Visual, Digital, Material Research Group

    This research initiative takes film, art and exhibition making as a means of engaging communities and the wider public with questions around global transformation and social creativity. It draws together themes of collaboration, new public anthropologies, material culture, visual culture, and art as ethnography.Working at the intersections of the digital, material and visual culture, researchers in this group are variously involved in film making and other forms of image-based work, building curatorial partnerships with museums and cultural organisations, and using digital media to expand ethnographic methods and insights.

    The program is closely associated with The Cairns Institute's Anthropological Laboratory for Tropical Audiovisual Research (ALTAR) which runs public film screenings that explore the intersections of ethnographic film, Indigenous media and experimental film. A key element of this research group involves an on-going collaboration between JCU and the Moesgaard Museum and Aarhus University in Denmark, led by Associate Professor Jennifer Deger and Professor Ton Otto, both of whom bring a strong emphasis on practice-led research methods involving film-making, new media and/or exhibition as research method. 

    Events | Exhibitions | Publications


    1 March 2021 | Maria Wronska-Friend published an article in ‘Asian Textiles. Journal of the Oxford Asian Textile Group’ on the transformation of festive and ritual dress of the Hmong people – refugees from Laos, who settled in North Queensland (Cairns and Innisfail). 

    11 March 2021 | Maria Wronska-Friend presented a paper “Java sarasa. The Dutch agency in introducing to Japan batik and batik-related textiles” at a symposium Dutch Textiles in Global History: Interactions of Trade, Design and Labour, 1600-2000 (University of Utrecht & Hosei University, Tokyo).

    19-28 March 2021 | JCU researchers Victoria Baskin Coffey, Sebastian Lowe and Jennifer Deger’s co-directed film with Paul Gurrumuruwuy, Enid Guruŋulmiwuy, Warren Balpatji, Meredith Balanydjarrk, James Ganambarr and Kayleen Djingadjingawuy Making Worlds Otherwise (Miyarrka Media 2020 ) premiered at the 17th annual RAI Film Festival, selected for competition in the RAI & Marsh Short Film Prize.

    25 March 2021 | Three videos by otis makers/JCU HDR candidates Sebastian J. Lowe and Victoria Baskin Coffey together with taonga puoro practitioner Ruby Solly ((Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Waitaha) screened at Māoriland, New Zealand's premier international Indigenous Film Festival. Ruby Solly's album Pōneke is a modern love letter to place, space and time within a post second-migration world; an album that allows the listener to hear and experience the histories of a place, allowing us to journey together.  These three videos are an exploration of three locations that exist in Pōneke (Wellington). The videos have also screened at Wairoa Maori Film Festival (26 October 2020), Museum of Art Hoholulu (19 December 2020) and will feature at the Roxbury International Film Festival (18 June, 2021).

    14 April 2021 | VDM research group’s Dr Matthew Buttacavoli received the 2021 CASE Dean’s Award for Research Higher Degree Excellence for his innovative PhD thesis Sounding the Reef: Comparative Acoustemologies of Underwater Noise Pollution.

    1 May 2021 | JCU’s Ton Otto and Jennifer Deger have published an article on their collaborative experiments in museum design in dialogue with eminent anthropologist, George Marcus, in the Journal of Design Studies.

    25 May 2021 | Maria Wronska-Friend gave a talk “From sarong to sari. Rabindranath Tagore’s fascination with the batik of Java” at the Oriental Rug and Textile Society (London). It focused on the introduction of several aspects of Javanese culture to the Visva Bharati academy set up by Tagore, following his 1927 visit to Indonesia. In particular, the Javanese technique of batik, in Bengal, evolved into a new, strongly localised artistic expression and became a means of empowering a significant number of village and tribal women.

    26 May 2021 | Jennifer Deger’s co-authored essay Mapping Feral Flows published by Anthropocene Curriculum , a global network of initiatives developing and testing experimental and experiential approaches to co-learning and co-producing knowledge in a rapidly changing planetary situation.

    28 May 2021 | Fiona Wirrer-George presents her PhD performance Idiwirra: A Living Epistemology at The Cairns Institute lecture theatre. This multimodal autoethnographic ‘lecture’ begins as an account of a museum repatriation project and expands into a rich, complex experiment with story and critique that brings Wik and Wikway knowledge and authority into dialogue with academic forms and practices.

    7 October 2021 | Maria Wronska-Friend invited to present at the Sustainability of Batik as Indonesia's heritage for the world: Opportunities and Challenges. Organised by the Indonesian Embassy, Canberra and the Indonesian Students' Association of Australia.


