Found Letters

Carlin Wragg

Found Letters is a historical novel-in-verse and interactive installation that translates history into fiction, immersing readers in a genealogist’s journey through the objects, documents, and letters she uses to reconstruct her family story.

Found Letters begins on the print and digital page and finishes as an environmental installation: An abandoned nineteenth-century farmhouse, transported from western Kansas and installed in a New York City gallery. Pristine furniture situated amidst the physical decay becomes a sequence of waypoints along a journey through the Paul family’s memories. A scarred metal box, an opera glove, a cluster of windows activate on approach, hallucinatory images animate: A Paris dance hall, a Nazi flag flapping against white marble, burgundy wine in a carved glass, candle light, cobblestones. Wind whispers the wheat. As they explore, readers reconstruct the lives of the Paul family: Jack, Matilda, and Joseph, Oliver, Alice, and Laura, in a story that stretches from Savannah, Georgia, to London, to Nazi-occupied Paris, to a remote farm in western Kansas, exposing ambition and its aftermath, the mental wastes of war, and the persistent love of an American family.

Found Letters is composed for poets and historians, artists and readers, especially those intrigued by new and novel interactions. Just as texts invite multiple readings, Found Letters offers readers different points of entry into the story. Soundscapes imbued with characters’ voices highlight the poem’s internal sonic rhythms. Found videos mapped to footage of decaying domestic spaces evoke characters’ memories.

User Scenario
Users see the interior of an abandoned Kansas farmhouse through three found farmhouse windows. When a user approaches, the scene changes to reveal figures moving around inside the house and they hear fragments of a sound poem.

The installation is made of three found farmhouse windows lined with drafting vellum and suspended from the ceiling by sash cord. Rear projection-mapped videos animate the windows with images of three abandoned farmhouse rooms. A Kinect sensor detects the user's proximity to each window and triggers Max/MSP to change the video they see. A long fade reveals a new video that shows figures enacting scenes inside the house. These scenes have been filmed with actors against a green screen and keyed into the footage to give the feeling that the user has stumbled onto a house of ghosts.