Columbia Digital Storytelling Lab
Prof. Lance Weiler
Lincoln Center, New York City (USA)

During a three months residency program in NYC that took place this fall, I had the opportunity to attend several events of the Columbia University School of the Arts’ Digital Storytelling Lab. Columbia DSL is a laboratory and community exploring digital storytelling, using new forms of technology (AI, AR, IoT, etc.), focusing on functions such entertainment, health, education, tourism, etc. Since 2015 Columbia DSL has been staging large global collaborative projects like Sherlock Holmes & the Internet of Things (presented at NYFF) and Frankenstein AI (presented at SUNDANCE & IDFA).

The main goal is finding a way to bring together groups of people challenging the infinite possibilities of what technology can be. The human experience always comes first, technology is something that comes in a second moment, according to the story that is going to be told. Projects created, prototyped and tested by the community are made following these design principles:

  • Thematic Frame – The participant can contribute to the experience because they have a pre-existing understanding of its foundation from which a shared language emerges.
  • The Trace – The participant can see their contributions within the experience,
  • Granting Agency – The participant is granted agency to make decisions (as a team and individually) and they can identify how their actions impacted the experience.
  • Serendipity Management – Orchestrated micro experiences where unexpected moments foster collaboration between participants. Design for blank space.

Among the events I attended, I found interesting the following two projects: Blockchain Fairy Tales (BFT) and Alien AI (AAI), they both have a collaborative synthesis in generating artifacts with AI, but the approach and the engagement of the participants is different. 

The peculiar aspect in BFT was the generation of content based on a reflection on what scares us and our hopes for the future. The participants were grouped by similarities in thoughts and were asked to refine them in order to obtain prompts that unfold the tale/myth.

In AAI the performance by the Artist was the trigger to an individual emotional response. Participants were invited to scan a QR code and uploading to the AI a part of their body (photo and description) to shape the collective body of the Alien.

Blockchain Fairy Tales
During the collaborative workshop “An Evening of New Myth-Making – experiments with generative systems”, participants were invited to model and engage with the narrative potentials and social impact of AI and decentralized technology in the context of the design research project BFT.
Fairy Tales themselves are a form of technology– they were used to pass vital information orally throughout the generations. We have the same aim as we co-create new myths for our futures, and build new worlds with decentralized tools. Participants worked in groups to build a mythical creature, an element of crisis and a way out to end the story. The ideas took shape using a prompt to images service (Midjourney), further displayed on a collaborative virtual canvas (Miro).

Alien AI
AAI live is an immersive interactive performance and disruptive installation that “breaks” technologies and enables algorithms to subvert their functions to invent new humane technologies. The live performance by the artist Uli Ap bridged physical and virtual worlds, the session connected audiences at Film at Lincoln Center with audiences at the GAINT gallery in the UK in real-time.
The participants’ bodies become part of a collective alien body, simultaneously present in multiple locations, by attending the live performance by the Atrtist and contributing to the collaborative artwork. By choosing a part of their body and uploading a picture image and a descriptive text (I uploaded my knee and told a story about an old scar) the participants contributed to building the alien body, that is the collaborative artifact.