Interview with FMA’s First PhD Completion Adam Diller

Interview with FMA’s First PhD Completion Adam Diller

Nov 2 2021

Adam Diller, Temple University’s first PhD completion in the PhD Program in Documentary Arts And Visual Research in the Department of Film And Media Arts at Temple University presented work from his dissertation, Project 02, on Friday, November 5 from 1:30–3 p.m. in AH Room 3.

Project 02 is a multimodal work that includes a book, media exhibition and film that reimagines structures of power through an analysis that traces the entanglements of Google’s first hyperscale data center (completed in 2006) with the process of settler colonialism in the northwestern United States. Project 02 spirals outward from the security fence at Google’s data center in The Dalles, Oregon to expand our understanding of the cultural and ecological underpinnings of the Internet. This project builds on Diller’s film, audio, and installation work that explores more than human ecologies through a practice informed by phonography, critical geography, and landscape film.

We were lucky enough to get in touch with Adam to ask him about his work: 

Q: Tell us a bit about Project 02 and what your intentions are for it?

Project 02 reimagines structures of power on this Internet through an analysis of local entanglements of Google’s first hyperscale data center—built in 2006 in The Dalles, Oregon. Project 02 delineates the impacts of this specific configuration of data, media, power, and the land, arguing that their local implementations in The Dalles provide important levers for change.

Q:What was the research process like for Project 02? How did this project start and how did it evolve as you researched?

The research process was based around three threads: first, site visits to The Dalles, filming, photographing, and making audio recordings of the data center and several related sites nearby; the second, research into media archives, mostly from government sources, such as the Army Corps of Engineers; the third, a bit more theoretical, drawing on readings in media studies in particular.

Q: Could you talk a little about visiting The Dalles, OR and how your film renders the experience? How do you see the film in conversation with the archival materials?

Each trip to The Dalles was a bit different, but I generally oriented my work around a few specific sites, processes, and questions. I found that returning to the same places over time proved to be an important way to frame these visits. I not only compared obvious changes, like the expansions to the data center's footprint through new construction projects, but also more subtle changes, like the layerings of writings made by people under a bridge nearby.

Q:Were there any faculty members who were particularly influential in helping advance your dissertation? How?

Chris Cagle has been wonderfully helpful in getting me writing more confidently. I came into the program without a lot of academic writing experience and now have a decent start on a book manuscript. Rod Coover has been really helpful in thinking through visual methodologies and rigorous ways of producing images. Rea Tajiri has helped me think through a lot of the conceptual issues--particularly around the film process and how one can approach thinking across time, space, culture through film. Byron Wolfe in the photography department at Tyler has given me a lot of useful perspectives on thinking about time and land through images. Fletcher Chmara-Huff in the geography department has been critical in helping me think about Google's entanglements with the settler colonial process and my own relations to the Indigenous pasts, presents, and futures in the area that have been a constant thread through the project.

Q: Did you participate in the UPenn Exchange Program where a Temple student can take a cinema studies class at UPenn? If so, what was that experience like and how was it beneficial to your work?

Not formally, I did do a faculty/grad student multimodal reading group at Penn that was a very useful experience. CAMRA is also a great resource.

Q: How does your dissertation fit into your larger mission as a maker?

Making this multimodal work has allowed me to develop ways to present my work to different audiences. I'm currently installing a show of photographs, sound, and video in a gallery in Philadelphia [Practice, 319 N 11th, open for the month of Nov]. I've also published articles on parts of my project [JCMS, summer 2021). Having these other manifestations of my work helps me connect with different communities, while giving me the chance to think about what value my work has in each conversation. It also allows me to make the most of all of the research and thinking that goes into making a film, by drawing out different aspects of the process in different media.

In addition to presenting the project, Adam discussed media research methodologies including archival research, video, phonography, and other fieldwork practices. Check out more about Adam at his website:


(Interview by Zach Vickers)


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