D|N|A Symposium

May 15, 2011 - cinema / DBnarrative / Doc / Interactive / Practice

Just a brief summary of the Database|Narrative|Archive Symposium in Montreal.  I spent last weekend with about 120 others discussing and exploring a range of projects that were mostly non-fiction, interactive and cinema driven.  The scale of the conference was perfect – small enough to weave good conversation, large enough for a range of points of view. Organizers Matt Soar and Monika Kin Gagnon had the participants make 5 min “lightening talks.”  This meant everyone could (and most did) listen to everyone else’s presentation. This created cohesiveness and plenty of opportunity for follow-up discussions. I presented about my The Father Divine Project, a database documentary and archive built on Scalar. See below for  my lightening talk and others as a Korsakow interactive video.

There were some very beautiful, innovative and smart examples of “database narratives” and all very different. Underlying my admiration for much of the work are lingering jealousies of the funding structures that we no longer have in the U.S. – but that’s another story. Besides the interesting content -content that demands multilinear presentation- these projects introduce and teach database thinking in their forms. Although this was not discussed much (too obvious?), the database narrative as a form is an orientation to the human world as a complex adaptive system rather than as a site of large and small “conflicts” centered around individual will and desire. For that reason alone, many of these projects would be great to integrate into learning centers – public, architectural spaces. They are ambient reflections of the world as database.

But…  As Adrian pointed out in the plenary session and in a blog response, there is a troubling gap between the the kind of attention these projects demand and the dwindling attention spans of our networked life worlds. Each participant probably has a laptop and smart phone full of more attention demanding media than our lives have time for. Not to mention the simultaneous flows of information coming at us at any given moment. This is a very different media ecology than the one that gave birth to the novel, the feature film and other weekend rituals that were considered escapes from work and boredom. What is the new ecology?

“Blogs are premised on the personal, polyvocalism, authenticity, trust and porousness….Technically they are premised on granularity, addressability, small world networks and dense connectors ”

Adrian’s lightning talk

I struggle with this in my own work all the time.

One special feature of DNA – for me- was that it brought together some videobloggers: Adrian, Jenn, Jay and Ryan and myself. In our group discussions we kept returning to the blog and video blog as models or starting points for new projects – especially given the wide interest in tablet apps. But “video blog” is an ugly description. That is one big problem with even raising it in a conference like this. But the presentation and contextualization of video, audio, image and text – whether it is in a blog post,an epub, mobile app, kiosk, wall or website – is going to be most successful in short (3-10  min.) chunks that are network aware and are connected to other chunks. Chunks can integrate into longer, deeper and wider serialized forms, but we need the smaller narrative units to weave into our own lives.


Here is my talk embedded in a Korsakow movie with all talks.

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