras — tossed and tethered, passed from fisherman to filmmaker — it is a cosmic portrait of one of mankind’s oldest endeavors.

People's Park
J.P. Sniadecki, Libbie Dina Cohn
2012, DCP, 75 mins.

A single-shot documentary that immerses viewers in an unbroken journey through a famous urban park in Chengdu, Sichuan Province. The film explores the dozens of moods, rhythms and pockets of performance coexisting in tight proximity within the park’s prismatic social space, capturing waltzing couples, mighty sycamores, karaoke singers, and buzzing cicadas. A sensory meditation on cinematic time and space, People’s Park offers a gaze at public interaction, leisure and self-expression in China.

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Materials Recovery Facility
Ernst Karel
2012, streaming audio, duration variable

A sound work recorded at the materials recovery facility run by Casella Waste Systems, in the Charlestown area of northern Boston, which receives truckloads of commingled recyclables from surrounding municipalities and universities. Fed through the facility on a network of massive overlapping conveyor belts, the materials are separated for recycling using automated methods including trommels, disc screens, optical sensors, precisely directed blasts of compressed air, eddy currents, magnets, and a large staff of human workers, who manage much of the separation by hand.

Swiss Mountain Transport Systems
Ernst Karel
2011, audio, 77:50

Swiss Mountain Transport Systems is an audio CD that consists of location recordings made during the summer and fall of 2008 of the various transport systems which are specific to mountainous terrain – gondolas (aerial cable cars), funiculars, and chairlifts – of different types, of different vintages, and accessing different elevations, in different parts of Switzerland. In this way the album is a sonic investigation of the integration of such technology into the Swiss social-geographical landscape. Recorded from within mostly enclosed mobile environments, this emergent music includes quasi-harmonic mechanical drones, intermittent percussiveness, and transient acoustic glimpses of a vast surrounding landscape inhabited by humans and other animals.

On Broadway
Aryo Danusiri
2011, HDV, 62 min.

A structural account of the cultural transformation of a mosque in a basement space in Manhattan, New York City. As suggested by the title, this film is 'a song' of transformational moments of space, identities and belief. Consisting of six long take shots, it starts with a relaxed conversation in the everyday life of an emptiness of a basement. Then it gradually becomes an event - an event of struggle. At the end, with a twist, it raises questions about the boundaries between the mundane and the spiritual, the politics and the everyday.

Foreign Parts
Véréna Paravel and JP Sniadecki
2010, HD video, 81 min.

A hidden enclave in the shadow of the New York Mets' new stadium, the neighborhood of Willets Point is an industrial zone fated for demolition. Filled with scrapyards and auto salvage shops, lacking sidewalks or sewage lines, the area seems ripe for urban development. But Foreign Parts discovers a strange community where wrecks, refuse and recycling form a thriving commerce. Cars are stripped, sorted and cataloged by brand and part, then resold to an endless parade of drive-thru customers. Joe, the last original resident, rages and rallies through the street like a lost King Lear, trying to contest his imminent eviction. Two lovers, Sara and Luis, struggle for food and safety through the winter while living in an abandoned van. Julia, the homeless queen of the junkyard, exalts in her beatific visions of daily life among the forgotten. The film observes and captures the struggle of a contestes "eminent domain" neighborhood before its disappearance under the capitalization of New York's urban ecology.

Heard Laboratories
Ernst Karel
2010, audio, 79:00

A sonic ethnography of scientific research environments at Harvard University. The sounds of equipment, devices, and activities draw attention to the physical processes underlying scientific research, the work underway which provides a ground for our highly  technologized society.  In the name of human progress, enormous resources are devoted to and consumed by such activities, which are both hidden and  taken for granted. Heard Laboratories brings this background to the fore.

72 Hours
John Hulsey

An ongoing series of site-specific interventions that combines video projection with direct action to address the lived experience of foreclosure.

Hell Roaring Creek
Lucien Castaing-Taylor
2010, audio-video, 35mm and HD digital video, 20 mins.

An auroral pastoral.

The High Trail
Lucien Castaing-Taylor
2010, audio-video,
7 mins.

In the monumental American West, we are acoustic eavesdroppers on a man
petting his herding dog, while we are visual witnesses to the progress of their charges, as apparently infinite as Rabelais' "moutons de Panurge," across a mythic landscape.


The Quick and the Dead / Moutons de Panurge
Lucien Castaing-Taylor
Four channel video installation
Berlinale Forum, loop. 2010

A commission by the Kino Arsenal to commemorate the four decades of the
Berlin International Film Festival Forum.

Trees Tropiques
Alex Fattal

Trees Tropiques subtly explores the difficult issues that arise when the ethics of deforestation and the ethnographic encounter intersect. The vilm incisively poses the question: "Who has the right to cut... both trees and film footage?" Seemingly an observational ethnographic immersion in life along the waterways where the sweet water of the Amazon basin mixes with the salty Atlantic Ocean, the film is suddenly interrupted by questions about the ethics of including images of deforestation, which could land the protagonist in trouble with Brazil's environmental police.

The Yellow Bank
JP Sniadecki

Watching, waiting, and traversing: a portrait of Shanghai at the confluence of tempestuous weather, looming architecture, and murky waterways during a total solar eclipse.

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As Long As There's Breath
Stephanie Spray
2009, HD video, 55 min.

