sAND: an experiment in tactile storytelling

Project Leader and Creative Director: Lissa Holloway-Attaway (Blekinge Tekniska Högskola, Sweden)
Technical Director: Daniel Spikol (Malmö University, Sweden)
Videographer: Martin Arvebro (Independent Video Artist, Sweden)
Photographer: Ida Gustavsson (Fotograf Ida, Sweden)

The “sAND” project, is a research project and installation mixed media piece that explores the physical landscapes of Nida, Lithuania and the Blekinge Region of Sweden. Using the Baltic sea as a mythic connector, it links the distant landscapes through imagined histories activated by a user’s body and a touch screen interface. It focuses on the diverse Baltic landscapes as shifting sites of location by activating the “secret” additive content they evoke.

Hence the project title, which alludes to “sand” as a physical property characterized by its shifting nature, at the border between solid land and liquid water, as well as the additive possibilities that such shifting allows in story-telling contexts: If borders shift, then what, one may ask, is lost or gained as the renegotiation occurs? What are the Baltic stories held within, washed away, and re-deposited in the iconic sANDs and dunes of Nida, the ancient stones of Blekinge, and how do they exemplify all stories as historically liquid (secret, like the ancient rock carvings in Blekinge) multitudinous (countless, like grains of sand on a beach), immense (like the dunes and rune stones), and intimate when one participates with them? The project uses touch screens (iPads and mobile phones) to access photographs and video from the Lithuanian and Swedish landscapes, combined with Augmented Reality technologies to activate “stories” and histories customized for the user. The piece is in development through 2012 and will be exhibited as part of the Telling the Baltic exhibition in early 2013 and included in a digital media performance festival organized by Art Line researchers at Blekinge Tekniska Högskola in Karlskona, Sweden in fall 2013.

sAND - a storytelling research project

A Baltic Tale of Continental Drift

by Lissa Holloway-Attaway

“Pangaea Drifting” or “after a period of prolonged suffering” for Gordon. The formation of the supercontinent Pangaea was undoubtedly a triumph of tectonic shifting and mass manipulation. First it was Laurentia and Baltica that collided. Although, in all fairness, Paleozoic time counters the dynamism and force “collision” evokes.

They drifted together, more likely, the scientists say, as continents are wont to do.

A slow bump and grind, never natural and yet geologically determinate. In the stone. Sure as amber.

Crawling into each other, determining the proper thrust and then zigzag fitted, they roughly sutured their coastlines together, beginning a connection deep in magma earth-boil, deeper still than sea-bottom, before even swimming liquid life and blue-green algae, long before articulate brachiopods, graptolites, tabulate and rugose corals.
Before even that.
Finally, shifting upward, breaking water-surface, they heaved mountains in the slow exhalation of pained union.
Blue foam trails, mixed with smoky plumes and rock strata, dripped a wake of stretching remnants back to water, with each expelling breath that pushed up rocky earth into air.
Boulders fingered up from water and layered life-worlds in-between each stony spasm, each deposit eons in the making, trapping and animating each tier.
Fossiliferous by nature.
Finally, abandoning effort in high shallow air, breathless in the unoxygenated peaks, they gave in.
Merging done, they steamily gazed back down at their wounding.
Together, they saw the criss-cross scar they had propelled across the surface earth-flesh, a scabby chain bearing treacherous witness of drifting and daring others to traverse full-across away from level coasts.

