Loc Dao and Stan Douglas’ Collaboration Circa 1948 Premieres in Toronto at Luminato

InteractiveProduction

by Marc Glassman, Editor of POV Magazine

Circa 1948 is a unique storyworld created by Stan Douglas and Loc Dao, whose team at the NFB’s Digital Studio was able to mesh together ideas inspired by Vancouver’s colourful past. The remarkable installation has its long awaited Toronto run at the Luminato Festival‘s main hub, the Hearn Generating Station, from June 10-26.

Artist Douglas had a daydream while walking by the areas where Hogan’s Alley and the old Hotel Vancouver used to be. “My idea was to be able to be at those places. You’d be able to use your phone like a window into the past. That was the original inspiration,” says Douglas. Hogan’s Alley, notorious for its links to bootlegging and prostitution, and Hotel Vancouver, a once-legendary dwelling that had fallen into disrepute, were demolished in the post-war period as a prosperous Vancouver established itself.

“The underbelly of Vancouver is a lingering topic in the minds of Vancouverites, and I’ve always been curious about its origins,” says Loc Dao, who continues the backstory of Circa 1948. “Stan, our producer Selwyn Jacobs, our Executive Producer Rob McLaughlin and I share a fascination with Vancouver and its unique history. We realized that the themes observed by Stan show great similarities between Vancouver after World War II and today. Coming off the war in Afghanistan, the fear of terrorism echoes the paranoia of the Cold War in the ’40s; there were issues of corruption and gentrification back then as there are now; and the displacement of Chinatown today reminds us of the eradication of Hogan’s Alley in the post-war years. History is repeating itself not just in Vancouver but also across North America. We knew instinctively that we had a project.”

Douglas, Dao and his team began to come up with ideas of how best to harness the dream of evoking Vancouver’s past. “The creation process was pretty wild. There was no clear template on how to combine three different mediums of storytelling and experience, so we learned a lot about how to make a game and how an artist like Stan works. We brought a combined film and interactive approach to the mix,” says Dao. “Stan came up with the high-level concept for the storyworld and set the art direction, but Circa 1948 was a true co-creation between Stan and the Digital Studio in Vancouver. Producers Selwyn Jacob and Jennifer Moss worked very closely with Stan on the research and story. It was our idea to have a script and dialogue based on characters from the era.” The decision was made to make the installation interactive.

Douglas continues: “I liked the idea that this could be a way of the story being told and decisions being made by the audience in a very intuitive fashion…. Which direction that you decide to go, which is your choice, determines where you will encounter something. If you’re interested in that situation, you can hear more, because there are more stories there, and if not, you can go away, go where you like.

“What happens in the installation is that you become the interface. Just with the movement of your body, you can move through the space… Basically the stories pause at a certain point as you walk away, but the remaining stories are still available when you come back to the same space. The idea of that is that you’re getting a picaresque slice of life… there are details, which imply bigger pictures. We get a sense of the various real estate scams that are going on in this post-war period, and a lot about the reorganization of urban space in the period which happened throughout North America and in Europe too.”

Loc Dao sums it up: “I wanted the project to push the boundaries of an interactive art experience. To challenge the status quo in storytelling, what an app should do, what VR was. I wanted the user to be immersed in the time period and I feel the installation succeeds in doing so. I really hope Stan’s observations—holding up the mirror to the things that keep repeating themselves, from corruption to gentrification to the difficult social living conditions the average person encounters—will make our audience think and question the decisions made in the cities we live in today.”

Fuller interviews with Loc Dao and Stan Douglas can be read in issue 102 of POV Magazine (July 1, 2016).