Tag Archives: Storytelling

‘TopoTiles’ and other tales of topographic tangibles

Over the past few months, we have been seeking to develop the group making sessions in another of the care homes, working alongside residents to co-produce proxy objects and ‘objects of exchange’ as design prototypes that capture and represent personal and collective stories.

Evolving from the creative workshops where residents produced ‘tokens of value’ – inscribing wax tablets with a representation of significant memories that were later cast into bronze – we initially offered the same materials and making-based approach to residents of the second care home. We suggested that these tokens could then be exchanged amongst the group with the stories they represented (with or without embedded technologies), thus sharing residents’ experiences with each other and strengthening the home’s community in the process, using these unique personalised objects as a focus.

To begin with, we proposed a theme of ‘favourite walks’ as a topic and trigger for creative making. Participants were asked to recall a memorable route in advance of the sessions, giving them time to reflect on any walk they chose to remember. The aim was then to find the location on the iPad using Google Street View for a virtual visit, and identify it using OS maps online, before tracing over the route, and inscribing a line drawing of the walk onto one of the prepared wax hexagons, ready for casting:

Hexagonal walking route_edited
An example of a wax hexagon ready for casting. The surface has been inscribed with the route of a favourite or significant walk, traced from Ordnance Survey maps online. Google Street View was used to revisit the locations virtually.

The reaction to this activity was mixed. The theme proved successful and generated one of the most animated and dynamic discussions that had taken place during the project. However, this success came at the cost of participants not engaging with the tools, materials or other creative processes on offer.

These sessions were subsequently adapted in order to introduce a more curatorial method into the process of co-production. One outcome of the favourite walks theme was some lively story-swopping between the residents, about local Bristol landmarks and historic places of interest. Rather than the residents inscribing the wax hexagons with these walking routes by hand, they gave us permission instead, to transform the subjects of their conversations into miniature topographies of the various locations discussed. We used Autodesk Fusion modelling software and a milling machine to achieve a more tactile, 3D topographic hexagon, and laser etching to transpose detailed photographic images of the landmarks into 2D. These hexagonal tiles representing miniature topographies became known as ‘TopoTiles’:

3D modelling the TopoTiles ready for the milling machine
3D modelling the TopoTiles ready for the milling machine
Examples of the completed 3D and 2D ‘TopoTiles’
Examples of the completed 3D and 2D ‘TopoTiles’

The series of TopoTiles has been shared with small groups of residents, and tested as narrative prompts, tangible user interfaces designed to aid reminiscence and storytelling. Some of our research questions around these manufactured artefacts include:

How can landscape tangibles be used as proxy objects, standing in for landscape and objects unavailable to the storyteller?

Can miniature landscapes aid recollection and storytelling through embodied interaction?

Are ambiguous depictions conducive to more diverse use in storytelling, and can topographic tangibles encourage inclusivity in group sharing situations?

While the TopoTiles represent places of personal significance to the residents, (either specific or ambiguous), the tessellation of these miniature topographies seems to symbolise the network of shared histories across the care home, connecting the individual’s experience with their immediate community, united by a common encounter in the landscape.

 

2014 International Autobiography Conference, Stockholm

I have just attended the 2014 International Autobiography Conference in Stockholm, where I presented a paper on the life storytelling and life writing strategies of 3 of our elder co-researchers in the project, focusing on the interplay between orality and writing and their different conceptions of time and truth, particularly where play challenges conventional chronology in the creation of stories that remain personally true.

One of our co-researchers uses writing as a means to rehearse or anchor his oral accounts as accurately as he can, departing from the written word when he is confident his memory will yield the essential details in their proper order, allowing him to bring in asides and reflections to enrich his account.

The second narrator deliberately plays with her life’s timeline, taking events that are all true for her and mixing their order in the creation of a new tale that allows her to reflect and comment on her experiences in a new way.

