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When designing this project, I was really inspired by looking at the role of the tree as symbol in American history, and the ability to design an experience that mixes art and technology with powerful investigative journalism to bring to life the stories of victims of racially motivated murders. When we think of family trees, we look at it as a connector between generations, but also there’s the dark history of trees and associations with racial terror in American history, and I wanted to reclaim that to turn these into beautiful spaces.
Tamara Shogaolu, Creator, to Docubase
Say their names. Know their stories.
Who are the men, women, and children whose cases were re-examined under the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act? Un(re)solved tells the stories of civil rights era cold cases and families still searching for justice. The immersive interactive storytelling experience invites visitors to go back in time and learn what happened.
The web-interactive version of Un(re)solved allows audiences to navigate through a virtual world that is visually inspired by the patterns of quilting and the imagery of trees. Quilting played an important role during the time of slavery when reading and writing were prohibited by law. Among those enslaved, quilting became a means to pass down family stories between generations. Here too, you enter a forest of quilted memories to learn about four people whose untimely deaths are being re-examined. On a web browser, the cursor transforms into a symbolic source of light. The viewer can use this to explore the space and listen to the stories of victims of racist killings. The microphone-enabled version of the experience requires users to speak each person’s name to hear their story.
To experience the Un(re)solved augmented reality installation, built with Unity, audiences may explore a “living quilt” wooden sculpture that evokes the rings of a tree and the cyclical nature of violence. Within it, they can view quilts encased in sheets of etched glass, on which a row of names of victims of racist killings is inscribed. Inspired by the legacy of quilting, the Un(re)solved installation is largely fabric in form. It serves not only to memorialize the cold case victims’ stories and lives but also to transmit a deeper understanding of this violent chapter of American history — and the cycle of racially motivated crimes in America. Enter by day, and you’ll see fabric embellished with symbolic quilting patterns, silhouettes, and the names of the 151 Civil Rights-era victims. Enter at night, and you’ll find the names glowing, thanks to a bioluminescent material derived from tree bark. The audience is invited to move around the space at their own pace and can scan these names using their phones for hearing each person’s story — but only once they speak the person’s name aloud three times.
Un(re)solved is a multi-platform investigation consisting of a documentary, podcast, interactive web experience, and augmented reality installation. Frontline PBS partnered with Ado Ato Pictures to lead the creative vision and bring the installation and web experience to life. Ado Ato Pictures is an award-winning Film and XR studio helmed by interdisciplinary artist, filmmaker, and technologist Tamara Shogaolu, also an MIT Open Doc Lab alumnus.