Polyphonic documentary is a collaborative and practice-based research project convened by Judith Aston and Stefano Odorico. Its aim is to explore the potential of interactive documentary for promoting interdisciplinary dialogue and exchange in a context of climate emergency and increasing polarization. Our starting point is to re-visit the work of Bakhtin and look at the relevance of what he has to say about the polyphonic novel in relation to evolving documentary forms and practices. As part of this, we are also looking at other relevant theorists whose work intersects with and builds on ideas about co-creation, polyphony and transformative narratives.

Whilst polyphony can be found across a number of documentary forms, we are mainly interested here in focusing on earlier debates within interactive documentary around narrative/non-narrative/anti-narrative and its relationship to the database form. What happens for example when the human computer interface enables us to create spatial, multi/non-linear and more open-ended organisational strategies, as opposed to the more sequential, linear and fixed approaches found in the age of cinema and print?

To avoid technological determinism, we are keen to look at power dynamics and at the situated nature of all forms of knowledge construction, by looking at the pitfalls as well as the benefits of interactive documentary as a means of promoting polyphonic thinking. We feel that now is a good time to be returning to these debates, as the computer-based aesthetic of the multiple is being made ubiquitous by interfaces such as that of Zoom, high profile interactive narrative projects that have started to emerge on channels such as Netflix, and many of us are engaged with using interactive tools for on-line learning.

We also feel, in line with our co-creation colleagues linked to the Park Center for Independent Media in New York, that now is a good moment for a re-set, for a questioning of received ways of doing things, in order to develop new approaches and strategies which can help us to embrace complexity, navigate uncertainty and celebrate diversity.

We invite you to join us in this journey of discovery!

Latest from the Blog

Launch of new collaborative project on ‘extreme heat’

During a meeting on-line to discuss the results of our ‘What does polyphony mean to you?’ experiments in Korsakow and Stornaway, a general agreement was reached to start a new project and for this to be co-creational from the outset.  This would build on the prototypes that we had worked on with the developers of…

Initial Results of Collaborative Project: Part 2

After developing a pilot on Korsakow, as described in our previous blog post, we focused on developing our second pilot using Stornaway and the same audiovisual content. The reason to do so was to draw a parallel and comparison between the two authorial tools in relation to our Polyphonic project. So, the clips that we…

Initial Results of Collaborative Project: Part 1

We had 25 responses from around the world – eg. India, Australia, Canada, USA, Turkey, Malta, Germany, UK – to our call to participate in a collaborative project. Each participant was asked to submit 3-5 short video clips on what polyphony meant to them. We didn’t over-specify the format and said that it was fine…

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