‘The Abandoned Library’ with Dreaming Methods and XR Stories

‘The Abandoned Library’ is a project created by Dreaming Methods, and funded by XR Stories. It is a digital art experience, which combines a range of mediums, including games design, animation, sculpture, sound production, archive film and VR technology.

The narrative concept of the immersive VR experience is described by creators, Judi Alston and Andy Campbell, as:

“In a future Northern England devastated by climate change, an environmental worker uncovers an abandoned library where books and technology have fused into the architecture and landscape to create new stories.

19 year old CJ is working to salvage valuable resources from a flooded and contaminated marshland, the haunting remains of a once-thriving coastal town. The world she inhabits leaves her feeling angry and displaced. She is living through the catastrophic consequences of previous generations’ mistakes. Taking shelter from an approaching storm, CJ ventures inside an old library, where she discovers a bizarre ‘living’ fusion of nature, language and technology. At its heart is The Librarian, a malfunctioned AI that has spent the last 80 years gathering data from its turbulent surroundings. Affected by years of extreme temperatures and abnormal weather conditions, The Librarian is forming its own unique work of literature: a story of connectedness and hope that needs a strong and resilient protagonist.”

The final product involves a participant putting on the VR headset and following CJ’s journey through the environment and into the library, whilst exploring the stories told by the data from the librarian. As an engaging literary piece, the audience are invited to make their own interpretations about this virtual world, whilst perhaps relating it to our own present life in the midst of a climate crisis.

So, how are Yorkshire and North East Film Archives involved? We were approached by Dreaming Methods with the idea of having archive footage within a VR experience - an interesting thought! The footage would show themes of climate change or environmental issues over the decades, and how we as humans already knew about the crisis ahead of us - what did we do to cause this? What did we do to try and stop it? Could we have done more? CJ’s futuristic world is fictional, but the questions it poses could be considerably relatable to the audience. The archive film itself would be presented as the data shown to CJ through the AI Librarian in the abandoned library, as she takes shelter. 

Nature Matters Curator (Alexandra) and Nature Matters Delivery Manager (Martha) were invited to a session at XR Stories in York, where the Dreaming Methods team and partnering artists were shooting the motion capture of CJ’s character, which was to be added into the graphics. This was interesting to watch in itself, but we also got to experience the early stages of the Abandoned Library through the VR headset, where we were able to offer our initial thoughts and opinions.

A showcase for the Abandoned Library was held at the Art House in Wakefield 22nd April 2023 - 13th May 2023, which acted as a bit of a trial run for the work that had been done on the VR project so far. The showcase was set up in an exhibition gallery, which had been dressed to mimic an actual abandoned library, whilst playing some of the initial prototype on a large screen. Beautiful stills from the digital landscape lined the room, concept art and interpretation boards illustrated the story of the project, and a documentary about the ‘making of’ The Abandoned Library played by the entrance to the gallery. In the corner, a touch screen demonstrated the concept of the AI Librarian character, which had 4 sections of YFA/NEFA footage available to watch. Our archive films hadn’t been incorporated into the full experience just yet, so to have that at least somewhere in the showcase for audiences to see was very useful. We were invited to the launch event on 21st May, where we were able to enjoy the showcase, talk to other partners and guests, and see some first-hand reactions to the footage we provided.

Work continues to produce the final product of The Abandoned Library, which will have lots of lovely archive footage available to see within the virtual setting. This is a very unusual project for the archive; the juxtaposition of such a contemporary and artistic format mixed with much older, [originally] analogue footage almost makes the messaging of the experience even more impactful. Personally, we’re of the opinion that it’s also a nice wink to the fact that having films in an archive means they will be preserved long-term, even through a climate emergency or natural disaster!

To learn more about the project and partners, see below: