On Reflection

This project is about authorship and the understanding of Barthes theory. The starting point for deciding the success of this project is an obvious one – did the audience understand the concept? Did the artefact convey the meaning that was intended? Did it convey other meanings? Have I, as scriptor, arranged the signs and symbols within a system to convey an idea to the reader?

I had several aims within this projects. I wanted to communicate the theory – particularly Barthes. I wanted to see if new meanings can come from randomly created texts, and I want to see if theses students can develop ideas they would not normally come up with.

To my mind, the process has become the most important part of the project. By leading them through the Storydust exercise, asking them to create a story from the elements they have been given and then share it is analogous to the critical theory being explored. They have started as readers and I am asking them to cerate meaning by making connections where there are none consciously intended.

During this process, new ideas began to emerge from students. Rather than a collection of police dramas, a theme of relationships emerged – along with some interesting broken narrative ideas. As we explored the structuring of these stories, students would influence each other, just as our sharing of signs is shared within a culture.

It is my experience that the students will always exert editorial control over the stories they tell. Stories are a means to explore the world around us and make sense of our existence – and I am actually quite glad they chose recognisable experiences rather than direct generic filmic ideas to develop. Often this editorial control will be one based on a lack of confidence, leading to poor work.

Interestingly, some of the stories developed followed Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”. I had unsuccessfully tried to discuss this with the students as part of narrative. Then to have it seemingly appear was interesting – was I making connections where there were none, or had the student tapped into their unconscious to structure the story? Well, neither – I had helped to structure the story, and had noted at the time it reminded me of “Truly Madly Deeply”, and subconsciously structured in a way I also read as the Hero’s journey.

Hero’s Mythic Journey

Student’s Story

A world is established.

Happily Married Couple.

Hero receives a call to go on a journey

Husband dies – she is forced onto a journey to a life without him

Mysterious helper / Mentor advises Hero

Friend arranges dates

Hero undergoes a series of Trials

She goes on dates – all wrong!

Hero shows reluctance

Depression sets in.

Shadow tries to hinder journey while appearing to help

Meets Man who reminds her of husband

Approaches the (Underworld  / Magical place where knowledge is kept), and faces the guardian

Her guilt at finding another man attractive

Wins through, defeating the guardian

Pushes through, becomes involved with him – goes to a new place in relationship and life

Receives a gift (Knowledge, riches, new viewpoint etc)

Get pregnant (eternal life, death and rebirth)

Once the performative element was completed, I began testing the idea of the Aleatoric element. I developed the web sites to see what would happen, but quickly came to like these almost more than the physical installation. As I viewed the web versions, I realised that there was a risk of too much input, and that each screen would interfere the others and interpretation would be impossible. However, as peers began to use the web site, I realised that they were exerting control over the stopping and starting of each screen rather than just playing everything. I had not considered this element of interactivity, but it fits within concept – the reader is exerting full control over how they choose to interpret the stimuli.


The physical set up of the room and the screens is as planned, with a circle putting the reader at the centre of the world – the focal point. My original idea of constructing the new stories using a video camera to follow the screens really wouldn’t work. As they consciously tune into a story, trying to film it and forgetting what is going on would distracts the audience. I would count this as a perceptual issue, as the act of trying to film is a distraction to the installation.

There are also issue on the technical delivery, with the iMacs used being rather quiet. If the reader does not want to engage, the installation does not force them. However, this does tend to show the how noise interrupts communication quite effectively.

Whereas the installation demonstrates how noise can effect the reception of encoded cues (the Shannon and Weaver Model), the web version added the editorial control of the reader (Newcombe’s model). The circle often felt like one was bombarded with stimuli, much like the world, and led to the comment of it almost being like having autism, the web versions offer some control – a filtering mechanism, allowing us to select which signs we receive and therefore which meanings we select.

1st Year students viewed the work and were asked what they thought it was about. Semantically, the cues were in place so that they expected a story to unfold – each line sounds like it is leading from something and to something else, so they are prepared to find a pattern. However, some are disappointed as it is not an obvious progression, either a different face appears on the screen, a different screen overrides it form a different space, technical and perceptual interference.

Interestingly, students who went in unprepared would often follow stories relevant to them – for example, one student who is a dirt bike racer identified a narrative about a race across the desert – several of the girls heard the stories about relationships, and one of the boys who is into action movies picked up on a character being made redundant and getting stabbed.

Some student became confused, some identified 9 separate narratives, and some came up with their own interpretations of the stories. Some admitted to trying to piece together the stories, desperately trying to find a pattern, and failing – which is interesting, as there is no overall pattern to find.

Some admitted to trying to find a purpose, sounding very like someone seeking meaning in life. Some students talk about absorbing information and figuring out what is going on. However, a lot of them talk about finding and making new meanings from what they are presented with, and some even talk about being involved in the process of finding new meanings.

Analysing the artefact with the students who helped to create it helped to analyse elements of the works effectiveness. There was much discussion on the volume of audio, as well as the quality of the voice and the performance of each screen. Certain people demanded attention from the level of sound and enunciation of the line.

After the students had experienced the installation, they discussed it and at certain points they could be seen to mediate a meaning from the artwork in general – rather than just attempting to find the stories, several students were able to explore the concept, almost from first principles. Several talked about the individual interpretation of the found stories within the artefact, and were comfortable accepting that each person could find a different set of stories.

There are a number of points where people refer to the single ideas being received and meaning being derived based on other experiences around these. There is also a point where one student talk about the collaborative element to the process, referring to the consensual cultural meaning of some signs.

The intended audience for the final artefact was the L3 students who created it. Having them sit in front of me as part of the discussion and explore the theory is not necessarily proof of understanding – they have been given information previously. However, there were points where the discussion touched on how the meanings were arrived at which pointed towards the concept being more than just repeating previously heard thoughts.

When students who have had nothing to do with the preparation also discuss those ideas, I knew something has been communicated. The idea of chance collisions of ideas comes up again and again in discussions, along with the concept that the reader as an individual defining the meaning – pointing towards the main concept having been successfully transmitted from the creator to the reader.

What is most fascinating about this project is not just the lack of control exerted on the students and their ideas, but the fact that it embodies the concept I set out to explore. As I explored the theory, I would come across something else that sat well with the process and the Artefact. The element of chance as to how a sign will be understood in the mind exists within the Storydust exercise as well as the final installation. The process by where meaning is mediated is made conscious in the confusion of those seeking a meaning. The clash of signs is brought into the open.

Future developments could focus on the deliberate development of certain signs within the source material. By my mediation of the chosen 9 stories and by not exerting more control within the creation of the stories, some themes crept through which demanded one interpretation. It would be far more conducive to a “random story generator” to use smaller symbols that are more easily misread. Certain basic ideas, like the series of trials in the Hero’s Journey, could be repeated more often and the use of specific start and end of story cues could work to give the audience a way in and out of the piece.

There is a point where I asked the students if a poor story had been submitted for this project. No one agreed. I then asked who had written a poor story. They all raised their hands. To me, there is a confidence issue within the creative process. Hopefully, by laying bare the chance element of interpretation by any reader, these student may be able to overcome this.

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