Ultrashort – A Swiss project on the shortest of narratives

Minimal visual narratives are at the core of an interdisciplinary research project at the Lucerne School of Art and Design. Academics and artists were invited to reflect upon marginal conditions of visual display in our current image-saturated environment. GIFs, still images and a short film respond to issues of privacy, propinquity and ubiquity associated with current technology. Human and non-human agency are overarching themes in all these works, which push the viewer to think again about the entanglement of the everyday, communication and devices. Who is controlling who? What are the strategies we put in place to take ownership of pervasive technologies? How do contemporary media pragmatics look like?

Along with more formal approaches to the topic, humor is used both by artists and academics as a conceptual frame. Elke Rentemeister has titled her contribution: Mittags Tomatenpfankuchen, which means a much as: At Noon Tomato Pancakes. And I can’t wait to read it! Till Lauer‘s work will make you smile in that cheeky way we all do when we identify ourselves with something, as she puts it, agitating and charming.


In the land of milk and honey?

Among the academic work, there is a piece I wrote last year in collaboration with my mother, my sister and my partner. It is a critical exploration of the ever present and always interrupted messaging interactions we all have with our beloved ones, whether they live far or near us. Whatsapp is a tricky platform. On the one hand, it promises the user so much: you will always be reachable, there is no cost attached to sending any kind of file, it is user friendly and it allows you to control the distribution of your messages in a very straight forward way. On the other hand, a whole set of expectations comes along with it. Whatsapp is designed as an asynchronous medium but it is perceived as quasi-synchronous by many. When you receive a message you are expected – perhaps even required – to answer immediately. Otherwise, your head starts to spin: “why didn’t he answer me?”, “Has she seen my message?”,  “I can’t believe nobody in the group has anything to say about this!”. Sounds familiar?

Together while apart: visual tele-cocooning abroad.

Together while apart: visual tele-cocooning abroad.

So, I decided to explore those tensions from my own experience. By exploring my own visual exchange between my sister and my mother in Spainand myself in Ireland, I tried to understand why we continuously produce pictures and introduce them in our conversations. What does this permanent exchange mean for our relationship? The result is both process and product. It is like a mirror and a magnifying glass together as it confronts the makers with their files, who in turn dive in and reflect on their media-production[i] first on their own and then by responding to others’ reflections.

This exercise of auto-ethnography draws on ideas and principles of co-constructed[ii] and visual narrative research, whereby multiple voices are weaved to craft a plausible story, thereby unveiling qualities that would otherwise remain inaccessible[iii]. In narrative inquiry significant weight is given to empower and to voice otherwise silenced stories, to fill the spaces between personal experiences and what is generally known. Emerging particular accounts are both outputs and vehicles to stress the political in the personal, which is a fundamental feature of narrative inquiry.In this case, I invited my mother and my sister to take a closer look at our mediated exchanges. The narrative crafted as a result is strongly infused by emotions and contradictions. In the context of mediated presence[iv], affection, frustration and anger go hand by hand for us as a transnational family[v].

And … I can only read until here.

 More in the journal


[i] Allan Radley used the term photo-production to enlarge the research potential of photo-elicitation. What is pictured and what remains invisible, audience, the context of reception and devices used along the way, all these factors are explored by focusing the line of inquiry in photo-production. Alan Radley, “What people do with pictures”, Visual Studies, 25(3) (2010) pp.268-79.

[ii]Arthur P. Bochner, and Carolyn Ellis, “Telling and living: Narrative co-construction and the practices of interpersonalrelationships”, Social approaches to communication, ed. Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz (New York: Guilford, 1995) pp.201-13.

[iii]Douglas Harper, Visual Soiciology (Routledge: London and New York, 2012).

[iv]Mikko Villi, Visual mobile communication. Camera phone photo messages as ritual communication and mediated presence (Helsinki: Aalto UP, 2010).

[v]The term transnational family is used here to refer to a family unit dispersed among several countries. For this article, family is restricted to its nuclear form, although in my doctoral investigation the term of family of choice coined by Weston is applied to transnational families. Thereby both extended family and friends are considered part of the family unit in as much members of the nucleus decide it so. Kath Weston, “Families We Choose”, Families We Choose: Lesbians, Gays, Kinship (New York: Columbia UP, 1997) pp.103-36.


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