As Long as There’s Breath depicts a Nepali family’s struggles for cohesion despite everyday travails and the absence of a beloved son.

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Ilisa Barbash
Lucien Castaing-Taylor
2009, 35mm, 101 min.

An unsentimental elegy to the American West, “Sweetgrass” follows the last modern-day cowboys to lead their flocks of sheep up into Montana’s breathtaking and often dangerous Absaroka-Beartooth mountains for summer pasture. This astonishingly beautiful yet unsparing film reveals a world in which nature and culture, animals and humans, vulnerability and violence are all intimately meshed.

Terrace of the Sea
Diana Allan

Terrace of the Sea (Jal el Bahar) was shot in 2008 in an unofficial Palestinian Bedouin gathering established in 1948 on a stretch of beach north of Tyre, in south Lebanon. Structured around a collection of family photographs taken over three generations, the vilm engages with the historical experience of this community by focusing on their precarious relationship with the environment, and in particular on the role that the sea plays in their lives.

Terrace of the Sea examines the experiences of the Ibrahim family – not simply through the prism of nationalist politics, but also through their relationship to work and to the physical environment. More broadly, it is a meditation on the process of memory and on the distances between photography and film, land and sea and – between seeing and being seen.

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7 Queens
Véréna Paravel
2009, 22 min.

Recorded during an aimless extended (anti)-ethnographic walk beneath the elevated tracks of the #7 subway line in NYC, 7 Queens wanders in the fragile zone of fleeting relations. Through a series of spontaneous interactions, this piece experiment with boundaries and physical thresholds, and captures evanescent forms of intimacy through random, and sometimes aborted encounters.

Chaiqian (Demolition)
J P Sniadecki
2008, video, 62 min.

A portrait of migrant labor, urban space, and ephemeral relationships in the center of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in western China.

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Stephanie Spray
2008, video, 22 min.

Drawing its title from a poem by Lekhnath Paudyal, who depicts the monsoon season as sublime and blissful, this video focuses instead on the melancholy and grit of two female Nepali field hands as they carry out their monsoon routines in Lekhnath, Nepal. The video is a sensorial riposte to Paudyal's idealistic depiction of the monsoon as "joyous from start to finish," by means of reflection on labor, gender, and fleeting pleasures in rural Nepal.

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Kale and Kale
Stephanie Spray
2007, video, 50 min.

Kale and Kale
is an observational work that explores the subtle everyday interactions and relationships among an uncle and nephew, both nicknamed “Kale,” or “black one,” and their families in rural Nepal. The roles they play in the village, with their families, and outside of the village are gradually revealed by way of discrete vignettes. Through the pacing of the scenes and the length of shots, this ethnographic video is also a depiction of time and its passing in rural Nepal. The work invites the viewer to engage unhurriedly and sensorially with its subjects and their environment.

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Noelle Stout
2007, video, 67 min.

Luchando follows a day in the life of four Cuban hustlers—a travesti, a lesbiana, and two pingueros—who set out to resolve their touching and at-times humorous predicaments in Havana’s gay underground. Luchando takes place in the last days of Fidel Castro’s Cuba, a late-socialist nation schizophrenically torn between the ideals of socialist equality and a rapidly growing division between the rich and poor. The film’s title 'luchando' has historically meant the fight for Cuba’s socialist revolution, but has become a slang term that hustlers use to describe their sexual encounters with clients. Shot in verite style over the course of a year, Luchando refuses sensationalism and instead emphasizes the subjective and experiential qualities of everyday life. The film explores the ambiguity of cultural categories such as 'homosexual' and 'hustler' that are continually renegotiated by the film’s subjects. Through a long-term, intimate engagement with the characters Luchando humanizes the sex trade in Havana by presenting characters who are at once vulnerable and in-control, affectionate and opportunistic, and whose ultimate strength comes from the bonds they share with one another.

JP Sniadecki
2007, video, 28 min.

Songhua depicts the intimate and complex relationship between Harbin residents and their “mother river," the Songhua in northeastern China. By attending to the everyday activities of leisure and labor unfolding along the banks and promenade, this nonfiction video also explores the interface between aesthetics and ethnography as it addresses environmental crisis within a major waterway of China.

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Still Life
Diana Keown Allan
2007, video, 25 min.

Still Life
examines the role that a series of personal photos that survived the 1948 displacement play in the life of Said, an elderly Palestinian from Acre now living in exile in Lebanon. The importance of preserving these intimate remnants of a history now largely invisible within a larger global frame of reference cannot be underestimated as Palestine as a historical signifier is in danger of losing it’s signified. Palestine as it was before 1948 has ceased to exist; Acre is no longer a Palestinian port and the other histories of this city now circulate as highly personal, scattered memories. The photographs, around which this piece is structured, are not simply souvenirs or representations, but for their owner function as imprints of Palestine that still carry material traces of places and people from the past within them. For Said, they have become objects of affective transference, evoking memories that remain crucial to his present sense of self––sacred objects that record another history of relation and belonging. Still Life is the first segment of a video triptych that explores the different ways in which memory is being mediated among Palestinians in Lebanon.

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Course Projects

An online sensory ethnography journal for media production and criticism:


Zeega is an open-source HTML5 platform for creating interactive documentaries, open archives and inventing new forms of storytelling.

Zeega makes it easy to collaboratively produce, curate and publish participatory multimedia projects online, on mobile devices and in physical spaces.

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