Narrative Machine (2014-2015)


"Narrative machine: How we lived then" is a digital media installation, which uses a stochastic computer algorithm to trace subliminal narratives within a large collection of amateur family photographs and excerpts from oral history interviews.

At the core of the piece is a collection of found amateur photographs and family albums documenting Russian everyday life throughout the 20th century; they were salvaged from Moscow dumpsters and demolition sites by Russian historian Vladimir Sergeyev. Many of the images come from the extensive archives of Rokita and Gusarov’s families, which trace the lives of two or three generations of men and women from their early childhood through old age and death. The spectacle of human lives animated through the stop-motion effect of a family chronicle is mesmerizing, but I am more interested in minor subplots and unfinished stories, fragments of narratives that are only hinted at in the archives or simply imagined by the viewer. To active these hidden stories, I created a stochastic algorithm - the Narrative Machine - which selects and displays the photographs in ever-changing order, following patterns suggested by linguistic research into the structure of narratives.

The images are interspersed with short fragments of text derived from Oxford Russian Life History archive containing numerous interviews with Russian men and women sharing their recollections of daily life. The interview excerpts selected for the project vary widely in character: from sharp-witted observations to vague emotional ramblings, from open-ended philosophical statements to terse reports of heart-rending events. As a result, the machine generates a never-ending silent film, in which transient stories emerge momentarily through the juxtaposition of images and text, only to be dispersed and re-created again in another from. 


Narrative machine: How we lived then, stochastic computer algorithm, ~3000 found photographs, excerpts from oral history intervies (still images), 2014-2015.