Strange Life Event Series

Priscilla Wald

2023

Type: Lab

Strange Life, part of the Entanglement Project, hosted a series of events that brought artists, scholars, writers, thinkers, and innovators to Duke's campus to question, engage, and play with the idea that life is strange.

The Unburied: Material Histories of Film in the Owens Valley

February 26, 2024
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STRANGE LIFE kicks off the Spring 2024 event series with "The Unburied: Material Histories of Film in the Owens Valley," a lecture by Genevieve Yue, Associate Professor of Culture and Media and Director for Screen Studies at The New School.

The Owens Valley, a slender stretch of high desert in Eastern California, is a place of origins. It has played a major, if underrecognized, role in the industrial development of Los Angeles, particularly for the silver extracted in the late 19th century and the water diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct in the early 20th. These and other histories have been inscribed, though often miswritten, in film, including in the nearly 500 Hollywood productions shot in the region's Alabama Hills. But look closer into these beginnings and one will find traces of the lives and labors of dispossessed Indigenous peoples, Mexican settlers, and Asian immigrants. This talk focuses on the latter group: Chinese miners killed in a devastating accident at the Cerro Gordo mine, Japanese-Americans interned at Manzanar, and the minor characters that, through their background expressions in films, point to a different direction for the Hollywood imaginary. The history of film, in its most basic, material composition of silver salt and gelatine, is conditioned by these half-buried figures, however incidental they have been to an already neglected landscape. As the experience of "film" has become all but entirely digitized, the retrieval of these foundational elements of the film image reveals a representational form whose geographical and material origins are still largely unexplored.

Hosted by Taylor Black

To Anyone Who Ever Asks: The Life, Music, and Mystery of Connie Converse

February 29, 2024
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STRANGE LIFE welcomes author Howard Fishman to discuss his new book To Anyone Who Ever Asks: The Life, Music, and Mystery of Connie Converse.

When musician and New Yorker contributor Howard Fishman first heard Connie Converse's voice on a recording, he was convinced she could not be real. Her recordings were too good not to know, and too out of place for the 1950s to make sense-a singer who seemed to bridge the gap between traditional Americana (country, blues, folk, jazz, and gospel), the Great American Songbook, and the singer-songwriter movement that exploded a decade later with Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.

Supported by a dozen years of research, travel to everywhere she lived, and hundreds of extensive interviews, Fishman approaches Converse's story as both a fan and a journalist, and expertly weaves a narrative of her life and music, and of how it has come to speak to him as both an artist and a person. Ultimately, he places her in the canon as a significant outsider artist, a missing link between a now old-fashioned kind of American music and the reflective, complex, arresting music that transformed the 1960s and music forever.

Hosted by Taylor Black

North Carolina Ecofeminism: A Poetry Reading by Sumita Chakraborty and Destiny Hemphill

March 5, 2024
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STRANGE LIFE partnered with the Art and the (De)Colonial Garden working group to host "North Carolina Ecofeminism: A Poetry Reading by Sumita Chakraborty and Destiny Hemphill."

Destiny Hemphill's poetry invites her readers into worldbuilding dialogue: "Let's be each other's oracles." Hemphill, a ritual worker based in Durham, published her debut collection motherworld: a devotional for the alter-life with Action Books in 2023. Drawing from Afro-pessimism, Black mysticism, and critical geography, Hemphill's work engages with ancestors, ritual forms, prophecy, topography, earth, and embodiment in acts of radical and courageous healing. She "tend[s] to the dream that what we need & what others have believed/to be found nowhere can be found now, here." Hemphill teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Sumita Chakraborty's work embraces the transformative potential of earth: the rich matter of mountains, moons, deer, bones, sisters. Her debut poetry collection Arrow won the 2020 Alice James Award and was published by Carcanet Press. Her poems summon spirit and testify to the ways in which "we live our lives chained to earth." Her scholarly manuscript Grave Dangers, under contract with the University of Minnesota Press, calls for "a more robust framework for dwelling within death that neither courts vitalism nor thanatopolitics" and turns to contemporary poetics as an archive that can provide such a framework. Chakraborty is an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at North Carolina State University.

Hosted by Sharon Kunde

Against Home in the Settler Colony

September 28, 2023
Against Home in the Settler Colony flyer with speaker headshot and event details

STRANGE LIFE, part of The Entanglement Project, opened the 2023-24 academic year by welcoming Julietta Singh (Professor of English and Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies at University of Richmond) to discuss her forthcoming collaborative documentary film in a talk entitled "Against Home in the Settler Colony."

What does "home" mean in the settler colony, and how does that term come to resound differently for and across communities? How might our homes-the places we grew up and the places we now inhabit-become spaces of explicitly anticolonial dwelling? Through her new collaborative feature-length documentary, THE NEST, Julietta Singh turns to the architecture of the settler colony to ignite trans-cultural and trans-historical anticolonial feminist kinships. Displacing the legacies of home passed down by the heteronuclear family and through the settler state, THE NEST intimately examines the architecture of Singh's childhood home to reframe Canadian history as a story of entangled, subjugated, and politically charged feminist and minoritized lives.

