Expedition Content + Dead Birds
Friday, Dec 9, 2022 at 7:00 pm
Location: Bartos Screening Room
Dirs. Ernst Karel, Veronika Kusumaryati. 2020, 78 mins. DCP. Constructed from audio recorded during the making of Robert Gardner’s landmark ethnographic documentary Dead Birds (1964), this work by renowned sound artists Karel (Leviathan, The Hottest August) and Kusumaryati is simultaneously an immersive sonic document and a deft critique of the ethnographic endeavor. The recordings were made by recent college graduate and Standard Oil heir Michael Rockefeller, who joined the Harvard-Peabody Expedition to Netherlands New Guinea that set up tents among the indigenous Hubula (also known as Dani) people. Karel and Kusumaryati reframe the archive to explore the power dynamics between anthropologist and subject, and between sound and image, ultimately including very few images to reorient us and our sense of what’s been documented, and by and for whom, creating a singular cinematic experience.
Dir. Robert Gardner. 1963, 84 mins. DCP. Documenting the ritual warfare of the Dugum Dani people of western New Guinea, Gardner’s landmark film records the battles between the men of Willihiman-Wallalua and Wittaia clans, the domestic labors of the women at home, and, in one particularly memorable sequence, the funeral of a young boy killed in a fight. Challenging the traditional function of the ethnographic film, Gardner claimed to be seeking to illuminate “certain fundamental issues in human life” rather than pretend to an objective account of indigenous life. The film remains a controversial and contested entry in the documentary canon.
Tickets: $15 / $11 senior and students / $9 youth (ages 3–17) / discounted for MoMI members ($7–$11). Order tickets. Please pick up tickets at the Museum’s admissions desk upon arrival. All seating is general admission. Review safety protocols before your visit.