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Sound art, documentary practices and ethical minefields: Trust, interpretive freedom and responsible engagement with vulnerable subjects

Wynne, John (2011) Sound art, documentary practices and ethical minefields: Trust, interpretive freedom and responsible engagement with vulnerable subjects. In: Documentary Now! A Conference on the Contemporary Contexts and Possibilities of the Documentary , 28-30 January 2011, University of Westminster, London. [Creative Arts and Design > Sound Arts & Design
Creative Arts and Design > Photography] (Unpublished)
 
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Creators:Wynne, John
Description:

As part of the conference Documentary Now!
A Conference on the Contemporary Contexts and Possibilities of the Documentary

Sound art, documentary practices and ethical minefields: Trust, interpretive freedom and responsible engagement with vulnerable subjects

"The word itself, ‘research’, is probably one of the dirtiest words in the indigenous world’s vocabulary."
Linda Tuhiwai Smith

My interdisciplinary research-based practice often involves working with subjects who could be regarded, for various reasons, as vulnerable. I was artist-in-residence, along with photographer Tim Wainwright, at Harefield Hospital, one of the world’s leading centres for heart and lung transplants and I have worked with linguists in the Kalahari Desert and in northern British Columbia to record speakers of highly endangered indigenous languages. In most literature regarding the protection of vulnerable subjects, the economically disadvantaged and those in marginalised social groups feature alongside long-term patients and those with terminal illnesses in lists of groups deemed to be at risk of experiencing “control, coercion, undue influence, or manipulation” at the hands of researchers. Patients waiting for a heart or lung transplant are pretty much as ill as one can get and still be alive, and speakers of endangered languages are usually members of communities with a long history of extreme political, racial and economic oppression.

My art practice hovers on the boundaries between documentary and abstraction; consequently, issues regarding appropriate use of materials collected during fieldwork and responsible engagement with subjects are particularly germane. My work for radio has been described as “composed documentary” (Alan Hall) and my installations combining sound with still images “hang in the border zones between anthropology and art, drawing attention to the subjective nature of language documentation and photography, and the multiple layers of translation that are central to the documentation and interpretation process.” (Kate Hennessey)

This presentation will discuss ethical considerations in art practice through work which strive to problematise the ethnographic gaze and highlight relations of power in order to avoid essentialist interpretation. It will examine the various levels of trust involved in fieldwork-based projects: trust between subjects and researcher, between researchers and relevant controlling authorities (political, institutional) and between researcher and funding/supporting bodies. Issues of compromise will be raised through a practice which seeks to reconcile responsible engagement, accurate research and creative expression.

Type of Research:Conference, Symposium or Workshop Item (Paper)
Keywords/subjects not otherwise listed:Documentary
Your affiliations with UAL:Colleges > London College of Communication
Research Centres/Networks > Creative Research into Sound Arts Practice (CRiSAP)
Date:2011
Copyright Holders:John Wynne and Tim Wainwright
Event Location:University of Westminster, London
Projects or Series:Research Outputs Review (April 2010 - April 2011)
ID Code:3037
Deposited By:Dr John Wynne
Deposited On:02 Nov 2011 15:26
Last Modified:03 Nov 2011 09:49
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