The third co-researcher creates children’s stories, following a tradition she started several years ago writing postscripts from a beloved pet bird to entertain an adult sister in long-term care and, by extension, the other sisters caring for her. Her protagonist, a spider, must learn not only to face, but also actively seek out new challenges and figure out his place in the world. Her stories allow her to reflect and comment on life as she has lived it so far with a view to where she would like to go in the future.

Our group was small because there were 5 simultaneous panels, but discussion was lively and I was pleased that my paper, grounded in our project, featured the work of unpublished authors. Autobiography as life writing (inscribing?) needs to work more closely with oral history in order to appreciate the multiplicity of ways extraordinary everyday stories are told. Likewise, oral history might benefit from some of autobiography’s approaches to literature-as-life-history. As a folklorist, being a child of the issue that — as ballad scholar Tristram P. Coffin is famously credited with saying — ” Anthropology got off English” I keep firm hold of the hands of both my reluctant and slightly abashed parents and see no shame in my intellectual lineage. Textual studies and ethnography can enrich each other.

From the conference In particular, I was struck by Andrew Miller’s (Flinders University, Australia) presentation on autoethnography in digital storytelling and wondered if there was scope in a future direction of the project for Intergenerational work between seniors and youth that could create sites of digital life storytelling, where young people could mediate the technology as needed but also listen to and help put together elders’ stories and perhaps even vice versa, if an interface could be devised that was accessible for people with fine motor problems and sight issues. While young and old alike could also be authors in solitude, the project has clearly shown that stories have their greatest power in shared contexts. Perhaps this is one area where the project’s emphasis on scalable interactive books could really shine, in the development of elder-centred tools for storytelling.

Likewise, a paper by Hertha D. Sweet Wong (Berkeley) on the artist books of Julie Chen, beautiful hand-crafted and deliberately non-digitally interactive books that compel the reader to confront narratives about our relationship to the passage of time, got me thinking about whether the technology underpinning the interactive books and whether future iterations could be published combining digital and essentially mechanical interaction (think of the difference between a video or an e book and a fold out pop up book or one with “secrets” that must be physically unlocked in reading). On the face of it, my feeling is yes, since this conference has brought up a question we asked ourselves early in the project: “What about writing as well as audio? What about texts-as-artefacts as well as objects-as-texts?”

Perhaps as with many stories, we will find we end at the beginning, wiser for the journey and ready to go in a new direction.

(Header Image from Wikimedia)

The Story is the Thing is the Story

(Some opening thoughts from a presentation I recently gave with Helen in the GSoE that I am developing into a larger presentation for the Brunelcare Forum on 21 May):

In everyday language, we speak about objects and stories in very similar ways. Stories possess weight, colour, form, context, history/provenance, value and meaning, just as objects do. We can talk about “the object of a story” just as easily as we can discuss “the story of an object.” In both cases, we are referring to “the point,” or “the essential meaning or core” of the narrative or artefact concerned. Somewhat analogous to the universal variables of energy and mass, stories and objects are at least metaphorically interchangeable as signifiers. On the one hand, sometimes we acquire an object and build stories around it: the cherished gift, the inherited heirloom, the chance-discovered treasure. On the other, we can also create, seek out or find ourselves immersed in stories and build collections around them: the holiday photos, the handmade craft, the kitchy souvenir. Value may be attributed at any point, but it too is always open to change as our experiences, memories and ongoing interpretation and curation of our lives change over time. Continue reading

Virtual Reality Storytelling

We played around with using the Oculus Rift today as a means for creating a virtual space for storytelling. Our first two testers M & B both enjoyed the experience. We firstly tried out stepping into a 3D snapshot of the Bristol Museum Foyer, and then took a trip up Cabot Tower. M had a look around a virtual Tuscan Villa whilst B opted for a whistle-stop tour of the Solar System. The next step is to customise the virtual scenes and introduce the possibility of handling objects relevant to the scene during the experience. An interesting finding was that binaural audio recordings played at the same time proved to be a distraction from the visual material.

VR-M Continue reading