Alissa M Jordan, PhD
Center for Experimental Ethnography
University of Pennsylvania
Center for Experimental Ethnography
University of Pennsylvania
I am a multimodal cultural anthropologist focused on questions of bodily being, security/insecurity, and creative expression with fieldsites in Haiti, Ghana, and virtual spaces (VR Chat). I explore these interests through traditional and collaborative scholarship as well as experimental writing, collaborative experimental filmmaking, photography, and digital technologies (VR, 360-degree video, binaural sound, interactive network analysis) as well as curation and exhibition in public spaces. I am enthusiastic about pioneering new publication, dissemination, and review options that meet the challenges of new media. I received my Ph.D. from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Florida in Dec. 2016, and I am a 2018-2020 Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Center for Experimental Ethnography at the University of Pennsylvania.
Learning from the ways others perceive the world—especially those stories, experiences, and adventures of people who explore the boundaries of human experience: e.g. Vodou healers grappling with death and dying, artists exploring meaning and suffering, community leaders coping with vigilante action. Ongoing work in Haiti, Ghana.
Critical. Collaborative. Experimental. I use experimental interdisciplinary strategies to participate in and observe modes of experience at the boundaries of human experience. I think film, photography, sound, and ethnographic writing are most productive when they are infused with participation across many scales. I also own and experiment with three virtual reality headsets (HTC Vive, Oculus Go, and Samsung Gear) combined with binaural soundscapes, full-body tracking, experiential education and exhibition, interactive network interfaces.
Interested in the power of non-linear narrative for reaching different audiences in different ways. Filmmaking that is sensitive to human experience and individual identity as: Opaque. Conflicted. Intersectional. Unresolvable. and Collaborative.
Jè Kle is a collaborative experimentation with a Haitian community, developed over 15 months of fieldwork in 2013-2015. We filmed it as a team consisting of an anthropologist, a young moto driver (Robenso Exantus), and a Manbo’s daughter (Maredel Sen Pierre), along with the help of many others in town, such as Haitian-Vodou singer (and song-keeper) Marimoz, the Manbo Nel, and Michel Saint Phard, a Christian shop-keeper. The soundtrack was made by a mix of inherited songs for the lwa, sung by Toto, Maredel Sen Pierre, Marimoz, Nel, and others, and with ambient sounds gathered at the site, and electronic remixes composed by Jeffrey Vadala (and inspire by captures of electronic hums, cell phone ring tones, and ritual noises at the site)
Together, it can be taken as an audio-visual rasanblaj, “reassembling/resembling” (taking from Gina Athena Ulysse’s work) of four domains of life in Sou Lapwen: Water, Nourishing, Dreams, and Seeking.. Through acts and practices of relating to water landscapes, nourishing one another, experiencing and recounting dreams, and helping others find solace in life’s difficulties, people within shared courtyards are everyday re-oriented towards their own and others’ bodies as a tool for assessing and transforming social, ethical, and metaphysical conditions between the courtyard and larger community. As both an act of assembling and resembling, the film also raises questions about the mechanics of technical collaboration, the translatable and untranslatable dimensions of lived experience, and the limits of linear narrative styles .The title, Jè Kle can be translated as a waking vision. It evokes the transformative collisions of different planes of experience —the waking dream, the living dead, the forgotten memory.
I began experimenting with a 3D interactive virtual reality approach in 2013, as a collaborator and chief texture artist for then-PhD-candidate Dr. Jeffrey Vadala’s (Post-Doctoral Scholar of Digital Humanities and Blended Learning at the Five-Colleges) Cerros VR Project (Now Cerro Maya VR). Since 2013, I have developed and designed historically accurate and interactive digital textures, architectural details, paints, botanical environs, and artifacts for the site. This interactive 3D virtual world was built using collections and data from the comprehensive Cerro Maya archaeological collection, now housed in the Florida Museum of Natural History. Jeff and I first began experimenting with developers editions of the Oculus Rift in combination with the Unreal Engine, and have now incorporated HTC Vive development into the project for increased interactivity and hand motions. Since then, we have worked together to create numerous pop-up VR labs around the country, as well as explored Kinect scanning methods and ethnoecological collaborations at sites in the Yucatan in Summer 2016.
In 2017-2018, I partnered with Jeffrey to assist in building a virtual reality laboratory at Hampshire College, and which was used by students to develop interactive cultural heritage projects in the “Critical Realities” course in Spring 2018. I have taken this approach into my own work, both in Ghanaian Contemporary Art virtual experiences (examples below) and work with Vodou healers in an Arcahaie community to pave the way forward for an on-the-ground technological lab to augment existing experimental film projects with VR technologies, including 360-degree film and sound experiences that bring to light the health quests of women in rural Haiti.
Alissa Jordan demonstrates the newly rebuilt Cerros to Scott Hussey (Fulbright Fellow) at the 2018 SAA.
Maxine Oland (UMass) tries out the new interactive features of the Cerros site, holding a virtual pot in her hands, with Jeffrey Vadala at the HRAF station at the 2018 Society for American Archaeology meeting
Accra choreographer and performance artist Elisabeth Efua Sutherland, founder of the Accra Theatre Workshop, dances out new variations on traditional Ghanaian stories, incorporating sound, emerging technologies, and creative writing into moving collaborative performances that engage children, among others. In this 360-degree video, Elisabeth Efua Sutherland choreographs and dances in “Spirit Moves” (aka How does the Spirit Move You?), which she describes as a “funky hymnal to the Modern Ghanaian soul.” This performative installation critically explores the embodiment of spirituality in Ghanaian society, and the way that spiritual practice transcends religious dogma and is iterated through individual experiences of worship—or, as Elisabeth eloquently puts it, “the core of the individual practice of worship that is located in a person’s very essence, their spirit or ‘sunsum’).” (Chale Wote Spirit Robot 2016).\
Learn more about Accra Theatre Workshop.
This 360-degree, binaural sound walk-through of a contemporary art exhibit in Accra includes ambient sound from sound installations filtered through. The exhibit, Cornfields in Accra, was the 2016 year-end show for students at Ghana’s KNUST University (KUMASI). See and experience the entire exhibit, entrance to exit, with over 50 artists and three floors at the Museum of Science and Technology in Accra. The exhibit was produced by blaxTARLINES KUMASI working with Ghana Museums and Monuments Board (GMMB), staged at the Museum of Science and Technology (MST).