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KIE Senior Fellow Michael Kliën Heads New Laboratory for Social Choreography

Before the piece begins, around twenty relative strangers meet with Michael Kliën to learn the basics of the “score” that will govern their movement for the duration of Parliament. The “rules” aren’t really rules at all; a simple proposition for how people might be together sets the tone. Working from a simple premise, everyone can determine how they want to interact. Six hours later, nearly everyone emerges from the shared experience exhilarated, feeling connected in ways they hadn’t anticipated—and not entirely sure how to explain what just happened. Unburdened from ordinary social cues and structures for several hours, participants move into a shared exploration of how to be in community. Parliament, Kliën notes, is embodied ethics.

Associate Professor of the Practice of Dance and new Institute Senior Fellow Michael Kliën has built his artistic career exploring how our thinking and social organization are embodied. Often our image of self centers on our brains as the center of our consciousness. This is limited, Kliën says: “A thought is a physical act.” Thus, if we want to change social institutions or norms, we must rethink how we move our bodies through space. That means reconsidering what different bodies are capable of and with whom different bodies interact.

The implications for this practice are wide-ranging and ambitious. Social choreographic techniques are being used to develop strategies for institutions to become flexible so that they can better adapt and learn; to develop novel (and more functional) ways of engaging in political discourse; and to understand the mostly unconscious social coding that keeps us moving in familiar-but-sometimes-unhealthy patterns. Kliën is currently teaching to his students in a first-year seminar on visionary thinking as part of the What Now? program.

The Laboratory for Social Choreography (LSC), also supported by The Franklin Humanities Institute, will be an incubator and hub for a range of social choreographic thinking and action. This spring, preparations are underway for a series of collaborations and projects to for the coming academic year, including instances of Parliament meant to connect people from disparate parts of the city of Durham and presenting the work at universities across the country; work with the new Master of Fine Arts in Embodied Interdisciplinary Praxis; and a model for collaborative innovation with faculty.

Profile: 2019-2020 Graduate Arts Fellow Cassandra Klos

2019-2020 Graduate Arts Fellow Cassandra Klos has an abiding love for nature and science fiction. These influences are apparent across diverse photographic explorations of pain, stories of alien abduction, and her ongoing project focusing on space simulations across the country. That latter series, Mars on Earth, documents the work of scientists and artists as they prepare for the possible colonization of Mars. Klos has been a participant as well as an observer of these efforts. Traveling to remote, rocky sites in Utah, Texas, and Hawaii, Klos and her colleagues work to imagine and (as much as practicable) live as if they have left earth behind.

Documenting this work has at times created its own special challenges. Klos shot most of Life on Mars using a 4×5” large format camera. “I brought the oldest camera to this futuristic space,” she says. Dragging her heavy camera and tripod around, sometimes while wearing a full spacesuit, Klos captured landscapes and people operating in the space between the familiar and the speculative.

As part of her fellowship, Klos is curating an exhibit for the Keohane-Kenan Gallery this spring. Existence on the Periphery is one of her first curatorial projects. Bringing together artists working in illustration, film, and still photography, the show considers the likely impact of the Anthropocene on the environments in which humans persist and might eventually live. “The goal,” she says, “is to imagine different realities than what we’re accustomed to.”

Each artist in the exhibit facilitates that imagining. David Alabo, who is based in Ghana, creates lush illustrations that meditate on possible futures for sub-Saharan Africa. Allison Cekala’s video work of road salt makes visible the ways that resources are extracted and travel around the globe, creating an opportunity to consider the human hands and needs involved. Acacia Johnson’s photographs of indigenous people in the Arctic document the persistence of a way of life at the edges of human habitation—a way of life under existential threat from climate change. Video work by Janet Biggs offers considerations of how we might use technology in new ways. The show also features work from Klos’s Mars on Earth series.

Existence on the Periphery will be on display in the Keohane-Kenan Gallery from February 17th through March 29th.

A panel featuring Allison Cekala, Acacia Johnson, and Duke Professor of Cultural Anthropology Ralph Litzinger will take place in the Ahmadieh Conference Room on February 20th at 5:30pm. Reception to follow.

A film screening of Zhao Liang’s feature documentary Behemoth and short works by Janet Biggs and Allison Cekala will take place on February 24th at the Rubenstein Arts Center.

Designing Ethics to Improve Lives

This past week, six sections of Engineering Design and Communication (EGR 101) students presented posters, and in some cases prototypes of their semester’s work to the public. As a core part of Pratt’s recently revised first-year engineering curriculum, 327 students work in small teams to research and design an engineering solution to a problem specified by a real client. These clients range from individuals with disabilities in Durham to teams working to improve safety for divers in Chile. In such a diverse landscape of projects, students encounter a range of ethical issues through their work. This semester, the Bass Connections Scaffolding Ethics team has been developing methods to facilitate ethical awareness alongside the skills cultivated by EGR 101’s hands-on approach to engineering design.