    10 April 2020 | Picking up their cameras to answer the question “What is Anthropology?”, JCU postgraduate students took out two out of three prizes in the Australian Anthropological Society’s Engaged Anthropology Instagram competition. The People's Choice went to Victoria Baskin Coffey and Sebastian Lowe, curators of the art-anthropology collective, Otis Makers, while the Australian Network of Student Anthropologists prize went to Alicia Wheatley who made her short film while in lockdown in Costa Rica. This is a fantastic outcome for these members of Visual, Digital, Material research group. We hear that these films are already being used to introduce first year students to the discipline in Australia and beyond.  

    29 June 2020 | Daniela Vávrová’s curated selection of Kiap Period Photo Albums, by Laurie Bragge (1961-1967) is featured in the JCU Catalogue 50 Treasures Celebrating 50 Years of James Cook University, pp. 70-71.

    20 September 2020 | A/Prof Jennifer Deger (Co-Editor and Co-Curator) and HDR Candidate Victoria Baskin Coffey (Visual Editor) celebrate the release of their digital project Feral Atlas: The More-Than-Human Anthropocene (Tsing, Anna L., Jennifer Deger, Alder Keleman Saxena, and Feifei Zhou. Redwood City: Stanford University Press 2020). Feral Atlas invites you to explore the ecological worlds created when nonhuman entities become tangled up with human infrastructure projects. Seventy-nine field reports from scientists, humanists, and artists show you how to recognize “feral” ecologies, that is, ecologies that have been encouraged by human-built infrastructures, but which have developed and spread beyond human control. These infrastructural effects, Feral Atlas argues, are the Anthropocene.

    28 October | VDM’s Professor Rosita Henry and Dr Daniela Vávrová celebrate the publication of their article Brideprice and Prejudice: An Audio‐Visual Ethnography on Marriage and Modernity in Mt Hagen, Papua New Guinea in Oceania.

    9 November 2020 | Miyarrka Media, the arts collective co-founded by Jennifer Deger and based in north-east Arnhem Land, was awarded the prestigious Gregory Bateson Book Prize for Phone & Spear: a Yuta Anthropology. As the jurors for the prize, awarded by the US Society for Cultural Anthropology, explained the exceptional events of 2020 helped to inspire a decision to award the prize to three books this year in order to:  “honor the ethic of shared leadership and collective praxis that underpins many contemporary Black and Indigenous social movements, and to emphasize scholarship that moves our field forward collectively.”

    2 December 2020 | The London-based magazine ArtReview rank Feral Atlas (co-curated and co-edited by TCI’s Jennifer Deger with Visual Editor, JCU’s Victoria Baskin Coffey)  at number 15 on their annual Power 100 list of the top influencers in the contemporary art world for 2020.

    21 December 2020 | Miyarrka Media’s experimental, multivoiced book (co-authored by Jennifer Deger), Phone & Spear is awarded the Best Artist Led Publication prize by the Art Association of Australia and New Zealand.


    11 January 2019 | Sebastian Lowe’s video, The Social Lives of Grass (2018), is screening at the London Experimental Film Festival. This video, made in collaboration with Dr. Jeremy Mayall, is an attempt to explore the importance of grass as a focal point (nexus) to all life, human or otherwise, we focused not only on what grasses sound like, but what goes on audibly around the grasses, that is to say, their ‘social lives’. 

    The video was made for the exhibition "The Greener Side of Grass" (2018) at Dome of Visions, Aarhus Denmark (May 2018) and the Botanical Gardens (Aarhus) (2018). It has also been screened at 'Untaming the Urban' (2018) symposium, which aimed to foster cross-disciplinary conversation on multi-species urban entanglements, constructed ecologies and more-than-human built environments. 

    13 February 2019 | The Listening Post @TCI launch Echoes from an Uncertain Reef, a new sound work: by Sebastian Lowe and Matthew Buttacavoli. What does the future of the Great Barrier Reef sound like? Sound is an important communicative medium for reef species, such as clown fish, snapping shrimp, and migrating whales. The quality and texture of a reef’s soundscape is also an indicator of reef health. As coral reefs around the world are deteriorating, their soundscapes are getting more simple and quiet. We approached a number of international artists for their response to the uncertain future of the Great Barrier Reef. Each was asked to engage with a recording from Shark Mountain at Norman Reef recorded by Matthew Buttacavoli as part of his doctoral research. Each found a quiet urgency in this recording and responded in kind. Echoes, features the work of artists from Aotearoa New Zealand, Iceland and Denmark who collectively remind us of the place of the Great Barrier Reef in global ecological imaginaries.