Hosted by Anna Storti

Denaturing the Colonial Sensorium: A Poetry Reading

October 19, 2023
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STRANGE LIFE hosted Edgar Garcia(link opens in a new window/tab) (Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at University of Chicago) and Joyelle McSweeney(link opens in a new window/tab) (Professor of English at University of Notre Dame) for the event "Denaturing the Colonial Sensorium: A Poetry Reading."

Joyelle McSweeney and Edgar Garcia are poet-thinker-creators who inhabit the rotting skins of the Anthropocene, channeling its aporia and lacunae. “Slammed, pierced, and annihilated by historical fact” and, with the Mayan gods, devoted to articulating a version of humanity that is “indistinguishable from the inherent polyphony of creativity,” their poetry and other writing attune us to the deep historicity of planetary breakdown. In a joint reading followed by questions and answers, Garcia and McSweeney undertake the strange and sticky work of denaturing (defacing? reshaping? unshaping?) the colonial sensorium.

In addition to the public reading, McSweeney and Garcia shared and discussed works-in-progress in a collaborative workshop with the STRANGE LIFE working group.

Hosted by Sharon Kunde

Sowa Rigpa Treating Poetry: The Poetics of Traditional Tibetan Medicine

November 8, 2023
Headshot of Robert Kocik and event details

STRANGE LIFE and the Contemporary Poetics Working Group welcomed Robert Kocik(link opens in a new window/tab) for the talk "Sowa Rigpa Treating Poetry: The Poetics of Traditional Tibetan Medicine."

"May all I make, compound or assemble together be medicine."

The daily vows, prostrations, visualizations and recitations for practicing Sowa Rigpa include the Aspiration Prayer from which the above quote is drawn. Does this entreaty apply to the composition of poetry as well? To every sentence we form? Every thought that arises?

I'm a poet whose primary research is in the field of Prosody. Prosody is the interplay between speech and song. It's the intonational, rhythmic, musical, interactive aspects of language. It is also definable as poetry's basic elements of composition (stress, intensity, pause, pitch, timbre, mood, etc.). Initially, I sought out Tibetan Medicine only in order to practice mantra (which is integral to Tibetan Medicine) as the most potent form of phonic sound.

As a student of mantra ('mind protection') I had no intention of practicing Tibetan Medicine which is tantric (tantra, 'body protection'). During the pandemic, my Tibetan teacher made the decision to go online and teach Sowa Rigpa (Traditional Tibetan Medicine), and I accepted an invitation to be interviewed. My resistance to this medical practice was elemental: 5 element theory, the 3 humors, the 3 poisons, and the one primary cause of disease (ignorance, ma rigpa, or avidyā) were foreign to me. In the interview it was pointed out to me that the mandala from which Sowa Rigpa emanates (a garden called Tanaduk) is the abode of the poets (the rishis, the same sage/poets who received the Vedic hymns). Right away, I asked my teacher: what are the rishis doing in there? His answer basically reconstituted my life.

I'd like to show the interrelationship between Sowa Rigpa and prosody, the composition of health, with prosody understood in this context as bearing properties such as vibration, vibrancy, timing, attuning, intoning, intent, interacting, proportioning, and equipoise.

Hosted by Priscilla Wald

Virtual Playtest: Encounter // On the Art of Making Better Problems: Improvisation, Experiment, and Transmedia Performance Research

December 4 & December 8, 2023
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STRANGE LIFE hosted a two-part event begining with "Virtual Playtest: Encounter," a transmedia, improvisational, and live interactive strange performance with Patrick Jagoda (William Rainey Harper Professor of English, Professor of Cinema and Media Studies, Program Director of Media Arts and Design) and Heidi Coleman (Associate Senior Instructional Professor of the Committee for Theater and Performance Studies), both from the University of Chicago.

Developed by The Fourcast Lab (co-founded by Jagoda and Coleman) at the University of Chicago, this platform enables a live networked audience to interact, via chat, with a live actor to co-create a series of narrative performances. To construct this experience, we draw from art forms, including creative writing, theater, filmmaking, and game design. As humanistic research, this work is an intervention into fields that include performance studies, media studies, narrative theory, and game studies. Our iterative process includes design, development, playtesting, and data collection. Strange lives will be cocreated.

View game summary and trailer here.

Event flyer with headshots

Jagoda and Coleman followed up on the interactive playtest of Encounter with the talk "On the Art of Making Better Problems: Improvisation, Experiment, and Transmedia Performance Research" at Duke.

This talk explores a transmedia, improvisational, and interactive performance platform entitled Encounter that the Fourcast Lab is developing at the University of Chicago. This platform enables a live networked audience to interact, via chat, with a live actor in order to co-create a series of narrative performances. To construct this experience, we draw from art forms including creative writing, theater, filmmaking, and game design. As humanistic research, this work is an intervention into fields that include performance studies, media studies, narrative theory, science fiction studies, and game studies. Beyond the formal innovation, the project aims to establish both a theoretical and practical framework for live performance online that can be used to run research projects across the humanities, arts, and social sciences. In particular, we will discuss possible applications across areas such as applied ethics and mental health research.

Hosted by Priscilla Wald