Dr. Aceves Sepúlveda’s research project started with the scanning and selective sharing of her family cookbook, handwritten by three generations of women in Guadalajara, Mexico (1885–2014), as a way to reactivate and remediate the family archive.
In 2015, she invited 40 people to respond to a selection of 25 recipes scanned from Mama Pina’s Cookbook without transcription or translation. Responses to the recipes included digital images, audio recordings, videos, documentation of family gatherings and conversations that attempted to recreate and translate the recipes. The responses were edited together in a single channel of video as part of a four-channel video installation entitled Remediating Mama Pina’s Cookbook. It is part of an on-going exploration of the role of women as agents and producers of the archive.
This case study documents the process of adapting the four-channel video installation into a web-based format that itself archives the original project.
We see the complexity of what seems like a simple domestic family heirloom in Dr. Aceves Sepúlveda’s words below:
Each handwriting style recorded in the cookbook has a particular history that represents the educational background and social status of each of these women. The recipes also contain traces of domestic habits and economies as well as material remains of lived experiences. Some pages are smeared with grease or leftovers from food. Some recipes call for ingredients that no longer exist… and list quantities that are no longer calculable, such as 2 centavos de azúcar de la tiendita (two cents of sugar from the corner store)… These different traces provide glimpses of domestic life.
How could we capture the nuanced value of Mama Pina’s Cookbook? And specifically, given that Remediating “Mama Pina’s Cookbook” started out as a four-channel video installation, how might we adapt the technical and installation experience of the artwork for the web while supporting the temporal, critical and process-driven nature of the work?
In a small team of three creatives at Simon Fraser University, I was the interaction designer who supported Dr. Aceves Sepúlveda’s vision and Andrew Hawryshkewich’s technical capacity to faithfully and creatively reimagine Reactivating “Mama Pina’s Cookbook”.
Translating a multi-channel video experience for the web came will many challenges – including ensuring the integrity of the speed for the user’s access, the timing of interactions and videos in relation to one another, and importantly the feasibility of the work to remain an archive into the future even as web and browser technologies shift and advance.
Being a video-based work, navigation of the book was limited. To overcome the linearity of video playback, we created a primary video channel – one that played a repeating video of the pages flipping in sequential order. At certain points of the book, the user would be able to flip left or right to the content they wished to move through next, indicated by thumbnails that would appear.
As certain points of the book were flipped to, a new clip would need to be clicked for the video to continue and this would initiate a new channel of video to start playing at the top of the screen.
The layering of these channels re-activates the cookbook as archive – first, with a video of a new recipe entry, followed by the cooking of an existing recipe from the book, then an option for the user to add their own entry temporarily. Although these entries would fade after 10 seconds, this was a time-scaled event to mimic the absence of archived records and the instability of digital technologies. Finally, a video showing the geographic locations of all recipe response participants completed the fourth channel of video. Each of these videos looped after each playback, completing the goal of mirroring the original video installation’s four-channels of video.
Each recipe response appears at specific points in the primary video channel. When selected, the primary video would make way for the recipe being responded to as well as the collaborator’s response. These responses vary from audio recordings to photos or 3D graphics and more.
We knew the adaptation of a video installation to web-only would be a challenging proposal; we achieved the ultimate goal of translating the in-person experience into a contained online website. Because this was the primary goal we focused on the layering of videos, video channels and loops over time. Users are able to navigate through the project at designed moments, while website load times were maximized with video compression. Archiving the Remediating “Mama Pina’s Cookbook” is an ongoing exploration.
Remediating “Mama Pina’s Cookbook” explores the family cookbook as an archival technology through which gender roles, social status, cultural memories, and identities are passed on from generation to generation. It explores women’s positions in the creation and activation of the archive. This exploration considers female reproductive labour, ephemeral and domestic forms of writing and material culture —traditionally viewed as outside of the archive— as central foci of the archive. The results of this on-going exploration entail the production of digital and performative forms with the objective of reactivating and re-mediating such archives.