Upon Reflection, Part One: Creating a Virtual Gallery of Digital Art

The Lab

Ideas and Inspirations

This all began when I had a crazy, inspired thought that I decided not to keep to myself (because how much fun would that be?): What if the (open and university) folks dabbling in Networked Narratives together created a collaborative piece of transmedia artwork together?

I had recently been thinking more about transmedia storytelling — about how to try to tell a story that unfolds across different digital media and mediums, each piece with the ability to stand alone and yet each piece also part of the larger story. A course I took via FutureLearn gave me some ideas, and I have tinkered with the concept before with the now-defunct Digital Writing Month.

I pitched the idea out to create an Alchemy Lab space filled with objects that could be used to inspire stories, and some of my friends — Wendy and Sarah and Todd and Susan and Niall, and others — bit. Phew. This did not seem like something one could go into alone, so I was quite happy to have partners. Ok. So, could we actually pull this off? We did, sort of, although not quite like the original vision. We centered on the term of “Mediajumping” in the early stages of our invitations to folks to collaborate.

The Lab

Visit the NetNarr Alchemy Lab to see what has emerged.

Some background: Networked Narratives is a university course being taught in the US by Alan Levine and in Norway by Mia Zamora, and the NetNarr course has an open participation element to it, which I am part of. This is the second iteration of Networked Narratives.

This post is part of a series of reflections on the last six to eight weeks of work behind the scenes as we wrangled a vision of collaborative digital art and storytelling into reality. It’s also an attempt to remember what we did, and workarounds we had to find, to make the Alchemy Lab exist.

Storytelling and Narrative

Where it worked: The original idea is that a virtual lab would become a source of a larger story — the Narrative of the Network — to be told by many people, with many different media. Originally, I wondered if we could “hand off” the story, in chapters, to the next participant in line. We have done this concept in CLMOOC with projects such as The Search for ChalkBoard Man and the DigiWriMo StoryJumpers project. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it doesn’t work because the common narrative threads get lost as the story moves. Sarah, in particular, really wanted something more logical, more story-centered. The use of the term “Mediajumping” in our early invititations allowed for an open invitation for folks to create with the tools they had available, and to follow their interests.

Where it didn’t work (and what we did): I don’t think we figured this out, for the “story” that emerged was more of the Lab as the anchor point for media. We decided to allow people to choose items from the lab and build media and stories around the items. The overarching narrative is that you have found a hidden lab. I pondered if we could leave clues, like easter eggs, in our media that would point a larger story. The scope and scale was too difficult to pull that off. In the end, we let it go as a media-oriented lab experience, and hoped that smaller pieces of stories might emerge. Some did. Some did not. Will someone take the smaller pieces and stitch together something larger? I don’t know.

Media Creation and Sharing

Where it worked: Susan’s artwork of the lab (which Niall stitched into a 360 image) was stunningly beautiful, and inspirational. We knew we would have to find a means to disperse the story and the objects, so we created an collaborative document with a table, and asked folks who had signed up (via a Google Form, via an interactive story invitation in Twine) to choose an object and create. I had hoped for a wide variety of media. There were 46 items made.

Where it didn’t work (and what we did): We have a lot of GIFs in the lab, and we celebrated whenever someone added something different — like a time-lapse video poem or an interactive website. If this were our full time jobs, we would no doubt have had more variety, and I am happy with what folks made and shared. I found myself penned in a bit from time to time with how to make media, and tell a story, all with a single object as inspiration. But our unofficial tagline of “every object tells a story” still seems inspirational. I think the idea of telling a story through small media pieces like gifs and images is something we grapple with.

I’ll share some more reflections tomorrow in a second post, in which I look at topics of platform, participants and collaboration.

Peace (reflected),
Kevin

 

Technology as Art/ Art as Technology


Will, drop my brass panties – you feel my text up flickr photo by LastHuckleBerry shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

“… we can try out completely different ways of (art) expression.” — Douglas Eck.

Douglas Eck – Transforming Technology into Art

In another video from an interesting series I have found on digital storytelling, Douglas Eck looks at how technology is transforming art, but also notes the human influence on technology. Eck work at Google, on a project called Magenta that is centered on brain thinking, neural networking, technology and art.

