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Venue: Birkbeck 43 Gordon Square

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Every two years Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image (BIMI) organises a research workshop with colleagues from University of Pittsburgh. The theme for this year’s BIMI-Pittsburgh Research workshop is collections, collectors and collecting, as they relate to Film and Media Studies and to neighbouring disciplines that explore visual and digital culture broadly conceived.


FRIDAY 12 MAY (day 3 of 3)


10:30-12:00 SESSION SIX

Mark Best (Pittsburgh): “Collecting as Narrative Drive in Kamen Riders”


Daria Ponomareva (Birkbeck): “The Ethics of Preservation and Piracy in relation to the Collection of Video Games”

Discussants: Rebekah Cupitt (Birkbeck), Joel McKim (Birkbeck)


12:00-13:00 LUNCH BREAK


13:00-14:30 SESSION SEVEN

Geneveive Newman (Pittsburgh): “Collective: Memory, Archives, and Sexual Violence”


Sasha Bergstrom-Katz (Birkbeck): “On the Subject of Tests: Un-Boxing, Un-Packing”

Discussants: Esther Leslie (Birkbeck), Emma Yapp (Birkbeck)


15:00-16:30 CONCLUSION

General discussion, feedback, and future plans.


ABSTRACTS/OUTLINES for Friday 12 May (day 3 of 3)


Mark Best: “Collecting as Narrative Drive in Kamen Riders”

For over five decades, the Japanese company Toei Productions has maintained a stable of popular, live-action superhero television series, mostly created by manga artist Shotaro Ishinomori. Kamen Rider [“Masked Rider”] (beginning in 1971) and Super Sentai (Americanized as the Power Rangers) have been the most successful. Seasonal renewals of each series — in either tight or loose continuity with previous seasons — allow for new waves of merchandise each year, as children grow into or out of the target audience. This presentation focuses on recent iterations of the insect-themed, motorcycle-riding Kamen Riders and their relationships to collecting, not so much as the accumulation of merchandise by fans, but more notably as an increasingly prominent narrative structure within the series itself.  

   In her 2006 study Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination, anthropologist Anne Allison considers Kamen Rider in terms of cyborg transformation and identity in relation to commodification. While the transformation of the superhero remains the central convention of the series, cyborg identity has given way to increasing numbers of forms necessary for the hero to meet increasingly powerful threats. The basis for one of the most popular Kamen Rider toys, the transformation belts (or “drivers”) used by the heroes have changed from fixed objects to modular devices using a wide range of attachments (appropriately called “gimmicks” by English-speaking adult fans) that give the hero various powers (and related forms). The obvious analogy would be levelling-up in videogames (which is, in fact, the theme of one series). However, like the “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” slogan of the Americanized version of Pokemon (also examined by Allison), the knowledge of and need to acquire gimmicks now shapes the stories themselves, often from the beginning of a series. In other words, Kamen Rider has become a show as much about collecting as about superhero action against supervillains. 


Daria Ponomareva: “The Ethics of Preservation and Piracy in relation to the Collection of Video Games”

The proposed presentation will touch upon two main issues of digital collecting of video games – ethics of collecting illegally downloaded files and the issue of ownership of paid digital copies of games. The aim of the presentation is to draw attention to these issues for the further research.

The issue with digital collecting of video games is lack of ownership and ability to curate the collection. Certain games, after some time has passed, stop being sold online anymore, which makes it impossible for collectors to purchase games later, leaving them with three options – to pirate games, search for them on other platforms, or purchase physical copies in store or second-hand. For example, old games require certain platforms that are not sold anymore with some being sold secondhand, if a collector wants to own a copy of an old game it is more likely that they have to download it illegally. How ethical is it to collect pirated games that are over twenty years old and cannot be purchased second-hand? The presentation will show a case of Silent Hill series and how pirating of games contributes to preservation of the original files.

   I will explore if people online identify their collections as such and the difference between physical collecting in terms of ownership with a few examples from YouTube and forums. Some examples will be from my research journey; I bought a game online for my research topic and paid 3 pounds for it, later I find the game in my library of purchased games, but it showed I needed to buy it again at the full price now. How truly does one own a copy of a game after the purchase? After all, can files that are able to be copied multiple times be truly considered objects of collecting?


Geneveive Newman: “Collective: Memory, Archives, and Sexual Violence”

The presentation consists of two components: a short, seven to ten minute experimental/documentary film, and a brief artist’s statement to accompany the screening. The film utilizes audio design to reconstruct the rhetorical development of intimate partner violence. It turns away from the spectacular, visualized, and often caricatured ways in which audiences are accustomed to identifying representations of gendered violence, relying instead on the oral/aural components of the experience. Taking a cue from Jen Proctor’s Am I Pretty, the film minimizes visual information in favour of dialogue, edited using experimental aesthetics.

   This short film is a demonstration of how social technologies in the 2020s, with all of the politics of algorithmic computing, make the creation of social collections possible if not inevitable. The film is an experimental documentary perspective on the ways that abuse develops over the course of a relationship. Using a victim-survivor’s conversations (with consent) recently discovered in a social media archive, the film illustrates the rhetoric of intimate partner abuse. The film further explores questions of the utility of these unknown archives, the politics of digital deletion, questions, concerns and complications will be teased out in the brief artist’s statement.

   The statement accompanying the film (no longer then ten minutes) will extrapolate on the intersections of my dissertation research into the rape victim-survivor as spectator of/for sexual violence in media, and the applications of that theory to creative making. Put differently, the film is experimental on a number of technical and aesthetic levels, but also presents an opportunity to work through how audio-visual mediums can address sexual violence differently. The film and statement operate in conjunction to work towards imagining alternatives that can exist beside but do not rely on narrative and aesthetic tropes common to representations of sexual violence.


Sasha Bergstrom-Katz: “On the Subject of Tests: Un-Boxing, Un-Packing”

On the Subject of Tests is a multi-faceted collection of artistic-research and writing in which I seek a better understanding of the ways in which kits used for intelligence testing archive their own histories and how these histories are therefore unpacked and re-performed in a testing environment. By collecting out-of-use intelligence test kits, I am able to examine the objects that constitute them, including puzzles, toys, games, picture books, forms and questions to be read aloud. The objects that comprise the tests have their own individual histories, having been commercial toys, educational tools, and therapeutic objects, they are now gathered together in a “kit” to become a test. Further, these objects were trialled individually as tests before being collected into the kits and passed through multiple institutions and locations. One puzzle, for example, was first used as a test at Ellis Island (1912), seeking to collect immigrant data based on ethnicity and race. This puzzle was then re-designed and included in an intelligence test kit, the Wechsler Bellevue Scales of Intelligence (1939), and is still in contemporary tests today.

   My project, therefore, understands the test kits as archives of their own pasts through their material compositions. In the video project, On the Subject of Tests: Un-Boxing, Un-Packing, I expand the research on the test-as-archive by collaborating with artists to, together, unbox a collection of historical test kits and discuss them in relation to both the history of testing. The project also, importantly, highlights my own personal relationships with the objects and their designs, evidencing the ways in which the test-kits are affective objects. For the workshop at BIMI, I will screen an excerpt of this project (about 30 minutes) alongside a brief introduction to the project as a whole.


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