The cycle of the year turns, and we find ourselves at the start of a new semester. In many ways we are still processing the past year retreating, wondering how much 2022 will feel like more of the same. Over the last year, ETHOS Lab has reflected on our work together through the theme of limits, through explorations of the limits of method as well as lived experiences of limits of time, political will, or of our own capacities. Enduring the rhythms of another year, living in a pandemic, we have learned to shift continuously between old and new ways of working and coming together. Being attentive to limits has helped us to navigate a year when we have been able to “return” to work in person for some periods of time but have also found returning not to be straight forward. Are we able to return to old ways of working and what limits surface in relearning or unlearning what we wish not to return to?
During this time, we have been reflective about the ways that we form collectives for support and community in our research, and where the demands of collocated work in uncertain times stretch us too thin. We have hosted workshops, seminars, and meet-ups, exploring limits – limits of method, limits of the authorial voice, limits of datasets. Line Henriksen hosted a seminar on vulnerability and writing, exploring the unstable boundary between author and text through the method of Monster Writing. Later in the year, a seminar on Absent Data hosted by Line, as well as Katrine Meldgaard and Mace Ojala, considered how data can frustrate and disappoint by virtue of its limitations. These explorations of methods have led to joint publications from the lab. In celebration of Ada Lovelace Day, we explored the limits of the genre of code poetry by experimenting with writing that breaks running code or translates feminist thought into code.
At other times we met up against limits when the uncertainties or stresses of balancing collocated work with other pressures led to cancellations or postponements. We have had to postpone, rethink, or cancel events on research experiences for PhD students, writing sessions, book launches, detox seminars, zines, and a workshop on Critical Technological Pedagogies. We have aimed to be inquisitive when having to cancel or postpone events. These can be occasions to learn more about our limits, to rethink what makes for sustainable rhythms of work, and to reflect upon how we craft a collective lab culture. These moments have also highlighted the priority we place in the lab on being a support system for our local community. We have continued to sustain our weekly mind and desk reflections and have used these to troubleshoot, and share works in progress.
Even within the tumult of shifting work patterns, we have found solidity in our community. We have had members depart to new projects as well as welcomed new members. Adam Veng joins us as part of the Democratic Innovations in a Green Transition developing methods around digital mapping of grassroots climate movements. Jasmin Shokui joined us from Munich for an academic internship developing a study of ETHOS digital detox seminars. Our python study group has been guided through the ebb and flow of openings and closings of the university and transitioned over the summer from Veronika Skotting who has headed to an exchange in Finland to our new Lab TA Edith Andersen who has steadily been guiding us back into in-person meetings. We said farewell to our colleague Line Henriksen who has relocated across the sound to Malmö University. And of course, it was a year when we welcomed our new lab manager Merethe, who will also be departing in 2022 to begin a PhD in the School of Education at Aarhus University.
Looking ahead to 2022, we wanted a theme that helped us carry on through limited and uncertain times, something that might give an anchoring to explorations we want to expand upon, and that might even offer a way of re-enchanting our sense of bodily and affective relations to our work now that we are back in person. We wanted a theme that captured how much we cherish our physical space of the lab, the physicalities of our bodies, the materialities through which we work. Even as we move in and out of virtual meetings, our bodies and physical embodiments of work define our collaborative engagements. There is a magic of being together in person that we want to inspire through the next year while we also struggle with ongoing pandemic burn out.
The theme of embodiment draws us to the physical spaces of the lab, to our bodies, to the ways we experience returning to in person meetings together as an adjustment and reenchantment with physicality and hallway conversations. At the same time some of us have become enchanted during this last year with spending more time outdoors or with the plants in our homes, we might question who gets to feel re-enchanted with collective enterprise of the real or the augmented real. Whose enchantments with the digital hybrid virtuality become materialized and whose do not? Will it be metaverses or monster verses or new forms of enchanted becoming together with our technological selves?
We will also tune into our new companions in the lab: a 3D printer and CNC embroidery machine, which we hope to use embarking on a series of data materialization experimentations. We will be unboxing, imploding, and mage-ing with these new machines to consider how their methods make worlds. Can we work with the imaginaries they are embedded within or find ways to re-enchant them? We also continue investigating machines in the home with the second of our Smart Speaker Workshops hosted by Jess and Stina. The workshop series started with a Dumit-style implosion of smart speakers to identify our assumptions about them along with what we would like to investigate further. In the next workshop, we will use the Bright, Duguay and Burgess’ walkthrough method as a way of interrogating our encounters with these devices.
Part of the theme is to attend to the imaginaries of our technological devices and infrastructures, but rather than focusing on critique, to consider how such technologies are material manifestations of enchantments that we may wish to reimagine. How can such enchantments move us away from exhaustion, help us to resist inertia of old habits that lead to disenchantment and disengagement? As an example of this, we continue to embody enchantments in the form of inventive ways of speculating about what daily life in the Anthropocene might look like through a series of (emergency) broadcasts. Jess Perriam and ETHOS Lab alum Line Henriksen will be putting together an audio installation called ‘Radio Anthropocene’ as a contribution to the ‘Chewing the Tundra’ exhibition at the Exnergasse Kunsthalle in Vienna during November and December. And in early May we will co-host a pilot workshop on knotting our bodily experiences of data worlds during the pandemic with Vasiliki Tsaknakis, Laura Reime, and Tania Perez-Bustos at the Artesanal Tecnologica Lab in Bogota.
As a final note, Rachel is taking a semester leave from directing the lab, and we welcome a new co-director (and co-author of this letter!) Jessamy Perriam. She has been a member of the ETHOS Lab since her arrival at ITU in 2020 and amongst weathering the pandemic, is interested in using digital, qualitative, and mixed methods approach to examine tech and society. Jessamy teaches on the Navigating Complexity course in our DIM program and is excited to find more ways to invite students across the university to take part in lab life.
Marisa Cohn and Jessamy Perriam