Panel 12: Co-creation and co-creators

Panel 12: Co-creation and co-creators

Franci Greyling and Gustaff Tempelhoff, Dr Christine Wilks and Dr Sarah Gibson Yates

In Creating and accessibilising locative literature for persons with visual impairment: challenges, solutions, and new opportunities, Franci Greyling and Gustaff Tempelhoff present The Byderhand Pioneer project, which comprises three multilingual and multimodal locative-literature installations, located in Worcester, South Africa. It is not only unique in that the multimodal literature is accessible to persons with visual impairment but also because persons with visual impairment played an integral role in the establishment of the project. The three installations comprise a collection of multimodal poems in a multisensory garden at a school for the visually impaired; stories and narrations by visually impaired participants on the said school grounds and in a local coffee shop and a collection of poems for a proposed braille route in die Karoo Desert National Botanical Gardens. In line with the participatory nature of the project, a user-centered and co-design approach was applied in designing a multimodal and multilevel interface through which the literature is disseminated. These design solutions involve the combination of braille, QR codes and an accessible user interface that makes provision for sighted, low vision and blind users. 

As an expansion of the project and its accessibility, the collection was also made available by means of a publication combining braille and QR-codes, and which enabled visually impaired users to experience the work from the comfort of their homes. As to be expected, the COVID-19 pandemic had a profound impact on access to the installations and the continuation of the overarching project. Nevertheless, it is clear that, at a time when social distancing is encouraged and exhibitions in enclosed and crowded spaces should preferably be avoided, locative literature can offer unique opportunities for creators and audiences alike. The combination of multimodal literature, multimodal accessible interfaces and outdoor spaces can provide enriching and healing experiences to diverse users. Moreover, the design solutions we came up with in the project offer additional possibilities with regard to accessibility and alternative publication formats.

In Developing a Digital Fiction for Body Image Narrative Therapy, Dr Christine Wilks addresses how body image concerns affect the well-being of a generation, coming of age immersed in digital culture. ‘Writing New Bodies’, a research-creation project (SSHRC IG 435-2018-1036; see Ensslin et al. 2020), addresses these issues by developing an interactive digital fiction for body image narrative therapy. It is created with the critical co-design participation of a group of young women and gender non-conforming individuals from diverse intersectional backgrounds, who are representative of its intended audience. The main character of the Writing New Bodies digital fiction, Jordan, has body image issues relating to her size and shape. This becomes evident from her negative self-talk. Jordan describes herself as fat, flabby and repulsive, but is that true in the textual actual world or is it a distortion of her body image problem? In the interactive text-based fiction, where the reader-player makes choices on Jordan’s behalf that can affect her body image, there is no narratorial voice to authoritatively describe her body and none of the characters are ever depicted in mimetic visual form. Therefore Jordan’s body is open to interpretation, open to (re)construction. This openness is a deliberate strategy to make the therapeutic benefits and socio-political commitments of the work as fluid and widely accessible as possible. Similarly, with audience accessibility in mind, they chose to build the digital fiction on and for the open web platform using a mobile-first, responsive web design approach for the greatest reach. But the affinity between these twin approaches runs deeper. Both the refusal to visually represent a (female-gendered or sexed-coded) body in a digital fiction and the refusal to use proprietary closed platforms represent a form of resistance to the normative forces of cultural hegemony within neoliberalism; not least because the big tech platforms that want to lock us in to proprietary systems are amongst the most prolific purveyors of imagery and messaging that contribute to body dissatisfaction in young people. This presentation will reflect on creative and therapeutic strategies and the co-creation process of participant-led and reader-centric digital fiction design.

In The Remediated Writer and The Scriptive Text, Dr Sarah Gibson Yates posits the view that clearer working practices need to be explored and discussed to make cross-disciplinary practice in content creation and publishing accessible to a new, broader and more diverse range of creators and audiences. One of the challenges facing writers wishing to work with technologists is that they often feel out of their depth when it comes to communicating their story ideas for distributed digital contexts. This paper highlights two methods for the creative writer with which to approach this convergence. The first method can be found in Barnard’s idea of remediation (Barnard, 2019) as a method by which writers drawing on previous writing experience develop pre-existing skills to further new ways of writing and reaching audiences. The second is the idea of a scriptive text (Bernstein, 2011). Thinking about a text as scriptive can liberate the writer from a fixed or linear conceptualisation of story and open traditional modes of writing out to new ways of working. Offered from the perspective of a research practitioner with a foot in both the creative writing and audio-visual production practice camps I draw on recent creative writing PhD research to posit the remediated writer and the scriptive text as valuable tools that can point towards clear working practices. It is argued that these practices can offer innovative creative intersections for online multimodal storytelling, opening authentically amplified, expanded story-world creation to new voices and new audiences.