    16 February 2019 | The short experimental film, Let us visit eternity for the road is made of water (2018), is on show as part of 'Tōku Reo, Tōku Ohooho: Taonga Puoro Showcase' at the Academy of Performing Arts at the University of Waikato, Aotearoa New Zealand, This short experimental film by by JCU’s Sebastian J Lowe (filmmaker, editor and violist) Alistair Fraser (ngā taonga pūoro practitioner and sound designer) RgShaw (wayfaring glitch, mute narrator and elaborator) emerges out of the Orongorongo Valley, in the Remutaka Forest Ranges, on the lower North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. The film weaves taonga pūoro with the environment through our mute narrator 'Glitch'. It has also screened at the Wairoa Māori Film Festival (2019), Quetzalcoatl Indigenous International Film Festival - WINNER best experimental film (2019), Nuku'alofa Film Festival Tonga (2019) and Misty Flicks Hamilton (2020).

    23 March 2019 | Professor Rosita Henry is proud to announce the publication of her edited and annotated book, A True Child of Papua New Guinea: Memoir of a Life Between Two Worlds by her great friend Maggie Wilson. This ethnography—started as an autobiography and completed by Rosita Henry after Wilson’s death in 2009—tells Wilson’s story and the stories of those whose lives she touched. Their recollections of Wilson offer insights into life in Papua New Guinea today.

    22 May 2019 | Launch of the exhibition Sepik Histories: Reflecting on Collecting at JCU library from 22 May to 28 June 2019 featuring a selection of the Bragge Collection material culture artefacts curated by Trish Barnard, Dr Daniela Vávrová and Professor Rosita Henry and displayed at the Cairns Campus Library and The Cairns Institute. The exhibition seeks to foster reflection on Bragge's history of collecting and the different values associated with the things he collected. Bragge's life work - his history of the Sepik, partly based on tribal histories bequeathed to him by Sepik Elders - invites deep reflection on Sepik ways of knowledge, as embodied in the objects he collected.

    2 August 2019 | Exhibition opening for Making Connections – French Polynesia and the HMS Pandora Collection, on display at the Museum of Tropical Queensland (MTQ) in Townsville from August to December 2019. This exhibition is part of a broader project and PhD research on this eighteenth-century shipwreck collection undertaken by Jasmin Guenther. Long-term fieldwork (20172018) in Tahiti, French Polynesia, enabled the exchange of knowledge about the Polynesian artefacts recovered from HMS Pandora, which are today stored and partly presented at the MTQ. In discussion with artists based in Tahiti, the idea of a collaborative exhibition project arose as part of a responsibility felt towards the artefacts and the wish to enable the creation of a more tangible link with people in Oceania. Link to the exhibition

    19 September 2019 | A major work-in-progress exhibition of Feral Atlas: The More-Than-Human Anthropocene by the Feral Atlas Collective opened at the 16th Annual Istanbul Biennial under the direction of Jennifer Deger and Victoria Baskin Coffey.

    Biennial curator, Nicolas Bourriaud, explained his curatorial vision as a meeting of art and anthropology: “The Seventh Continent is an anthropology of an off-centred world and an archaeology of our times. It shows today’s artistic production as a multiverse, an archipelago of differences, away from normative continents and massive entities. It defines art as a molecular anthropology, which studies the human effects, tracks and prints in the universe, and their interaction with non-humans.”

    9 November 2019 | JCU Anthropology PhD candidate and Visual Editor of Feral Atlas: The More-Than-Human Anthropocene, Victoria Baskin Coffey, led the curation of a major international exhibition of this project as part of the Sharjah Architecture Triennial, Rights of Future Generations.

    1 November 2019 | Matt Buttacavoli launched Salish Sea Stories on The Listening Post @ The Cairns Institute drawing on recordings made in the course of his research into underwater noise pollution.  Something lurks beneath the waves of the Salish Sea. Amid the clicks and squeaks of the orcas, the barks of sea lions, and the farts of hearing, something is not quite right. But there is a dedicate community of humans fighting back against the infringing noise.


    16 March 2018 | Creative Ecologies | One day workshop
    16 March 2018 | Plasticene Marine | Exhibition
    28 March 20918 | Art, Science and Community Working Together | Video from Creative Ecologies workshop and the Plasticene Marine art exhibition


    27 February 2017 | Researching positive youth development in the shanty towns of post-colonial Haiti | Seminar by Kristine Andreassen
    26 October 2017 | Life after death: An anthropologists’ cine-dialectic | Seminar and presentation by Ton Otto and filmmaker/editor Gary Kildea


    26 September | The Playful - and Problematic? | HDR student seminar
    27 September | Critical/creative Practice-led Research | One day workshop
    12 October | Exhibition, Video Art and Performance as Interventionist Research Method | HDR Workshop
    26 October | Motorkite Dreaming | ALTAR film screening at The Tanks
    3 November | Digital Humanities@JCU



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