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Saturday, June 10 • 11:15am - 12:15pm
Come Back Home: Music, Dance, and Video Design as Methods of Relational Truth-Seeking

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What constitutes truth? How can society continue to engage in the shared pursuit of truth within the context of social-media fueled mis-information and socio-political fragmentation? This collaborative, experimental project, entitled Come Back Home, combines the creative forces of a Communication Professor who is also a songwriter and musician, a Design Professor who is also a motion designer and writer, and three dance students—resulting in three video-based artworks and a short documentary that examines the themes of truth, media, information, and current events. The project sits at the intersection of creative praxis, performance, and visual communication, weaving together multiple forms and modes of content. [A version of the project can be viewed at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCYrG3Jigqo]

Come Back Home explores ways to use creative and technical arts as methods for enacting Martin Luther King, Jr.’s philosophy of non-violent resistance in a contemporary, social-mediated context. The premise of the project is that while King’s ethical principles of non-violent resistance remain relevant, today’s media ecosystem requires new forms of multimodal civic engagement beyond conventional forms of speech and activism. Music composition, video design, and choreography are the primary artforms driving this project, reflecting the project leaders’ key areas of expertise. The project builds on existing literature in arts-based research (ABR), which leverages elements of the creative process (imagination, improvisation, design, performance) as modes of inquiry. It also builds on literature in contemplative studies, which leverages attention-cultivating practices (introspection, meditation, mindfulness) to sharpen the affective and ethical dimensions of scholarly inquiry and pedagogy. The latter field frequently cites King as an exemplar of contemplative thought and practice. The project leaders’ ongoing work builds bridges between ABR and contemplative studies under the heading of Contemplative Media Studies (CMS). Healey’s co-authored book, Ethics and Religion in the Age of Social Media: Digital Proverbs for Responsible Citizens, explicitly leverages King’s principles of non-violent resistance in its critique of Silicon Valley (see especially the book’s concluding chapter, “An Ethic of Non-Violence for the Digital Age”).

The three video pieces that comprise the overall project—Come Back Home, Mine Eyes, and A Constant Subground River—explore these ideas in different ways.

Come Back Home explores themes of media, truth, and mis-information. The music is dynamic and aggressive in some passages, and the dance movements, motion design effects, and images reflect that sensibility. The images infused into the piece are chaotic, gritty, and conveying directed energy. Selected words and lyrics are emphasized through typography on the screen.

Mine Eyes directly explores perspectives connected to the January 6th Capitol Insurrection. Here the music is more melodic and flowing. The images include windows and eyes (referencing the lyrical motif of sight and seeing), but also include more metaphorical images connecting to other phrases and ideas in the lyrics. Images and video footage from the Capitol Insurrection have also been visually merged with the movements of the dancers.

A Constant Subground River is an instrumental, starting with an audio clip from the documentary it was created for. The speaker quotes a story he heard stating that “anti-semitism is a constant subground river.” Here just one of the dance students choreographed and performed the entire piece, and the editing shows reflections and echoes of those movements overlapped. Slowly moving images of waves and water were infused with the footage of the performance, creating a powerful end result.

This project and other ABR projects allow researchers and creators to access different kinds of information and data from that which is accessed using other traditional research methods. Come Back Home provides its viewers with a rich array of captured movements, music, language, and moving images which can be interpreted and explored in many ways, while still focusing on the intended themes of truth, mis-information, news, and media. Emily Shafritz, one of the participating dance students shared, “There’s no language barrier when it comes to dance. Movement is so universal.” Music and images also convey meaning beyond language. As educators and researchers grapple with the forms their scholarship ought to take, ABR offers innovative ways to reconsider the formats of rigorous academic work. This project demonstrates how disciplines might collaborate around a set of questions, generating meaningful research that bursts out of the traditional mold of the formal academic article, creating work that can be published in more accessible venues, speaking to a more diverse array of audiences.

avatar for Liese Zahabi

Liese Zahabi

Assistant Professor of Design, University of New Hampshire
Liese Zahabi is a graphic/interaction designer and Assistant Professor of Design at the University of New Hampshire. She received her Master of Graphic Design from North Carolina State University, and her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Eastern Michigan University. She has been working... Read More →
avatar for Kevin Healey

Kevin Healey

Associate Professor, University of New Hampshire

Saturday June 10, 2023 11:15am - 12:15pm EDT
ARC E-02