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65 5th Ave, Room 411
New York, NY, 10003
United States

Funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Graduate Institute for Design, Ethnography & Social Thought at the New School incubates advanced transdisciplinary research and practice at the intersection of social theory and design and fosters dialogue on related themes across the university.

Tanya Kalmanovitch


The GIDEST seminar is held on Fridays from 12-1:30pm. All seminars take place in the GIDEST Lab at 63 Fifth Avenue, Room 411.

Sessions are devoted to discussion of pre-circulated papers that can be downloaded one week in advance by clicking on the presentation title below.


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Tanya Kalmanovitch


In her documentary play The Tar Sands Songbook, musician, ethnomusicologist, and 2017-18 GIDEST fellow, Tanya Kalmanovitch uses strategies from the creative and performing arts, ethnography, and design to invite participants into an imaginative, critical process of unnerving the intricate relationship of oil to modernity. This work reflects Kalmanovitch’s substantive, transdisciplinary engagement in the social sciences and creative practice, and poses a model for an artistic practice reflecting deep political, social, theoretical and historical engagements.

In this seminar, Tanya presents excerpts from a recent workshop performance of the The Tar Sands Songbook. She discusses the problems and possibilities that arise when stories are relocated from source to stage, and presents her layered set of research-creation methods as methodological and ontological interventions in a contentious field. At once a citizen of working class Alberta and a New York City cultural and intellectual elite, she discusses the flexible and highly reflexive approach mandated by her precarious membership in radically different social, geographic and class locations as she unnerves polarized debates about oil, environments and economies.

An illuminating work of documentary theater, The Tar Sands Songbook asks us to reconsider our unseen relationships with oil. Tanya Kalmanovitch knows these relationships well. Born in Fort McMurray, Canada, near the site of the Athabasca Oil Sands, the world’s largest bitumen reservoir, she made her decision to become a musician as a teenager because “it had nothing to do with oil.” Fort McMurray has since become a flashpoint of international clashes over energy, the environment, and the economy.

Written in collaboration with director Cecilia Rubino, this polyphonic piece weaves together a chorus of actors' voices with an original, improvised score. The words of indigenous activists, engineers, heavy equipment operators, elders, oil patch workers, scientists, and those of Tanya's family fuel discussions of our past and the powerful forces that shape our future.

Earlier Event: November 3
Bill Morrison
Later Event: February 2
Mia Charlene White