Eck’s observations about the role of humans in the world of technology-created art rings true to me (or perhaps I am naive enough to believe it), but I also know the future is an expected place where AI and VR and AR and other advances just over the horizon offer possibilities and pitfalls. Who knows what places like Google are going to unleash into the world of storytelling?

Peace (telling its story over and over again),
Kevin

Get Your Alchemy On (The Lab is Open)

NetNarr Alchemy Lab

For the past two months or so, a group of us open participants in the Networked Narratives have been working behind the scenes on the construction of an immersive, virtual Alchemy Laboratory of Stories. (Officially, NetNarr is a university course being taught in the US by Alan Levine, and in Norway by Mia Zamora, with some intersections with Maha Bali in Egypt, and with open doors to the open learning community — that’s where I am).

Many folks in various online communities (including CLMOOC and DS106, and some NetNarr students) have contributed time and resources, and media projects, that are now part of the NetNarr Alchemy Lab experience. In fact, there are nearly 50 media objects created by nearly 20 people in this Alchemy Lab project.

Pretty cool collaboration.

I’ll reflect in writing more about the experience another day, but for now, I want to invite you to come tour the lab we built through open invitations to create stories in a networked way. You can view the Alchemy Lab in a browser, or on mobile devices, or with Google Cardboard devices. Layered links will either surface media projects or will give you a link forward to projects. The exit (on the ceiling) will bring you to yet another place where we invite you to make some digital art and share it, too.

We hope you enjoy the experience.

Follow this path to the door into the lab

Peace (and convergence),
Kevin

PS — special props to Wendy and Sarah and Todd for coordination and planning, and to Susan for her wonderful artwork, and to Niall for his technical prowess and advice.

View from the Seats: Watching Ready Player One

via Warner Brothers

Ready Player One could have been worse. A lot worse. It also could have been better. A lot better. Split the difference? It was an entertaining movie with, as my older son noted afterwards, “more holes in the plot than you could poke a stick through.” My younger son, who has read the book by Ernest Cline at least six times in the past two years, added, “The book was better.” I was more charitable with the movie than my three boys were, it turns out (which is usually the opposite).

We watched Ready Player One in 3D in the XD theater and that was a good move, as the immersive storytelling element of the movie — part of which takes place in a virtual environment known as The Oasis — was made livelier by the 3D experience. And Steven Spielberg sure knows how to pack a visual punch, and to allude to all sorts of 1980s pop culture elements.

If you don’t know the story, Ready Player One is about the world in the future where the collapse of energy and food resources has people living in the Stacks — literally, mobile homes and cars and such all stacked upward — with the only real ‘escape’ from the apocalypse is virtual reality in The Oasis gaming world, where endless smaller worlds can be created around themes. The story revolves around our teenage hero — Wade Watts — as he tries to find the hidden Easter Egg left behind by the creator of The Oasis. Finding the Egg will mean gaining ownership and direction of The Oasis.

The game design element of the novel is what lured me into the story years ago, and my youngest son loved the book when I passed it along to him. The movie captures some of that tension between real life, outside of technology, and the digital life we create and make for ourselves inside the spaces we inhabit. The use of avatars and digital identity, of ethics of shared virtual space, of commercialization of online experiences, and of the imagination in building worlds all emerge as themes of the story.

Elements of the game itself get buried in the movie by all of the 1980s pop references, though, and the potential to use the intricacies of game experience to drive the plot (sort of like Wreck-It Ralph did pull off) falls by the wayside in favor of a more typical good/bad battle.

I did appreciate that one of the underlying messages, made a bit too obvious by the end, is that collaboration and cooperation for a greater good are more powerful than profit and personal gain. The corporate loses. The collective wins.

Also, the new rule created by Wade and his friends in the end that The Oasis gets shut down every Tuesday and Thursday, in order for users to break from the technology and reconnect with friends and family (cue end scene of Wade smooching with Artemis, the real heroine of the story), seemed rather relevant to our modern times. Imagine if Facebook or Twitter decided that two days a week, no one could use the site?

Me, neither.

Peace (with popcorn),
Kevin

NetNarr: Getting My Alchemy On

Each day, I continue to use the prompts from the Daily Arganee of Networked Narratives to write a short poem or piece as a creative exercise. I am more apt veer off-topic than to stay on-topic with the prompts, but I aim to go where the muse takes me. Periodically, I’ll go in and gather and curate them into a short video.  The one above is my recent collection. These down below are some of the past collections of the short pieces — which I compose in an app that only allows six seconds of framing.

When NetNarr is over, I’ll have to figure out what to do with all the pieces ….

Peace (telling it),
Kevin

#NetNarr: Hacking/Remixing the Game of Chess

Merry Hacksters Title DS06

A few years ago, for DS106, I was part of a group that did a collaborative radio project that centered on the art of remixing. My segment centered around an activity I do with my sixth grade students, remixing and hacking the game of chess to create something new altogether. It is part of our Game Design Unit.

Here is the radio segment I did:

Peace (hacked for greater good),
Kevin

PS — here is the entire Merry Hacksters Radio Show

Six Word Slice of Life: From Design Flow to Interactive Story

(For this month’s Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers, I am aiming to do Six Word Slices most days, with some extended slices on other days.)

Context: I wrote the other day about the ways my sixth graders were making design plans to create Interactive Fiction stories inside Google Slides. Since then, they have been working hard to bring the stories to fruition, and by yesterday, many were finishing up the writing and proofreading of their stories. I enjoy this time of reading the finished game/stories, after so much work with conferencing on narrative ideas and technical assistance.

Six Word Slice of Life Student Stories

You can read a few of their stories (It’s best to go full screen to experience the pieces … use the hyperlinks to move along the narrative choices):

 

Peace (make a choice),
Kevin

#NetNarr: GameLoop GameSounds GameOver

This week, in Networked Narratives, the theme is on games and one of the challenges is to use audio to tell a story, and the audio should be game-themed. I decided to try to make a short song loop, with game sounds. No story except, there’s always a “game over” moment in a game.

By the way, if you want to join me in annotating the video hangout session that the NetNarr folks and guests did on the topic of gaming and learning, come into the Vialogues with me. I’m slow-watching it and adding comments off to the side.

Visit the Vialogues

Peace (play it),
Kevin

#NetNarr Post-Hangout: Sending Gifs

via GIPHY

I could not attend the online Google hangout the other day for Networked Narratives, which featured guests Amy Burvall and Michael Branson Smith on the art of the animated gif, and the possibility for expression with the social media photo formatting. My friend, Wendy, suggested on Twitter that we make gifs from the hangout video, and well, that sounded like a fine idea.

I did all of this within Giphy itself, which has stickers (which I keep forgetting about) and a drawing tool (ditto).

Here is the original video:

And then I went a little nutty. First, I found a neat shot of the Alan, Amy and Michael, and added … a few special guests to the hangout.

via GIPHY

Then, I grabbed video of a gif art project and made it further into art with some gif doodling.

via GIPHY

Peace (animated within reason),
Kevin

#NetNarr: Patent Entertainment With Animated GIFS

Original Patent: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/16972882

The folks over at Today’s Document surprise me now and then when they slip an animated gif into their RSS feed, usually in the form of an item about one of the patents in the Library of Congress. (They also will regularly convert video archive moments into animated gifs, but I find these illustration remixes to be the best to enjoy).

Original Patent: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/6277655

I’m always fascinated by the old drawings in the patent applications, so the animated gif is another fun way to bring history alive. The animations are more whimsical than informative, to be frank. More entertainment, than educational.

Original patent: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/6858602

It’s still nice to know there is always a chance to inject some fun in the dusty archives of history.

And the Library of Congress itself even created a GIF to show the construction of its building. This is more educational than entertaining, showing the construction of a national treasure (which holds national treasures).

And finally, there are those out there in the wild world that take vintage photos and … well … spook them up a bit.

Created by Kevin Weir via http://fluxmachine.tumblr.com/

Peace (learning it),
Kevin