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Generative Storytelling

Last month, I had the great honor of putting all my art + science talk into practice, joining twelve up-and-coming artists in a multimedia art show curated by artists Gina Pollack and Anu Valia. Entitled You Are Here, the show–which was on exhibit at 3rd Ward from July 18th to the 21st–featured original work designed to spark a dialogue about our relationship with technology and the consequences of its pervasiveness–the havoc it can wreak on our attention by creating a series of parallel + disjointed virtual realities // the beauty of how our brains have adapted to sift through + process this information overload // the quiet reminders of what it means to be fully present in this hectic age.

In particular, my interest in the show stemmed from my growing preoccupation with how our intimate relationship with technology has reshaped the way we interact with one another. Since starting this blog, I’ve become increasingly conscious of how technology has added a new + rather strange dimension to my social interactions. The more I’ve embraced social media, the more comfortable I’ve become sharing my thoughts with anyone plugged into the Internet without even a moment’s thought. It’s incredible how many interactions I’ve had over the last year with people I’ve never once seen in person–and with a degree of familiarity I find rather hard to muster with acquaintances I’ve made in real life–likely because I’ve found some strange comfort behind the veil of quasi-anonymity that comes with interacting via social media.

With all that in mind, I approached Gina and Anu with an idea to create an installation for the show that would use technology to facilitate face-to-face human interaction–an experiment in what would happen if a computer program forced you to engage with a complete stranger in person. With their blessing, I started coding an interactive computer program [written in Python and executed in Terminal], which I came to call The Generative Storytelling Project. The program was designed to motivate gallery-goers into engaging with one another to generate some collaborative narrative–a technology-mediated effort to inspire communal storybuilding. To do so, the program first randomly selects a photograph and then prompts participants to share a sentence based on the image before them. Once someone has contributed a sentence, the computer instructs them to find a stranger, introduce themselves, and bring said stranger over to the computer to make their own contribution to the unfolding story. At some point, a user would decide that the narrative was satisfactorily complete, at which point a new image would then be selected so the cycle could begin once more.

By the end of the You Are Here opening night, participants in “The Generative Storytelling Project” had crafted over twenty stories. Below, I’ve shared some of my favorites along with the images that inspired their collaborative creation!


25

The imperalist statue looked upon the harsh cold winter and stared avidly upon threes with poignant gaze. He wondered how did I get here who made me and what is my prupose. His existential thoughts continued to flow coursing through his veins as the harsh reality begun to sink in that he will never be a mortal only a statue. Just as he was begining to panic, he woke up suddenly from the nightmare that seemed so real only a moment ago. I think I’ve had similar feelings before. All my life I have wondered who I truly am.


15

My fallen soldier! I reach but cannot reach. As my brothers call out for your brothers, I try to join our families; we the stable and you afloat. Alas, we will forever be apart. But, we are only a message in a bottle away. I will pluck a feather and write to you as soon as I may. Peace be with you. As I finished reading the message my soul sank into my body. I knew I would never be the same. O lord how will this message transform the relationship that soon beseeches us all. These soldiers look like modern day Roman warriors. Why are they so close to Ellis Island?


24

I run track, so maybe that makes this all a little easier. My breathing is even and my eyes haven’t glazed yet. Tim is home. He’s home, and he’s waiting for me. Damn this field for stretching under the sun. Run Ani! That’s an interesting cloud. Is this whole thing a test of my attention to detail? Because I’m really focused on the shape of that cloud. It reminds me of the space invaders from Independence Day. I love Jerry Bruckheimer movies. I run track, so maybe that makes this all a little easier. My breathing is even and my eyes haven’t glazed yet. Tim is home. I want to go home, I want to go home. I want to go home.


7

My last reincarnation… what to do… I could light it on fire, send the other riders running and screaming into the East River. I could try to solicit the younger man sitting across from me, because YOLO. But honestly, I’ll probably just sit here and think about what I should’ve done all the previous times. I’ll break the glass, and liberate the soul. This is the night of our lives.