Information in the woods

This is a post that’s here largely as an aide memoire. I’m giving a talk about location-specific storytelling at the Frankfurt Book Fair soon, and the thing I keep coming back to is Jim Kosem’s Spomenik project; a ‘Pervasive Memorial’. It’s important because it deals with important subject matter and location simply and well.

The reason there’s a memorial is simple and devastating. There are some woods – fairly ordinary woods – in Slovenia which are the site of an atrocity. At the end of the Second World War many people were shot and their bodies left in mass graves in caves there. Just one of the many war crimes that happen in secluded woods across the world. Memorialising this is a form of holocaust prevention for the local population – the children need to know what happened so they can make different choices if such conditions arise again. So there are memorials in the trees, and teenagers are taken on school trips there as part of their history lessons, to see the place that this happened.

What the Spomenik project adds is some small signs with a phone number you can call to hear audio accounts from people with a personal connection to the atrocity, narrating you through the space. You call the number from your mobile and start to understand more about what actually happened.

This adds a layer to what you are looking at, and makes it feel personal using very simple design decisions. Delivering via audio, so you have to look at what the words are describing, in a phonecall, which is such a familiar gesture from our daily lives. You don’t need a smartphone or a dataplan, and it forces you to look around and understand the meaning of the things you are seeing. Jim says when describing the experience “This is usually where people fell silent, once the guy started narrating and you started seeing crosses carved into trees everywhere.”