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Culture | The five senses of the written word

The future of storytelling has no limit at the Phi Centre

When the written word joined oral history as a medium through which to tell a story, the format of storytelling dramatically expanded in scope, and since then, changes in the descriptive exercise have sprinted along at a dizzying pace into the digital age. Montreal’s Phi Centre showcased modern tales in its exhibition “Sensory Stories” that closed Sunday, a collection that aimed to test the limits of the common conception of storytelling.

The plotlines of some pieces were not always obvious, as they were sometimes waiting to be written by audience participation, inverting the traditional process of show-and-tell. In the installation piece Birdly, attendees could lie face-down on a reclined chair with attached armrests and ‘fly’ through a computer-generated 3D map of New York City – simulated wind from a fan included.

Meandering through the exhibition, visitors could smell their way through Goldilocks and the Three Bears in Goldilocks and the Three Bears: The Smelly Version, sniffing the scents of the forests as Goldilocks trod ahead, and inhaling the smell of freshly brewed coffee sitting beside the beds. Children and adults alike excitedly interacted with classic stories in a new way.

The plotlines of some pieces were not always obvious, as they were sometimes waiting to be written by audience participation, inverting the traditional process of show-and-tell.

Others tried surviving as an investigative photographer during the 1979 Iranian Revolution in the animated video game 1979 Revolution Game – snapping photographs of key leaders during protests and wrapping gauze around injured citizens. Participants were also challenged to survive government interrogations by clicking different responses to their jailers’ questions, hoping the answers wouldn’t implicate them further.

For the environmentally minded, Bear 71 offered the ability to track the daily habits of a black bear in rural British Columbia by touching a floor-to-ceiling map projected on a wall, exploring the effects of deforestation and pollution on the bear’s daily habits as it interacted with its environment and other species. Live-cam videos showed the habitats of the bears in real time, allowing viewers to literally enter the natural world.

One piece, a short film called Possibilia by artist group DANIELS, allowed viewers to immerse themselves in a couple’s breakup. Intermittently, a viewer could choose from a number of panels on the bottom of the screen, and shift the scene both in terms of setting and energy level of the actors – customizing the anger and sadness with which actors would deliver lines and the room they were interacting in with not even a break mid-sentence from shift to shift. Customizable options faded away as the story progressed, driving home the inevitability of the final outcome.

“Sensory Stories” served as a reminder to visitors of the powerful truth that storytelling is indeed an art form, one that is continually and innovatively reimagined.


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