The Olive Project

a theoretical reflection || watch || interact

audience | author-ity


Michael Frisch's (2006) call for a "post-documentary sensibility" emerged out of an earlier strand of his thinking in which he argues that "in the same sense that both interviewer and interviewee are the 'authors' of an oral historical document, public-historical presentation has the challenge of finding ways of sharing the 'authority' of interpretation with the public" (2006; 1990, p. 226). While Frisch's drive to extend collaborative meaning-making to sites of reception is deeply rooted in a democratic notion of the public, my own practice is motivated by a very different set of interests: firstly, my investment in not only cognitive interpretation but also affective experience; and, secondly, my struggle to enable my grandma's memories to speak—but to speak particularly—through, alongside, and sometimes in resistance to oppositional but equally salient publics. How can I preserve not only my grandma's words, but also the irreducible complexity of their meaning? How can I resist the temptation to offer up her life as a neatly-packaged story for passive consumption? How might I encourage an audience of strangers to invest in these memories as I have, to immerse themselves in the messy and disjointed beauty of the life from which they sprung? Struggling with these questions, I began this project as a granddaughter, designed it as a scholar, and worked hard to imagine how I might share it as both at once.


Upon entering the space of the scrolling archive, the user is invited to participate as a co-authorial agent in the Olive Project, creating new strategies of arrangement and interpretation as she navigates segments of my grandma's audio-visual memory. At the same time, the user may only exercise this agency within the distinct navigational constraints of the bounded structure that I have created. As Paul Thompson (1998) argued, multimedia design in oral history "depends on what its users make of it" (p. 179). Thus, depending on the user's investment—in an emotional sense of her connection to my grandma's oral history and to the practical sense of her sustained engagement with the platform—the affective experience of this contradictory "author-ity" may be dramatically different. This is not an accident. Rather it is an act of sentiment, of accountability, and of respect for the life and memory of my grandmother. By drawing upon Frisch's post-documentary framework, but doing so with conscious attention to questions of mediation, power, and design, I have worked to open up a space for flexible, but limited, co-agential storytelling.