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Accepted paper:

Sensing Landscape as a Media Object


Saadia Mirza (University of Chicago)

Paper short abstract:

This ethnographic research is about sensing a conflicted geopolitical landscape as a digital and virtual reality. It analyzes the entanglement of aesthetics and objective knowledge in visual cultures of remote sensing; i.e., knowledge and embodiment in technologically-mediated sensory perceptions.

Paper long abstract:

Array-based remote sensing has been influencing knowledge practices across many fields, from geology, military planning, and archaeology to landscape architecture and artistic research. These uses have been enabled by declassified image-data and the proliferation of more-than-human sensing technologies, enabling myriad interpretations of a single landscape. Following a series of landscape visualizations created by the author under training and conversation with archaeologists, this article is an ethnography of the techniques of remote sensing for analyzing the impact of militarization on strategically-important archaeological landscapes in Afghanistan. It surveys techniques of image generation using exploratory practices that reveal how obscurity is overcome in the process of image interpretation and visualization. In doing so, it tackles the liminality of digital, image-like worlds where mediated perceptions of landscapes aid the creation of evidence for sites that are physically inaccessible to fieldwork. The entanglement of aesthetics and objective knowledge marks this foray into a landscape of data that is composed of digital, virtual, and computable surfaces with imaginations of territory, topography, and terrain that have a materiality of their own, despite being intangible. This work is both scholarly and artistic in nature, involving a three-channel video installation with a Virtual Reality component; thus allowing the work to be experienced either as an academic text or a video artwork. In doing so, the ethnographic research is multi-modal in method; i.e., it is textual, visual, and aural at the same time. It can be presented as a paper, but the preferred format is an audiovisual presentation.

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Languages of entanglement: mapping the ethnographic modes and media