Being There

by Caitlin


Shape me

The power of storytelling is a tale of transformation. You shape-shift in front of me and our realities melt. The fourth wall slips away; we are all in this together. Intimate invitations. Hard truths and coercive spaces. How to create an environment that invites a relinquishing of plans, ideas, memories. To engage with the now. How does the artist create a micro now? What is the role of the socio -political story, and how does it help engage audiences with difficult truths, with realities that are hard to understand, and even harder to shape.


Thoughts swirling through my head as I eek out the clear cut forms of the theme, plot, poetics of my current project. Discord focusses in on examining personal experiences of housing, affordability and personal choice, juxtaposing individual freedoms against the exclusive and often oppressive powers of the housing market and governmental policy. We are not free to choose, we are sold an advert of the dream but not equipped to reach it.

For a bit of perspective here, In July 2015, the average house price for the UK was £282,000 according to the Office for National Statistics, which, if you live in London, sounds like nothing, but don’t worry, the average house price there nudged to £525,000 in September 2015. For the average UK earner, who takes home £24,648 gross, including bonuses, can only afford a house worth around £110,000. To find a job paying that much and a house that costs that little isn’t easy – saving for a deposit while paying market rents is even harder. Yet, dominant culture espouses the virtue and value of owner occupancy, but for many, and in particular the millenials, such security is way out of reach. 

Discord sets out to  demonstrate that there is more than one means of accessing housing. How we house ourselves should be tuned to the desires of the individual, and not as a form of revenue generation for the financial services industry. At the same time, the work sets out to convey that we are not free to make individual choices and shape our reality; while we strive to live the good life, we are disciplined by the dominant capitalist model of ownership, and in particular the financial service industry that profits from our submission to unaffordable notions of housing security.

So I have some ideas for techniques of creating a micro story shift. An embodied zone that invites audiences to encounter stories of the individual, battling with the invisible forces of the labour market, the housing market, and a rapidly shrinking social welfare policy. Discord will be a space that invites participants to impose themselves within an experience of discordant housing realities, come face to face with the voice of systemic oppression and dominant and stifling vales of competition, wealth and meritocracy. If you just work hard enough, you’re gunna make it baby.  By entering the House of Discord, small audiences will navigate the tensions between free will and full frontal credit ratings.

The line is broken

The Discord storyzone is a mash up of memories, associations and analysis. It is not an echo of logical, linear thought, but instead a disrupted narrative of home told from two perspectives; that of the individual and that of the state. It is mimetic of memory; of fragments, strong emotions and isolated moments. But there is clarity in there too; found through the voice of the expert. Why are we in such a social bind? Who can makes sense of the outlandish cost of housing?

Drawing on narrative techniques such as in medias res (Latin: “into the middle of things”) flashbacks and disjointed chronology, the idea is to create a tone of transformation, a narrative immersion. This interest in non linearity is not a new idea. From the late 19th century and early 20th century, modernist novelists Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, Ford Madox Ford, Marcel Proust, and William Faulkner experimented with narrative chronology and abandoning linear order. Some writers and linguists use this approach because of it’s ability to summon human recollection, but others  argue that non-linear narrative relied heavily upon inviting the reader / audience to fill the gaps. To walk into the story, to become the experience. This idea connects nicely with the term “presence” in storytelling. This is the sensation of being there. AsKaty Newton, Karin Soukup write in their article The Storyteller’s Guide to the Virtual Reality Audience

“It’s up to us to convince the audience to suspend disbelief enough to feel present in mind, body and soul.”


Every Object Counts

From the same article, it was interesting to read about how users of VR engaged with objects, when given a restricted view, but also only a very sparse colelction of objects.Katy Newton, Karin Soukup write, that when testing Paisley Smith’s VR documentary, Taro’s World,  with restricted vision, the audience paid super-close attention to each of the objects, trying to find meaning. Among the objects was a plate of uneaten cookies, an insignificant prop setting the scene. In the test debrief, the cookies — without warning — took over the audience’s understanding of the whole scene. Participants repeatedly asked questions like, “Why isn’t he eating his cookies?” and “Why are the cookies crumbled that way? Who does that?”

Because each object seemed deliberately placed, insignificant objects took on huge significance in the minds of the audience. It is this hyper- awareness of minimal selection, carefully placed objects that help to describe the reality, but also make the audience invest, step into the world; try to understand what the objects refer to, signify and convey. Here, the creation of ambiance, or simply setting the scene is key to inviting the audience to step in, to become; to move through the fourth wall.