Digital Located Residency Blog #4 – The Mystery Box

During my research on the subject of boxes, I revisited a TED talk given by JJ Abrams back in 2007 called ‘The Mystery Box’. This talk was during the period of time that Lost was in its fourth series and the secret of the island still remained a mystery. In the opening part of his talk, Abrams recalls a visit to a magic shop in New York where his grandfather bought him a mystery box, a cardboard box with a large question mark printed on it with no hint of what was inside. To this day it has remained unopened. He says:


“Why have I not opened this, and why have I kept it?… It represents infinite possibility. It represents hope. It represents potential. What I love about this box — and what I realised I sort of do, in whatever it is that I do — is I find myself drawn to infinite possibility and that sense of potential. And I realise that mystery is the catalyst for imagination… What are stories besides mystery boxes?”


There’s something really interesting in this thinking in relation to my digital located residency and the potential of the idea of creating an experience in a box that is sent to audiences in their homes. Particularly the infinite possibilities of the type of stories that can be told and the realities that could be created through this format. Not only through physical and digital means but also through the imagination of the audience. When considering the design of the narrative and format of the experience it will be important to look at the balance of how much the experience gives and how much is created by the audiences imagination. Abrams says:


“A lot of times when we see movies or watch shows that spoon-feed information, you find yourself often leaning away. You don’t want to know the information.”


Abrams talks about this in relation to how much of the ‘monster’ you see in films. Think about the film Cloverfield. The mystery in the things unseen or left out is often more engaging. These ‘gaps’ can be really beneficial to how the story moves on in the mind of the audience and changes how they engage with it. There is also an interesting tension between ‘What you think you are getting and what you are really getting’, either by subverting the reality of the situation or creating surprising and unexpected outcomes or shifting perspectives and what we believe as ‘truth’. Think about films like From Dusk Til Dawn, The Usual Suspects or The Arrival that play around with these shifts in time, reality, perspective and audience expectation.

There are certainly a variety of ways in which I can approach the creation of ‘Correspondence’ as a theatre or experience in a box. There are definitely a lot of directions in which the project can move in. The prevailing thought that I have at the moment is that mysteries can propel so many things. And the journey is about more than the destination.

Mystery Box

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