Thursday, 26 May 2011

Author + Story + Telling + Audience + Context

Attending a conference on a sunny Saturday takes some commitment, but the near capacity crowd who trooped through the heat to last weekend's Narrative in Practice event made the right choice. Organised by two Saint Martins graduates, Despina Hadjilouca and Nina Honiball, it was another example of people with a passion taking the plunge and putting on their own event. Their enthusiasm for the topic, good connections to a like-minded audience and the resulting ability to attract and knit brilliant speakers into a coherent structure are all reasons why the 'amateur' conference is so much more rewarding than the mega-bucks conferences organised by trade magazines.

At Live Union when we're creating events we devise an 'event narrative' and it was intriguing to hear how people in disciplines such as architecture, museum design and public art use a similar process.

A short sidebar - there is an important difference between story and narrative. Story is what is told, narrative expresses the dynamic; the story and the way in which it is told. In this way narratives can be seen to have five components: author, story, telling, audience and context.

Amongst the brilliant speakers there were two who particularly resonated in showing how narrative can be a useful lens through which to design real world experiences. Scott Burnham has a dream job, he creates urban design projects - the fun stuff as opposed to roundabouts and one-way systems.

photo by anjens

With Stafan Sagmeister he produced an installation in Amsterdam made with 300,000 eurocent coins individually laid out to read 'obsessions make my life worse and my work better'.

photo by anjens

photo by Adam Chapman

The coins had a blue sticker on their reverse enabling people to come along and remix the design by turning them over.

photo by anjens

The installation was left overnight only for the Amsterdam police department to sweep it up in a kind hearted bid to protect it from being stolen.

photo by anjens

This is exactly what Scott's work is about, placing something in a public space and then recording the unpredictable stories that unfold.

photo by scottburnham

Other projects Scott referenced were an open source sculpture project by Marti Guixe called Sculpt Me Point featuring a block of soft cement that people could chip away at creating their own artworks and NL Architects Moving Forest (trees in shopping trolleys) letting the public express where they think greenery should be within the city.

photo by jasoneppink

photo by scottburnham

Julia Pitts is Manager for Narrative Environments at the Science Museum. Starting with a big robust idea, such as 'what makes you, you', Julia showed the process by which the museum design content into a coherent visitor experience. A remarkably simple working process is used to order and map vast amounts of content in a way that ensures the visitor can zoom in on a particular story and overlay their own experience whilst linking back to the big idea. It is the solidity of the narrative that makes the Science Museum's multi-media exhibitions so compelling. Interestingly Julia hinted that the museum are pushing greater audience involvement in the development of content which has interesting parallels for how narratives evolve when working with businesses.

Beyond Scott and Julia's talks the event produced many fascinating examples of narrative being used within the creative process. There is a quote by the film director Brian De Palma in the event's specially produced newspaper that sums it all up "People don't see the world before their eyes until it's put in a narrative."