Written by: Corina Maduro
On October 28, artist Gwen Stok launched her brand new transmedia project ‘Memoir of a Jellyfish’. A project to experience and actively explore through drawings, animations and music. It is a decomposed book in which fragments of stories are told via a set of A5 cards with Augmented Reality.
During the online interview, Gwen shared all about how the idea for this project came about and the research project she worked on thanks to support from CBK Rotterdam. Below is a brief recap of that conversation.
How did the idea for Memoir of a Jellyfish come about?
In recent years I have been working on my graphic novel ‘De genezing van de krekel’, based on the well-known story by writer Toon Tellegen. For over 2.5 years I was immersed in this story about being gloomy and having a feeling of heaviness. At one point I thought, all that metaphorical weight… What if gravity didn’t exist? Would the cricket still feel gloomy? Then I started researching what gravity actually is.
Fragment interview, Gwen about where it started (In Dutch)
I’m curious, what does this have to do with jellyfish?
Gravity is the ‘weakest’ and at the same time the most influential natural force on our planet. Gravity holds mass together. If you go into space, beyond our atmosphere, you can no longer perceive your body as you are used to, your muscles and bones change shape, dissolve and you turn into a kind of blob, floating in space. That reminded me of jellyfish.
The title of the project is ‘Memoir of a Jellyfish’, memories, can you tell us more about that?
A jellyfish can, when stressed, transform into a younger version of itself, did you know that? Jellyfish are the only creatures on Earth that are in a sense immortal. Gravity is inextricably linked to the experience of time. So if the thought experiment is “what if gravity doesn’t exist anymore?” This also prompts the question: “What does this do to our experience of time and to our memories?” We take it for granted that we remember things, most of the time.
So gravity and time are now taking shape in this transmedia project. Did you know right away that you also wanted to work with Augmented Reality?
No, it took a lot of research. I knew I wanted to make a combination between analog and digital. In my bio it says “Gwen Stok is an artist, illustrator and graphic novelist.” I wanted to see if I could break through these boxes, merge these roles and experience into one project. Augmented Reality turned out to be a good fit with the themes I wanted to convey, because it is the perfect bridge between tangible, physical world and the more elusive digital realm, just as memories are actually elusive.
Last summer I saw an exhibition about one of my heroes, cartoonist Moebius. They made great use of Augmented Reality using a free App: Artivive. That turned out to be a good solution for my project as well, because it proves to be easy to use, accessible, which was important for me in this project. All in all, Memoir of a Jellyfish uses different platforms: it’s a poster, a set of cards, AR content and an Instagram account. The intention is that this project will spread via all these places and channels. It may well be that I add new virtual things to the project and let the people with a set know that they can explore it again.
What challenges did you face while developing this project?
In addition to all the research into the possibilities of the AR app, I also had the project extensively tested by a diverse group of people of all ages. I was curious if everything worked technically, if it was clear to people how they should experience this project and what the fragments of stories triggered with them. This resulted, for example, in the addition of music and sound in the final product that is now available. What I found a relief is that the concept seemed to resonate well with everyone, regardless of whether you ‘played’ with it for a relatively short or long time.
This last year, in addition to Memoir of a Jellyfish, you also worked as ‘Stadstekenaar’ of Rotterdam, capturing the Corona lockdown period in illustrations. Did those projects influence each other?
Yes they did, there are similarities yet they are also different. I made the plan for Memoir of a Jellyfish before Corona existed, then Corona happened and suddenly I lived in a reality in which so many things we took for granted (hugging our parents, going to a theatre) changed drastically. A theme I was working on on a conceptual level suddenly became something I was also struggling with in my daily life. That was confusing at times and forced me to refocus on Memoir of a Jellyfish from time to time.
At the same time, I worked as ‘Stadstekenaar’ capturing the lockdown in Rotterdam. This project which I named ‘Uit Zicht’ is also about the disappearance of things we take for granted, but where Memoir of a Jellyfish is a project in a loose and experimental form, based on fragments of memories, ‘Uit Zicht’ is all about the being stuck in a drastically reduced routine, being stuck in a moment. ‘Uit Zicht’ therefore took the form of a leporello, in which all the drawings are all attached to each other.
In recent years you have built up a diverse oeuvre with a focus on philosophical explorations about identity and the tension between the individual and the group. Could you now add the disappearance of things taken for granted as a theme? In other words, will Memoir of a Jellyfish have a next chapter?
Yes, you can think of Memoir of a Jellyfish as a sort of prologue. I plan to develop this project further in the future. Actually, I would prefer to have a custom app built so that I can explore and unpack a lot more digital and AR options for this project. Who knows, but to be continued in any which way or form!
‘Memoir of a Jellyfish’ and ‘UitZicht’ are both for sale via Gwen Stok’s webshop: www.gwenst.com