Project 31

The Project Brief

Two things that shaped me creatively as a child: Museums with touchable art and “Choose Your Own Adventure” novels. I learned from a young age that I interact best with art when all my senses are engaged. Then—and now—in traditional museums, I often walk(ed) through exhibits with my hands under my arms to remind myself: “Don’t touch the art, Funke!” But when I do have an opportunity to touch, it’s a lovely, full-on experience that engages all my senses; in many ways, tells me more about the art than the plaques themselves. The CYOA novels on the other hand, taught me to create from a young age. Allowed me to become character and co-author in stories where the plot/middle/ending was of my own choosing.

One of the things that attracted me most to the New Forms of Story-telling topic was the concept of combining both elements to tell a story. A museum-like environment where people can engage all of their senses to interact with a story as it’s being told, while directing the flow and content of the story. The working title of my idea is, “Touchable Art: Arts Journalism as an Interactive Experience.”

The Idea

Touchable Art is a revolving, multi-media, collaborative installation that allows audience members to engage and interact with stories through words, pictures, taste, touch, smell and sound. Here are some possible elements of the installation as I imagine it.

1. The Reader as Editor
Imagine a gallery of individual iPad tablets covering a wall. Each tablet has a different print, art-related story on it, and has scrollable/pinch and drag/select capabilities. As users read the story, they can highlight passages that stick with them or edit the story—cut, paste and delete passages—into an arrangement that makes more sense to them. Later (perhaps at a scheduled date and time) they can enter a Google+ hangout to interact with the writer/editor and/or artist, and talk about the interview process, editing process, arts process.

Participants can choose to record a video (140 words or less, using software loaded on each tablet) about why they liked the story. These videos are uploaded onto the exhibit’s Twitter page. As a final step, participants can save their interaction into a story gallery that feeds into another part of the installation on the web. This growing compilation of contributions is broadcast on a giant screen throughout the exhibit.

2. “This Story Sounds Like. . .”
This is an audio/video/digital installation, where people walk into a room that is set up like a café (coffee optional) with laptops on the table, and watch 1-minute arts broadcasts/documentaries with related images. The stories would cover topics that are controversial in nature—religion, sex, politics, violence, x-rated lyrics in music. Some examples of the types of stories they might view on their laptop:

− Controversial artists in the realm of Robert Mapplethorpe
− Video critique of game like Grand Theft Auto where the easiest way to gain points is to have sex with a prostitute then kill her
− Story on an X-rated song where the bleeped-out lyrics are revealed
− Documentary about the destruction of ancient art
− Political piece on cultural treasures—who do they belong to?

As the readers are viewing the story, they are encouraged to engage with it as naturally as possible (i.e. express surprise, excitement, awe, disgust, curse, talk to the screen, talk to each other, etc.) As this happens, the video cameras are recording their rhythms, responses and emotional states. If they choose to, they can continue the discussion in the “lounge area” of the café to free up the tables for the next viewer.

As a final step, on a large “Comments” chalkboard, readers can record how the story impacted them through words and pictures. I chose a chalkboard instead of an online comments board because I want to balance traditional forms of communication with contemporary forms of storytelling.

A compilation of clips of viewers can play on a movie screen or blank wall at the end of each day or during the final installation.

3. Open Captioning
In a room with several photo-journalism essays or single-shot photographs without captions, visitors use strips of self-sticking paper to write their own captions for what they think is happening. Each caption is left on the wall until the strips of paper themselves become part of the installation. Later, they can visit the exhibit site online to read the original captions.

4. The Live Story
Once every hour/every two hours/every day (intervals TBD), a writer interviews an artist. The audience sits in on the interview and either posts questions they’d like to ask online or get a certain amount of time to ask their questions out loud. As an alternative, There could be a screen where after the reporter interviews the artist, people are typing their questions to the artist that get broadcast onto a large screen (the artist can have access to this screen or not).

As more questions are added, the older ones disappear upward. The interviewer can choose from the list of questions; if the artist is able to view the screen, s/he can also choose questions they want to answer.

The installation then mimics a live-deadline situation, in that the writer has until the end of the day to turn the story around. In the next session, visitors can return to read the story or they can visit the exhibit website to read it online.

5. Arts Night
Visitors come to the exhibit venue to attend a live concert, theater performance, visual arts show, dance performance or film. As they arrive, arts reporters interview them; they are interviewed about their experience/impressions again after the show. Performers are also interviewed and those who are willing have a Q&A session after their given performance.

On the website, the event becomes a series of articles with multi-media elements (for instance, the concert music could become the soundtrack to the visual art exhibit; the dance performance could be interspersed with the film) that visitors can view online.

Another element that might be neat to add is to create an Xtranormal video where the characters play reporters at the beginning of the video—narrating the red-carpet appearances and asking the questions of the folks arriving—or “hosts” throughout the video of the event. This leads me to the final idea.

6. Xtra-Rtistic
This is a short, fun installation where Xtranormal video characters are visually acting out a written story. It would have to be for shorter stories or Q&A’s. Visitors can add characters to create a “group story” as they read and interact with the article. This can be housed online at the exhibit site and can be part of the closing event videos.

The Purpose

The purpose of this installation—beyond the interactive and collaborative elements—is to determine in a very visceral/organic/immediate way, the impact a story has on its audience. This I mean, beyond the “most read,” “most emailed” or “most tweeted” designations we’ve gotten used to. To actively watch and learn how users engage with how we put art into words. And finally, to answer the question: How can/does a story live—and continue to live—beyond the page?