The Polyphonic Communities exhibition brings together three media platforms from Canada, India, and the United States dedicated to expanding the number of perspectives, voices, and practices regarding events facing communities typically ignored by corporate and state media. They create spaces for activations, analysis, complexities, and reclamations.
As platforms for community and participatory media, they put alliances, collaboration, and ensembles front and center. They reject the idea of outsider experts by inviting people from the community into the project. They are participation-based and community-generated, providing spaces for dialogue and exploration of unresolved political, social, historical, and environmental issues.
This is an era where news media are subject to corporate self-censorship to protect business interests and to state censorship by far-rightwing governments to protect political power. In response, the projects in the Polyphonic Communities exhibition reject a unified discourse in favor of multiple viewpoints and collaboration.
What is Polyphony?
We adapt the concept of polyphony here as a means to theorize and understand these platforms. Musical polyphony is where two or more melodic lines combine into complex compositions or performances. Melodies and rhythms move from moments of contrapuntal separation to join together in exciting ways, creating something different.
We use the term polyphonic provisionally and conceptually rather than definitively and descriptively, as a strategy to shift our thinking about new media platforms away from individual characters and simple narratives. Instead, polyphony directs us outwards, making room for multiple discourses and understandings.
This year, FLEFF convenes three conversations with three different media platforms to create a media polyphony. Each platform hosts a variety of perspectives and voices.
Chambal Media focuses on training rural populations, particularly women, in northern India to convey their own news, some of which is translated into English for national and international readers. Participatory Media is a resource for planning and evaluating participatory media, designed by Liz Miller and Dorit Naaman at universities in eastern Canada. Tribesourcing Southwest Film is a collection of films produced by Indigenous peoples in what is today largely considered the southwestern United States.
These platforms are designed to forge alternatives to the monolithic voice of state media or the polarized voices of corporate media that often default to ideas about balance of viewpoints. In contrast, these platforms offer new conceptualizations, build infrastructure, and provide training for marginalized voices to communicate with themselves and the outside world.
At the same time, these platforms do not host any and all perspectives, allowing polyphony to descend into cacophony. For instance, on platforms where comments are invited in response to content, openness to multiple voices devolves into cacophony, leading us farther and farther from facts. This so-called post-truth mode where any and all perspectives count equally can be more destructive than monolithic state media and polarized corporate media.
These platforms host media to enact forms of “situated knowledge,” where knowing is embedded in a particular cultural, historical, and social position. Situated knowledge transforms ways of seeing, foregrounding the specific and the local and keeping us mindful of the constructed nature of knowing. Always partial and incomplete, it rejects the proprietary knowledge acquisitions of transnational corporations from Disney to Monsanto.
We invite you to explore these platforms and to add your voice to these open conversations.
--Dale Hudson, Curator, and Claudia Costa Pederson, Assistant Curator