Become part of the narrative at Sensory Stories, where conventional storytelling gets a makeover
Feel the wind in your hair as you soar over Manhattan. Witness resilience, hope and heartbreak firsthand as you walk among Syrian refugees in Jordan. Step in as director during a fight between a man and a woman, altering the actions but never the script. Immerse yourself in the changing landscape of storytelling through Sensory Stories: An Exhibition of New Narrative Experiences, ongoing until Sept. 27 at the Phi Centre.
The exhibit, presented by the NYC-based The Future of Storytelling (FoST)—a collective of leaders in media, technology, and communications—made its debut in New York State at the Museum of the Moving Image in April before relocating to Montreal in August.
Featuring 16 different works created by artists from around the world, Sensory Stories aims to break the conventional rules of how stories are told and engage the audience in new, unexploited ways, exploring the interactions that exist among body, mind and narrative in a creative manner.
The exhibit shatters the conventional model of storytelling by engaging the audience in the story, making them part of the action. You are no longer a passive observer, but an element of an intricate narrative. The spectator not only influences the potential outcome, but also has a choice in how they experience it. This immersion is accomplished through the use of various new interactive technologies that engage the different senses, such as smell, touch, hearing and sight.
The exhibit is spread out on two floors. The first floor houses four Oculus Rift stations—headsets which allow the viewer to feel as if they were part of the virtual reality. Because of the popularity of the Oculus machines, it can take some time before you manage to see them all, depending on the volume of people at the time of your visit. As well, if you wear glasses, it is recommended that you wear contact lenses instead to avoid squishing the bridge of your nose when wearing the headset.
One of the notable stories from the Oculus station is “Clouds over Sidra.” Follow 12-year-old Sidra as she guides you through the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, currently home to 84,000 refugees. The work was commissioned by the United Nations in an attempt to personalize distant issues through virtual reality. It is particularly immersive, as you are not only engaged in the narrative by “looking” around to see your surroundings, but you are also very obviously a part of the story. Passing lines of children sneak gazes at you before continuing their walk to school, or run and cluster around you, all begging for your attention.
The second part of the exhibit, located on the second floor, engages the viewer in a more subtle, yet charming way.
Open your mouth, and it rains. Blow, and wind gushes through the scene. Blink to summon thunder. In “Mimicry,” your body is the controller. Composed of two seemingly static images, “Le petit baptiste” and “Le voyageur contemplant une mer de nuages,” this work lets you decide what happens through movement and facial expressions.
In “Hidden Stories,” you can pick up a cone and hold it to one of the 22 illustrations on the wall. Each image represents a first-person anecdote, featuring voices from people in the sonic community. You can either peruse the different stories on the wall or record your own.
This is only the tip of the iceberg of creative narratives contained in Sensory Stories.
For those who are passionate about storytelling, a visit to the Phi Centre is worth your time. Not to mention that admission is free. But act fast, the exhibit runs until Sept. 27.