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The art of storytelling

Earlier in the year, we promised to fill you in on what happens when you ask a group of students from different countries to collaborate in responding to this cryptic theme: “Choices have consequences”. Following the culmination of the collaboration with the opening of the ARU exhibition, the end result might just leave you with more questions than answers…

As committed campaigners for the Cambridge creative scene, Method are proud sponsors of the Purplewood Hill and Labyrinth art exhibition, currently being held at Anglia Ruskin University’s Cambridge School of Art in its renowned Ruskin Gallery. Based on Nina Kramer’s novel Purplewood Hill and her Minotaur-inspired story Labyrinth, the exhibition is a spatial interactive story installation, which invites its audience to participate in scenes from Nina’s stories.

Method previously worked in partnership with the Cambridge School of Art on the Labyrinth Hackathon, a thought-provoking project that saw a group of its art students come together with Avans Hogeschool in Breda, Netherlands to create an interactive piece for the exhibition.

Reflections & perspectives

The finished artwork – a sprawling tower of inscribed wooden discs and reflective spheres – is a curious contraption, seemingly mighty and precarious in equal measure; Nina’s ‘metaphor for life’, brought to life. “All choices have consequences, we cannot oversee them. Just as in a labyrinth, we twist and turn, make wrong decisions and have to go back, make better choices,” Nina explains. The installation lures its audience to play narrator, twisting between the discs as we do life choices, only to find the consequences of our actions reflected, quite literally, in the spherical mirrors.

The Purplewood Hill installation has been engineered to invite audiences to experience an alternative point of view, provided by the animals of Purplewood Hill. Through the senses of different animals, you are invited to participate in some scenes of the book – the animals are not a part of the story but mere witnesses. “I have always been interested in animals and the installation was an original part of an exhibition of my animal photography. I decided to let animals comment on events in the book. One of the great powers of storytelling is the possibility to change perspective,” Nina explains.

In the moment

As an author first and foremost, what compelled Nina to investigate how readers can make stories a spatial experience? “One of my inspirations for this exhibition was the combination of storytelling in the traditional written story, and the many new possibilities modern techniques give us,” Nina explains. As exploring engaging ways to communicate brand stories is an important part of what Method does, it has been fascinating to see the processes and thinking behind exploring new directions in storytelling unfold.

“I think storytelling, in its basic form, hasn’t changed much. Storytelling is a very powerful tool to help others gain perspective, to amuse ourselves, to shock, to connect. That does not change,” Nina says. “And while we might think that new media makes storytelling more immersive, I’m not so sure of that… we seem to have lost our ability to focus, to listen, to be there in the moment.”

A tangible experience

So in an age where consumers are looking for increasingly immersive experiences, how can we accurately predict storytelling trends to retain our expertise, and find a way to tell a story without losing the message in the medium? As a lecturer at Avans University, Nina and her colleagues are developing a story lab to explore alternative ways of storytelling.

“I definitely believe using different media influences the control of the story; every medium has its own merits,” Nina continues. “VR is a new medium, [but] with far less control from the maker, which makes it much harder to control the experience of the story.” VR, it seems, is a power struggle which risks the narrator being written out of its own narrative. From a branding, advertising and communications perspective, this is a highly relevant point for consideration.

Yet, despite the complexity of human interaction, one need is transparent: being ‘human’ – one of our core values at Method. We know that, whatever the latest comms trends, we need to make a connection with our audience that is respectful and, ultimately, genuine, in order to earn their trust. “Today, when we seem to be moving towards the virtual world, I believe our tangible environment will make a comeback,” Nina agrees. “People need to be connected to the real world in order to stay grounded,” she adds.

And what of times to come? “We will still be looking for ways of telling stories in the future. I wonder what stories people will tell about us,” Nina muses.

Purplewood Hill and Labyrinth is on exhibit at the Ruskin Gallery in Anglia Ruskin University’s Cambridge campus, from Monday to Saturday, 10am–4.30pm, until 12 May 2018.