Film symposium will honor the late Robert Ascher April 17-18

Robert Ascher

The Department of Anthropology is hosting a two-day film symposium celebrating the late Robert Ascher’s contributions to visual anthropology, film and animation. “Animating Anthropology: Audiovisual Experiment in Ethnographic Practice” will be held April 17-18 in 165 McGraw Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

Ascher, who died Jan. 8, 2014, began teaching in the anthropology department at Cornell in 1960 and retired as professor of anthropology emeritus in 2002. He distinguished himself early in his career by advancing the application of scientific methods to archaeology. His work on the use of ethnographic analogy and the design of archaeological experiments raised the standard for testing hypotheses about past human behavior and expanded the range of problems to which experimental methods could be applied.

Later in his career, Ascher shifted his creativity and energy to visual anthropology, focusing on sculpture and film. He developed a superior method of camera-less animation and employed it in producing award-winning films such as “Cycle,” “Bar Yohai” and “Blue, a Tlingit Odyssey.” These films are in the permanent collections of major institutions around the world.

Cornell alumni describe Ascher as incredibly generous, inspiring and innovative. “Bob Ascher was an original thinker who possessed far-reaching creativity combined with deep reflective thought. To me, he is the epitome of the ideal professor and human being,” said Antonia Demas, M.P.S. ’90, Ph.D. ’95.

“Bob not only marched to a different drummer – he also danced, laughed and sang to a rhythm all his own,” wrote a former student of Ascher’s.

The film symposium includes screenings of Ascher’s films and presentations from speakers including Ben Russell, a media artist and curator whose films, installations and performances engage with the history and semiotics of the moving image; Kathryn Ramey, a filmmaker and anthropologist whose work operates at the intersection of experimental film processes and ethnographic research; Stephanie Spray, a filmmaker and anthropologist whose work explores the confluence of social aesthetics and art in everyday life; and Jason Livingston ’94, a film and video maker interested in political documentary, avant-garde cinema, indigenous media, left history and eco-poetics. Livingston is a former student of Ascher’s who is developing a project that involves Ascher’s work.

The program also will include works by J.P. Sniadecki, assistant professor in performance and media arts, and Lynn Tomlinson ’88, visiting assistant professor at Towson University.

The film symposium is co-sponsored by the Departments of Anthropology and of Performing and Media Arts, and Cornell Cinema, all in the College of Arts and Sciences. Full schedule of events.

Liz Kirk is communications, grant funding and events coordinator for the Department of Anthropology. 

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