Maria Engberg and Per Linde: City Fables: The Right to History and the Fictionalizing of Data

Welcome to a K3 seminar with Maria Engberg, senior lecturer in Media Technology and Per Linde, senior lecturer in Interaction Design. It will be held on Wednesday, April 5, 10.15-12.00, in The Open Studio on the fifth floor of Niagara (Room NIC 0541).

The title of the talk is: 

City Fables: The Right to History and the Fictionalizing of Data

Here is an abstract for the talk: 

The overarching goal for the City Fables project is to gather, stage, and problematize the stories and storytelling in the contemporary city through an interplay between site-specific media, facts and fiction. Through public participatory event we explore how citizens understand, take their place in and form counter-narratives to the stories of a city.

In the two main projects of City Fables—Follow the Money and Larmgränd—we engage in and respond to the narratives of the future and the past that actors within any city continuously create. The urban trend has since the industrial revolution been constant, and cities and megacities across the globe continue to grow. Although hardly a megacity, the harbor city Malmö has grown more than any other city in Sweden since the end of the 1990s after what is often referred to as a long period of post-industrial depression. Like many harbor cities, the city of Malmö reinvented itself. Although having a local flavor, the metamorphosis was not unique: it followed a typical pattern seen in many post-industrial cities.

 Follow the Money

The entanglement of production of space and the flow of capital led the project to  engage in analyzing and re-articulating the naturalized language of the current economic order, the flow of capital and in particular taxation (as well as the avoidance of taxations). These monetary flows are foundational for deciding what should belong to and be funded by the state and thus belong to the common good, on the one hand and what should be financed and paid for by private means and owned privately on the other. These were the underlying foundations for elaborating the theme of “following the money” in the project.

Follow the Money has been conducted as a speculative art and design-based economic research lab that addresses strategies and experimental materializations dealing with procedural techno-economic analysis, capital flux, transnational flow, multicultural money, tax haven bliss, free/grey zones, invisibility, space-time compression, systemic depersonalization, fractalized precarious work, cellularization of time, fable-capitalism lingo and economic bullshit speak. These materializations were a series of enacted plays on tax evasion, apps for economical personality tests, randomized web encyclopedias on economical rhetoric, graphical designs and other new media expressions.


An important strategy in City Fables has been the concept of “fableing” and how the “fable” as organizing metaphor can be used as a speculative research method.  In particular, our approach takes seriously the potential of narrativization and possible worlds explorations through methods of, what we in our work call, “fableing.” In Larmgränd, the “fableing” is performed upon historical material from Malmö 1900-1925 in order to design a historiographic locative media experience, connected to specific sites in Malmö. These smaller histories, in the

Historical moments and people have the potential to serve as counterpoint to the histories and realities of contemporary cities, and we work with fictionalizing characters and events as a way of informing public debate. From a perspective of historiography, official archives are at once authority structures, providing specific facts and viewpoints as well as repositories of fragments of individual people’s lives. Eschewing the particular strategies of history-making in the archives, we use a process of remediation and fictionalizing in public settings to create an experimental zone. This in turn highlights knowledge creation, knowledge sharing and agency in a similar way as design labs. The technologies we explore in Larmgränd, as a means for researching the above-described issues, are place-specific media and Augmented Reality (AR).

An exhibition will be set up at Malmö Museum in May 2017 where we visualize historical material from Malmö 1900-1925 through the creation of a fictive world of characters from the time, exploring how they encounter larger political and cultural events in their everyday life. Materials used for the creation of these characters are movie snippets and photos from Malmö from the time period, as well as statistics and other material from the City archives. As such, the narratives are related to actual historical events.

A fictive Malmö street, Larmgränd, will be represented in the form of wall-sized posters in the exhibition. By using an AR mobile phone app the visitor can “trigger” shorter movies from these characters’ lives by browsing the houses on the posters, i.e. when the phone is directed at a particular, predetermined spot on the poster, the film starts playing in the phone.

The exhibition will be complemented with workshops/seminars, where the role of such fictionalizing in relation to how they can create public debate around contemporary political and cultural issues will be discussed. Further, the exhibition will include some historical artefacts from Malmö that were part of the early “media explosion” that took place in the turn of the century.

This work has been presented at the conference “Creating the city” in Malmö on the 9-10 of February 2017, as well as in Bergen April 2016 at the symposium “Visual technologies, place and space”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *