During the fellowship I’ve been musing on and participating in science & storytelling, collaboration and social change… I had the joy of combining all of these elements via StoryMatter, a five day science and storytelling hackathon organised by Tribeca Hacks at Cern, home of the large hadron collider (LHC) in the month that Cern celebrated the birthplace of the world wide web. Cern itself was an incredibly inspiring site to live on for a week – the science, the setting, the international community of scientists.
I went along as a storyteller, joining seven teams of storytellers, scientists, blackboxers (multi-talented curve balls), technologists and designers. Each team met online initially then spent five days together to create a new non-linear experience to explore science through storytelling.
My team, teamswarm, shed a lot of, fun, blood, sweat and tears to create The Naughty Gene, an interactive installation exploring the extraordinary stories of scientists and parents battling an inherited neurodegenerative disease.
Whilst at Cern we got a tour of the LHC…
…and of course we couldn’t resist finding Tim Berners’ Lees office.
We had a lot of fun wandering around site, finding places to record interviews for our video elements, finding odd bits and pieces from the trash to create a model of our installation and even headed to the mountains to get a particular shot.
We got started on our project before we headed out to Cern. Chatting online we pulled together a list of resources we could bring and we gave our neuroscientist, Yewanda, questions to ask scientists and parents battling Battens, the neurodegenerative disease, to inform some stories from which to develop the interactive experience. She also collected some brain scans, publications and links to the charities supporting Batten’s community. Our black boxer, Peter, a composer and musician brought along some amazing music that we could set to the films we shot. It was great to be able to collaborate in making a film come together, and using, an actor/ scientist, Adria, from one of the other teams to play the doctor.
On site we generated several scenarios that an audience could explore, including in the Doctor’s waiting room and what it was like to find out your child had been diagnosed, a birthday party where the mum was calling her mum to talk about how things were getting worse, and on the scientists side, what its like to explore research into Batten’s – from writing funding proposals, to doing experiments to finding new drugs and doing a genetic test. The idea was the audience could progress through the installation, making decisions just like the scientists or parent might do. A record of the decisions would be kept and shared via a print out at the end. Graphic designer, Theo, and creative coder, Steve, designed and coded the experience to be 3D projection mapped along a wall.
So depending on the choices the audience make they would navigate the installation differently and from different perspectives, making more real the human decision making aspect of living with disease and the culture and community around it. We were all inspired by the stories of hope and personal sacrifice made by parents, teachers and scientists.
The pitch was effectively, ‘sometimes, life throws you a curveball, how do you learn to live with a neurodegenerative disease? Kirsty aged 5 is diagnosed with Batten’s a disease her mum is told will kill her before she’s 25. Through this interactive experience you get to explore how scientists and parents battle the disease.
I felt the science and social side needed to interweave a lot more but it felt easier at the time to separate the two. I think there is an artistic problem sometimes in fetishing the science side, especially the iconography and images of science and that with more time to collaborate the edge between science and art, the blurring of the boundaries can generate innovative work. And, it was amazing seeing the work showcased at the festival in the Cineglobe.
And of course i learned a hell of a lot – about collaborating, working in the moment and had a lot of fun.
Here’s the headline summaries of the projects we created in just five days, including a game to make viruses, an experience exploring the phenomenon of emergence and my personal favourite, Climate Anxiety, which creates a sensor based narrative.
- Cern Story Matter: BBC click coverage of Story Matter
- All the wonderful participants
- IT plays a starring role at the CineGlobe festival