Interview for "WEAVE" (Germany) about "Drowning NYC" and "Recombinant Fiction". 2012.
Richard Schwarz: To what extent is your story a (political) campaign?

Paolo Cirio: I would say that it is a story about a fictional political campaign, which consequentially becomes a device to rise awareness on social issues. For me, it's like asking whether Brecht did political propaganda or theatre pieces. Probably both, but since the plays of Aristophanes, humans use political dramas to comment on society and try to improve it.

RS: What is the aim of telling a story in this way?

PC: For me it's an experiment in ways of telling stories and to engage unusual audiences in them. It's interesting for me to fabricate fictional realities in the same way that today reality is constructed and perceived through media. In fact, I consider reality mediated by present use of networked devices and platforms to assimilate, browse and express the everyday reality of personal relationships, individual identities, and physical public and intimate spaces. This mediated reality is driven by stories as kinds of media languages that people learned to use and understand. Just think about how people use Facebook to express their identity, Google Maps to know the city, or just reading news on Twitter for being informed about local and global politics. The recent widespread use of social media, combined with mass media such as TV, newspapers, and general advertising, traps the human mind in an informational environment, which is so artificial that it is like living in a fictional scenario of imaginative stories, and in which everyone performs fictional characters.

The aim of telling stories in this way is to try to discover in networked media a new medium for storytelling, like novels, cinema and theatre have been already. In particular, by "Recombinant Fiction" I try to define a specific genre of the so-called "Transmedia Storytelling" entertainment, which focuses on political stories. Similar political genres rose in the other mediums for telling stories.

The potential of this way to tell stories, which hasn't been well explored yet in my opinion, is the engagement with the audience, and its participation in the plot. I think that the infiltration of the audience's daily reality by fictional realities can have a great influence. This because the story is told by the same devices, languages, environments used daily by the audience, and so, paradoxically, I think that nowadays people understand things better through fiction than by what used to be crude reality.

RS: And are the plots changing by using media like this?

PC: I don't think that the plots change much, because still stories need plain characters and story-lines for to be better understood by a wide audience (somehow Propps's character theory is still relevant). However, since the audience can intervene by interacting or creating new characters and pieces of the story, the plot should have spaces and entry points for allowing and leading active participation.

Instead, what changes is the language that is used in telling the story, which should be very similar to the one used in reality by the audience to communicate through media. Every medium has its proper language and technique of expression, although it's always possible to adapt a theatrical piece to a TV show or to novel and vice versa. For instance, the former Recombinant Fiction piece of mine, The Big Plot, was an adaption of the texts of two different novels.

RS: How did you came up with the idea to tell a story in this way?

PC: I've an university degree in theatre and cinema theory, although I've worked as web designer and developer for a decade. I have always been a political activist, and I'm in the Net Art scene since ages, often doing artworks that can be seen as Neo Situationism in public spaces. The idea came up spontaneously, just from the need to join all my practices and passions. Honestly when I had the idea, I wasn't aware of the growing Alternate Reality Games scene in United States. It's probably something that everyone noticed in the air, just like a development in natural human language due to the new networked technologies.

RS: And is the story of "Drowning NYC" still developing and growing?

PC: It took place as a live event one year ago. After that it's hard to keep characters alive for a long time, though they are still there on the internet and the YouTube videos still get comments by an audience that still enjoys the story. By audience I mean students from the high school in the neighborhood of the protagonist, as well as public administrations and firms all over the world, who search potential businesses or solutions to adapt to future sea level rise. By tracking the reactions and the traffic on the narrative pieces of the story, I'm amused about how the audience unfolds the story, often starting from confused and concerned reactions, to being intrigued as soon as the other parts of story are discovered. 

For me it's an experiment, which I consider successful. I had good results with a small implementation of the theory and tactics. I am sure that by doing the same with a large implementation, everyone in the neighborhood where I staged the story could start to follow and participate in it. It's gripping to bring a story inside the people's homes, through characters similar to those in the residents' lives, who introduce political questions about the local community. I would love to do it again with a consistent budget in a isolated village, stressing the locals by wide use of media and actors living with the residents and driving them in an immersive fictional and inspiring reality.

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