in My Work, Research

Thoughts on Marsha Kinder’s “Designing a Database Cinema”

Marsha Kinder suggests that “databases and narrative are two compatible structures and their combination is crucial to the creative expansion of new media.” I could not agree more as with the mergence of databases and narrative, they create a whole new dimension to the work. Her Labyrinth Project is a databases narratives and a collaboration of traditional artist with new technologies. The work is used to educate the users on the historical moments through storytelling. Even though it is a tedious step to include artists with non-digital making background, I felt like the works have a good balance of traditional art medium and narrative being backed up by a new digital mode of expression. 

One of the works that strikes me the most is the “Bleeding Through: Layers of Los Angeles, 1920 – 1986” by Marsha Kinder and Norman Klein is a databased detective story. The project’s setting is in downtown Los Angeles, an ethnically complex location, and is documented through archival stills and films. Moreover, these works are interactive by allowing viewers to write a fictional story together with Molly’s (a fictional character) dead husband and view back stories of real life people, which are parts of preserved history and allows them to reflect on the cultural implications within LA’s urban dream factory. Viewers get to compare between old and new images of Los Angeles, taken from precisely the same angle, to view the contrast between the past and present is the most dramatic and uncanny way. 


I find this way of exposing the audience to historical knowledge based on their own choices and at their own pace very effective. The movement between fiction and history, prompts users to tap into their own databased memories, be it first hand, from documentaries, etc. I feel like the juxtaposition of a fictional storyline with the serious histories stories is an amazing step because it does its job of passing historical knowledge and also provide a fun game-like experience for the audience. Although a database narrative may have no clear-cut beginning or ending, no three act classical structure or even a coherent chain of causality, it spikes users’ curiosity and desire to spin their own tale. The idea of transferring the decision power to the viewers is a transfer of responsibility and can be quite disquieting.

In conclusion, Marsha Kinder’s Labyrinth Project has allowed us to taste the art of databased narratives. The effects of databased narrative spikes inquisitiveness of users as it is a fresh idea in the market. Moreover, I believe that this technique of merging database and narrative can be used in schools and for other educational purposes as I believe it might be a lot more effective as compared to the current educational system. The Labyrinth Project is like no other at that time, now that technologies enables instead of retains, I am very excited to see what this new era of advanced technologies can bring to the table.