“Welcome to Pine Point” is a website by Paul Shoebridge and Michael Simons of The Goggles and Adbusters. It tells the story a mining town in the Northwest Territories of Canada that existed for only one generation. The Canadian government ordered the town to be shut down after the mine closed in 1987. It was then removed from the map.
In an interview Shoebridge called the website a “liquid book” because it has a linear narrative but the user is able to do some exploration. The project is like an online scrapbook with a Napoleon Dynamite aesthetic. It combines found footage–a yearbook, videos from festivals and sports games, government documents, and commemorative paraphernalia–with interviews, sound effects, and an original music soundtrack by The Besnard Lakes. The full-screen size of the images and videos make it an immersive experience.
“Welcome to Pine Point” was produced by the National Film Board of Canada and, as such, it will most likely have reliable hosting. Since it is a government-funded project, the website has the purpose of telling the story of Pine Point and preserving that part of the country’s history but it also explores memory in general. It’s poignant to for people who have never been close to the demolished town but have a hometown of their own.
Shoebridge and Simons use an anthropological approach, as explained by Thomas J. Schlereth in Material Culture: A Research Guide, in their examination of Pine Point. They have collected ideological (videos and documents), sociological (interviews with former residents), and material (memorabilia and visits to the town and the displaced houses) cultural data. This approach allowed them to experience the past first-hand, versus translated by somebody else (Schlereth 10).
The collected cultural data is shown in slideshows with illustrated frames and looping video and sound. The looped media mimics the gallery experience–you can watch it four times or just watch part of it and move on. The story is separated into chapters and captioned with cut-and-paste or label maker text. The reason for this organization is that the project was originally going to be a book about the death of the photo album as a way to store memories. Shoebridge and Simons were inspired by the website “Pine Point Revisited,” an online photo album by one of the town’s former residents. Since the creators come from a print background, they wanted to retain some elements of reading book. They wanted to avoid voice-over narration and make the project more of an active, versus passive, experience (Weldon).
While I enjoy the book-like format of the website, I do see the tool they used as problematic. The whole site was built in Flash. It can’t be watched on a iPad and it can’t be updated easily. Additionally, the format’s future is uncertain and won’t degrade gracefully. You can’t even view the page source code. If the site was built this year, it would most likely have been made using HTML5. But, as I mentioned earlier, it is a government-funded project and they probably have preservation policies in place. Or I would hope so.
There is an interesting relationship between the subject and format of the project in terms of materiality. “Welcome to Pine Point” is about real people and things, but also abstract concepts: community and memory. The Goggles painted a portrait of something that no longer exists, a town that isn’t a town. It’s a thing of nostalgia. As Bill Brown wrote in this week’s reading (and we discussed in class last week): “We begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us” (4). Brown also wrote that what the thing really is and the subject-object relation. Pine Point was not just the material that composed it, but how the town affected the people that lived there. The town isn’t the mine, or the school that burned down, or the chairs in the hotel bar–it’s the experiences of the people who lived there. Pine Point is memories. In that respect, it makes sense that the project would be something virtual instead of a physical book. Shoebridge and Simons made an affecting work by evoking the textures and environment of real things that are now just a memory. In the piece Simons describes visiting his own hometown and childhood house. The current owners offered to let him in but he didn’t find the need to go inside. The physical reality wasn’t all that important. Brown said that once a thing is released from being equipment, it becomes something else. Pine Point was functional as a mine and a place to live and work and raise children and go to school. Now it’s a fossil.
Overall, I think this project was really well done. I guess other people did too because it won a lot of awards! I really like the general aesthetic of it and I appreciate how many different types of media they brought together. And I like that I can take my time going through it and even go through it a few times like I’m circling a room. With this approach the user knows exactly what is there. I didn’t need to click around looking for “easter eggs” or guess where I needed to go next. I also appreciated Simons starting the story with his own visit to Pine Point and his experience going back to his hometown. It brought the themes of the project to the forefront before you even know for sure what happened to the town.
Here are a few take-aways for when we do our own projects:
- You can make an exhibit linear but allow it to be explored non-linearly and at the pace of the user.
- You can have a whole lot of things going on at once because the user can decide what to pay attention to.
- The format should reflect the subject.
- Narratives are engaging and you shouldn’t be afraid to put yourself into the story.
- You also shouldn’t be afraid to go big.