The credibility of Our Home and Haunted Land rests heavily on the accuracy and depth of research necessary to craft the project. Two different types of research occurred concurrently: the historical research for the content and the technological research for the implementation in virtual reality. The historical investigation informed the script while the technological one informed both the production tools and methodologies as well as the visual style derived from them. Those two aspects, although very distinct, are also in symbiotic dialogue in the final project.
At the onset, the goal of the project was to examine forgotten and silenced Black colonial history, but given the focus on space, it was impossible to do so without also addressing the history of the land and therefore the colonial violence the Indigenous population has been subject to. Encapsulating the Black and Indigenous histories and their entanglements through colonialism by using an afrofuturist frame became the main objective of Our Home and Haunted Land.
The research involved municipal, provincial and international archives for documents, maps, photographs and drawings. Local historical organization websites, archaeological reports and historical volumes were also consulted.
In Our Home and Haunted Land, the process of making is deeply enmeshed with the content and technological research. The original concept for the project evolved as the historical research progressed, but also as I explored and learned to use the technological tools to produce 3D models and assembled them to create environments. While the crafting of elements moved forward and presented its own challenges, my greatest preoccupation was how to tell the story in terms of structure, voice, narrative and spatial devices. I had scanned the locations that I wanted to include in my project but had to find a way to weave them together both from a visual perspective, but also from a thematic and narrative one. The end result had to embody precise historical facts but also carry affect all while integrating decolonial methodologies and a deep respect for Indigeneity. This is the nexus of the creative process that confronts my own subjective voice and desire for expression with an obligation of clarity and legibility for the average participant.
The project has two axes, one dealing with the history of the enslavement of Africans and the other, with Indigenous history, which are both integrated from an afrofuturist perspective. This allowed me to use my positionality through a Black character to build the narrative and to speak to Indigenous issues from that very particular viewpoint that is rarely heard. It also enabled me to address the profound linkages between Black and Indigenous histories in the Americas. The narrative structure revolves around seven locations and eschews linearity in favour of a temporal fluidity while embracing a poetic tone that makes unexpected connections.
Thérèse, the only character who is seen in Our Home and Haunted Land, carries traces of her speculative future. The electronic circuitry applied to the surface of her skin allows her, via telepathy, to project her thoughts through space for others to perceive. She wears impenetrable reflective eyeglasses, enabling her to stare at the participant, while refusing their gaze in an act of resistance and fugitivity.
As the narrator, Thérèse speaks in a poetic register with a flowing rhythm and repetitive motifs that allude to rather than detail historical facts, using forceful language emanating from a robust point of view. She claims her place in the lineage of the strong and long-standing Black oral tradition that encompasses the blues but extends to many other modalities. Thérèse’s voice, the cadence of her delivery, the repeating patterns are all expressions of that orality and the deep knowledge it embodies.
It should be noted that because of financial and time constraints, Thérèse was created from a purchased asset and there were limitations on the customization that could be done. The 3D mesh could not be easily altered, so we had to focus on textures that could be more readily modified to point to her futurity and also changing some of the colours of her clothing to give her more presence.
Produced as part of
the Digital Futures graduate program at OCAD University