Jessica Edelson, T ’22, applied to join the Bass team after a rewarding-but-ethically-complex EGR 101 experience: creating an accurate model of the female abdomen for postpartum medical training in rural Uganda. For whom should engineers be designing? Why were they working on a product for a population a world away when maternal mortality is a problem everywhere? “We felt like given that this was a problem in our own backyard, we could do a better job delivering a product for a population we understood better,” she says. The lesson for Jessica was that ethical considerations are always part of the practice of engineering.

Designing Ethics

Over the course of the semester the Bass Connections team has been exploring how to ensure that every first-year engineering student comes to understand the ethical dimensions of their work. Using the innovation process that is at the heart of engineering design, the team has spent the semester following a series of steps, including:

  • Understanding the “problem space” in which they are operating
  • Defining design criteria responsive to project objectives and constraints
  • Brainstorming many possible solutions, collaborating to make best possible version of each idea
  • Narrowing down the list to the most promising ideas
  • Creating prototypes ready to test

 

The team interviewed engineering faculty at Duke and at several peer institutions to gain a sense of best practices and approaches. They also interviewed EGR 101 students from last year, discovering a wide range of ethical sensitivity. The team’s output needed to work in a project-based environment that would facilitate reflection at multiple points in the process—while also allowing projects to continue towards completion. Several prototype ideas have been refined, including: a mapping exercise designed to show engineers’ influence in their problem space beyond the client and end user; an activity meant to demonstrate how different entities in a system might have conflicting values and priorities; and a new team of student “ethics mentors” who will work with EGR 101 teams.

This spring, the team will begin to evaluate these prototypes in the spring EGR 101 course. The hope is that some of these course innovations help engineering students learn how to detect and understand the kinds of normative trade-offs made at every stage of the design process.   Faculty Lead Ann Saterbak from the Pratt School of Engineering-Biomedical Engineering said, “This reframing of the engineering design process with an eye toward ethical considerations will better prepare engineering students to tackle complex technical challenges.”

Title Wanted – on Exhibit

Work by Duke MFA student Hoang Nuyen.

In Title Wanted, Hoang Nuyen, (MFA|EDA ’20), invites viewers to consider the role of iconic photographs in shaping how we view others, ourselves, and history. Born and raised in Hanoi, Nuyen understood the Vietnam War as it is taught and memorialized by the regime that has governed the whole of Vietnam since 1975. When he traveled to the United States for college and then graduate school, he was interested to find a dramatically different narrative and set of imagery dominated public memory of the war.

Nuyen’s work engages with some of the best known and most reproduced photographs of the Vietnam War. These photographs, originally taken by American photojournalists reporting for an American audience, have become the primary way people around the world understand the war. By tearing these images apart and reconstructing them with Nuyen’s own photographs of his family and friends around Hanoi, Nuyen offers a space for questioning the relationship between past and present, public and private, and the ethics of representing trauma. Along the way, he questions, the nature of authorship, responsibility for the images we create, and what happens when part of someone’s story comes to stand in for the experiences of many. 

 

Title Wanted will be on display in the Keohane-Kenan Gallery until February 14, 2020.

title wanted


The Graduate Arts Fellowship supports the generation and exhibition of ethics-oriented work at the leading edge of documentary practice. Offered to one student entering their second year of Duke’s MFA|EDA program, the fellowship offers resources, mentorship, and opportunities for engagement with the faculty, fellows, staff, and students at the Kenan Institute for Ethics over the course of an academic year.

Title Wanted – on Exhibit

Work by Duke MFA student Hoang Nuyen.

In Title Wanted, Hoang Nguyen, (MFA|EDA ’20), invites viewers to consider the role of iconic photographs in shaping how we view others, ourselves, and history. Born and raised in Hanoi, Nguyen understood the Vietnam War as it is taught and memorialized by the regime that has governed the whole of Vietnam since 1975. When he traveled to the United States for college and then graduate school, he was interested to find a dramatically different narrative and set of imagery dominated public memory of the war.

Nguyen’s work engages with some of the best known and most reproduced photographs of the Vietnam War. These photographs, originally taken by American photojournalists reporting for an American audience, have become the primary way people around the world understand the war. By tearing these images apart and reconstructing them with Nguyen’s own photographs of his family and friends around Hanoi, Nguyen offers a space for questioning the relationship between past and present, public and private, and the ethics of representing trauma. Along the way, he questions, the nature of authorship, responsibility for the images we create, and what happens when part of someone’s story comes to stand in for the experiences of many. 

 

Title Wanted will be on display in the Keohane-Kenan Gallery until February 14, 2020.

title wanted


The Graduate Arts Fellowship supports the generation and exhibition of ethics-oriented work at the leading edge of documentary practice. Offered to one student entering their second year of Duke’s MFA|EDA program, the fellowship offers resources, mentorship, and opportunities for engagement with the faculty, fellows, staff, and students at the Kenan Institute for Ethics over the course of an academic year.