Past Projects


Cabot Square PhotoVoice Collective (CSPC)

The Cabot Square PhotoVoice Collective was formed in the first year of the Ethnography Lab’s existence, as one of the student-led research group. It was born out of the collaboration of Graduate students associated with the Concordia Ethnography Lab at Speculative Life and McGill’s Participatory Cultures Lab, and in consultation and collaboration with Indigenous Students and community members, who were invited to a 2-day Photovoice workshop, at the end of May 2017, as part of our first project. As the creation of the group happened in relation to the “375th anniversary” of Montreal, our group originally seeked to highlight the long-standing presence of Indigenous Peoples in the city, and specifically in Cabot Square, as a local gathering site. While we recognize Montreal as existing on unceded Kanien’kehá:ka territory, we seek to highlight how diverse Indigenous peoples have long been a part of Montreal’s urban spaces, and that Cabot Square is one of these rich sites.


Northern Atmospheres: Earth Observatory Array Action Workshop

Northern Atmospheres explores the ways by which our planet has become an object of technoscience; the means by which we read and elicit “planetary knowledge” through technical instruments, now a vascularised and purportedly totalising vast machine for tracking and tracing, storing and historicising data. The Earth and its atmosphere are not a single ‘thing’, but a composite register of terrestrial sensor systems, individual collection point and inferred informations. Earth observation violates the impossible distance, objectivity claims and presumptions of Western technoscience; it is recursive self-experimentation, like “studying your own brain.” The North, and often the Canadian North specifically, is both an imaginary and a real technologised space where much of this planetary knowledge is seen to originate. Expansive Nordic landscapes provide a protectorate from which signals and warnings from the past and for the future seem to perennially emerge, fusing systems and cybernetic thinking and practices, Cold War histories, ‘great outdoors’ eco-naturalism and an apocalyptic progressivism that reconstitutes the Earth itself as an infrastructure for media communication.

During the two-day workshop we visited a hydro-meteorological station and discussed this visit alongside readings on the becoming-technological and becoming-communicational of planet Earth, with “the North” as a particular thematic. We then designed and built (outdoors) together concrete forms which monumentalise, commemorate and present earth-science collection practices, looking specifically at the atmospheric science of snow and ice. The group prepared samples for inclusion in this collaborative work, which forms part of the “Earth Observatory Array”, a global array of sculptural forms being created as part of the Shift Register project, led by Jamie Allen, The Montreal Earth Observatory Array Element (#427) was collaboratively located, designed and ceremonially activated by workshop participants.


Elusive Life at Transmediale

Speculative Life members Orit HalpernChris SalterWhiteFeather HunterIda ToftGarrett Lockhart, and Thierry Bardini ran a workshop and created an exhibit on “Elusive Life” at the Natural History Museum and HKW in Berlin during February 2017, in the context of Transmediale 2017.

Loss, extinction, disaster, catastrophe—these terms presently define our relationship with environments, other species, and with each other. This workshop used the space of the Natural History Museum in Berlin to begin asking how we might imagine and design relations to a future earth that neither escape nor deny the ruins of the one we inhabit. How shall we design and encounter the ineffable without denying history or normalizing violence?  What forms of knowledge and experiment might produce non-normative ecologies of care between life forms? How shall we inhabit catastrophe?

These are particularly topical questions given that natural history museums worldwide are stepping up their efforts to digitize collections and build global data infrastructures for biodiversity discovery, analyses and preservation. Some commentators even speak of a “new enlightenment” in relation to digital natural history. Such hubristic diction compels us to take a moment and scrutinise the passage from physical specimen to datafied life, not just with a view to what gets lost in translation but also to what endures of the destructiveness that has given us the physical specimen in the first place. As an imperial institution the natural history museum is built on the spoils of colonial extractions while its promotion of specific ways of knowing continues to quell other knowledges. How, we want to ask, can we figure (re-figure?) the museum and the notion of “biodiversity loss” so that they encompass the “[d]ebt to those who are already dead and those not yet born [as these] cannot be disentangled from who we are.” (Karen Barad, 2010).

The research-studio was a site-based study of both the “public” part of the museum, which has recently been redesigned, and the “non-public” collections which hold most of the museum’s 30 million objects. The collections, divided according to taxonomic phyla, comprise of a rampant mass of bodies, body parts and other objects, stuffed into cabinets and drawers, biding their time in various stages of decay. Their mass digitization is thus seen as a form of resurrection that can breathe life into this “breathless zoo” (Rachel Poliquin). The workshop engaged with both the physical specimens and processes of datafying and digitizing life. We also examined technologies of mass digitization, next-generation biodiversity discovery and remote-sensing (like satellite imaging) that are used to gather and predict biodiversity loss. We thus engaged the alienness of other forms of life, ecology, and the earth, as well as produce new imaginaries, interventions and understandings of “elusive life” as subjected to these forms of technological transformation.

The participants engaged with the recent redesign of the museum, data visualizations of biodiversity change, and use these archives and their imaginations to build speculative designs, prototypes for artistic creations, and writings that engage with and re-envision how we might experience and encounter  loss, extinction,and diversity in order to imagine into being other worlds and ecologies of life.

The project culminated with an exhibition of prototypes and designs to be shown on the following Sunday, February 4th at the Transmediale conference.