Wajma Mohseni
Yuliya Parshina

Stacking Stories

By using the symbolic act of stacking stones as an interface, we navigate through layers of stories told by individuals who have been displaced by war - and the objects they hold dear.


Collective Narrative,Spatial Media

“If you had to suddenly flee your home, what would you take?”

We all have objects we hold dear. They evoke powerful memories and connections with a time past, a person or a place. We are interested in what objects people choose to take when escaping from life-threatening situations.

Inspired by the personal experiences of Wajma’s family, we collected stories of the extraordinary journeys made by people escaping war and persecution. By focusing the conversation around one meaningful object, we explore the complex issues of conflict, displacement, memory, culture, value, family and the essence of home.

It can be difficult to relate to distant stories of war because they feel impersonal, far away and disconnected from our reality. The intimate nature of personal objects helps us empathize with issues that otherwise feel unfamiliar and remote.

By using the symbolic act of stacking stones as an interface, we will navigate through layers of stories we collected.

The experience will begin when a stone is placed on a table surface, triggering the appearance of a projected piece of the story. As more stones are placed on top, new parts of the story unfold. The object is revealed as the last step.

We came across a few projects that document stories of meaningful objects owned by displaced individuals and communities. Most of them are in a traditional museum exhibit format and use very little technology. Most of them have limited online presence.

A powerful source of inspiration comes from a UNHCR project by photographer Brian Sokol, who documented refugees with their most prized possessions: http://petapixel.com/2013/03/21/portraits-of-refugees-posing-with-their-most-valued-possessions/

We hope to create a similarly moving experience that goes beyond one man's creative vision and allows the refugees to speak for themselves. We want to mix this with technology and the simple act of building (or stacking) organic material which guides users through a story, revealed in layers. From what we have researched, most projects either target displaced people, or if they aim for a wider audience, the use of technology has been limited and/or storytelling narrative has been disconnected. We are therefore very excited to explore this new space.

We want our project to generate awareness, empathy and involvement by individuals who are not personally connected with war, persecution or displaced communities. The objects will act as a connecting point and the stories will be told powerfully and succinctly to an audience not familiar with war and displacement.

User Scenario
A newcomer chooses from several small stones. As they place one stone on the table, a line of text appears next to it (accompanied by tasteful visual effects). When subsequent stones are placed on top of the original, new lines (and subtle animations) appear, replacing the old. The last stone reveals an image of the object described. The act of stacking stones is both fun and easy, and allows the audience to engage with the story in a physical way.

To investigate another story, visitors can choose a new set of stones.

The experience supports multiple users (up to 2 or 3 at a time due to space constraints)

Upon leaving, visitors can take a postcard of their favorite story, which prompts them to explore other stories in our online collection.

The table surface is a semi-translucent piece of plastic on a simple support, with a projector hidden beneath. A webcam is suspended from either a ceiling/wall mount (or a tall mike-stand).

The stones are of the smooth, decorative variety, about an inch or two in diameter. The TUIO patterns are painted on both sides through a transfer process (paint is applied to a paper print and carefully pressed onto the flat surface).

Before deciding on using stones, we tested out two other installation ideas (one involving a Kinect/laser projector and another with a webcam/TSPS setup). Though we loved the concepts behind all three ideas, the reacTIVision/TUIO approach proved to be the most stable and reliable. Furthermore, we believe in this project enough to pursue it beyond school. The Spring Show will be the perfect forum to display and test interactivity and audience response to a project close to our hearts.