Hacking The Shit Out Of Everything: Part 1
Above: Future hackers Kel O’Neill and Eline Jongsma talking about their project Empire courtesy of Submarine Channel.
If a creative team is truly devoted to their project, they want it to reach as many people as possible. If said project happens to be series of documentary video installations about the unintended consequences of Dutch colonialism, this may not be the most realistic goal. Besides the seemingly daunting subject matter, there’s the difficulty of form to deal with. Installations are inherently sculptural—video is only part of the deal. You don’t rent or torrent a proper video installation. You visit one.
But do you have to? Perhaps there’s a way to adapt the experience of a video installation to a more accessible platform without compromising the immersive qualities that make installations so enjoyable to experience and so gratifying to create. If there is a way, we’d like to find it, as we’ve actually spent the past three years creating a series of documentary video installations about the unintended consequences of Dutch colonialism (it goes without saying that we want it to reach as many people as possible). Toward that goal, we will be spending the coming weekend working with a team of web developers to drag our sprawling, three dimensional creation kicking and screaming into the online space.
Tomorrow marks the start of the second POV Hackathon, a two-day collaborative free-for-all organized by PBS’s long-running documentary series POV. Eight creative teams of documentary filmmakers and tech experts have been invited to the Hackathon this time around, and each one of these teams will be tasked with creating a working online documentary prototype over the course of the weekend. Some teams will make apps, while others will create websites. Still others will attempt to bring entirely new digital storytelling forms to life.
A trailer for one of Empire’s many installations.
Our project, Empire, is one of the eight selected for the hackathon. Empire began in 2010 as a single video installation shot and edited in Sri Lanka. Since then, the project has swelled into a monster that has taken over our lives. In the three years we’ve worked on Empire, we’ve finished five more video installations. We’ve travelled over 140,000 kilometers by plane, train, and motorboat. We’ve slept in gold camps in central Suriname and attended Shabbat service on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. We’ve lived among white separatists in South Africa’s Northern Cape, and spent some serious time hanging out with a small enclave of Dutch descendants in the Brazilian mountains.
Shabbat service on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
We started making Empire because we wanted to explore how events and decisions from the past continue to reverberate into the present. We chose what we thought was a small target area for our research—Dutch corporate-colonialism—and went from there. The 17th century Dutch East India and West India Companies were privately controlled chartered companies, proto-multinationals. While other European colonists sailed under national flags, VOC and WIC ships sailed under corporate logos. Wherever the companies landed, their traders and colonists left traces in the architecture, culture, and bloodlines of the communities they touched.
Dutch descendants in the Brazilian mountains.
We now understand that our chosen target was not so small. Over time, Empire has become a case study of the long-term, human-scaled impact of global capitalism, and a catalogue of intangible cultural heritage. In 100 years, an artist duo could make a similar project about the traces of American influence in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. In 200, perhaps a project will touch on China’s impact in Africa and South America.
Which all sounds great, of course, but how do you get that all online in one weekend?
Up next in Part 2: Rolling deep with the Hackathon gang.
Kel O’Neill and Eline Jongsma’s project Empire premiered at the 2012 edition of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. They joined Twitter five days ago, so throw them a sympathy follow @EmpireDoc.