But deep as it was, and jagged, they knew the rawness soon would heal, and then numb.
These peaks too would wear down and new joining would begin.
Pangaea was coming.
Before the scarring, it was Laurentia alone. North America’s bulky forbearer straddled the equator, perched precariously, settling northwesterly mostly. This, the most stable of continental platforms virtually languished there in the giant. Panthalassa sea-soup.
Dipping its lithospheric roots into the mantle bed, it waited, patiently for the inevitable merge, unconcerned with unnatural pairing and the inevitable trench that “unification” always keeps hidden underwater when one rock mass shoves into another, slowly.
A subduction zone, scientists would call it. But really it’s just a deep hole.
Baltica, the bulbous and comma-shaped mass, seemed perfectly formed, then, for conjunction.
But in fact, its tail stretched coyly outward, longing toward Iberia, as one would, hiding its escapist desires in a half-wreath of island arcs, scattered, discreetly, to mask the true direction of its urges.
An almost crescent, never full.
Instead, the comma would be drawn away much further. Pulled past the scattering and then onward, leaving half-moon in its wake.
Beginning its journey at the equator, east of Laurentia, it would eventually feel the Westerly tug, and yet, Baltica’s round end, held fast, at first, conscious of other desires and tailward crescent tidal pulls.
It resisted, puffed up and created drag.
Despite its girth, it could not hold firm, no match for tectonics deep underground.
The sea-floor, longing for adventure, and unconcerned with continents sucked its own foundations down into itself, ruining them into molten darkness, melting them to other liquids and dynamically powering itself outward.
Creeping over depth.
A continental conveyor belt, it just moved the goods.
Tail first, transformed from pulling, and now more like inverted sperm, Baltica was dragged backward into a blind fitting with Laurentia. But this also meant its eyes were forward, focused on the horizon.
On the lookout. Always.
Gondwanaland is coming.
Formed themselves of stony accretion, pre-Cambrian leftovers held in unyielding DNA stores, they knew more shifting was yet to come, knew it deeper than blue, from crust up, and so they never settled in.
For Mesozoic predictions had always loomed, fossilized whispers, with futuristic leanings.
Gondwanaland then Panagea.
“We need a new name now,” pronounced Laurentia, “to mark our joining.”
“I suppose,” said Baltica, distracted by the horizon and unconcerned with nomenclature as such.
*Words,* Baltica thought. *What are they in the face of this future? So many more will come: Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, abelisaurs, titanosaurs, and so on.*
“What about Laurasia” Baltica spoke aloud instead. “I’ve always dreamed of that for us,” it lied.
“Yes, it’s perfect, said Laurentia, altogether too indiscriminate and far too amenable to change.
In the end, predictably, it was all thumbs, really. An Ill-fitting match, slovenly, and all the worse for being temporary.
Gondwanaland, the uber-continent lurking in the south, almost at the pole, had Northerly desires.
“Or maybe it’s just too weak for sea-floors,” whispered Baltica.
It too was coming, slowly, dragging future Africa, South America, India, Antarctica, Australia, New Guinea, and trailing New Zealand, even then an outlier.
“Kiwis. Can’t live with them. Can’t dump them at the pole” taunted Baltica aloud, deflecting the fear of another joining.
It will weigh us down; It will drag us under, to the trenches, worried Baltica, or worse still just crush us into dust, to sand.
It remembered the delicate island arc that once embraced it, encircling its Northerly rim, a bare brushstroke of half-circumference, and so easier for water burial, or for crushing.
Gondwanaland did come.
It lumbered its way across the horizon. Beginning first as a distant black dot. “A bird, a sail. No, an uber-supercontinent,” Baltica chuckled humorlessly under its breath, distracting itself from knowing the other merging.
Gondwanaland confidently let itself appear, aware of the drama of its entrance.
It sometimes paused, for effect, letting itself be silhouetted in the sunset, or sunrise.
Barge-like, but with a continental enormity that required slow diligence, it incrementally pushed onward, propelled by molten shifting plates beneath the blue.
Sometimes too its advance stirred up marine life in its wake, occasionally even flinging them up onto the land into the dense vegetation and then more mixing: amphibious tetrapods mingled with glossopterids, scattering seeds and finally offering themselves fully to the land.
“Or perhaps they just jumped,” thought Baltica, “too afraid of sea-depths, of trenches.”
Sometimes even drifting stone is preferable.
And then finally, another mass joining: a conveyance, a grinding, a needle-less darning, piercing nonetheless, dizzied heights, loss of air, gazing, and then just waiting for the numb.
Pangaea was done.
Patient work this devastation, this drifting, exacting coalescence from mass and liquid.
So much effort just for one-ness.
Pangaea ( “all-earth”) surrounded by Panthalassa (“universal sea”), one plus one, again.
For now.
Equatorial crossing and stitching over entire seas, hiding them under rock face, land mass trek, abandoning the poles.
Such is the heavy work of moving away and moving together.
Scientists call it drifting. But really it is only massive collision.