Learnings from a recent project: a guided video-walk through Southbank.
Earlier this year I was lucky enough to exhibit a collaborative project between myself and Deborah Tchoudjinoff at the Southbank Centre in London. The project Memory Walks was a series of walks through emotions we might all experience but don’t yet exist in our vocabulary; Kenopsia, Anecdoche, Sonder, Onism, and Monachopsis, written by John Koenig. Each walk introduces one of these emotional states, whilst creating a subtle and temporary feeling of being out-of-place.
As part of a two-day festival Changing Minds the Memory Walks were five minute videos that could be downloaded on to a mobile phone by anyone with an internet connection. Then — wearing headphones — a participant would experience binaural sound recording, narration, and a video that was used to visual guide people around the Southbank Centre. We found during research that this combination of audio and video played on a phone created immersive experience that temporarily disconnected the viewer from their current surroundings.
We knew — or at least hoped — that once people had downloaded the video they would enjoy the experience. That challenge was getting the general public people to engage with the project to begin with. Especially as the project only really exists online, and has no real physical presence in the space. There were several challenges and changes we made to the project on-the-fly in order to enage with the public. I’ve tried to document as many of these things below.
- With no physical display (just plinth) people are not aware of what is being proposed or exhibited. As a solution we printed 200 coloured cards, each with one of the words, and displayed them on a small white table. When people aproached with curiosity we could use the cards as a conversation opener.
- With a lot of text on the plinth (roughly 750 words) people would stop reading before they found the download instructions.
- Most people ignore uppercase when typing URLs. The url shortener service being used was case-sensitive which meant initial several people couldn’t access the videos. I quickly created a second lowercase link.
- Not everyone had 4g, wifi, headphones, or space on their own mobile phones to download the video.
- Analytics is a really useful tool to include in the experience, so that we can understand who and how people are engaging with the project. We managed to capture the second day of the festival.
- One of the pre-recorded videos was a route through the Southbank Centre that had been closed during the two day festival. So some people were faced with barriers.
- We didn’t include each walk’s duration in the project text, so the audience were hesitant to take part. Until we said they were five-minute walks, and most people found that more than acceptable.
- People find it disturbing when the video and reality were out-of-sync. This could have been celebrated more as a feature, as it was intentional.
- There could have been physical markers at the end position for each walk to increase visibility within the space.
- We could have invited the participants to join us after the walks to discuss their experience.
- People are much more likely to engage (and multiple times) if they are in a group. They feel more comfortable with headphones, following a video on their phone.
- Using github and html to host the entire project allowed us to quickly update and improve the experience without requiring people to download or install an app.
Overall the project was very successful. I measure this success on the basis that in less that a month we went from an intial concept, many weeks of prototyping, to five short videos with narration accessible to the public and used at a large public space. And feedback from participants confirmed our attempt to create a temporary feeling of isolation and difference, in order to reflect.
The project can be viewed at the following link: http://memorywalks.co.uk but you need to be at the Southbank Centre in London in order to experience the project completely.